PHOTOS BY JOHN FLADD / HEAVY TABLE
I was texting with a friend who lives in Kansas, and she asked what I was up to. I told her that I was developing several cocktails based on the Wizard of Oz, and that interestingly enough Kansas was on my mind. I was trying to come up with a drink that was grey, but where the color wouldn’t be off-putting.
My friend was a bit miffed about this and asked why I wanted to paint Kansas as grey. She pointed out that where she lives was in blossom, and stunningly lovely, whereas where I live was emphatically not. I responded by sending her a couple of paragraphs from the first chapter of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, where everything was described as being grey.
She pointed out that L. Frank Baum, the author, had never been to Kansas in his life. I countered that he hadn’t actually been to Oz, either, which she acknowledged as a fair point.
If you are of a certain age, one of the defining forces of your childhood was the one time a year that The Wizard of Oz would air on television. You probably loved the Munchkins and the Cowardly Lion. You probably hid your face when the witch was cackling and threatening Toto, and the flying monkeys probably freaked you out in a way that left emotional scars that you are still dealing with.
For some of us though, the whole Oz thing went much deeper.
In college, I guarantee that you were cornered at a party by someone who went on at great length about how The Wizard of Oz is actually a political allegory about American populism and the gold standard. They were probably quite worked up about it. That may or may not be true, but is largely irrelevant to me, because regardless of his original motivations, once L. Frank Baum had commercial success with his first book, he took it as license to really unleash his imagination on the children of America.
Ultimately, he actually wrote fourteen books in his Oz series, each one slightly weirder and more hypnotic than the last. I loved (and still love) these books with a passion, and indeed, for a brief period in middle school, carried them around in a briefcase – which is both an indication of, and explanation for my loneliness as an adolescent.
So, where do the cocktails come in?
Ah, I’m glad you asked.
**Gets up and pulls down a wall map**
As you can see, the Land of Oz is split diagonally into four countries, each with its associated color. (For reasons known only to him, Baum reversed East and West.) According to him, the flowers, the trees, the birds in those countries followed a color scheme, as did the people who lived there. Munchkins, for instance, tended to dress in blue and paint their houses in blue. The sky was blue. the lakes were blue. Bluebirds flitted from bluebells to blue roses, to… um… – at this point, my knowledge of blue flowers runs dry. Anyway, you get the point.
But, before we can enter a world of bright, vibrant colors, we have to start somewhere, in this case, Kansas.
When Dorothy stood in the doorway and looked around, she could see nothing but the great gray prairie on every side. Not a tree nor a house broke the broad sweep of flat country that reached to the edge of the sky in all directions. The sun had baked the plowed land into a gray mass, with little cracks running through it. Even the grass was not green, for the sun had burned the tops of the long blades until they were the same gray color to be seen everywhere. Once the house had been painted, but the sun blistered the paint and the rains washed it away, and now the house was as dull and gray as everything else.
When Aunt Em came there to live she was a young, pretty wife. The sun and wind had changed her, too. They had taken the sparkle from her eyes and left them a sober gray; they had taken the red from her cheeks and lips, and they were gray also.
L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
As my friend pointed out to me, Kansas is a place of surprising beauty and comfort. Oz may be vibrant and exciting and colorful, but Dorothy just wants to get back home to Kansas. It is where her heart is.
So, the challenge is how to make a drink that is grey enough to satisfy Mr. Baum, but comforting and delicious enough to mollify my steely-eyed Kansan friend.
The answer, as it so often is, is Mexican food – in this case horchata, a rice-milk-based street drink. If you haven’t had horchata before, it is lightly sweet, cinnamonny, and deeply comforting – in much the same way that Kansas is to Dorothy (and to my friend). In this case, I have substituted black rice for the usual long grain, white rice.
There’s No Place Like Home
6 oz Grey Horchata (see below)
2 oz dark rum (I like Meyers’ for this)
- Pour horchata and rum over ice in a tall glass. Stir and drink. Sighing with contentment is optional, but probably inevitable.
There is something deeply satisfying about fresh horchata. It hits you with a double dose of carbohydrates – starch from the rice, and sweetness from the sugar syrup. Cinnamon speaks to the comfort part of our brain; it touches on our memories of childhood. Rum, hopefully, is not a taste from your childhood, but plays well with sweet friends. This is an excellent back porch, late afternoon, watching-the-bird-feeder drink.
1 cup (188 gr.) black rice (I use Lundberg Japonica Black Rice)
½ cup (69 gr.) raw, slivered almonds
1 cinnamon stick
¾ cup (6 oz) simple syrup
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
1 12-oz. can evaporated milk
1½ cups (12 oz) almond milk
1 liter (33 oz) water
- Soak the rice, almonds, and cinnamon stick in water overnight. This will soften the rice slightly. You will have misgivings at its appearance. Set them aside.
- The next day, strain the solids, then blend them with the evaporated milk, until smooth. (I recently bought a high-end blender, and one of my frustrations has been that very few drinks, ice cream bases, etc… need to be blended on the very top speed. I’ve been waiting for a chance to open that baby up and see what it can do. This was my chance.)
- Strain the mixture again, with a fine-mesh strainer.
- Combine with other ingredients.
- Store in the refrigerator, and serve very cold. Whisk before each serving; there will be some separation.
She was surprised, as she walked along, to see how pretty the country was about her. There were neat fences at the sides of the road, painted a dainty blue color, and beyond them were fields of grain and vegetables in abundance. Evidently the Munchkins were good farmers and able to raise large crops. Once in a while she would pass a house, and the people came out to look at her and bow low as she went by; for everyone knew she had been the means of destroying the Wicked Witch and setting them free from bondage. The houses of the Munchkins were odd-looking dwellings, for each was round, with a big dome for a roof. All were painted blue, for in this country of the East blue was the favorite color.
L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
It was very tempting to invent a blue cocktail out of whole cloth to represent the Munchkins, but the problem is, there is one perfect blue cocktail already. It’s a classic called a Lady in Blue. In our flawed, broken world, there are few enough perfect things. It would be disrespectful to ignore this one.
Lady in Blue
1½ oz. very cold gin (I like Death’s Door)
¼ oz. crème de violette
¾ oz. fresh squeezed lemon juice
½ oz. simple syrup
3 drops orange blossom water
- Shake everything but the Curaçao over ice, until shatteringly cold.
- Strain into a chilled martini glass
- Pour a “slip” of Curaçao down the side of the glass, so it settles in the bottom. It will mix slightly with the rest of the drink, producing an Ombre effect, shading from a delicate violet color, to a deep, Munchkin blue.
I tend to like sweet drinks, and although this one has some sweetness in the background, it presents more as bracing (from the gin), and floral from the crème de violette. The coldness is the key; too warm and it sweetens up, which isn’t bad, but doesn’t give you the same adult, glamorous feeling that you get when it’s cold.
My only problem with the Lady in Blue, is that I can’t really think of many ladies in Munchkin Land. The only one who springs to mind is the Wicked Witch of the East, who Dorothy crushes with her house.
My suggestion is to take your shoes off when you drink this.
The Quadling Country
The country of the Quadlings seemed rich and happy. There was field upon field of ripening grain, with well-paved roads running between, and pretty rippling brooks with strong bridges across them. The fences and houses and bridges were all painted bright red, just as they had been painted yellow in the country of the Winkies and blue in the country of the Munchkins. The Quadlings themselves, who were short and fat and looked chubby and good-natured, were dressed all in red, which showed bright against the green grass and the yellowing grain.
L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
The Quadling Country doesn’t get a lot of write-up in the Oz books, largely because it is ruled by Glinda, a beautiful and loving sorceress, who (I imagine) would crush her enemies like bugs beneath her slippered feet, and thus, there are not a lot of villains to start plot-worthy shenanigans.
When we think of red ingredients, our minds often go to strawberries or raspberries. I’ve decided to go in a different direction with this drink.
Quadling Red (Which frankly, sounds like a street name for pixie dust)
2 oz pomegranate juice
1 oz fresh squeezed lime juice
¾ oz cardamom vodka (see below)
1¼ oz unflavored vodka
½ oz rhubarb syrup (see below)
½ oz Campari
- Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker over ice, and shake thoroughly.
- Strain into a coupé glass.
I like this combination a lot, because the pomegranate, lime, and rhubarb all add a background sourness that is undercut by the sugar in the syrup. The bitterness from the Campari keeps a firm hand on the sweetness and keeps it from running amok through your tastebuds.
And the color is beautiful.
1½ cups (12 oz.) inexpensive vodka (When you taste this, you’ll understand why you don’t want to use your good stuff for this.)
½ oz (14 gr.) green cardamom pods
- Lightly crush the cardamom pods in a mortar and pestle, or with the bottom of a saucepan. You are not trying to powder the cardamom – just cracking it open.
- Combine the cardamom and vodka in a jar and steep for 24 hours, shaking it occasionally.
- Strain, bottle and label.
This vodka has a solidly cardamommy flavor, but you will probably want to use it judiciously. Think of it like Tabasco sauce – it only takes a little bit of it to get your point across.
Equal amounts, by weight, of sugar and frozen rhubarb.
As with most fruit syrups, you’re probably better off using frozen rhubarb for this application. The freezing process punctures all the cell walls of the rhubarb with ice crystals, making it more amenable to the idea of giving up its juice.
- Combine the rhubarb and sugar in a small saucepan, over medium heat, stirring occasionally. As the rhubarb thaws and mixes with the sugar, the mixture will get increasingly more liquid. When that happens, mash the rhubarb with a potato masher to help the process along.
- Bring the mixture briefly to a boil, to make sure that the sugar is completely dissolved, then remove from heat, strain, cool, and bottle it. Store in your refrigerator.
They now made a more careful examination of the country around them. All was fresh and beautiful after the sultriness of the desert, and the sunshine and sweet, crisp air were delightful to the wanderers. Little mounds of yellowish green were away at the right, while on the left waved a group of tall leafy trees bearing yellow blossoms that looked like tassels and pompoms. Among the grasses carpeting the ground were pretty buttercups and cowslips and marigolds. After looking at these a moment Dorothy said reflectively:
“We must be in the Country of the Winkies, for the color of that country is yellow, and you will notice that ‘most everything here is yellow that has any color at all.”
L. Frank Baum, The Road to Oz
If you only know Oz from the 1939 Judy Garland film, you saw a bit of the Land of the Winkies toward the end of the movie. It is where the Wicked Witch of the West (and thus, on the right side of the Oz map) has her castle, guarded by the men with intimidating hats. It is where Dorothy and the Witch have their final showdown.
In the books, the Winkies are so grateful to Dorothy and her friends for delivering them from oppression, that they make the Tin Man their Emperor.
(On the one hand, that doesn’t make a lot of sense – “Hey, we don’t know you, but you have to be better than the previous administration” – but when you think about it, it’s pretty slick that they gave a hereditary title to someone unable to have children.)
The Winkies’ color is yellow, and so is this drink.
1 oz ginger juice (see below)
1 oz triple sec
3 oz very cold vodka – Again, something you won’t mind overpowering
1 oz pineapple juice
1 oz lime juice
¼ oz crème de banana
- Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice, then shake thoroughly. Like the Lady in Blue, this is best when it starts excruciatingly cold, then evolves in flavor as it warms up slightly.
- Strain into a chilled martini glass.
I love this cocktail beyond rational thought. The ginger juice is spicy, which is balanced by the sweetness of the pineapple juice and crème de banana. The acid of the lime plays off the other ingredients, giving them complexity.
This may become your favorite cocktail.
If you own a fruit/vegetable juicer, this is the job it was made for. As you juice a hand of ginger (that’s what a blob of fresh ginger is called, apparently) your kitchen will briefly become very aromatic – aromatic to the point where you might start coughing. Fortunately ,we all own cloth face masks at this point, and wearing one will keep you from breathing in any ginger droplets. Unless you live alone, somebody is guaranteed to walk in on you and ask, “What are you doing?”
Don’t strain your ginger juice. Store it in a bottle in your refrigerator, and shake it each time you use it.
Alternatively, you can just buy ginger juice at the supermarket.
The Gillikin Country
“Well, the grass is purple, and the trees are purple, and the houses and fences are purple,” explained Tip. “Even the mud in the roads is purple. But in the Emerald City everything is green that is purple here. And in the Country of the Munchkins, over at the East, everything is blue; and in the South country of the Quadlings everything is red; and in the West country of the Winkies, where the Tin Woodman rules, everything is yellow.”
L. Frank Baum, The Marvelous Land of Oz
Lyman Baum pretty blatantly played favorites in which of the Oz countries he set his books. Munchkin Land and the Winkies get the lion’s share of the ink. The Quadlings are largely ignored, and the purple Gillikin Country is where he set a series of tiny, forgotten micro-kingdoms populated by creatures too odd to be walking around the rest of Oz – Loons, Yoops, Flatheads, Skeezers, giant purple spiders, and the flying monkeys.
I like to think of it as exotic and purple.
Gillikin Dreams and Peacock Wings
2 oz very cold gin – Again, I like Death’s Door for this
1 oz fresh squeezed lemon juice
½ oz orgeat (almond syrup)
5 drops rose water
½ oz butterfly syrup (See below)
¼ oz. butterfly tea (See below)
- Pour the butterfly tea and butterfly syrup over cracked ice in a goblet or tulip glass. Crack the ice by smacking it with the back of a table knife. The syrup and tea will be a handsome shade of blue.
- Combine the remaining ingredients with ice in a shaker. Shake until very cold.
- Strain into the glass with the syrup and tea, using a fine-meshed strainer. (Depending on which brand of orgeat you use, it may have small fragments of almond skin which add to the flavor, but detract from the beauty of this drink.)
- Stir. As the butterfly syrup and tea combine with the acid from the lemon juice, they will turn an exotic shade of purple. The cracks in the ice will remain deeply blue.
This cocktail is distantly related to an Amaretto Sour. It has a similar sweet/sour character, and almond notes in the background, but the rose water – used judiciously – adds an exotic note to the experience. If the There’s No Place Like Home is well-suited for porch sipping, this is perfect for a birthday party. It’s festive and exotic, like an almost-too-daring silk dress, or a velvet smoking jacket.
Butterfly Tea, Butterfly Syrup
I got into a conversation about exotic cocktails in line at the post office – as one does – and a stranger lady who is my new best friend, told me about blue sweet peas. Apparently, they are regular sweet peas (the flower, not the vegetable), but are sold dried as Butterfly Pea Flowers. When brewed into a tea, they make a beautiful blue infusion, which turns brilliantly purple when exposed to acid.
Tea – Pour 1-1½ cups of boiling or very hot water over 4 grams of dried butterfly pea blossoms. Let it steep for five minutes, then strain.
Syrup – Make a simple syrup of 1 cup sugar to 1 cup of water. Bring to a boil and let the sugar dissolve completely. Take off the heat, then add 5 grams of butterfly pea blossoms, stir, and leave covered for 30 minutes. Strain and bottle.
Other Oz Drinks
At this point, you may be asking, “Yes, that’s all fine, but what about the Emerald City? Where is the green drink?”
Ah, there you take me to deep waters…
As I see it, there are easily 20-30 more Oz-inspired cocktails (Oztails?) waiting to be born – including, but not limited to:
- Emerald City Serenade
- Ruby Slippers
- Lemon Baum
- Tawney and Terrified
- Behind the Curtain
- Singing with Rinkitink
- Flying Monkey
- Help Me; I’m Melting
So, this may have to be a two-parter.
“By means of the Golden Cap I shall command the Winged Monkeys to carry you to the gates of the Emerald City,” said Glinda, “for it would be a shame to deprive the people of so wonderful a ruler.”
“Am I really wonderful?” asked the Scarecrow.
“You are unusual,” replied Glinda.
L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz