El Floridita: An Opening into the World of Cocktails and Hemingway

         When Piña de Plata or the Silver Pineapple first opened in 1817, the location in what is now La Habana Vieja, Spanish for Old Havana would have been just known as downtown Havana back then. Located at the end of Calle Obispo, across Monserrate Street from the National Museum of Fine Arts of Havana, the streets in front of the muddy pinkish-red stucco exterior with its famous neon sign bustles with cars with fins in Easter egg colors and matching interiors. It’s a sea of pinks, purples, sky blues, two tones of white and maroon and other combos. We could be in a scene from “Mad Men,” but instead of crystal clear martinis, we’re heading to El Floridita.

200 Years and Counting

The name changed from the Silver Pineapple happened in 1914 about the same time that Constantino Ribalaigua began learning to mix drinks from his father. Four years later, Ribalaigua, who later earned the nickname of “El Rey de los Coteleros” or The Cocktail King of Cuba, had earned enough money to buy the place. He was only 26 and would own it for decades, creating more than 200 cocktails and adapting dozens more.

Creating the Hemingway Daiquiri

         It was one of Ribalaigua’s adaptations that made him famous—the recipe and the person who frequently left his apartment down the street after spending the morning writing and relaxed with a couple—or maybe even more—daiquiris. A concoction of white rum, maraschino liqueur or cherries depending upon the recipe, freshly squeezed lemon juice or pineapple juice and sugar or a sugar syrup, it pleased Ernest Hemingway so much, that soon El Floridita, daiquiris, and Hemingway became an icon of the bestselling author’s days in Cuba. El Floridita soon earned a subtitle, becoming “la cuna del daiquiri” or the cradle of the daiquiri.

Historic Architecture

         At opening time, the doors open and people stream in. They’re a mixed lot. College students, older literary types, locals probably bemoaning that they can’t have a quiet drink because of all these tourists, men who looked like artists and musicians, women in exotic outfits looking like poets and writers. The shiny mahogany bar is an extravagant piece of beautiful wood where red-jacketed bartenders swiftly add ingredients and then buzz them in the blender.

Daiquiris for All

These bartenders are smooth, able to mix and pour two daiquiris at a time. They need to be, the surge of people is endless. There’s a neo-classicist style to the decor. Huge paintings back up the bar and line several large walls. Chandeliers drip from the ceiling, the tables in the large dining room have white tablecloths and louvered doors. The bar itself is rather dark though streaks of the stunning sunshine stream through the door. Musicians come up on the small stage and play Cuban music, jazz, Bolero, Timba, and their own compositions as well including music from the eastern end of the island.

         You don’t have to imagine Hemingway sitting at the bar, a bronze bust of him in his favorite corner was sculpted in 1954. And it’s easy to pause when my eye captures the lifestyle statue of him at the bar that was added almost 50 years later. Another honorific is a plaque with a Hemingway quote: “My mojito in the Bodeguita del Medio and my daiquiri in the Floridita.”

         But probably the best indication of the author’s prestige and power as a tourist attraction is the lure of the blender as it mixes another daiquiri (there are four varieties associated with Hemingway and I’ve included two of them below) and the clinking of glasses as patrons toast the author and, of course, his drink.

Recipes

Floridita Daiquiri

  • 2 oz. white rum (Floridita uses Havana club)
  • ½ oz. fresh lime juice
  • 1 tsp. maraschino liqueur
  • 1 tsp. granulated sugar
  • 1½ cups crushed ice

Mix the lime juice and sugar in a blender and pulse to combine. Add the maraschino and crushed ice and blend on high speed, gradually adding rum to the mix. Pour into a chilled large cocktail glass.

Floridita Cocktail

  • 2 ounces white rum (I prefer Brugal)
  • Juice of ½ lime
  • ½ ounce fresh grapefruit juice
  • ¼ ounce maraschino liqueur
  • 1 teaspoon simple syrup

Shake with ice, and strain into coupe. Garnish with a lime wheel.

Anne of Green Gables: Read the Book & Visit Prince Edward Island

I never read Anne of Green Gables, the 1908 novel by L. M. Montgomery about an orphan named Anne Shirley who is sent to live on a farm owned by a middle-aged brother and sister on Prince Edward Island (PEI). I’m not sure why since it’s considered a children’s classic, having been translated into 20 different languages and selling more than 50 million copies and my mother was all about me reading the classics. Besides that, starting around age eight, I worked at the local public library, helping my mother unpack boxes of books that had just been delivered by the binary. It was a strictly off the books payment for me and I’m not sure how much I made but it was fun helping my mom who by the time she retired had worked for the East Chicago Public Library for half a century. Until I graduated college I spent most summers working there and so I had easy access to whatever books I wanted to read and since Laura Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie novels were a favorite, so segueing into Anne and PEI, one eastern Canada’s Maritime Provinces, would seem a good fit.

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I still haven’t read any of the Anne books, seen the movies or watched the TV series. But I was in Charlottetown, the charming Victorian-era capital of PEI and decided to take a tour of the Green Gables Heritage Place, part of L.M. Montgomery’s Cavendish National Historic Site.DSC_0799

The drive from Charlottetown to Green Gables meanders past sandy beaches, red roofed lighthouses and cute little fishing hamlets all of which have at least one restaurant offering lobster rolls and mussels as well as a store or two selling jams made from locally grown fruits, wood lobster traps to take home and, of course, Anne paraphernalia. In the turn before we entered Green Gables, a sign for bicycle rentals was written in French, English and Japanese. I got the French part because the Maritimes are near Quebec and some islands are English and others French. As for the Japanese, our guide told me, the Montgomery books (which were translated into Japanese in 1952) are super popular there and many tourists come from Japan to visit the places mentioned in the book.©TPEI013_JS_Anne_Green_Gables_0663

Fortifying ourselves with ice cream (dairy farms abound on PEI and they’re known for the richness of their milk and, hence, their ice cream) from the Butter Churn Cafe, we wandered through the 19th century gardens with their white picket fencing, arbors, seats and old fashioned blooms such as giant hollyhocks and delphiniums.   Interpretative guides wearing early 20th century country garb and, straw hats took us through the gabled home and then we followed the path way leading towards the Atlantic Ocean. Several times we passed Anne-wannabes, their hair spray colored red and crowned with, of course, straw hats.Anne kitchen

In the gift shop, I looked at the prettily illustrated The Anne of Green Gables Cookbook, written by L. M. Montgomery’s granddaughter Kate Macdonald. Each of its recipes ties in with what Anne and her family, neighbors and friends ate in the book and I thought it would be fun to share a few.©TPEI013_JS_Anne_Green_Gables_0679

The following recipes are from the Anne of Green Gables cookbook by Kate MacDonald.

Poetical Egg Salad Sandwiches

“The girls sat down by the roots and did full justice to Anne’s dainties, even the unpoetical sandwiches being greatly appreciated by hearty, unspoiled appetites sharpened by all the fresh air and exercise they had enjoyed.” —Anne of Avonlea (Chapter 13: A Golden Picnic)

4 eggs

1 stalk celery

3 tablespoons mayonnaise

1⁄2 teaspoon salt

Ground pepper, pinch

1⁄4 cup butter, softened

2 tablespoons dried mint or 2 tablespoons parsley

8 slices bread, fresh

In small saucepan cover the eggs with cold water – at least 1 inch above the eggs. Place the saucepan over high heat and bring to a boil.

Remove the saucepan from the heat and cover it. Let the eggs stand in the hot water for 25 minutes. Uncover the saucepan and put it under cold running water for 10 minutes to cool the eggs.

Meanwhile wash the celery stalk under cold running water. Chop it into tiny pieces on the cutting board.

Peel the eggs. Add them with the chopped celery to the small mixing bowl and mash them together with the fork.

Stir the mayonnaise, salt, and pepper into the egg mixture. Set the egg salad in the refrigerator.

Mix the softened butter with the dried mint or parsley in the small bowl. Set aside.

Cut each slice of bread with a large cookie cutter. Save the bread scraps in a little plastic bag for bread crumbs.

Butter one side of each bread shape with the minted butter. On half of the bread shapes spread the egg salad. Place the other half of the bread shapes on top. Makes 4 poetical sandwiches.DSC_0804

Maritime Gingersnaps

“You’ll put down the old brown tea set. But you can open the little crock of cherry preserves. It’s time it was being used anyhow—I believe it’s beginning to work. Any you can cut some fruit-cake and have some of the cookies and snacks.” —Anne of Green Gables (Chapter 16: Diana is Invited to Tea with Tragic Results)

1/2 cup molasses

1⁄4 cup shortening

1 1⁄2 cups all-purpose flour

1⁄4 teaspoon baking powder

2 teaspoons ground ginger

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground cloves

1⁄4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Combine molasses and shortening in a small pan; heat, stirring constantly, just to boiling over medium heat. Remove immediately from heat and allow to cool.

Meanwhile measure remaining ingredients into a large bowl. When molasses mixture has cooled, pour over flour mixture and mix well to combine. Chill dough for 10 minutes.

Shape into small (about quarter-sized) balls and arrange 2 inches apart on baking sheets. Flatten with bottom of a drinking glass or with fingers.

Bake until dry and crisp, about 8-10 minutes. Watch carefully as they may easily burn.

When done, place pan on cooling rack and cool cookies on baking sheet for 5 minutes. Remove from baking sheet to cooling rack and cool completely.

Once completely cooled, store in an airtight container.

Jane Ammeson can be contacted via email at janeammeson@gmail.com

 

A Sumptuous Gathering of Seasonal Recipes, Culinary Poetry and Literary Far

Chef Myra Kornfeld and poet Stephen Massimilla have put together a luscious cookbook illustrating how poetry, prose and food have been inspirational throughout history.

The 500-page book, “Cooking With the Muse: A Sumptuous Gathering of Seasonal Recipes, Culinary Poetry and Literary Fare,” is divided by seasons. It pairs 150 recipes with culinary poems, essays and historic anecdotes.

Massimilla provides a few stanzas from Book IX of Homer’s “The Odyssey” to accompany a recipe for Mediterranean Cauliflower-Kale Roast with Feta. He recounts how the cheese, which dates back to 8th century B.C., was originally aged and brined to keep it from spoiling in Greek’s hot, arid climate. The way it was made, he says, has changed very little since Odysseus entered Polyphemus’ cave.

In the recipe for Corn Pudding “Soufflé,” the authors include John Greenleaf Whittier’s poem “Barbara Frietchie” as a preface to the simple recipe.

They end the recipe with a recommendation for cooking fresh corn by Mark Twain, who very much enjoyed his meals.

“Corn doesn’t hang on to its sugar long after it has been picked,” Massimilla writes. “The saying goes that you should put up a pot of hot water before you stroll out to the cornfield prepared to run back on the double. Mark Twain upped the challenge when he recommended carrying the boiling water to the garden to catch the corn with all its sweetness the moment it leaves the vine.”W8medcaulibake

The following recipes are from “Cooking with the Muse.”

Mediterranean Cauliflower-Kale Roast with Feta

Serves 4 to 6.

1 head cauliflower, cut into florets

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Salt

3/4 pound curly kale, stemmed and torn into bite-size pieces

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

2 garlic cloves, minced

1/4 cup Kalamata olives, chopped and pitted

1 tablespoon capers, drained, rinsed and chopped

1/4 cup water

2 tablespoons oregano

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Black pepper

2 ounces feta cheese (preferably from sheep’s milk), crumbled

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Have ready a parchment paper-covered baking sheet.

In one bowl, toss the cauliflower with 2 tablespoons of the oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Spread the cauliflower on the baking sheet and roast for 30 minutes, turning once halfway through.

In another bowl, toss the kale with 1 tablespoon oil. Massage the oil into the leaves so each leaf is lightly coated. Sprinkle with 1/8 teaspoon salt.

Roast the cauliflower for 30 minutes, then add the kale to the baking sheet. Return it to the oven and roast for an additional 10-15 minutes, until the cauliflower is browned and the kale is crispy. Remove from the oven.

Warm the remaining tablespoon of oil with the butter in a large skillet until the butter melts. Add the garlic, olives and capers and cook for a minute or two, until fragrant. Stir in the cauliflower and kale, the water and the oregano. Combine thoroughly. Stir in the lemon juice and a sprinkling of pepper.

Serve hot, with feta scattered on top.

Chocolate Tart with Salt and Caramelized Pecans

Makes one 9-inch tart.

For the pecans:

1 cup pecans

1/3 cup maple sugar, Sucanat sugar, Rapadura sugar or coconut sugar

1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper, optional

1 large egg white

For the crust:

Oil and coconut flour, for preparing the pan

2 cups unsweetened coconut, dried and shredded

3 tablespoons granulated natural sugar (such as maple or Sucanat)

1 teaspoon orange zest

2 tablespoons coconut oil

2 large egg whites

For the filling:

1 cup unsweetened coconut milk

2 tablespoons maple sugar

Pinch of salt

7 ounces bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped

1 large egg, lightly beaten

For the garnish:

Fleur de sel (French sea salt) or other large-flake sea salt

Position one rack in the middle of the oven and another in the lower third. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Have ready two parchment paper-covered baking sheets.

To make the pecans, toss the pecans, sugar, salt and cayenne, if using, in a medium bowl. Stir in the egg white to combine. Spread on one of the baking sheets. Bake on the middle rack until the sugar has clumped on the nuts and the mixture looks sandy and dry, 25 to 30 minutes. Stir every 8 minutes or so during the baking so that pecans caramelize evenly.

Let cool for a few minutes, transfer to a bowl and break up the clumps into small pieces. (The pecans can be stored at room temperature for up to a month.)

While the pecans are baking, make the crust. Oil and flour a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. In a medium bowl, combine the coconut, sugar and orange zest. Work in the coconut oil with your fingers until everything is moistened evenly.

In a small bowl, whip the egg whites until frothy. Stir into the coconut mixture. Press the dough into the prepared tart pan. (Use a piece of plastic wrap between your hand and the dough to make pressing in the crust easier.) Give an extra press at the juncture where the sides meet the bottom, so you don’t have a triangular-shaped thick wedge of crust in the corners.

Place the tart pan on the other baking sheet. Bake the crust on the lower rack until it is a deep golden brown, about 15 minutes, checking after 10.

While the crust is baking, make the filling. In a small saucepan, bring the coconut milk, sugar and salt to a simmer. Remove from the heat, add the chocolate and stir with a whisk until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth. Cover to keep warm.

Just before the crust is ready, whisk the egg thoroughly into the chocolate. Pour the filling into the hot crust. Return the tart (still on the baking sheet) to the oven. Bake until the filling is set around the edges, 10 to 15 minutes. The filling should still jiggle a little in the center when you nudge the pan. Set on a rack to cool.

Unmold the tart and serve at room temperature or slightly chilled. Before serving, sprinkle a light dusting of flaky salt and the pecan clusters over the tart. Alternatively, serve each piece with a light dusting of coarse salt, then sprinkle the top with the caramelized pecans.

Cook’s note: The tart may be refrigerated for up to three days.