From The Civil War Home

The Mint Julep

       The Mint Julep, a distinctive Southern drink, popular in the ante bellum South right up through modern times, is a mixture of water, sugar, mint leaves and, above all, bourbon whiskey. While it can be purchased today in modern drinking establishments in the South, those served there bear little resemblance to those served in the home. The serving of this elixir to family and guests on a hot summer afternoon was, and is, accomplished with the greatest fanfare and flourish to show respect for those receiving it.  It is as much of a ceremony as it is a drink.
        The following is a copy of a letter from Lieutenant General Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr., USA [(VMI-1906, West Point-1908) killed on Okinawa June 18, 1945] to Major General William D. Connor, [Superintendent of the United States Military Academy at West Point] dated March 30, 1937. Buckner Jr. was the grandson of General Simon Bolivar Buckner of the Confederate army who surrendered Fort Donelson to General Grant, thus giving Grant his nickname of "Unconditional Surrender" Grant. This letter clearly demonstrates the esteem in which a "Mint Julep" is held.

 

My Dear General Connor:

        Your letter requesting my formula for mixing mint juleps leaves me in the same position in which Captain Barber found himself when asked how he was able to carve the image of an elephant from a block of wood. He said that it was a simple process consisting merely of whittling off the part that didn't look like an elephant.
        The preparation of the quintessence of gentlemanly beverages can be described only in like terms. A mint julep is not a product of a formula. It is a ceremony and must be performed by a gentleman possessing a true sense of the artistic, a deep reverence for the ingredients and a proper appreciation of the occasion. It is a rite that must not be entrusted to a novice, a statistician nor a Yankee. It is a heritage of the Old South, and emblem of hospitality, and a vehicle in which noble minds can travel together upon the flower-strewn paths of a happy and congenial thought.
        So far as the mere mechanics of the operation are concerned, the procedure, stripped of its ceremonial embellishments, can be described as follows:
        Go to a spring where cool, crystal-clear water bubbles from under a bank of dew-washed ferns. In a consecrated vessel, dip up a little water at the source. Follow the stream thru its banks of green moss and wild flowers until it broadens and trickles thru beds of mint growing in aromatic profusion and waving softly in the summer breeze. Gather the sweetest and tenderest shoots and gently carry them home. Go to the sideboard and select a decanter of Kentucky Bourbon distilled by a master hand, mellowed with age, yet still vigorous and inspiring. An ancestral sugar bowl, a row of silver goblets, some spoons and some ice and you are ready to start.
        Into a canvas bag pound twice as much ice as you think you will need. Make it fine as snow, keep it dry and do not allow it to degenerate into slush. Into each goblet, put a slightly heaping teaspoonful of granulated sugar, barely cover this with spring water and slightly bruise one mint leaf into this, leaving the spoon in the goblet. Then pour elixir from the decanter until the goblets are about one-fourth full. Fill the goblets with snowy ice, sprinkling in a small amount of sugar as you fill. Wipe the outside of the goblets dry, and embellish copiously with mint.
        Then comes the delicate and important operation of frosting. By proper manipulation of the spoon, the ingredients are circulated and blended until nature, wishing to take a further hand and add another of its beautiful phenomena, encrusts the whole in a glistening coat of white frost.
        Thus harmoniously blended by the deft touches of a skilled hand, you have a beverage eminently appropriate for honorable men and beautiful women.
        When all is ready, assemble your guests on the porch or in the garden where the aroma of the juleps will rise heavenward and make the birds sing. Propose a worthy toast, raise the goblets to your lips, bury your nose in the mint, inhale a deep breath of its fragrance and sip the nectar of the gods.
        Being overcome with thirst, I can write no further.

Sincerely,
Lt. Gen. S.B. Buckner, Jr.
VMI Class of 1906

 

 

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