When my extended family gathers for a tailgate (Go Dawgs!) or a winter oyster roast, it goes without saying that I’ll be making the Bloody Marys. Over the years, I’ve dabbled with most of the premade mixes, from good old Zing Zang to the lighter Natural Blonde to my typical go-to, Charleston Bloody Mary Mix. I like lots of chunky ice, a vigorous squeeze of lemon, a celery stalk, and a few toppers on a toothpick (olive, cocktail onion, and a small pickle), plus a shake of black pepper. And, if it’s my own glass, a very healthy pour of vodka.
The late writer and longtime G&G contributor Julia Reed, with whom I shared many a Bloody (including at Sylvain, one of her favorite spots in New Orleans, and at the Delta Hot Tamale Festival in her hometown of Greenville, Mississippi), had no tolerance for premade mixes or an overabundance of garnishes. She championed her mother Judy’s recipe with all the staunchness you would expect from Julia. Nothing else could compare. The secret to her mother’s recipe was a whopping amount of fresh-squeezed lime juice.
In her book But Mama Always Put Vodka in Her Sangria!, she wrote, “A rocky morning is no time for a concoction as thick and over-seasoned as a bottle of Ragú, nor does one need a salad—lemon wedge, olive, bean, pickled pepper, whatever—all but blocking the intake of the Bloody. A lovely pale yellow stalk of celery from the tender heart of the bunch is an appropriate garnish, as is a single spear of pickled okra. Otherwise let it go.”
I think about Julia often, and I miss her dearly. Recently I mixed up a batch of her mother’s Bloody mix, and the taste immediately brought back memories of good times and good company. So I poured another and passed some glasses around, just as she would have liked.