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Word of the Season: Tradition (as in: Ramos Gin Fizz)

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011 by Alicia

You can’t swing a dead sprig of mistletoe these days without coming across a witty disquisition on holiday-season language (my favorite so far: see below*, but only after you’ve read mine).

Never one to compete with the experts, I am taking, instead, very broad aim at a very broad term: tradition.

And then, because nobody needs an exegesis on the origins of the word tradition, the meaning of tradition in the holiday season, or the life-affirming redemptive powers of tradition, I will zoom down to the micro-level on a particular example thereof: the Ramos Gin Fizz.

The Christmas morning Ramos Gin Fizz was as close to a sacred rite as my determinedly nonreligious father-in-law ever got. Somewhere around eleven o’clock, after a leisurely exchange of Christmas presents but before the ample brunch involving smoked salmon—this was Christmas for grown-ups—Bill would appear in his once-a-year red vest with brass buttons, bearing a tray of cocktails that required such elaborate preparation that they, too, only appeared once a year: Ramos Gin Fizzes, the distilled essence of holiday cheer.

A frothy concoction of lemon and lime juice, egg whites, soda water, cream, simple syrup, various flavorings, and, of course, gin (“Old Tom gin if you can get it” advises the Gumbopages recipe), the Ramos Gin Fizz is said to have been invented in the 1880s by Henry C. Ramos, proprietor of the venerable New Orleans establishment, Meyer’s Restaurant. Apparently Governor Huey Long never traveled without a New Orleans bartender who knew how to make a proper Ramos Gin Fizz. Talk about tradition!

My in-laws were about as far from old-timey New Orleans as you could get, but their Christmas mornings were as exotic as the French Quarter to me, an urban child of the East. They lived in the sort of light-filled, glass-walled, 60s-modern beau idéal of Sunset magazine, surrounded by massive oaks, with expansive views of the Valley that would come to be known as Silicon, but was then lovely Santa Clara. For me, Christmas morning still held childhood associations of dawn assaults on the gift-wrap followed by eggs and cinnamon rolls by eight-thirty, so this sophisticated approach to the festivities was all the more alluring.

Bill put his own idiosyncratic spin on the Ramos Gin Fizz by using a nontraditional ingredient: juice and a twist from the Rangpur Lime tree that grew in a huge patio container outside the kitchen door. The Rangpur Lime is not really a lime (which is too frost-sensitive to thrive in Northern California); it’s a sour mandarin orange with a unique citrus pucker that can take the place of limes, but delivers its own zesty tang. Bill’s Rangpur Ramos was unbelievably delicious, especially since we only sipped it on Christmas morning.

There: that’s my exegesis on tradition.

And to illustrate how tradition lives on, here’s the Rangpur Lime tree we planted in our own yard many years later:

And here’s an artifact I picked up from Facebook: my son in his college dorm, celebrating the end of finals, wearing his grandfather’s red vest with the brass buttons.

*The Terms of Christmas, Present by Mike Pope on the ThinkMap Word Count blog.

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