Monday, January 21, 2013

Purl and Dog's Nose

When I lived in Georgia, it was common to meet people who believed that no one questioned organized religion until about 1964. Now I think young people there have moved that up until about 1998 or so. A friend of mine teaches college level courses on gothic fiction, and there are always a few students who see The Rocky Horror Picture Show and assume it must be a very recent film, because it's too "out there" to be very old. 

They'd never believe me if I told them that the guy who wrote A Christmas Carol seldom darkened the door of a church. Dickens was reasonably religious privately - he wrote a little volume called The Life of Our Lord for his children - but doesn't seem to have cared much for the church as an institution, or for religious loudmouths. I can't think of a single preacher, reverend, bishop, or particularly religious person in all of Dickens who isn't mostly just comic relief.

My favorite of his hypocritical preachers is Reverernd Chadband from Bleak House, who gives long speeches that make no sense and acts as though it makes him all holy. 

Chadband: windbag

     Mr. Chadband is a large yellow man with a fat smile and a general appearance of having a good deal of train oil in his system...(he) moves softly and cumbrously, not unlike a bear who has been taught to walk upright. He is very much embarrassed about the arms, as if they were inconvenient to him and he wanted to grovel, is very much in a perspiration about the head, and never speaks without first putting up his great hand, as delivering a token to his hearers that he is going to edify them.
    “My friends,” says Mr. Chadband, “peace be on this house! On the master thereof, on the mistress thereof, on the young maidens, and on the young men! My friends, why do I wish for peace? What is peace? Is it war? No. Is it strife? No. Is it lovely, and gentle, and beautiful, and pleasant, and serene, and joyful? Oh, yes! Therefore, my friends, I wish for peace, upon you and upon yours.”

This is just him saying hello. Think how dull his sermons must have been!
Another such humbug is Rev. Stiggins in Pickwick Papers. Sam Weller's stepmother has fallen into the thrall of an anti-booze preacher called "The Shepherd," and Sam and his father go to pull pranks on one of the meetings. Naturally, the reverend and most of his followers are secretly big boozers. The secretary at the meeting reads one of their recent success stories:

Sam Weller's dad beats the crap out of
Stiggins, and there is much
'H. Walker, tailor, wife, and two children. When in better circumstances, owns to having been in the constant habit of drinking ale and beer; says he is not certain whether he did not twice a week, for twenty years, taste "dog's nose," which your committee find upon inquiry, to be compounded of warm porter, moist sugar, gin, and nutmeg (a groan, and 'So it is!' from an elderly female). Is now out of work and penniless; thinks it must be the porter (cheers) or the loss of the use of his right hand; is not certain which, but thinks it very likely that, if he had drunk nothing but water all his life, his fellow-workman would never have stuck a rusty needle in him, and thereby occasioned his accident (tremendous cheering). Has nothing but cold water to drink, and never feels thirsty (great applause).

"Dog's Nose" is a variation on another popular drink of the day known as purl. Both are mainly just porter (beer) mixed with gin and served warm with various flavorings. The Six Jolly Fellowship Porters in Our Mutual Friend  is particularly known for its purl, though it's also said to serve dog's nose.  Purl is also whipped up by Dick Swiveller in The Old Curiosity Shop, who appears to be the template upon which P.G. Wodehouse based pretty much all of his funniest characters. Dick wouldn't drink bad drinks - he was broke, but always ate at the finest restaurants and drank at the best taverns (and kept a list of streets he couldn't go down anymore, because he'd run out on a check at some restaurant there). Old Curiosity Shop is the weirdest of the early Dickens books - the plot is basically innocent Little Nell traipsing through England and meeting a series of grotesques while on the run from Quilp, an evil dwarf who drinks his own gin straight. It's not a book that's totally held up, but Old Curiosity Shop is fascinating and hypnotic in its best parts, and Dick Swiveller is hilarious, and if he drinks something, I'll give it a shot. I didn't have all the gear needed, though, so I had to take a field trip.

I am not hard up for bars in my neighborhood; that "molecular gastronomy" bar they went to on Parks and Rec last week, the one where the whiskey comes in the form of hand lotion, was allegedly based on The Aviary, a place about 3 blocks from my apartment. But that doesn't strike me as the kind of friendly neighborhood place where one could walk in with an armload of spices without looking like a douchebag, so I drove out to Forest Park, which sits in the first layer of suburbs, and hit The Beacon, a bar tended by Stephanie Kuehnert, author of I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone and Ballads of Suburbia. We have the same agent, and sometimes meet up to talk about how miserable the life of a mid-list author is. I contacted her ahead of time to confirm that they had to means to throw these drinks together at the Beacon - I had to bring my own brown sugar, spices and microwave-safe vessel, but she could provide gin and porter. 

While my own mixing and fire-setting skills may not qualify me to work at the Aviary, or perhaps even, say, the bar at Bubba Gump Shrimp,  Stephanie and I did manage to whip up some purl and dog's nose in a manner un-fancy enough that it could have actually been the sort made at the Six Jolly Fellowship Porters, or on Dick Swiveller's stove. 

1 pint of porter
1 shot of gin
1 tablespoon of brown sugar
a dash of nutmeg  

This mostly follows the recipe given in Pickwick above; I used brown sugar because that was the recipe Cedric Dickens gave in his book, Drinking With Dickens. For all I know this is what they meant by "moist sugar" back then.   The recipe also recommends Guiness if porter can't be found - it seems that it wasn't easy to come across in the UK in the early 80s, when that book was written, because he's always offering substitutions for it. 
The porter was heated up, then the gin and brown sugar were mixed in, and nutmeg was put on top, which attracted a small crowd.  The resulting drink - of which everyone present had a taste - was really quite tasty; it had a sort of gingerbread taste about it, and as it cooled it started to taste a bit more like licorice to me.  It would be good in a tankard in front of a roaring fire at Christmas.

Here I am with Stephanie. Our Mutual Agent
warned us not to blow up the bar via twitter.
We didn't. 
1 pint of porter
1 shot of gin
1 teaspoon of ginger
a dash of nutmeg

Again going with a Cedric Dickens recipe, this one I didn't like much at all. It had a sharpness to it that put me in mind of the coffee I used to drink when I was 12 at The Playhouse, a theatre in Des Moines where I was in plays from time to time. There was generally an urn of coffee sitting around in the basement, and many of us "Playhouse Kids" had our first taste of coffee there. The thing is, though, by the time we got around to it, the coffee had usually been sitting at the bottom of the urn for hours and hours, and had taken on some of the taste of metal. It may have also had hallucinogenic qualities; one day after six cups (after learning to drink it fresh and hot), I went home and found myself convinced that that blanket brushing against my foot in the bed was a giant, mutant spider. This may, however, simply have been a side effect of having put about 9 things of sugar and 12 things of cream into the cup, as I did at the time. 
Now, personally, I grew up to like crappy truck stop (or basement of a theatre) coffee where you can taste the metal from the urn. But that taste works better for me in coffee than it does  in hot beer. This "bottom of the urn" taste brought back pleasant memories of my days at the Playhouse, but not enough so that I wanted to drink the entire glass or anything. All of the bar was in agreement that Dog's Nose was the tastier of the two by far.  Sorry, Dick Swiveller. 
Of course, this is just one of any number of ways to make purl - other recipes may be better. I actually understand that purl is making something of a comeback in the UK these days in bars that are more along the lines of The Aviary.  Perhaps I'll try again sometime.

1 comment:

  1. I love this blog...I served Purl this evening at the opening of a six week seminar I'm facilitating about Our Mutual Friend. The recipe I used called for an Old Tom gin (about 375 ml), one liter cloudy apple cider, 1 1/2 pints hoppy beer, and one tsp of Angostura bitters, heated with mulling spices (clove, allspice, star anise, etc.). It sounded awful, but tasted pretty good. The beer cut the sweetness of the cider, and the spicy Old Tom gin plus the bitters created a pretty good drink, one that Miss Abbey herself might have enjoyed. Learn more about my Dickens mania here: