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The Origin Of Southerners' Beloved Mint Julep

Aug 17, 2007
The word julep is an old and honored one and can be traced as far back as A. D. 1400 - long before we ever heard of the Southern States of these United States, where the julep is popularly supposed to be indigenous.

For centuries the julep has been described as "something to cool or assuage the heat of passion," and "a sweet drink prepared in different ways." We know nothing of the first definition but will confirm the second statement that it can be made in different ways.

The earliest form of the word was iulep. Arabs called it julab, the Portuguese julepe, the Italians giulebbe, Latins named it julapium, Persians, gul-ab, meaning "rose water." The Greeks, alas, did not have a word for it! Julep, as we spell it, is French. All this being settled, let us get on with our juleping.

Don't use rye whiskey in making a julep. If you do use whiskey let it be Bourbon, which serves its highest purpose when it becomes a component part of that prince of all thirst-quenchers known as the Mint Julep. There are many kinds of mint juleps, one for nearly every Southern State - such as Kentucky, Georgia, Virginia, Maryland, Louisiana juleps.

For a mint julep, you're going to need the following:

1 teaspoon sugar

1 dozen mint leaves

1 jigger Bourbon whiskey

1 pony rum

Put the mint leaves into a tall glass in which the julep is to be served. Add the sugar and crush in a little water. Four in the Bourbon whiskey, then the rum, and fill the glass with shaved ice. Jiggle the mixture with a long-handled spoon (do not stir) until the outside of the glass or metal goblet is heavily frosted. Arrange a bouquet of several sprigs of mint on top just before handing to the recipient, who will ever after bless you.

Naturally, one is aware that he takes his life in his hands by even suggesting the way a real mint julep should be prepared, for there are as many recipes for this truly Southern drink as there are southern states in the Union.

Julep experts - may their tribe never decrease! - know that correct and authentic recipes take on changes in passing from one state to another. Southern colonels, to say nothing of majors, captains, and buck privates, have been known to call for pistols under the duelling oaks when it is even hinted that mint leaves be crushed in preparing a julep. Other colonels, majors, etc., emit fire and brimstone, and a Bourbon-laden breath, if the pungent leaves are not crushed in the bottom of the glass and a bouquet of short-to-measure sprigs placed on top in which to snuggle the nose while the nectar is being withdrawn with a reverent, albeit, audible sucking through a straw.

There is also a difference of opinion concerning the variety of spirits that go into the making. In the recipe above the pony of rum may be added or subtracted - it all depends on your drinking mathematics. Rum, however, gives added zest to a regulation whiskey julep.

The one thing upon which the two mint julep schools are fully agreed is this: it was a julep the two Carolina governors had in mind when making their celebrated observation regarding the length of time between drinks.

Other than that agreement, the ingredients and ratios involved in making a julep have been widely debated. However, as long as you know how to make one julep, you'll be smiling by the end of the night.
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