I love walking in the winter. The air is crisp and invigorating. There are no bugs. I hate bugs, particularly mosquitoes and ticks that carry Triple E and Lyme disease. Westerly has some of the best walking trails around thanks to the Land Trust’s seventeen-hundred protected acres. Sometimes, when it’s really cold and nasty, I make up a batch of Whiskey Soup. Yes I know, it sounds awful, but trust me, it’s not. Here’s the story about the first time I tried it.
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It was a gusty cold February day many years back in Rowayton, Connecticut, even the ducks were cold, huddled against the wind. I had a bad cold and felt terrible. I had to attend a frostbite race on the Five Mile River and didn’t want to be there but Mrs. Cornwall, my new boss, had insisted.
Mrs. Cornwall came from the wealthy enclave of Wilson Point and she would drag me along to some of her social events. Today’s event was the annual frostbite race at a private home on the river. The crazy idea behind frostbite racing is that people who can’t get enough sailing during the warm months go sailing in the dead of winter. I still think freezing your butt off sailing a boat when it’s well below freezing is a bad idea. However, while most of us stay home in front of the fire, these hardy souls don their wetsuits and gloves, chip the ice off their lines, and raise their sails for a brisk sail out on the water.
Frostbite racing started in Connecticut on the Connecticut River the 1930’s and its popularity has grown ever since. Racers now compete all over the northeast. They use many types of boats such as Penguins, Thistles, Rhodes 18s, International 14s, One-Ton and Midgets.
When I arrived at the home on the river there were about forty people standing on the lawn watching the races. There were about a dozen boats sailing back and forth across the river. I looked for a place out of the wind to hide as I stifled a cough. “There you are my dear. Come out on the dock so you can get a better view.” It was Mrs. Cornwall, she’d found me.
“Thanks but I better not. I think I have the flu,” I whined.
“Nonsense, you have that cold that’s been going around. Here, come on the porch, I have just the thing for colds.” We walked to the porch at the back of the house. Mrs. Cornwall was talking as she picked up a thermos and unscrewed the cap. I could see steam rising from the hot liquid inside but my nose was so stopped up that I couldn’t smell anything. She picked up a Styrofoam cup and filled it with red liquid. “Here you go my dear, drink some of this.”
Knowing she would not be satisfied until I drank, I took a tentative sip. The taste wasn’t bad and I took another. “That’s pretty good,” I admitted.
“Well, finish it up so you’ll be ready to enter the next race,” she instructed. “I’m not racing, even if I was a good sailor I’m too sick,” I said with a sense of dread.
“Of course you are,” she smiled. “This is a charity event and you’re representing the company. You don’t expect me to do it do you?”
I had to admit that I couldn’t really picture Mrs. Cornwall, a matronly 70-year-old woman, climbing into a dingy in the middle of winter. Mrs. Cornwall sounded a lot like my grandmother when she said, “Now dear, drink up like a good boy.” She filled up another cup and this time I drank the hot liquid right down.
“I think I’m starting to feel a little better, what is this stuff?” I questioned.
“That’s the spirit. It’s called whisky soup and I knew I can always count on you. One more cup dear, then off you go,” again sounding like my grandmother. After that third cup I felt like a new man; climb a mountain; sure, sail a boat in sub-freezing temperatures; piece of cake.
I came in last in the race but I must admit I had a good time thanks to Mrs. Cornwall’s wonderful concoction. Why whisky soup works so well is somewhat of a mystery. Certainly, the alcohol helps but there is something else happening here that is more than that. Perhaps it was Mrs. Cornwall’s grandmotherly magic that imparted that special ingredient. Give it a try and let me know what you think?
The recipe is simple:
In a saucepan bring a 15 oz. can of V-8 juice to a rapid boil
Squeeze in the juice of a lemon
Add a teaspoon of salt and some pepper to taste
Pour in half bottle or so of whisky
Bring back to boil
Put in thermos to keep hot
Go find your mountain.