‘coffee and Kümmel at a table in a dingy inn-parlour’

I think we drank the wrong Kümmel. And really, we should have been drinking tea, not coffee. Apart from that, I think the podcast about October 19 went quite well…

Why the wrong Kümmel? Well, I went for Wolfschmidt, mainly because it tickled me to think we were drinking the same ‘putting mixture’ that Scottish golfers apparently enjoy by the caseload (see this Wall Street Journal article for details). It’s also the Kümmel of choice in most London clubs, according to The London GolferIt also allowed me to mention James Bond (again) since he has a peculiar way of drinking Wolfschmidt  in ‘Moonraker’ (admittedly the vodka rather than the Kümmel):

When M. poured him three fingers from the frosted carafe Bond took a pinch of black pepper and dropped it on the surface of the vodka. The pepper slowly settled to the bottom of the glass leaving a few grains on the surface which Bond dabbed up with the tip of a finger. Then he tossed the cold liquor well to the back of his throat and put his glass, with the dregs of the pepper at the bottom, back on the table.

M. gave him a glance of rather ironical inquiry.

“It’s a trick the Russians taught me that time you attached me to the Embassy in Moscow,” apologized Bond. “There’s often quite a lot of fusel oil on the surface of this stuff-at least there used to be when it was badly distilled. Poisonous. In Russia, where you get a lot of bath-tub liquor, it’s an understood thing to sprinkle a little pepper in your glass. It takes the fusel oil to the bottom. I got to like the taste and now it’s a habit. But I shouldn’t have insulted the club Wolf-schmidt,” he added with a grin.

Despite these interesting cultural references, I now think it’s far more likely that it’d be Helbing that the locals would have been knocking back in a Frisian inn (although of course von Brüning isn’t exactly a local). By 1900, more than 400 people were employed by Helbingsche Dampf-Kornbrennerei und Presshefe-Fabriken AG in Hamburg. The company even operated branches in Paris, London and Liverpool.

The Helbing Kümmel works in Hamburg circa 1900. Image from http://www.helbing-kuemmel.de/en/history/

Yes, Wolfschmidt was a popular international brand too, originally coming out of Riga and then being made under license in other parts of the world (including Glasgow, *England* if the label on my bottle is to be believed – apologies to Club Member Brian for making him choke on his whisky when I let this pass as fact on the podcast…). But it seems to me much more likely that our heroes would be drinking Hamburg hooch rather something of Latvian origin.

Wolfshmidt: produced in England… at a Glasgow address?!

As to the coffee that was supposedly being drunk, I don’t think Carruthers and Davies should have been drinking coffee at all. (We’ll forgive von Brüning because he’s a Prussian.) It’s far more likely they’d be drinking tea, since the East Frisians are huge consumers of very strong tea, drinking more per capita than any other place in the world. See this New York Times article for details.

Frisian tea is said to be a strong blend of Assam and Darjeeling, to which you add a large gloop of thick cream (no stirring) and an avalanche of rock sugar. So strong is the love for this sweet heady brew amongst the locals that they actually have a museum of tea in Norden. We will definitely have to visit.

Ostfriesischen Teemuseum Norden

The good news is that there’s also a local cake that we could guzzle with our tea. Recipe here at kitchenlioness.blogspot.co.ukSo tea and cake all round, not coffee and Kümmel at all!  How very Carruthers-like and *English* that sounds. (Not Scottish, Brian).

2 thoughts on “‘coffee and Kümmel at a table in a dingy inn-parlour’

  1. I first came across Kümmel in the rather louche Betjeman poem ‘Song of a Nightclub Proprietress’, as set to music by Madeleine Dring. The first verse is as follows:

    I walked into the nightclub in the morning;
    There was kummel on the handle of the door.
    The ashtrays were unemptied,
    The cleaning unattempted,
    And a squashed tomato sandwich on the floor.

    Here’s a link to the whole thing, as sung by the fabulous Felicity Lott: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XGbGmHwUeUs


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