Brian Makes Mint Juleps: The Sling

This week, in our series on the history of the Mint Julep, Program Director Brian Cushing takes us through the process of making a “sling”, an early version of what we now think of as the mint julep. Take it away, Brian! 


 

In general, we will be working off of original mint julep recipes in this series but to get the story kicked off, I am going to rely completely on David Wondrich’s excellent research presented in his book, Imbibe: a cornerstone of information currently available on the evolution of spirits and what people did with the in North America.

Calling a recreational beverage a “mint julep” started off as a joke in the later middle part of the 18th Century, right around the time the original owner of Locust Grove, William Croghan, was making it to America from Ireland and getting started. The word “julep” had been used to refer to medicinal concoctions for centuries and what started being called a “mint julep” at that point was really a minty “sling,” an early form of individual cocktail (vs. the popular flowing bowls of punch at the time, a prevailing method for several individuals to partake of spirits made into a tantalizing and palatable form). Aiding the joke was that the essence of mint leaves was understood to be medicinal and could be extracted with alcohol (they are also, of course, very pleasant to the senses).

Wondrich cited an account by none other than Dr. Benjamin Rush of how he observed slings being made (by an acquaintance who eventually drank himself to death): equal parts rum and water with some sugar.

While his unfortunate acquaintance used rum, any spirit was a candidate for a sling, with gin being very common and brandy occupying a more prominent place in American spirit culture at the time. Spirits were often more commonly used in an unaged, clear (or “white”) form at the time. I happened to have some high proof, white brandy on hand so I started with that for this attempt to recreate what these early juleps might have been like. You can find similar products in your local liquor store today, including from Louisville based Copper and Kings, a Locust Grove  Farm Distillery Project sponsor. Since part of the joke may have been alcohol’s ability to extract the essence from the mint leaves, I decided to crush some mint leaves and let them steep in 6 oz of the brandy for a few days.

When the time came to make the drink, I went with Wondrich’s recommendation of 1 tsp. of sugar per 2 oz. of spirit. So, since I had 6 oz. of spirit, I dissolved 3 tsp. of sugar in 6 oz. of room temperature water. Early cocktail recipes often involve sugar dissolved in water instead of simple syrup; it is important to dissolve the quantity of sugar in the quantity of water at room temperature that the recipe calls for first; it will not want to dissolve in spirit and will be problematic in cold water.

Then I strained the leaves from the spirit, added it to the sugar and water, mixed, and dispensed into glasses. For good measure, I placed a couple of mint stalks into each glass, agitated slightly in my hands first to start getting the scent released.

Being used to the magic of a classic mint julep, I was prepared for a disappointment, but actually found it very pleasant, mellow, and maybe a little too easy to drink. One possible origin of the term “sling” that Wondrich points out is the ease at which it is slinged back. You may notice that a crucial element of the mint julep is missing here- ice! It would begin to be incorporated in the 19th Century and by the time the mint julep became no longer a joke but a drink of its own, a staple. In our next installment, we will have made it all the way to 1840 when the joke is over, the julep is getting serious, and the results will be wonders that you won’t want to turn loose of no matter how much you love the classic mint julep!

Cheers, y’all! Stay with us next week as the joke is over, and the julep is getting serious in the 1840s! 

Out of History’s Shadow: The Story of Alfred Croghan, Part 1

Two actors portraying enslaved workers through a window

Alfred and Rose, portrayed by Sidney and Xavier, in the hearth kitchen at Historic Locust Grove in Louisville, Kentucky. – Photo by Heather R. Hiner/Fox and Rose Photography.

Today, volunteer and researcher Heather Hiner continues to share her research into the enslaved community at Locust Grove with the first in a series on the life of an enslaved man named Alfred Croghan. Her previous post tells the story of another enslaved man, also named Alfred who was most likely sold by the Croghan family of  Locust Grove as punishment for an unknown act. 

For the most part, the enslaved people who lived and labored at Locust Grove in Louisville, Kentucky are poorly documented. When I started this research project, Alfred Croghan was documented better than most. But “better than most” is a low bar. I knew his first name, the approximate year of his birth, and that he had spent part of his adult life at Mammoth Cave. After many, many hours of research and with the help of librarians, archivists, and others, I am excited to share that Alfred Croghan has gone from being poorly documented to being the first enslaved person owned by the Croghan family that we can trace from a child at Locust Grove to his death as a free man in Louisville.

Alfred’s first documented appearance may be in the 1820 Census. According to the census, half of the enslaved people living at Locust Grove were 14 or younger. I cannot be entirely sure that Alfred is one of the children listed in the census because the only person listed by name is the head of the household, Major William Croghan. Major Croghan’s family and the enslaved people he owned are not listed by name.

1820 census document

1820 Federal Census for William Croghan (highlighted in yellow). Alfred Croghan may have been one of the eight male enslaved children seen in the census (highlighted in orange).

I have not come across any records of births of enslaved children at Locust Grove. However, I am pretty confident that Alfred was born in 1820 based on some wonderful photographs I will share in a future post about Alfred. The census was taken in August of 1820, which means if Alfred was born before August, he is one of the eight enslaved male children living at Locust Grove who were recorded on the census.

Portrait of mid-19th century man

Portrait of William Croghan, Jr. by James Reid Lambdin

The only real glimpse of Alfred’s childhood that we have is a letter written by William Croghan, Jr. to his three-year-old son, William Croghan III in 1828. In fact, it is the best account of enslaved children in general that we have and is a treasure trove of information.

“Locust Grove, Fall, 1828

…If you were only here now to see the dear little calves, & the lambs & little pigs – You never saw so many pigs & only to think how you would find the ducks & your eggs. Little Abe & Al, find the most & Al comes in & says “here old mister here is egg, now give me cake” & then away he runs & then Abe he comes in with his – Little Tommy & Susan live at the river, but they come up here of a Sunday to see us all” –

Little Harvey wants to go with me to Pitts; he says he belong to you. Little Bob lives in town & is learning to be a barber. He lives with the black Barber than once cut your hair –”…

Excerpt, William Croghan Jr. to his three-year-old son, William Croghan III – Locust Grove Manuscripts

Portrait of mid-19th century woman

Portrait of Mary Croghan Schenley by James Reid Lambdin

Based on a birth year of 1820 and with no other records pointing to another man around the same age with the same name owned by the Croghans, it is a near certainty that “Al” is an eight-year-old Alfred Croghan. It’s an account that shows an exuberant boy who is bold enough to be a bit cheeky with William, Jr.

William Croghan, Jr. inherited Locust Grove from his father in 1822 and continued to live there until the death of his wife in October of 1827. Devastated by his loss, William and his children moved to Pittsburgh where he could manage his late wife’s estate. He wrote the above letter to his son in Pittsburgh one after the death of his wife while he was visiting Locust Grove.

Pittsburgh also became a part of Alfred’s story. John Abbott met Alfred during a visit to Mammoth Cave in 1854 and shared that “Alfred formerly belonged to Miss Mary Croghan [daughter of William Croghan, Jr.]… After she went to England, she gave Alfred to some of her relatives, and he belonged to Dr. Croghan at the time of his [Dr. Croghan’s] death…”

Being moved to Pittsburgh to serve William’s daughter, Mary, followed by being passed between other members of the Croghan family would have been an experience Alfred shared with other enslaved people owned by the Croghans. It was a common practice for the Croghans to loan, buy, or sell, enslaved people who belonged to their family amongst themselves.

Under the ownership of Dr. John Croghan, William, Jr.’s, oldest brother, Alfred would become one of the enslaved guides of Mammoth Cave. Working alongside the storied Stephen Bishop, Materson Bransford, and Nicholas Bransford, Alfred would leave his own marks at the cave and become a part of its history. And that’s a story for the next blog post, so stay tuned!

You can follow Heather’s continued research on her blog, The Past in Focus. 

Dressing Miss Ann Croghan

We are fortunate to have many, many dedicated individuals researching, writing, baking, sewing, and making so that we can tell the stories of Locust Grove’s community. Our guest blogger today is Amy Liebert, Theatrical Director and Women’s Costuming Director for our First Person Interpreters program. Amy recently draped and consulted on a new dress for Heather, who interprets the role of Ann Croghan in our cast. Here’s a look at her process, and how our interpreters at Locust Grove use historical sources to create historically accurate, and ideally, character-driven clothing, to educate museum visitors on the year 1816.

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Dressing Miss Ann Croghan by Amy Liebert

Heather as Ann Croghan on the porch of Locust Grove

Heather as Ann Croghan on the porch of Locust Grove

Heather is 16 years old and she portrays Ann Croghan, daughter of William and Lucy Croghan who owned Locust Grove. Ann was born in 1797 and was 19 years old in 1816. Heather will hopefully portray Ann for some time to come.

Portrait of Ann Croghan Jesup

Portrait of Ann Croghan Jesup

This is a portrait which was painted of Ann after her 1822 marriage to Thomas Sidney Jesup. She is a brunette, wearing the color red.

We didn’t ask her to do this, but Heather actually started dying her hair, which is naturally dark blond, brown for this part. Talk about dedication! Her mother made her some false curls based on my post here, and modified this method of styling Heather’s hair.

I found the fabric for this dress on Fashion Fabrics Club, before Heather joined the cast. It reminded me of the fabric this dress from the DAR Fashionable Tyrant exhibit was made from. Since we ask that all fabric for this program be approved, I will often pick up approvable fabric when I find a good deal, and pass it on at cost to the ladies in the program.

Polka Dot printed dress, 1810-1815, from private collection

1810-1815 (Private Collection)

I draped the bodice for the dress on Heather and drew up instructions for the skirt. We chose a front opening dress so she would have an easier time getting dressed.

Heather as Ann Croghan wearing front opening dress

Heather’s grandmother Patsy actually did all of the construction on the garment with my instructions and consultation. She was a real champ about learning historic clothing construction techniques!

Heather wearing polka dot dress as seen from the back

Apparently, Patsy has come to really enjoy doing tucks.

Tucks at the hem of Heather's skirt

Here, you can see the tucks at the hem of Heather’s skirt.

Heather stuck with the red theme for her evening gown, which was made from some lovely red silk from 96 District Fabrics. I also draped the bodice for this on her, and helped fit all the tucks on the fashion fabric. Patsy handled all the major construction.

Bodice of red dress ins progress

Here she is in action with her ‘sister’, Eliza Croghan.

Heather as Ann Croghan and Emily as Eliza Croghan

Heather as Ann Croghan and Emily as Eliza Croghan

I may be biased, but I think they look pretty darn great!

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You can read more of Amy’s work on her blog, Places in Time. Look for Ann Croghan’s dress in action during Christmastide, 1816 on Saturday, December 8 from 12:00 pm – 7:00 pm!