FIRST, YOU FIND a mint patch. That is the initial step in making a mint julep, the prescribed elixir to sip Saturday for Derby Day.
Fresh mint is a crucial ingredient in the julep. The correct sprig must be verdant and lush. Sniffing it must remind you of earthy delights, of foolish pleasures, of the promise of spring.
For some reason, stolen mint, plucked from someone else's patch, makes the best juleps, or so it seems.
Last year, I grew my own mint. I started with a plant about the size of a soda bottle and in a few months had enough mint to mow down with a combine. Mint spreads faster than good gossip, and, like gossip, it has a short life span.
The julep made with this garden-grown mint tasted fine, but after a few sips, I ended up picking the wrong horse, Rock and Roll, to win the Kentucky Derby. Real Quiet was the victor.
I reviewed my procedure on how to pick a winner and concluded the mistaken pick was caused by using the wrong kind of mint -- home-grown as opposed to stolen -- in my julep.
I won't make that mistake again. The other day I checked mint that was poking out of the ground on a neighbor's property. It looked ready to pick.
When I relayed this news to Bob Talbott, a friend and fellow julep-maker, he seemed surprised. He reported that where he lives, in a stretch of northern Baltimore County known as the Hereford Triangle, the mint was still dormant.
In the Hereford Triangle, he said, the snows are deeper, the rains heavier and the air cooler than in the city. I replied that in the city, the ground is warmer and that city mint, like the property taxes, is as high as an elephant's eye.
While Talbott and I agree that sipping a mint julep is one of life's happier moments, we disagree on how to reach this state of ecstasy. He advocates rye; I use bourbon. He prefers granulated sugar; I opt for powdered. He adds no water; I dilute with club soda.
He prefers county mint, grown either in his back yard or plucked from a mint patch in Riderwood near the Light Rail tracks. I prefer city mint, grown either in my community garden in Druid Hill Park or stolen from a patch in my downtown neighborhood.
While talking to Talbott on the phone, I asked him if he was ready to admit the error of his ways and to accept my julep recipe as superior. On the contrary, he said, rather than recant his julep recipe, he was "solidly affirming" his belief that a proper mint julep is made with granulated sugar and rye.
And so, as I did last year, I will print two julep recipes, Talbott's and mine. Imbibers can pick their favorite recipe, a choice that will depend on what kind of whiskey, mixer, sugar and mint they prefer.
Remember when your julep is made properly, mint is the first thing you smell, and the last thing you remember.
Bob Talbott's County Mint Julep
1 shell (1 lean teaspoon) granulated sugar
4-5 mint leaves
Maryland rye whiskey (bourbon as backup)
Put granulated sugar and mint leaves in bottom of medium-size metal cup -- a "Jefferson cup" is best. Using a treasured muddler, a 6- to 8-inch-long wooden rod that is never washed, work mixture together until it is uniformly green, and clings to the bottom of the muddler. Add a small amount of whiskey and work into mixture, until the muddler comes clean.
Pack cup with pulverized ice. Fill to rim with whiskey. Swirl several times with glass mixing rod or glass straw. Garnish with sprig of mint.
Rob Kasper's City Mint Julep
6-8 leaves of mint
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
2 tablespoons club soda
Place mint leaves, sugar and club soda in bottom of julep cup or tall glass. Muddle mint (press leaves with blunt, wooden instrument). Fill cup with pulverized ice (not cubes). Fill with bourbon. Insert straw all the way to bottom of cup, snipping off excess. Place decorative sprig of mint in julep cup within sniffing range of straw.
Pub Date: 04/28/99