It’s been well established that writing and drinking go together, but not all pairings are as elegant as Oscar Wilde and champagne or as cosmopolitan as E.B. White and his martinis. Some concoctions are born less out of delectability than out of necessity: specifically, a need to get epically sloshed, then somehow wake up the next day ready (or at least able) to work. Raymond Carver was an expert in both.
“I know you like to drink, and I like to drink, but I never met a guy who likes to drink like Ray likes to drink,” Carver’s peers would gossip among themselves. Getting drunk didn’t require any glamorous cocktails for Carver; a fifth of vodka in the morning and a fifth in the afternoon was what he preferred to do the job.
He was known for out-boozing even his fellow writers—no strangers to the bottle—including John Cheever, a colleague at the University of Iowa. “He and I did nothing but drink,” Carver wrote. “I don’t think either of us ever took the covers off our typewriters.” Their students became the responsible ones, cooking dinner for the duo to ensure they got down a few bites of solid food.
But although they shared a fondness for late-night partying, the two friends differed on their approach to another writerly affliction: the hangover. Cheever preferred to nurse his with a deliciously greasy sandwich, but Carver took a “hair of the dog” approach. “Most mornings, Ray woke everyone by calling out ‘Hot doughnuts! Steaming hot cups of coffee!'” his biographer claims. “But when they got to the kitchen, ‘heart starter’ Bloody Marys were the main offering.” In other words, Bloody Marys aren’t just a typical Carver drink; they are a full Carver meal—with just enough nutritional value to qualify as breakfast.
Bloody Marys also played a role in one of the biggest moments in Carver’s career. When the publisher of McGraw-Hill called to invite him to lunch, Carver wasn’t in the most … professional of mindsets: “I was drunk and hungover both,” he wrote. But he made it on time and downed two Bloodys before learning the news: McGraw was offering him his first advance, for a novel he hadn’t even written yet. He immediately celebrated with an ideal Carver lunch: a double vodka on the rocks, a couple of cocktail shrimp on the side.
Carver never wrote down his secrets to those heart-starter Bloody Mary’s—chances are, he knew them well enough by heart. But Ernest Hemingway, another advocate of the alcoholic hangover cure, preserved his recipe for a pitcher of them (“any smaller amount,” he wrote, “is worthless”):
“Mix a pint of good russian vodka and an equal amount of chilled tomato juice. Add a table spoon full of Worcester Sauce. Lea and Perrins is usual but can use A1 or any good beef-steak sauce. Stirr. (with two rs) Then add a jigger of fresh squeezed lime juice. Stirr. Then add small amounts of celery salt, cayenne pepper, black pepper. Keep on stirring and taste it to see how it is doing. If you get it too powerful weaken with more tomato juice. If it lacks authority add more vodka.”
The classic recipe hasn’t changed since that 1947 letter: Worcestershire, celery salt and citrus are all key to a solid Bloody Mary, as is Hemingway’s other bit of advice: “to keep it very cold and not let the ice water it down.” But the best thing you can do for your Bloody, I’ve found, is to use raw tomatoes at their peak. This recipe uses fresh juice plus Carver’s favorite, vodka (never gin). And if you’re hoping it will soothe a headache, take another tip from Hemingway, who displayed a surprising attention to aesthetics when he wrote: “For combatting a really terrific hangover increase the amount of Worcester sauce – but don’t lose the lovely color.”
(Adapted from Honestly Yum)
4 to 5 pounds ripe tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon grated fresh horseradish root
1 lemon, juiced, plus extra for garnish
1/2 teaspoon celery salt
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon pepper
1. Chop tomatoes into 1 1/2-inch chunks and transfer to a colander above a large bowl, along with any juices. Add salt and toss well. Let sit 30 minutes at room temperature. Reserve juice underneath.
2. Working in batches as necessary, transfer tomatoes to a blender or food processor. Blend 2 minutes, or until smooth. Transfer purée to a fine-mesh strainer and press purée into the bowl with the tomato juice. When all tomato is strained, whisk together purée and juice and transfer to a large pitcher or covered container.
3. Add horseradish, lemon juice, celery salt, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce and pepper and whisk to combine. Serve in a glass over ice with vodka and garnish with cilantro and extra lemon slices.
11 thoughts on “The Cocktail Hour: Raymond Carver”
What a fantastic post.
Thanks so much! How can you say no do those tomatoes?
Thanks for sharing this interesting information on writing and drinking.
Thanks for reading, Michael!
Fascinating info – you wonder how those writers who boozed so much ever got any work done!
I had a French teacher who once told me to take a shot before a presentation – sometimes a couple drinks just lets the words flow I guess 🙂
A great read. Left me thirsty!
Well do I have a solution for you 🙂 Thanks for reading!
I have decided that yours is in my top ten favorite blogs! Your work & graphics are absolutely a pleasure to read!
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“- a fifth of vodka in the morning and a fifth in the afternoon was what he preferred to do the job.” Mind boggling. Gives a little perspective to those “I Quit Drinking When …” stories that usually start out with something like, “I knew I had a problem when I found myself drinking a third glass of wine some nights. And then on the weekend, I’d sometimes have four …”
Looks like I’m a little late to the party, but great post and Cheers!