My New Orleans cocktail ancestor
I love a good mystery so when one landed in my lap — a genealogy mystery at that — I was up for the task. Add a cocktail to the mix and you’re talking good times. It all started with my grandmother’s family, who took in a young woman when she lost her parents in the late 19th century. Leontine McCarty’s father served in some capacity in the Civil War for he left behind letters he wrote to his wife, Mary Howard, a native of Baltimore. On what side Joseph McCarty served is anyone’s guess; I have yet to find out. Joseph McCarty died right after the war, in New Orleans, and Mary went to work as a steward for the quarantine station at the mouth of the Mississippi. She wasn’t happy there (who would be?) and later remarried, then died, leaving Leontine McCarty alone. That’s where my grandmother’s family came in.
Genealogy is big part research, many parts guessing game. Leontine went to work for the Ramos family and a cousin claimed this was for Henry C. Ramos, the creator of the Ramos Gin Fizz cocktail. All my genealogy sources show she rented and was head of the boardinghouse owned by Henry’s brother, William, then purchased the building at 836 N. Rampart Street after William Ramos’s death in New Orleans. In some documents, she’s listed as being Mrs. L. Savant but I’ve never found a Mr. Savant connected to Leontine.
My cousin also claimed the building had three servant quarters, two apartments and a downstairs kitchen “about a block long.” “We used to skate up and down that long yard — the food was sent up from the kitchen,” she related. “They had I think called the dump elevator opened in this big lovely dining room.”
So how this lady is related to the Ramos, I really have no idea. I do know she’s descended from the highfalutin McCarty family of New Orleans, which includes plantation owners, a former mayor and the infamous Delphine McCarty LaLaurie, who tortured slaves in what is now a haunted house (once owned by Nicholas Cage) and the subject of a recent “American Horror Story” season. Leontine (center in photo below), however, never associated with those folks because she’s descended from a liaison between a white McCarty and his black mistress.
What’s cool is her association with Henry C. Ramos, however that may be, a man who created an amazing drink created from gin, egg whites, cream, lemon and lime juices, orange flower water and soda water that must be shaken at least six minutes. At least! He invented this time-intensive concoction in 1888 at his bar, the Imperial Cabinet Saloon on Gravier Street in New Orleans. At one time Ramos had bartenders lined up to shake his popular cocktail, passing along the shakers when arms got tired. And don’t even think to stir it!
This summer, the Bourbon O Bar in the Bourbon Orleans Hotel in the middle of the French Quarter of New Orleans brought back the frothy, refreshing Ramos Gin Fizz, the perfect anecdote to summer. They have installed a shaking machine that saves their bartenders from quitting, so visitors can ask for the perfect Ramos Gin Gizz shaken 12 minutes for optimal effect, as per Henry’s instructions, and sign the book reserved for those willing to wait for the ideal drink. When I received my frothy, delicious drink — and yes, my name is in the book — I took my photo with Henry C. Ramos, a man who kinda sort is related. Maybe?
Here’s the cocktail recipe, thanks to the Bourbon Orleans Hotel (photo courtesy of the hotel).
Ramos Gin Fizz
1 1/2 ounces gin
1 tablespoon simple syrup (1:1)
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
1 fresh egg white
1 ounce heavy cream
3 drops orange flower water
1 ounce club soda
Chilled tools: shaker, strainer
Garnish: Orange peel
Direction: Combine the first six ingredients in a shaker without ice and shake vigorously to combine. Add ice to the shaker and shake again for at least 6 to 12 minutes. Strain into a glass, top with club soda and the orange flower water and stir.