The age of wonder, and the wonder of cocktails

NB: This post is a translated (and somewhat edited) version of something from when I used to have a cocktailblog in Swedish.img_3618

It seems he continued to call down through the dark “make hast”, while Caroline continued to gasp back in agony “I am hooked”..Caroline was carried back to the house but astonishingly no doctor was called. She bandaged the wound herself,retired to bed, and proudly recorded that she was back on telescope duties within a fortnight.

-From The age of Wonder by Richard Holmes

To know me is to know my techno-phobia. To worry about how technology changes people is hardly anything new(nor is being uninterested in technology for its own sake).

I remember very fondly an episode of a french podcast I listened to where the discussion was about the brouhaha  when the railway was constructed, and everyone had to adhere to the same time. The stress was enormous(apparently) even though those of us familiar with the french now that many of them still regard watches as an accessory and time to be a more fluid concept. Lunch hour is holy but apart from that it’s up for grabs. Punctuality may be a virtue in many parts of the world, the french regard it as just a bit too puritan.

But trash talking the french wasn’t the point of this post (as fun as it is) but rather to bring up a good book The age of wonder -how the romantic generation discovered the beauty and terror of science.

The second scientific revolution mapped the world and the sky. The human body was throughly examined and superstition gave way to science. All of this was fodder for a generation of writers and artist, the romantics, who despite the name were not against it but embraced it fully.

Holmes gives us, in a way that is both informative and entertaining, the history and the human lives behind the discoveries; not just the explorer but also their families and context. Holmes writes “We need to understand how science is actually made; how scientists themselves think and feel and speculate” which I think is a valid point. And this is where Caroline Herschel enters the picture.

She was her brother’s foremost assistant even though she was not always acknowledged as such. William Herschel was a musician that became a pioneer in astronomy and nothing or no-one will take those achievements away from him. But had it not been for his sister he might not have been so successful so quickly. She made his work her own and ,as quoted, literally bled for her “art”. Holmes describes her as a “celestial housekeeper” ; someone who took care of both her brothers worldy life but also helped him map the skies.

The Celestial Housekeeper; yields 1 drink

4 cl cold tea with bergamot (early grey, lady grey)

2 cl rhubarb syrup

2 cl freshly pressed grapefruitjuice

Mineral water

  1. Shake ingredients with ice until cold.
  2. Strain into cocktail glass. Top with a dash of mineral water.

This tastes very nice; I like to make non-alcoholic drinks with cold tea; it gives them a lot of flavor. Some sweetness from rhubarb and bitterness from grapefruit adds a nice balance.

As I read on though I came to learn that Caroline didn’t remain in her brothers shadow. Many around him saw the importance of her work, and skill for it, and it was a time when many men came to realize that there was no reason that women shouldn’t be allowed to study science and join the ranks of explorers. So did William and in time her contributions were mentioned in his publications and he gave her two telescopes. They came to be called “Miss Herschel’s small sweeper” and “Miss Herschel’s large sweeper”. With these she discovered her first own comet and got it published.

But it is the first lady’s comet and I was very desirous to see it.

-Fanny Burney, quoted by Holmes

And with this in mind I adjusted my own drink by combining the elements with a classic White lady( thus adding gin).

Miss Herschel’s large sweeper; yields one drink

4 cl gin

3 cl rhubarb syrup

3 cl grapefruit juice

1 egg white

  1. Shake ingredients in an ice filled shaker until cold.
  2. Staren into a cocktailglass

If you want to, and have it on hand, sprinkling some edible gold on top of the foam looks nice and adds a little visual reference. (drink too many of these and you’ll be seeing stars anyways. Very tasty but potent stuff. Proceed with caution.)

Unlike the work of the Herschel’s my cocktails are nothing revolutionary but still nice.

Cheers to Richard Holmes for writing such a brilliant book!




4 thoughts on “The age of wonder, and the wonder of cocktails”

  1. A cocktail concoction inspired by a book on science and that too mostly astronomy? I would really like to try this concoction and I wouldn’t mind seeing the stars drinking this tasty yet lethal potion.😆

    1. Too be fair; it isn’t mostly about astronomy, also a lot about the travels of Joseph Banks as well as air travel; I just got most engaged with the astronomy (and the bit about Mary Shelley and Franskenstein).

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