The Essex serpent (and another sour)



They leave gifts on the doorstep of rosehip syrup and walnuts in their shells; they leave cards and handkerchiefs so small, so fine, they’re no use at all.

-From p. 414 of The Essex serpent

If you are anything like me you foraged for rosehips in September, used them for a syrup and then proceeded to drink it all before Christmas. Which means that you can’t make this drink right now.  Sad as the Donald would say, but you can sip on some smokey whiskey to comfort yourself. The book is the real point of this post.

I’ve been thinking about and looking for winter reads lately, for the obvious reason that it’s January. In many ways it’s “big books season”; time for those big biographies and epic Russian novels. The weather really lends itself to such stories. So is also the case with “The Essex Serpent”.

I read it November which wasn’t a bad idea. In the beginning of that month we got something like 40 cm of snow in 24 hours which is a lot; winter got of to a flying start with a chaos in traffic and everything was put on hold. The weather gods must have had a proper laugh.

I was curled up on the sofa,wrapped in a blanket and fortifying myself with pot after pot of tea whilst reading this, which I’m going to say is the way to do it.

What I liked so much about this book was that it had all the elements of a victorian novel but mixed it with a very modern storytelling. I thought of Jenny Offill a bit and found a reference to to Maggie Nelson’s “Bluets” in the acknowledgements (“Bluets” was already on my TBR but I was delighted nonetheless).

At the heart of the story we have Cora; a recent widow for whom the death of her husband means the possibility to live a life of her own. She blooms and even more so by bringing her son and a friend out to the countryside to live a life of simplicity and science.

The rumors of an old beast, a sea serpent of some sort, jogs the imagination of not only Cora but others as well. It becomes the job of the local minister,William Ransome, to calm the fears and put an end to the fantasies. And as their paths cross there is drama.

It has both love and monsters this books, lovely characters and a very good story. Something to get stuck in on a cold winter’s night.

I regards to the cocktail I will leave the recipe with you here, for further reference. As I’m ,posting several of my cocktails one after another I do notice that this one has a fair bit in common with “The raven King”, although they were in reality made months apart. Its more a case of finding a formula that works and playing with it and tweaking it.

Essex serpent-sour; yields one cocktail

5 cl smokey whiskey

3 cl roseshipsyrup

3 cl lemon juice

1 dash Black walnut bitters

(1 eggwhite) Optional

for serving;

cocktail coupe

  1. Shake ingredients in an ice filled shaker until well chilled and white has become frothy. If using a white; don’t add the bitters now but wait until later.
  2. Pour into glass. If you have used an egg white now is the time to add the dash of bitter as it creates a nice pattern in the foam.
  3. Serve.





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