Friday, January 11, 2013

Sherry Flip Will Cure What Ails You

There are some lessons that books and movies preach, but don't actually believe. Who in Hollywood really thinks that small towns are better and more wholesome than big cities? And who in the world thinks that it's better to be poor than rich?

Dickens wrote about the evils of money and greed all the time, but, in private, he loved the stuff. He was no miser - he was keeping up several households at once - but he was a shrewd businessman.

Many of his characters learned the hard way that money won't make you happy, including the small-but-pivotal Mr. Merdle from Little Dorrit. Merdle is one of those guys you run into in books from time to time who is rich, but miserable, and, secretly, not really all that rich. That his name derives from the French word for "shit" is probably no accident.

When Mr. Merdle gives a party, Mrs. Merdle soaks up all the society types, and Mr. Merdle himself just sulks around trying to avoid his butler, of whom he's scared out of his mind. Everyone seems to understand that there's something the matter with Old Merdle, but no one takes it very seriously. A physician at a party of his says that Merdle has:

"...the constitution of a rhinoceros, the digestion of an ostrich, and the concentration of an oyster."

Did you realize ostriches were known for their regularity? I sure didn't. You learn something new every day.

And in this same chapter, when discussing how to cure malaise and ennui and depression and al that, a bishop who is present offers up a little anecdote:

"Bishop said that when he was a young man, and had fallen for a brief space into the habit of writing sermons on Saturdays, a habit which all young sons of the church should sedulously avoid, he had frequently been sensible of a depression, arising as he supposed from an over- taxed intellect, upon which the yolk of a new-laid egg, beaten up by the good woman in whose house he at that time lodged, with a glass of sound sherry, nutmeg, and powdered sugar acted like a charm."

The bishop is describing a drink known as a "sherry flip," another drink that contains eggs. I had never had such a thing as alcoholic drinks with egg before I embarked on this blog, but now I'm starting to get the hang of them. I'd also never tried sherry before - it's a very sweet fortified wine, sort of nut-brown in color, that has a nutty, honey-like taste that reminds me somewhat of the bottle of "mead" someone passed me on the courtyard after hours at Dragoncon some years ago.  People in Dickens drink it all the time; wines such as madeira, port, and sherry, which are normally in the "Dessert Wines" section at the store now, figure prominently in these books.

Dickens did seem to believe that such a concoction could cure what ailed you; during his American reading tour, when his health was bad, he would drink a glass of sherry with  an egg beaten into it (he may have left out the powdered sugar and the nutmeg) during intermission, and this seemed to give him enough energy to get through the second half of the readings, which taxed him greatly.

Now, my job as a ghost tour guide in Chicago is not that unlike the job of Dickens as a reader - for two hours or more, I stand up talking and telling stories, occasionally lapsing into other "characters" and "voices." I'm not an actor or anything, but in the course of telling all the gruesome murder stories that you get in a ghost tour, I'll use about 20 different voices when quoting other people. It's kind of like what Dickens did on readings.

I never drink during the tours (if I even use a water bottle that isn't clear, people assume I'm boozing it up), so I made myself a sherry flip about an hour my driver picked me up:

1 egg
1 cup of sherry
1 tablespoon (or so) of powdered sugar
pinch of nutmeg.

Mix the sugar, egg and sherry into a wine glass, beating the egg vigoursly, then add grated nutmeg to the top.

I checked with some more knowledgable people about the egg here - one assured me that the salmonella comes from the shells, so I should be all right with a raw egg as long as I wash the shell first. I hope he's right.

The texture of the drink is...odd. It's thick, and now and then it gets thicker when you get a sip with more of the egg yolk in it; I'm getting the idea that Victorians were much more used to drinking "goopy" drinks than we are today. Serving an egg drink in a wine glass is a bit unusual, since they're usually served in earthenware (so you can't see how ugly they look).

But if you can get past the texture, this is one tasty drink - mine tasted like a very good glass of custard.

As for curing what ails you, well...after I downed my glass, I did feel, for a moment, as though I had the strength of ten men. I felt warmth and cheer all over my body. I was more than ready for a tour- I felt like I could go and move something heavy. I had the constitution of a rhino and the concentration of an oyster, and figured that the digestion would be sufficiently ostrich-like in the near future, though I'll spare you the details there.

But one way my job is different from the job Dickens did on readings was that he got to stand on a platform the whole time. Standing up at the front of a moving bus as it rolls through the pot-holed streets of Chicago is very different from standing on a platform. I had the sherry flip more than an hour before the tour time, so I certainly wasn't feeling the effects of the alcohol by then, but I did feel as though I could feel the egg yoke, reformed to its original un-beaten state, bouncing around in my stomach every time we hit a bump in the road. It's a tasty drink, sherry flip, but not something to drink before you go on a bumpy ride.


  1. To solve the color problem, Adam, as I said, while it may not have featured in Dickens', the port flip is better. It has a lovely fuschia (sp?) color.

    I've eaten plenty of Julia Child & drunk many a port flip; no salmonella yet. People in the 21st century need to stop being so paranoid. Drink up! The alcohol will probably kill it off if you drink enough, anyway. It got me through Guatemala!

  2. Sorry-- previous post was by Jen! Loving the blog, Adam!