Voltaire in love

NB; This cocktail came about when I was reading more than one book about Voltaire, so this is a translated and edited post of what was on my old cocktail.-blog.

I saw rhubarb in the store the other day, and my heart skipped a beat. It’s one of those things that is so connected to the start of summer and those tender stalks are a joy to make into jams, crumbles and , obviously cocktails. The other year I was reading two books about Voltaire, I like to dig into to a topic if I can, and came across a passage in one of them that triggered my imagination.

That book, translated from French to Swedish, is apparently not available in English so I shan’t give you the whole quote or attempt to translate it myself. It was about some of the culinary habits of  Voltaire and his long-time life partner (but never his wife) Emelie du Châtelet.  Voltaire is a name that is familiar to many to this day, she has been somewhat forgotten despite being a scientist and a successful one at that. She was married to someone else, but the husband seemed to understand her setting up house with another man. And Voltaire wasn’t faithful to her for which she forgave him. It was all very dramatic I assume, but times were different then. The relationship for a good story however, of which both Nancy Mitford and David Bodanis has written.

The latter was the one with the section about drinking coffee, eating rhubarb and snorting quinine. I know, I jolted awake by just reading about the last thing. Voltaire, you old scoundrel! But malaria was a genuine problem back then. I claim that it’s still rampant where I live and insist on tonic, Dubonnet and home-made quinine syrup on occasion. Tonic is the British solution to getting soldiers to ingest quinine, the French invented Dubonnet for the same purpose. Dubonnet, rhubarb and coffee were then some of the things I wanted to included in the cocktail and I added gin as the base as a reference to Voltaire’s exile in good old Blighty.

Rhubarb-syrup; yields ca 5 dl (which will be used up in a flash I tell you)

1 liter of rhubarb stalks sliced, ca 0,5 cm thick, and try to use tender stalks so the the pink/red skin does not need to be peeled off.

2,5 dl water

2,5 dl caster sugar

  1. Slowly bring the ingredients to the boil in a heavy-based saucepan on medium heat.
  2. When it boils, gently give it a stir and lower the heat.
  3. Let it simmer for 15 minutes. Stir occasionally but don’t break the fruit.
  4. When the rhubarb is tender, take it off the heat and pour it all through a fine sieve.
  5. Let the syrup cool of a bit before transferring it into a bottle.

The syrup is also a nice thirst quencher with soda and some lime slices. The left over rhubarb is a tasty compote that I suggest you eat with ice cream immediately.



 Voltaire in love; yields one cocktail

4 cl gin ( I’ve used Beefeater 24 or Gilbey’s for this)

2 cl rhubarb syrup

1 barspoon Dubonnet

3 dashes of Bitters; I used chocolate&coffee bitters but you can use Angostura.

For serving;

cocktail glass

Orange zest

  1. Stir the ingredients with plenty of ice in a stirring glass until properly chilled.
  2. Pour into the glass, twist the orange zest over it and then add the zest to the drink.
  3. Enjoy responsibly.

This has a mix of nice flavours; the freshness of the gin, the sweetness from the rhubarb syrup and a hint of spice and bite from the Dubonnet.

The name came from the Mitford book as it had a nicer ring to it but if I’m to say anything about the literary qualities of the books in question I will say that Mitford is the better storyteller but Bodanis wrote a more interesting book. Feminism would have happened in between the publishing of the two and du Châtelet comes of a lot better in Bodanis book. He  goes into detail about her work as a scientist thereby painting a fuller picture. She was not just a clever woman, she was clever and happened to be a woman so wasn’t always taken seriously as a scientist because of her sex.

Yeah, that sad old refrain. I propose a toast to the end of the patriarchy; hopefully we’ll soon live in a world where women can be smart, smart and beautiful or just smart and not have to be judged on their looks as well but will be so on merit alone. Here is to hoping!




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