Spring is just around the corner. I know because the buttercups are blooming right along side the flutterbups. You can’t always trust them, sometimes they pop up and hold their little heads high above the snow, but mostly, when you see them, you can start looking for your shorts. I have a particular field of buttercups that I always look for, planted on “the home place” by my great grandma Fannie Taylor, affectionately known throughout the family as “Mammy”. Every year, when that field where the old house stood turns yellow, we stop one afternoon to pick Mammy’s buttercups. There is no real need, I have some of them transplanted to my house, as does my mom and my grandma, but there is something nice about walking across that field where my grandpa played and worked as a little boy and my mom learned to ride a bike. So, in the spirit of connection and the little rituals that make us who we are, won’t you join me now as we stand and make the classic, Mamie Taylor.
This is an old drink created around 1899 when my great grandma was 15 years old. Naturally, the drink has no connection to her whatsoever, but was actually made for opera singer, Mayme Taylor. Allegedly, the bartender was unable to comply with her claret lemonade order, but offered this drink up instead. She loved it, they named it in her honor and it remains part of the cocktail lexicon today. Well they named it in her honor, but then misspelled her name, but what are you going to do? If it is any consolation, this drink is the spiritual predecessor and inspiration for the Moscow Mule. To be fair, the Mule is just a Buck, a classic drink made with any alcohol, lime juice and ginger beer, so this is basically a Scotch Buck, but who’s counting.
This one is built in the glass, so grab something appropriate. I chose a “buttermilk glass” from the collection of my grandma, which was, allegedly, Mammy Taylor’s favorite glass to drink her sweet tea from. Might as well put on some tunes, musical roulette delivered up Johny Cash singing “I’ll Fly Away” while I was picking buttercups today, so we are just going to go with it. Fill with ice and add 2 ounces of blended Scotch, I chose Dewar’s 12 Year; 3/4 of an ounce of fresh squeezed lime juice and top with ginger beer, I chose Cock & Bull. Give it a quick stir and garnish with a lime wheel and one of the tiny buttercups from Mammy Taylor’s old homestead, maybe pile up some of the big ones in the background.
Of course this drink is lovely, it’s a Scotch Buck and most any Buck is pretty great. As much as I enjoy the moscow mule, this drink is just better for bringing that smoky scotch. To be fair, I am a big fan of the Mezcal Buck, so it was natural that I was going to like this one.
Picking Mammy’s buttercups each year is one of those touchstone moments. I remember doing it when I was young and I share it with the boy now. She passed in 1967, so I never met her, but I heard about her my whole life. She was a singular woman and the stories abound, usually punctuated with her signature line, “Shitfire!”. It is strange to find myself sharing stories of a person I never met, but she was always talked about around the dinner table when I was young and those stories helped to create my childhood and sense of place. She was born in 1884 and most of her family lived through or fought in the Civil War. My grandfather was the youngest of her 10 children, so he was only one generation away from those times. It gives an odd sense of history to grow up with these ghosts, through their stories. Sometimes, the tales were serious, like the days of fear when the cannons from the Battle of Murfreesboro rattled the dishes in the cabinet. Cannons being fired at the men of the family who were there fighting. More often, the stories tended toward humor, like the time Mammy burned down the outhouse while killing mosquitoes. She heard you could pour kerosene in the hole to keep mosquitoes from growing there, but nobody bothered to tell her it was just having the petroleum on the surface that killed them, so she threw in a match with explosive results. My great grandfather, Pap, was an unflappable man of few words, who on seeing the fire raging out of the two holer, said simply, “She’s been hollering shitfire for years, I guess she’s gone and done it.” These stories and many more were passed around the dinner table at the end of the meal, like so many slices of pie. A little family history to go with dessert. Stories told like they happened recently as if those folks were just in the other room, not gone for half a century or more. That sense of family, coupled with a sense of place helps to keep you grounded and we need that. Walking today with my wife and son, across fields picking flowers my great grandma planted sometime in the first half of the last century is a nice way to touch base. A little ritual of the new season to come, that also connects us to our history. You can’t ask for more than that, well, you could do it with a drink in hand, that might be a little better. Stay safe, stay hydrated and stay sane, my friends.