05 March 2012

Gypsy Kitchens: The Durrell

English writer Lawrence Durrell lived in Cyprus for about three years in the 1950s and remains one if its most talked about residents. It's no surprise, being as Durrell told the world about his time here in a memoir called Bitter Lemons of Cyprus. We'd never heard of it, nor had we heard of him until we began to research the country. His name came up as often and with as much assumed interest as Van Gogh's in Provence. The home he lived in, the school he taught at, the hotel he listed as "the best in town," are all considered historic sights. In his home village of Bellapais, two trees contend for the title of "The Tree of Idleness," an important landmark in Bitter Lemons. The fact that he found Limassol "unsightly" comes up in Lonely Planet's history of the city. In Limassol, we bought the book and created a cocktail in his honor. That way we'd be able to curl up with them both.
The man at the used bookshop told us "not to believe everything - it is just Lawrence's opinion." We doubt this came only from his distaste for Limassol. Three chapters in, he has happily drank Commandaria with Greek-Cypriot friends and Coca Cola with Turkish-Cypriot friends. His life was a blissful convergence of the two cultures that would divide the country in a clash. Durrell left Cyprus after the "enosis" based EOKA resistance movement really heated up. This was the desire of Greek-Cypriots to break from England and become part of Greece. As Lawrence was a Brit, I'm sure his take on the events of 1955 don't mesh with the old book seller's. We're enjoying Bitter Lemons and enjoying The Durrell cocktail even more.
Obviously, we began with Schweppe's Bitter Lemon. Any American traveling to Western Europe will come home with tales of the stuff. A friend of ours shipped a case of it to themselves, not wanting to have to quit cold turkey after two weeks of drinking it in Portugal. Usually, candies and drinks that are going for "lemon" go more for the sweet and sour aspects of its flesh. This leaves you thinking more about its peel. It tastes like a very bitter tonic water, very zesty. Obviously, Bitter Lemon goes well with gin, but we wanted to keep things more local. Ouzo, ours made by the Cypriot company KEO, is the Greek version of France's Pastis or Turkey's Raki - an anise aperitif that turns cloudy when you add water. The third ingredient is, you guessed it, bitters. A local Limassol company, Magousta, has been making "Magic Drops" since the 1930s. However, it was originally called "Cock Drops," a fact made more unfortunate by the label's recommendation to "snip the top" of your Cock Drops bottle to have it dispense correctly. Last ingredient, lemon.
It's citrus season here in Cyprus. The oranges, clementines and mandarins are being harvested. The grapefruit is almost ready and the lemon trees are bare from earlier collection. Lemons in Cyprus are big and sweet. And abundant. Most houses have at least one lemon tree, every meze dinner comes with a plate full of wedges. Greek Cypriot recipes feature lemon prominently, so our Greek Cypriot cocktail does, too. We only needed a quarter of a lemon for each glass because the wedges were incredibly juicy.
You never really know when conceptualizing a cocktail, but somehow we created a truly delicious drink. The Durrell's ingredients go so well together that we now mix one up any evening we have available ice. The ouzo, on its own, is sweet and heavy. Adding the biting, carbonated Bitter Lemon really balances that out. A drop of bitters adds a little complexity, like a single bay leaf does in a big pot of soup. Since Magousta's Magic Drops is bright red, this tints The Durrell pink. Ole Lawrence is a little flushed. A good squeeze of lemon and you've got the final note: fresh, vibrant citrus. Now, go ahead and pick up a guide book about Cyprus. Every time Lawrence Durrell or Bitter Lemons of Cyprus is mentioned, take a sip of The Durrell. We assure you it will be a very educational and dangerous drinking game. Here's the recipe. Serve on the rocks.

2 parts Ouzo
1 part Schweppe's Bitter Lemon
A drop of bitters
1 - 2 quarters lemon, depending on juiciness
Ice 


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