The Gallivanting Gourmand
Greg Duncan
Greg Duncan
is a freelance writer based in the Montreal region. He is particularly keen about good food. In his day job, Greg is the executive director of the Quebec Community Newspapers Association.

His previous columns are archived HERE.

Posted 07.23.03


Summertime and the sipping is easy, or
The proper way to make a Mint Julep

The following is a liberal adaptation of a letter received in 1937 by a certain American Governor general (Buckner) regarding his famous Mint Juleps that he served guests at his stately mansion. I have brought the letters some sixty-five years forward to show that a good recipe stands the test of time and to shed light on a small history of this wonderful concoction. Sit back, sip and enjoy summer. Sorry kids, this one's not for you.

I wish to know, sir food writer, your opinion of officials drinking whisky. For my part, sir, I think they ought not to drink any at all, because it might interfere with the clear exercise of their judgment. At the same time, may I respectfully request the recipe for your now famous Julep?

My dear reader, I recognize, sir, the propriety of your question, and I will answer it with entire frankness. I am a temperate man; was never intoxicated in my life, and never expect to be; but at the same time, sir, I live in a very remote part of this country from your beautiful bluegrass region here—down by the river, on the place where I was born, near the West Island and which I love very much; but I am especially fond of a beautiful spring on my place.

It has a large volume of water gushing out of the rocks and flowing over a number of little precipices, forming a series of beautiful cascades, until the water mingles with that of the brook that flows at the base of the hill. Around the mouth of this spring, growing in great profusion, are immense beds of mint, its roots watered by the cool spring, and diffusing its aroma in all the air around; and as I sit upon the banks of that stream, listening to its murmurings over the rocks, it does seem to me, sir, that it is clamoring for some other ingredient to mix with them.

So I keep that ingredient at my house, and if I can induce a friend, by its intricate approaches, to that sequestered spot, I invariably put these three elements before him, with a little sugar, and tell him to mix them to suit himself. And I have read in books of Oriental travel where the people of the East are in the habit of poisoning each other, it has the custom of the host to taste his own poison first, to convince his guests that it would not hurt them. I invariably follow that beautiful Oriental custom.

Your letter requesting my formula for mixing mint juleps leaves me in the same position in which my Father found himself when asked how he was able to carve the image of an elephant from a block of wood. He replied that it was a simple process consisting merely of whittling off the part that didn't look like an elephant.

The preparation of the quintessence of gentlemanly beverages can be described only in like terms. A mint julep is not the product of a FORMULA.

It is a CEREMONY and must be performed by a gentleman possessing a true sense of the artistic, a deep reverence for the ingredients and a proper appreciation of the occasion.

It is a rite that must not be entrusted to a novice, a statistician, nor a Yankee. It is a heritage of the old South, an emblem of hospitality and a vehicle in which noble minds can travel together upon the flower-strewn paths of happy and congenial thought.

So far as the mere mechanics of the operation are concerned, the procedure, stripped of its ceremonial embellishments, can be described as follows:

Go to a spring where cool, crystal-clear water bubbles from under a bank of dew-washed ferns. In a consecrated vessel, dip up a little water at the source. Follow the stream through its banks of green moss and wildflowers until it broadens and trickles through beds of mint growing in aromatic profusion and waving softly in the summer breezes. Gather the sweetest and tenderest of shoots and gently carry them home.

Go to the sideboard and select a decanter of Kentucky Bourbon, distilled by a master hand, mellowed with age yet still vigorous and inspiring. An ancestral sugar bowl, a row of silver goblets, some spoons and some ice and you are ready to start.

In a canvas bag, pound twice as much ice as you think you will need. Make it fine as snow, keep it dry and do not allow it to degenerate into slush.

In each goblet, put a slightly heaping teaspoonful of granulated sugar, barely cover this with spring water and slightly bruise one mint leaf into this, leaving the spoon in the goblet. Then pour elixir from the decanter until the goblets are about one-fourth full. Fill the goblets with snowy ice, sprinkling in a small amount of sugar as you fill. Wipe the outsides of the goblets dry and embellish copiously with mint.

Then comes the important and delicate operation of frosting. By proper manipulation of the spoon, the ingredients are circulated and blended until Nature, wishing to take a further hand and add another of its beautiful phenomena, encrusts the whole in a glittering coat of white frost. Thus harmoniously blended by the deft touches of a skilled hand, you have a beverage eminently appropriate for honorable men and beautiful women.

When all is ready, assemble your guests on the porch or in the garden, where the aroma of the juleps will rise heavenward and make the birds sing. Propose a worthy toast, raise the goblet to your lips, bury your nose in the mint, inhale a deep breath of its fragrance and sip the nectar of the gods.

Being overcome by thirst, I can write no further.


Greg Duncan