GRUB!: It's Pimm's O'Clock

Monday, August 15, 2011

First things first, since I suppose I MUST mention it: the riots.  I thought about devoting a whole blog to the subject since it’s been the dominant topic here for the last week.  But because of that dominance and the  accompanying media saturation (which has been, if possible, greater than that of a certain wedding of a few months ago) I’m a bit tired of it all.  Instead, I want to talk about something that seems much more English, and is in keeping with the season, which is warm, and with the news that England has finally climbed to number one in the international test rankings, which is most excellent. (That’s cricket, mind.  And I said it in a tweet, and I’ll say again here: I must be truly assimilated now.  Not only do I understand, but I can really appreciate the exceedingly rare and happy phrase: “Tendulkar out for 1.”  If you’re not familiar with cricket in general, and with the current giants of the game in particular, you’ll just have to wait until I get around to blogging about it to see what I mean.)

The weather here has finally turned into summer.  No, it's not 35 degrees (thankfully) but it's warm enough that people are commenting and wearing sandals and enjoying being able to moan about it being too hot instead of moaning about it being too rainy.  This means that it's the perfect time to introduce our first drink in the GRUB! series.  Shockingly, it's NOT beer, but that most quintessential of British summer tipples: Pimm's.

Pimm's O'Clock
Pimm's is the best known example of a fruit cup, which is a traditionally English summer drink made of hard liquor - usually gin - that's flavoured with a proprietary blend of  herbs, spices and fruit.  It's intended to be mixed with a soft drink like ginger ale or lemonade, and served over ice, usually with sliced fruit added.  (It also bears telling that over here when someone says "lemonade" they do NOT mean a beverage made by squeezing lemons and adding water and sugar to taste.  Basically, they mean 7-Up.)

Pimm's Cup Number One (there are six) is the original, and was invented by James Pimm in 1823.  It's made with a gin base, quinine, citrus, and some herbage, and is a sort of reddish tea colour with a whiff of orange and spice in the nose. Pimm produced it to serve in his oyster house as a digestive aid and it became popular enough that it went into large scale production in 1851, and was being sold by hawkers on bicycles by 1859.  That's what we need more of in this country I say: people selling Pimm's from bicycles.  Preferably wearing knotted handkerchiefs on their heads and sporting a sunburn and wearing socks with sandals for best and most English effect.  But back to Mr. Pimm, who, by 1865, had sold the whole shebang, along with the rights to the name, at which point we’ll leave the tedious narrative of who owned what when.

Along with Pimm's No. 1, there have been Pimm's Cup No. 2 (based on Scotch whisky), Pimm's No. 3 (brandy), Pimm's No. 4 (rum), Pimm's No. 5 (rye whiskey) and Pimm's No. 6 (vodka).  Of these spin-offs, only No. 3 and 6 are still produced.  Pimm's Cup No. 3 has been re-branded as Pimm's Winter Cup, and is intended to be mixed with warm apple juice and sliced orange.  No. 6 is rarely seen (or at least rarely seen by me). However, Pimm's No. 1 Cup, or simply Pimm's, as it is universally known, is seen just about everywhere.  Most pubs of a certain type will have it, as will lounges and restaurants and especially anywhere that has a terrace.  It's sold by the glass and by the pitcher and is sort of the English equivalent of getting a jug of sangria to share among friends on a warm Sunday afternoon.

The traditional recipe for mixing is:
  • 1 part Pimm's No.1
  • 2-3 parts chilled lemonade (the fizzy 7-Up kind)
  • sprigs of mint, and sliced cucumber, orange and strawberry  (Please do not ask me to explain the cucumber.  Just accept is as one of the English things like beans with breakfast and move on.)
I intended to take my own photo of my own pitcher of Pimm's made by my own self, and even stocked up on all the necessaries to do so.  But I ended up making rather merry with a group of West London runners last night and hence am not exactly in the mood for a pitcher of anything stronger than London tap water.

Pimm’s is one of the traditional drinks served at Wimbledon and the Henley Royal Regatta (the other being champagne, of course) and is also popular at polo matches so really, how much more stereotypically English can you get?  There are even a few variations on the traditional mix, a particularly paralyzing one of which is the Pimm’s Royal Cup.  It combines Pimm’s No. 1 (already at 25% alcohol content) with champagne and a single strawberry.  You wouldn’t need too many of those while sitting in the sun at Wimbledon before you’d not only have trouble keeping track of the ball, but the court, and indeed your own extremities.

I sense that Pimm’s is currently enjoying a certain retro popularity, which was started by a self-mocking ad campaign from 2003 featuring an endearing/annoying toff character called Henry Fitzgibbon-Sims (played by Alexander Armstrong) who would happen upon groups of people in odd situations and end up serving up glasses of Pimm’s all ‘round and spouting the catchphrase “I make that Pimm's O'clock!”  They are quite fun, and so I include a few of my favourites here, so you can get an appreciation for the genre:

Sadly, Fitzgibbon-Sims was retired and the current ad campaign is not quite so clever, though it does include Morris dancers, and socks with sandals, so it’s also worth a look. 

And there you have it: Pimm’s!  Luckily I am reliably informed by my sister, who developed a strong taste for Pimm’s on her recent visit, that the genuine article is available on foreign shores (or at least in Calgary).  So get out there and give it a try while the weather is still warm and the evenings are long.  Just don’t forget the cucumbers.

P.S.  Ok, ok, ok, a bit more about the riots, though there’s probably not much I can tell you that you haven’t already heard: riots started in north London on Saturday night, at first as a reaction to the shooting death of a young black man by police in a botched arrest attempt.  Rioting and looting spread to other areas Sunday night, and if there was any pretense that people were protesting the shooting it was long gone by Sunday.  The general opinion is that things devolved completely into opportunistic, thuggish vandalism and thievery.  One of the areas affected on Sunday night was my neighbourhood, Brixton.  Looters hit shops on the main street and a couple of big box stores a few blocks from my house.  Despite this, the whole event – in Brixton in particular and the rest of London and England in general - had no real effect on me personally.

Well, that’s not strictly true. What is true is that the effect on me personally was very small.  Here’s how my life was changed:
  1. When I stopped at the newsagent on Monday morning to pick up the paper they had no papers of any kind because there had been no deliveries, because of the riot. At that point on Monday morning I had no idea what had happened in Brixton Sunday night.  This is because I generally listen to the Canadian news from the night before over breakfast, and I don’t get the day’s paper until I leave the house.  So when the guy in the shop mentioned a riot I thought, “Riot? What riot?”  Then I cycled past the burned-out Footlocker store on the high street and the light slowly started to dawn.
    The former Footlocker Store
  2. I had finally convinced my West London running group to come to Brixton where I was going to lead them on a run through the area on August 18th (including a lovely jaunt through Brockwell Park and a Pimm’s drink stop in my front garden).  As a result of Sunday night’s rioting in Brixton the powers that be at the group determined that Brixton had been a dodgy enough place to begin with that turnout would be too low (it’s not really especially dodgy, but those West Londoners are a twitchy bunch when lured out of the leafy suburbs).  Following the riot they politely told me to find a new venue, which left me annoyed and cranky for much of Monday.
  3. As a result of my general crankiness on Monday I decided I wanted to skip cooking and went to my local pub for supper instead, but it was closed because of the riots.  This is perhaps a good indication of how nervous everyone was on Monday night because really, CLOSING THE PUB???!!!
And that’s IT.  That’s the sum total of the direct effects the riot had on me.  I actually slept through the whole thing in Brixton on Sunday.  Yes, the shops on the high street were shuttered and boarded up for most of the week.  Yes, there was that burned-out Footlocker, whose door I had never darkened anyway. And there were endless conversations around the office at work.  But by the time the violence hit its peak on Monday there was basically nothing left to steal in Brixton, and everything was shut up tight, so it was a quiet night.

Morley's Boarded Up
A boarded-up local department store on Brixton Road.
There was a point somewhere around Tuesday morning where the messages I was getting from home made it sounds like the rest of the world was assuming that the entire city was in flames, which was simply not true.  There were a lot of areas where violence flared up, but the total area affected was miniscule compared to the overall size of the city.  Then again, there have been suggestions that the property damage was the worst and costliest in London since the Blitz and many small shopkeepers are expected to be put out of business by the looting since a large number don’t have insurance against acts of terrorism.  Luckily (for the shopkeepers and homeowners, if not the taxpayers) many will be entitled to compensation under the The Riot Damages Act of 1886, which pays out compensation for any building that has been damaged or suffered losses as the result of rioting.

Now, a week after it all kicked off, things are very quiet, though there are still shops with broken windows and an unusually high number of police on the streets.  And the newspapers are still solidly packed with articles about what happened and speculation about why it happened, and shocking stories about 11-year olds in court accused of looting bottles of wine, and straight-A students caught on CCTV cameras trying on stolen running shoes, and looters attacking Poundland shops (A Poundland is like a dollar store, so it’s hard to imagine getting your money’s worth looting one without giving yourself a hernia in the process.)  It’s expected somewhere around 2-3,000 people will eventually face charges, and the courts have been running 24 hour a day to process cases, so it’s safe to say we’ll be feeling the after-effects of this week’s events for a long long time to come. 

And that's all the more reason to bring back the bicycling Pimm’s salesmen, don't you think?

1 Comment:

Dyanne@TravelnLass said...

Goodness - I'd all but forgotten my once adoration of Pimm's! I first tasted it in Europe somewhere when I was going to school (in France and Italy) and backpacking 'round w/ my (then 8 & 11 yr. old) daughters.

I don't recall just which "No." Pimm's I favored, but suffice I was quite fond of it - especially the thick slice of cucumber garnish.

Hmmm... I may well have to head up to the liquor store to revive those old delish memories...

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