For most of us, the era of Prohibition (1919 – 1933) in the United States will conjure up a “noir” world of tough-talking hoodlums and wise-cracking blonds. Names like Al Capone, Baby-face Nelson, Legs Diamond, and Lucy Luciano with the Hollywood faces of Edward G. Robinson, Humphrey Bogart, Mickey Rooney and, latterly, Andy Garcia abound; “speakeasies” and flappers dancing the Charleston; the world of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s fictional Long Island neighborhoods, East and West Egg, in The Great Gatsby – beautiful careless people in fast cars flitting from one cocktail party to the next.
The reality for most people tended to be more prosaic – more like ordering your pint of whiskey along with your eggs and butter from your local grocery store, getting prescriptions for a “tonic” from your doctor, or scoring a bottle of Vin Santo from the Parish Priest after mass. In port cities such as New Orleans, the “wettest” city in America, there was a steady flow of alcohol from the Caribbean – in the French Quarter it was reported that there were 70 bars in a four block radius. The difference between the law and the actual life of the city made Prohibition – aka Amendment 18 – a great target for satire. This farcical side of Prohibition is illustrated, graphically, poetically, and culinarily, in a new compendium of Cocktail recipes entitled Shaking up Prohibition in New Orleans: Authentic Vintage Cocktails from A to Z, written by Hilda Phelps Hammond and Olive Leonhardt with illustrations by the latter, and edited by Gay Leonhardt. (Scroll down for details of an April 12th book talk and party in Kingston, NY.)
Shaking Up Prohibition is modeled on the classic children’s alphabet book format and, although just published, it was in fact created during Prohibition by the authors. Despite being complete, for reasons lost to time, the book remained in manuscript form when Olive Leonhardt died in 1963. In 1978, on the death of her husband, most of her artwork came to her granddaughter, Gay Leonhardt, also an artist. But it would be another thirty years before life allowed Gay the time to fully unpack this inheritance. When she did, she discovered the manuscript with its witty and irreverent poems that make fun of the dubious scenario of a “dry” New Orleans, and the extraordinary drawings of Leonhardt that unerringly match the satire of the text and, with their strong Art Deco-inspired design, capture the spirit of the Jazz age. For each letter of the alphabet there is a full-page illustration, a poem, and two cocktail recipes. Originally titled Letters from a Shaker, the authors’ introduction explains “When evening’s clouds begin to lower/ Then comes the gentle cocktail hour/ And children, at their parents’ knees/ Do learn their letters with much ease.”
Shaking Up Prohibition makes fun of drinking behaviors rather than drinking itself – the poems are about procuring alcohol; small stills that become big business; the peepholes in the doors of speakeasies – “the 1,000 eyes of night;” newsmen who stash their booze in the morgue; the undertakers who reap the benefits of those “who’ve lived too well.” The verses are full of puns, cheeky references to well-known figures including President Herbert Hoover, and lampoon family values (the upholding of which was the raison d’etre for Amendment 18). Both women were mothers of young children in the late 1920s when the book was most likely written and, no doubt, a good deal of time was spent on reading alphabet books and bedtime stories. Editor Gay Leonhardt noted the influence of A.A. Milne in the rhythms and rhymes of the poems, and there is also a foreshadowing of Theodor Seuss Geisel’s (Dr. Seuss) books in this extract for the “W” poem for the cocktails “Whoosies” and “Whatsies”: “Whoosies who have lots of What/ Are the Whoosiest Whoosies – but/ Whoosie Whats and Whatsies Whos/ All are under – Ws.” Although these women came from an era where servants were the norm, dealing with the mundanities of house-keeping would still have been their lot, and drinking a “Vacuum Cleaner” would certainly have been more fun than pushing one around the house – see “V” for Vacuum Cleaner.
Many of the recipes contain absinthe and also some ingredients that are no longer available, but footnotes offer alternatives and also clarifications, for example, a “glass” in the 1920s referred to a measurement of 2oz rather than an actual glass. Most of the recipes have been field-tested, and tasted, but there are a couple of exceptions, one being the “Hydropot Exterminator.” A hydropot is a variety of teetotaler that, we can assume, disapproves of the alcohol imbibing classes. The recipe for this cocktail consists of: 1 bottle of White Rocks (a type of seltzer); 1, 2 or 3 dashes of arsenic; 1 pinch. We are told this concoction has two advantages; the hydropot rapidly leaves the house and dies in the open leaving no odor – the latter would be worthy of note to any conscientious housewife.
Hilda Phelps Hammond (1890 – 1951) and Olive Leonhardt met through a mutual friend at Newcomb High School where Leonhardt was a student, and became best friends. They socialized together in art salons, attended Junior League events, and participated in marches for the suffrage movement in New Orleans. A graduate of Tulane University, Hammond organized the Women’s Committee of Louisiana and is remembered as an outspoken critic of Governor Huey P. Long. In 1929 or 1930, she was writing a cooking column for the Times Picayune. Leonhardt (1895 – 1963) was a New Orleans-based artist and designer, an active participant and exhibitor in the art world of her time; she did illustrations, including covers, for the literary magazine The Double Dealer, which first published Faulkner and Hemingway. The book includes biographical profiles of the authors by Gay Leonhardt, and an excellent introduction on Prohibition-era New Orleans by historian John Magill so readers can fully appreciate the setting and the personalities behind this vintage cocktail guide with a Big Easy bent.
Here is one recipe to get you started: A for “Air Minded:”
1/6 Syrup of Anisette
1 Touch of Angostura
1 Touch of Orange
Shaking Up Prohibition In New Orleans: Authentic Vintage Cocktails from A – Z is published by the Louisiana State University Press (LSU). It is available online, and in most book stores including the Golden Notebook in Woodstock.
The Golden Notebook will host a Book Talk and Party at the Stockade Tavern on 313 Fair St., Kingston, NY, on Sunday April 12 at 4pm.
For further information, on this event and the Golden Notebook, go to www.goldennotebook.com or call 845 679 8000
Olive Leonhardt’s original drawings from this book will be exhibited at the Shaw Center of the Louisiana State Museum in Baton Rouge from May through August, 2015.
Illustrations are by Olive Leonhardt (signed Leon) and are courtesy of Gay Leonhardt.
Claire Lambe is an Irish born painter whose works have been exhibited on both sides of the Atlantic; she is a graduate of the National College of Art and Design in Dublin and holds an MFA in painting from the City University of New York. Writing credits include contributing author to Teen Life in Europe (part of the Teen Life Around The World series), and articles and reviews for this publication. Claire Lambe’s art work can be seen here: clairelambe.net/