The Crescent City on the Mississippi is a place that has adopted me. While I’d love to claim that it’s the other way around, it’s clear that the city has captured and, indeed, captivated me. When asked why I (a winter-loving northerner with no tolerance for heat and snakes, not to mention an intense dislike of humidity) have chosen a decaying place that’s under sea level to make a part of my retirement plans, I have no credible answer other than the simple truth: My soul sings there.
I knew I was a goner on my first trip there when I managed a dinner at Dooky Chase, a knock-down, drag-out party and a jazz funeral all in one weekend. In the intervening years, I’ve made friends whom I now count as family, have found a second academic home amid the venerable oaks of Dillard University, own my very own creole cottage and have a growing collection of cocktail stories to tell.
The most poignant of them is my last call. July of 2005, I was asked to be the keynote speaker for the Southern Foodways Alliance in my city. I normally don’t let July catch me in town but rather decamp to northern climes for the summer. For the SFA, though, I made an exception and was hanging out, sampling the chef’s offerings and sweating with friends at the opening party that was held in the distillery where Cane Rum, New Orleans’s very own, was made and sold. I stopped off in the gift shop to purchase a bottle or two and put them aside. The next day it was lectures and liveliness and sugar galore: calas, creole cream cheese and cane.
It all came to a screeching halt when I got home and looked at the television — a hurricane was brewing in the Gulf of Mexico and it looked as though it might be heading toward us. I changed plane reservations and rapidly performed my usual put-the-good-stuff-up-high lockdown activities that accompany my annual northern migration. All of this was done to the accompaniment of my friends’ laughter at my cowardice. They were right, it wasn’t Katrina; it was one of the earlier storms that buffeted the Gulf in 2005. Later in the summer, I watched in horror as Katrina came ashore and the next day as water flooded my city.
I was one of the fortunate ones. My house survived not only that earlier storm but also the devastation that the combination of Hurricane Katrina and the Army Corps of Engineers produced. When I returned to New Orleans in November that year, it was a place transformed. A New Orleanian friend of mine has threatened to get a bar code tattoo that says Best Before Aug. 29, 2005. I concur, but I take heart in watching my adopted home show its mettle and reveal spunk and heart that folks only suspected was there. The Cane distillery didn’t survive the flood and as I drove the trail of high water with my friends upon my return, we stopped and I looked in dismay at the dirty watermark that stained it.
My two bottles of Cane Rum ironically did survive and some day I will open them. I’ll assemble my friends who have become my family for their various far-flung post-Katrina homes, pour the white rum on the ground to appease the souls and sweeten the eternal rest of those who didn’t make it and prepare some hurricanes from the mellow amber rum. We’ll lift a glass to my city at the bend in the river knowing that the last call for my city is a long, long way off.
Makes one drink
1 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
½ ounce Rose’s lime juice
¼ ounce passion fruit syrup
1 ounce fresh pineapple juice
1 ounce freshly squeezed orange juice
1 ounce Old New Orleans Crystal Rum
2 ounces Old New Orleans Amber Rum
Place all of the ingredients into a cocktail shaker with a scoop of crushed ice. Shake vigorously and pour into a hurricane glass half filled with crushed ice. Serve garnished with an orange slice, a maraschino cherry and a straw.
The classic curved hurricane glass is adapted from the lanterns that used to be placed over candles to keep them from guttering in the strong winds.
New Orleans is distilling rum once again: Old New Orleans Rum. Check it out.
This piece is adapted from the forthcoming “Rum Drinks: 50 Caribbean Cocktails From Cuba Libre to Rum Daisy,” by Jessica B. Harris. (Chronicle Books/ November 2009)