7.4 Electric current fizz

21 Feb

I sing the Body electric . . .

— Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass (1867).

The electric current fizz, the recipe for which can be found in George J. Kappeler’s Modern American Drinks, is basically a silver fizz with extra pizzazz. To wit:

Make a silver fizz; save the yoke of the egg and serve it in the half-shell, with a little pepper, salt, and vinegar, with the fizz.

— Kappeler, Modern American Drinks (Akron, OH: Saalfield Publishing, 1900), p. 58.

We’ve made a silver fizz before, but we may as well follow Kappeler’s own recipe this time around:

A mixing-glass half-full fine ice, the juice of half a lemon, half a tablespoonful fine sugar, the white of one egg, one jigger Tom gin; shake well, strain into a fizz-glass, fill with siphon seltzer (p. 60).

I guess the idea is to suck down the seasoned yolk like an oyster, then take a swig of the fizz. The condiments + lemon juice + efferverscent water produce a warm, tingly feeling, as if a weak electric current were passing through your body. It’s certainly shocking.

At the time of Kappeler’s writing, electrification was changing the world forever (the world of the city dweller, at least—not until the 1930s, when the federal government finally intervened, did electricity come to the American countryside). But it was also changing the way scientists thought of the human body: the organism was a battery sustained by and charged with “nerve force”, a vital power identical to, and just as mysterious as, electrical current. Illnesses, both mental and physical,  were supposedly caused, or at any rate exacerbated, by our batteries running down, by a deficiency of nerve force in other words. The obvious remedy, then, was to recharge our inner voltaic piles—and so electrotherapy in one form or another became the faddish and frequently quackish medical innovation of the second half of the nineteenth century.  (A typical example of mountebankery: J.S. Paine’s “galvanic spectacles”, which carried an “uninterrupted flow of electricity” in the silver and zinc frame; by “touching the tongue on the nose-piece, an unmistakable sensation is produced” that was allegedly conducive to the reinvigoration of the eyes and, one presumes, to the death of the wearer [Western Lancet, vol. 8:3 (September 1848), p. 179].)

So the application of electricity worked just like the medicinal cocktail: it delivered pep, vim, vigor and zip to those whose stocks of those commodities were low. With his recipe Kappeler is wittily combining the two (and, what’s more, the fizz in all its various manifestations was generally held to be the most rejuvenating of all mixed drinks). Here’s a different take, one supplied by Sir Thomas Barlow, Bart., President of the Royal College of Physicians and Royal Physician to George V (as he had been to the previous two monarchs), in an address at a conference devoted to the subject of “Alcohol and the Young Man in Business”.  Under pressure? Feeling stressed? Don’t turn to the bottle, Sir Thomas cautioned: “When you meet a friend don’t offer him alcoholic stimulants; treat him to an electric cocktail . . . You do not get, after electric stimulation, the injurious reaction that always follows a dose of alcohol . . . A battery can be carried easily and comfortably, I believe, and there is no reason why they should not come into general use.” And what exactly did the good doctor have in mind? The New York Times picked up the story:

According to a scientific expert, the best “electric cocktail” is a battery fitted at one end with a sponge, to be passed across the face when the current is set going. It is the only certain cure for nervous headaches.

“You can buy for $2.50,” he said, “a battery 3 inches by 4 inches by 6 inches, which can be carried in the pocket. It will last you a month if you use it an hour per day. That is for ‘long drinks’. Your cocktail only lasts about three minutes, but as a renewer of energy there is no drink like it, as it is drier than champagne or even ginger ale.”

— “Praises Electric Cocktail”, New York Times, 25 February 1912.

From: Popular Science Monthly, vol. 96 (June 1920), p. 76.

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