A couple of years ago, I had the distinct pleasure of working with and getting to know a local writer. A colorful character with a storied past, Lauretta is one of the most joyful people I’ve ever met. We found kinship in our southern roots and in our love of Dolly. Even after we’d both moved on to other places of employment, we kept in touch. Last year, I attended one of her Down Home Writing School sessions (and learned so much about the writing process) and have longed ever since to have the courage to share my heart the way she shares hers.
She’s fearless and full of kindness and happiness. She’s The Cracker Queen.
Her book, aptly titled The Cracker Queen: A Memoir of a Jagged, Joyful Life, tells a universal story of triumph over adversity – with a dash of moonshine and Munchkins from the land of Oz thrown in for good measure. If you’re wondering what a Cracker Queen is, this is the definition in Lauretta’s own words:
The Cracker Queen is a strong, authentic Southern woman. She is the anti-Southern belle. She has a raucous sense of humor and can open up a can of whup-ass as needed. She holds her head, and her cigarette, up high. She curses, laughs inappropriately, and raises t-total hell when the line is crossed. You might find her waiting tables or working the third shift at the factory. The Cracker Queen knows loss and hurt; these things have made her beautiful, resourceful and, above all, real.
A couple of months ago, Lauretta asked me to develop a recipe that she could include in her newsletter. I was, admittedly, a little intimidated. She has quite the following, and I wanted to make sure I did the Cracker Queen theme justice. Her only stipulations were that it be easy to make and not include meat or seafood. A bit later, she messaged me to say that maybe it could be a fun drink or cocktail (with or without alcohol). Well, that sealed the deal right then and there.
My own early memories of summer in the South include pulling tabs off cans of cheap beer for Daddy (and sneaking sips on my way back from the cooler) and pouring Tennessee whiskey over ice for Grandaddy. I loved the distinct sound as the pressure was released from the beer can and the way the foam bubbled up out of the key-hole shaped opening. And there was something warm and comforting in the sweet scent of the amber liquid as it flowed down over the ice in the glass.
Times have changed for sure. Back then, we’d take road trips and Daddy would stop off at the gas station and buy two or three tall-boys to drink in the car. If my grandparents were going out for dinner (and taking me with them), Grandaddy would pour his whiskey-rocks into a Tervis tumbler (the old-school kind with the fishing lure sandwiched between the layers). I’d sit between him and Grandma on the front seat of the Lincoln Town Car, and he’d hold that drink on his knee as he drove into town. We’d listen to 8-track tapes of Jerry Lee Lewis or Elvis and sing along at the top of our lungs. Sometimes we’d stop off at the filling station at the end of the dirt road and he’d send me in to buy a pack of Camel filters for him.
Lordy, it’s a wonder I survived childhood.
I don’t recommend that you have your kids mix this drink for you, or that you take it in a go-cup as you mosey down the road. Because, hello? Irresponsible. Not to mention illegal and dangerous. No. What I do recommend, though, is that you mix it up for your next get-together, or just to cool off with on a hot day. This is an ass-kickin’ cocktail masquerading as a pretty pink girly drink. Like any self-respecting Cracker Queen, it’s a little sweet, a little sour, and it packs a punch when it needs to.
The Cracker Queen Cocktail
yields: 1 pint
- 1 oz. of moonshine
- 2 oz. of rhubarb simple syrup (recipe below; if rhubarb is out of season, you can use Grenadine in place of the rhubarb syrup)
- juice of half of a lemon
- dash of rhubarb bitters
- ice for shaking
- 1 12-oz. can of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer
- lemon slices for garnish
- Combine the moonshine, simple syrup, lemon juice, bitters and ice in a cocktail shaker (or pint-sized mason jar).
- Cover and shake to combine and chill.
- Strain into a clean glass (I like to use another pint jar, but that’s just me).
- Top with the PBR. It might foam quite a bit because of the sugar in the syrup, so I will sometimes pour the beer over the back of a spoon to direct it down the side of the glass – this helps to avoid a giant head on the beer.
- Stir to combine.
- Garnish with a slice of lemon.
Rhubarb-ginger simple syrup
- 2-3 stalks of rhubarb, cut into 1-inch pieces (you need enough for about a cup of rhubarb)
- 1 thumb-sized finger of fresh ginger, sliced (you don’t have to peel it or anything)
- 1 cup of sugar
- 1 cup of water
- Combine everything in a saucepan and bring to a boil.
- Reduce to a simmer and let cook for 5-10 minutes, or until the liquid turns pink and the rhubarb softens/breaks down.
- Strain into a seal-able container and refrigerate.
- Should keep in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks.