Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart

Amy Stewart had me craving an alcoholic beverage (or two or three) while I read The Drunken Botanist: The Plants that Create the World's Great Drinks. Stewart is the cofounder of the Garden Rant blog, and author of books like Wicked Plants  and Flower Confidential. When I was 3/4 of the way through the audiobook [Highbridge: 10 hr 15 min], I switched to the print edition. Narrator Coleen Marlo was fine - botanical nomenclature rolled easily off her tongue - but I felt like I wasn't taking it all in. In addition to being more suited to closer study, the print book is also a nice artifact, with decorated page borders and lots of illustrations.

Stewart has gathered heaps of interesting tidbits. Would you have guessed that sorghum "turns up in more cocktails, beers and wines than any other" plant? Chemistry lessons include explaining why some licorice-flavoured spirits like pastis turn milky when water is added, and why oak is used for aging spirits.

I saw Buddha's Hand citron fruit at Foster Botanical
garden in Honolulu earlier this month.  Stewart
suggests that it can be infused whole in vodka.
Learn about the sex life of corn: "Next time you pull a piece of silk from between your teeth while you're eating a fresh ear of corn, remember that you've just spat out a fallopian tube."

"In about 30 BC, Virgil wrote that citron 'has a persistently wretched taste, but is an excellent remedy against poisons.' The peel was added to wine as a medicinal remedy: it induced vomiting, which might not recommend it as a cocktail ingredient."

"During Prohibition, enterprising California grape growers kept themselves in business by selling 'fruit bricks' - blocks of dried, compressed grapes that were packaged with wine-making yeast. A label warned purchasers not to dissolve the fruit brick in warm water and add the yeast packet, as this would result in fermentation and the creation of alcohol, which was illegal."

Stewart includes growing tips for home gardeners and lots of classic cocktail recipes. In the audiobook, the recipes are preceded by a ting-ting alert, like rapping the rim of a glass. If you want to try any of them, the print edition is the preferable format. Or, you can check out Stewart's Drunken Botanist website for some of them, including instructions for making your own bitters, grenadine from fresh pomegranates, or a champagne mojito.

Cheers! Salut! Chin chin! and Na zdravie!

Readalikes combining humour and obsession: The Orchid Thief (Susan Orlean); Packing for Mars (Mary Roach); Unusual Creatures (Michael Hearst). Other readalike possibilities, for people who like to learn things: Extra Virginity (Tom Mueller); Consider the Fork (Bee Wilson); and Indigo (Jenny Balfour-Paul).

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