Welcome to another edition of The Single Dad’s Guide Food Holidays. Because . . . food! Last week I began with the cheese soufflé because it just so happened to have a holiday that week and because it was one of the most difficult recipes that I have ever done successfully. Then again, some may say that it was my eclairs. I wouldn’t argue with them either way. And who doesn’t love cheese? This week we here at the guide are moving onto another food holiday coming up. Maybe I should have done this post earlier, at the running of the Kentucky Derby, as it is often associated with that event. But the actual food celebration day didn’t come until later here in the month. So we are celebrating about it and writing about it just before its proper day. On Tuesday, May 30th, the Guide celebrates National Mint Julep Day.
I suppose that it isn’t truly a food holiday in the classic sense of the word. It’s really a holiday about a drink. But I lump food and beverage into the same category. For those of you who aren’t into alcohol, I can understand that you would be reticent to support such a holiday. But before I get into the history of the Mint Julep, I figured I would get into my history with the Mint Julep, which might ease your mind.
My first experience with the Mint Julep occurred at Disneyland. I realize that thinking about Disney and alcohol may be sacrilegious for some. In the main park, alcohol is not allowed inside.
Nevertheless, the Disneyland Park did carry the Mint Julep inside its hallowed doors since June 24th, 1966, when they opened the Mint Julep bar in the back of the French Market. Sitting right up against New Orleans Square and the train station, Disneyland opened up this little bar and bakery that was not easily visible and could be missed while passing it on the way to the Haunted Mansion.
My friends knew about it way before I was introduced to it. Maybe it’s because this history of my family includes alcoholics and someone who was in support of Prohibition. Or maybe it’s because my parents read Green Eggs and Ham and thought Sam-I-Am was a monster for making someone eat anything green. But we did not go to try out the green drink at the Mint Julep Bar in the back. I don’t even remember walking by it for any reason. It’s like the French Market had an invisible barrier that we could not cross. The Mint Julep existed only in my fever dreams.
Right about the time I got my first regular job, I decided to get my first Disneyland annual passport. I had several of my friends who had them and they loved them. Despite their enthusiasm, I needed to be convinced this expenditure was something worth doing. I needed to be shown things I had never done before to convince me it might be worth doing again. One of the first places my friend Steve took me to was the Mint Julep Bar in the back of the French Market. He insisted that I needed to go there.
My first reaction was: “Alcohol at Disneyland?!?! Won’t they card us???”
But my friend assured me that this was not the case. It was a virgin Mint Julep. Outside the Disneyland Train Station and New Orleans Square, there and then, I ordered my very first Mint Julep. I remember waiting for them to give it to me nervously anticipating what I would get. I remember staring awkwardly at my drink when they stuck it in my hand. It was green with mint sprigs at the top and a cherry inside. And then I remember that first sip of this green liquid. It was fruity and smooth with a definitely mint aftertaste. I loved it. I knew I would go back for more. Of course, I loved the Fantasia Ice Cream that they had at Disneyland and they didn’t keep that flavor. So I hoped I could have it again.
And I have many times since that day. I still love the Mint Julep, even without the cherry and the sprig of mint because Disney decided to cheap out on elements of the drink. And that’s why I am celebrating the Mint Julep today. Of course, I would eventually go on to try something someone called a Mint Julep that would have alcohol in it. It did not taste fruity, or even that good. I think I could have done a better job with the Alcoholic version. But I am going to celebrate the Disney version of the Mint Julep today. And you can celebrate whichever version you appreciate more.
Of course, this wouldn’t be the Single Dad’s Guide to Life if I didn’t get into the history of the Mint Julep. And so I shall. I will get into the semi-real but a mostly fake history of the Mint Julep in celebration of the drink, and the Disney inspired madness that would fake that concoction. Here is what I have found in my research.
The Fake History Of The Mint Julep –
Despite my desire to believe Disney was the originator behind this lovely drink, from our crack team of independent researchers we have been able to discover its origin was somewhere in the American South around the mid-1700s by an aristocrat. (Not to be confused with the Aristocats.) There were three subtle hints to our conclusion. First, we believe it must have been done by some rich Southerner with a twig up his behind because only rich people would fixate on twigs. Mint leaves do look like twigs. And oh yeah! Second, the drink had ice in it. We guess poor people did not carry refrigerators around with them to store ice in. Just a hunch. And then a third clue was maybe the fact they only served it in silver goblets.
Spanish Snake Oil Salesman
We at the Guide think that it probably was introduced to the South by some fake Spanish Snake Oil Salesman. The name “julepe” is of Spanish-Arabic Origin. And we deduce that he had been roaming about Kentucky when his assistant accidentally filled up the medicine bottles with bourbon instead of brown river water. Knowing they needed to make a profit they took it to a rich community. But the bourbon needed to be offset by some other flavors and so they added some mint and a sugar mix. None of it sold until they added some ice to the bourbon and took it out on the road in Kentucky. They told the rich communities that it would help them with whatever ailed them.
Hence, the first mention of the Mint Julep actually occurs in 1784 medical guide for helping with a sickness of the stomach and vomiting. This could only lead to more dehydration. And only some quack doctor or snake oil salesman would believe that alcohol would actually aid with a stomach ache and vomiting. Hence our supposition about its origins.
That Darn Henry Clay
By the early 1800s it had gotten enough popularity to be moved back across the pond to England. Although they didn’t know what kind of alcohol to use, so they tried almost anything and called it a julep as long as it had mint in it. Henry Clay, a U.S. senator who had a penchant for running for president and losing, would eventually introduce it to Washington D.C. high society. After one of his many losses he decided he needed to make the people of D.C. suffer like he did and brought this strange brew to the D.C. masses. Eventually, that would lead to a Civil War between the North and the South. The North wanted the South to give up slavery and the South wanted to get revenge on the North for dissing their most excellent beverage.
At the end of the war, the South had been decimated and many of the recipes for the julep had been lost. They forgot what they put in it except mint, some sugar water, and ice. Jerry Thomas, a bartender of note, was putting together a book about that time that he wanted to sell to the English. So he asked one of his cousins about how to make the drink. The cousin was ashamed that the south had forgotten so he changed the bourbon to gin and told him that recipe.
When Jerry Thomas tried the drink out for himself it was so bad he spat it out. But that’s like most alcoholic beverages so he kept it in the recipe book anyway. And then called his cousin again. They did this dance four more times, which is why there were five different recipes in the book for a Mint Julep that would get sold and widely published.
It Reaches The Derby
Eventually, the Kentucky Derby, seizing on the popularity of this drink among rich people decided to promote it at its yearly horse race in 1938. They figured that with all the people losing there they might be drunk enough to forget they lost and not start a fight with anyone. And if it worked for making Henry Clay forget, it could make rich people with sticks in places sticks should never go forget their insignificant problems. By 2006, they were making these drinks with gold plated cups and silver straws. Of course, they were selling them at $1000 dollars a pop. So guess who had the last laugh?
How Disney Got In On The Act
In 1966 with the opening of New Orleans Square, Disney decided to get involved with making a Mint Julep. Of course, Disneyland’s family friendly nature meant that there could be no alcohol in the drink. But they would definitely be keeping the minty freshness. As some early descriptions of the Mint Julep were that the drink was fruity, they decided to blend lime juice, lemonade and club soda with the mint. Hence the Disneyland Mint Julep was born.
My Favorite Recipe
There are many different recipes to make the Disneyland version of the drink at home from online. But I always prefer seeing someone do something as opposed to just reading it in a book. So I add this non-alcoholic version here:
Two things of note. One, please make sure that when you go to the liquor store and get the creme de menthe that you get the non-alcoholic version of the syrup. And secondly, you can use club soda instead of the water in order to have a little bit of bubbles in your drink. Or you can add some club soda at the end of the recipe to give some bubbles and cut the sweetness down. As with all recipes, I am about making this your own. Do your own thing and create your own version of the Mint Julep. After all, at this point, who is to say what is really supposed to be in a Mint Julep anyway? No one can seem to keep their story straight?
Continue the Conversation
So what do you think about the Mint Julep? And what is your favorite part of Disneyland or Walt Disney World that no one else seems to know? Or what foods do you have associated with positive memories? As always, I love hearing from you.
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Until next time, “Then comes the zenith of man’s pleasure. Then comes the mint julep.”
David Elliott, Single Dad’s Guide to Life