songs & cocktails: parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme

Tracing a sparrow on snow-crested ground

At some point in high school I secured a record player and began poaching my parents’ records. It was a great collection to steal from: pretty much every singer-songwriter from the late 60s and 70s was represented, from the James Taylor albums that had all made it to our family minivan in CD form to the Joni Mitchell tracks that I discovered for the first time via old scratchy records. Listening to the White Album on vinyl was a transcendent experience at 17 (fun fact: James Taylor recorded his debut album at the same time in the same studio as the Beatles’ White Album, using the space whenever they weren’t. See: holy host of others standing around me. See also: George Harrison’s Something, inspired by JT’s Something in the Way She Moves).

remember me to one who goes there
on the side of a hill in the deep forest green

And then there were all the Simon & Garfunkel albums: these were songs I knew from our S&G Collected Works double CD anthology, but I’d never considered their music in album-length groupings. Listening to their songs grouped as short albums I was struck by the antiwar lyrics that I’d never noticed before. I was a high school junior on 9/11, and U.S. forces invaded Iraq during my senior spring. I remember feeling a sense of inevitability and helplessness: as a teenager I felt there was no serious or empowered opposition to the war and no sense that invading Iraq for murky reasons wasn’t a foregone conclusion made by men in Washington. The antiwar messages of these folk songs on vinyl seemed both quaint and comforting: even as they also served as evidence of the insufficiency of art and protest in stopping past wars, they also reminded me that dissent and art are permanent fixtures of our culture in spite of it all (small wonder that in college I joined a group of folk musicians who sang one protest song or another at dozens of rallies during my undergraduate years…I learned more about American history from the songs we sang together than in all my US history classes combined).

Wait a minute, this post is supposed to be about a new recipe: the drink of the summer, The Scarborough Fair.

that's more like it
(that’s more like it)

The Scarborough Fair Cocktail 

This is a deliciously refreshing drink whether you’re getting ready for a protest or a picnic, and it’s just as good without alcohol as it is with it. The “parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme” refrain of the song Scarborough Fair should be obvious as the inspiration behind this particular concoction, and the key ingredient of the recipe is a simple syrup infused with these four herbs.

You will need:

Tonic water
Gin (optional)
A handful each of dried rosemary, dried thyme, and dried sage
A handful of fresh parsley, chopped, plus extra for muddling and garnishing
A cup of sugar
Lemon juice

when their forces combine
when their powers combine

To make the syrup, add two cups of water and the parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme, and boil until the water is reduced to about half its original volume.

Separate out all the herbs with a mesh strainer and return the now very herb-y water to the pot. Add a cup of sugar and heat until fully dissolved. Allow to cool.

Prepare your glasses by muddling a bit of fresh parsley with a pinch of sugar and some crushed ice at the bottom. Fill three-quarters of the way with cold tonic water, and then add a generous splash of the syrup (depending on how sweet you like it, I’d say start with a tablespoon or so). Finish with an equally generous splash of lemon juice.

If mixing with gin, it’s best to use a cocktail shaker to blend all the liquids together; use 2 oz. of gin per drink.

Of course, if you’re a bitters fiend, no reason not to add dashes of sage, rosemary, and thyme bitters for a more intense and subtle experience (sort of like the vinyl version of the drink), but the drink works beautifully without.

that's the stuff
that’s the stuff

Little-known to most are the poignant lyrics tucked between the fairs and the fresh herbs of Simon & Garfunkel’s version of the song:

War bellows, blazing in scarlet battalions
Generals order their soldiers to kill

And to fight for a cause they’ve long ago forgotten

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