The Bloody Mary Book

Reinventing a Classic Cocktail


By Ellen Brown

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For brunches, parties, and game-day tailgating, there’s no cocktail more beloved than the Bloody Mary!

In 65 inventive recipes, the Bloody Mary is rejiggered with a rainbow of garnishes, new flavors, and different liquors. The drinks are a dizzying array of creativity, from the Vegan Mary, which is packed with umami, to a Middle Eastern Mary, adding cumin, coriander, and harissa for an extra bit of spice. Shake up these recipes for the perfect weekend pairing, complete with bar food for a little nosh:

  • The Bowling Green Bloody
  • The Bloody Maja
  • The Gazpacho Mary

  • Celery Stuffed with Pimiento Cheese
  • Smoked Salmon Spread
  • Spanish Potato and Sausage Tortilla

And if you don’t have time to whip up a Bloody Mary mix from scratch, no worries: author Ellen Brown has demystified the cream of the crop of store-bought bases that will have you sipping a savory concoction ASAP. Just add your own special twist and a few garnishes. Whatever your fancy, the Bloody Mary is the perfect weekend drink.



I'd much rather savor savories than swoon on sweets. Given the choice, I'd pack potato chips into my piehole long before pie. And that's why I love Bloody Marys.

There—in one frosty glass—almost all of my favorite food groups are represented. Salty? Yup, and that makes the brain release oxytocin, a hormone also triggered by sexual satisfaction. Spicy? In at least three ways if you count ground pepper and hot red pepper sauce as two and then add in horseradish for good measure. Something sour like lemon juice or pickle brine to make my lips pucker? You betcha! And then there's the base. It's tomato—at least most of the time—which is my favorite fruit juice.

If you pick your garnishes wisely you can include another important food: fat. A strip of crisp bacon laid across the top of a glass or a skewer of grilled sausage adds additional salt plus fat. And if you want to consider your garnishes healthy, the Bloody Mary and tuna fish salad are the two justifications for the existence of celery as a food.

There's culinary artistry that goes into creating a world-class Bloody. You don't just pour in two fingers of bourbon, add ice cubes, and top it with a splash of branch water. A great Bloody Mary has a distinctive flavor profile; there are layers upon layers of flavors that play off of each other and build to a crescendo of happiness. The drink is balanced like a masterful sauce.

Bloody Marys require a recipe. A description is hardly sufficient. Ratios don't do the trick because there are too many ingredients for four-to-one to have any meaning. In fact, I'll go so far as to assert that bad cooks can't invent a great Bloody Mary.

Bloody Marys can elicit snickers in some circles because they've so often been identified as a remedy for a hangover. Hangover libations are nothing new; back in the Middle Ages they drank a raw egg mixed into beer with lots of black pepper. We could say that the Bloody Mary is a new kid on the block because tomatoes were considered poisonous until the eighteenth century.

There are many nutrients in a traditional Bloody Mary. Salt and spices replace lost electrolytes, while the vitamin C, vitamin B6, and lycopene ease the havoc that overindulgence has wrought on the body.

Then, of course, there's a bit of alcohol. But there's no consensus within the medical community if that brings help or harm to the situation. Many scientists believe you're better off with the Virgin Mary.

My association with Bloody Marys is not as a curative, but rather as a festive beverage to share with convivial friends around a table. It's the best drink to pair with many of my favorite foods, most of which are served in the morning or at midday.

A plate of eggs Benedict topped with a rich hollandaise sauce, crêpes stuffed with shrimp curry, or a Western omelet dotted with bits of ham, onion, and bell pepper go with a Bloody Mary the way rack of lamb pairs with an aged Bordeaux. It can't be beaten. A mimosa or screwdriver just doesn't compare.

A basket of tender and flaky biscuits right out of the oven begs for something spicy to perk the palate, or if it's somewhat later in the day, you can't beat a Bloody Mary as the perfect drink with herbed focaccia or a plate of deviled eggs.

This book starts with the classics, because, as with music, you really have to master those before you can move on to improvisational jazz. There are recipes for a wide spectrum of traditional Bloody Mary mixes, and there's even a section on the best-tasting bottled versions. One of the trends today is flavored vodka, which is easy to make as a DIY project using real ingredients. You can infuse your booze with everything from citrus fruits to something as unexpected as smoky bacon, and you'll learn how here.

What follows are two chapters of Bloody Mary recipes that may have certain ingredients recognizable from or related to a traditional Bloody Mary, but that take off in different directions. In Chapter 4 not all the drinks are even red—a few of them are crystal clear but still taste like a Bloody Mary. It's not alchemy; it's called careful straining. Interspersed with the drinks are easy-to-prepare recipes for bar snacks, because all sipping goes better with something to nosh.

The book concludes with a chapter on garnishes. Although the basic recipes have changed little in what is almost a century of sipping, the presentation of the drink has gone from minimalist to massive. Garnishes with the heft of Mount Rushmore of have replaced the traditional celery stick and lemon wedge: think gingery pickled carrots, maple bacon, and cubes of marinated ceviche.

Bloody Mary bars are quickly replacing ice cream sundae bars as a way to thrill guests at a get-together. Instead of bowls of sauces, crushed cookies, and chocolate sprinkles, partygoers can choose from five different types of pickles, flavored bacon, and cubes of salami and Swiss cheese. It's like letting adults loose in a candy store to watch the enjoyment around the table. And why not? Bloody Marys are meant to be enjoyed, especially with a group of friends.

So give your Bloody Marys a boost!

Happy cooking!

Ellen Brown

Providence, Rhode Island

Fernand "Pete" Petiot, inventor of the Bloody Mary


The Bloody Mary: A Drink of Legend and Lore

The parentage of Americans' favorite drinks is frequently shrouded with uncertainty and controversy, but there is more consensus about the Bloody Mary than there is about the mint julep or even the whiskey sour.

Most food and drink historians, although they take a circuitous route, come back to the now-legendary Fernand "Pete" Petiot, who was the bartender at Harry's New York Bar, which was located at 5 rue Danou in Paris. The watering hole, which is not related to the Harry's Bar in Venice that has the Bellini as its claim to fame, was opened in 1911 by Harry MacElhone. In a city filled with shining zinc bar tops made from galvanized steel, this was a New York–style bar with a wooden surface that had been dismantled and shipped across the Atlantic.

Around 1920 Russian émigrés began arriving in Paris after fleeing the revolution, and with them came both caviar and—more importantly—vodka. Petiot began playing around with the clear spirit, and declared it tasteless; they obviously brought the good stuff. At just the same time canned tomato juice reached Paris, and he started playing with the two, adding various other flavors and substances until his patrons declared it a hit. Thus, the Bloody Mary was born, and it appealed to some of his regular customers like Ernest Hemingway. It was first called the Bucket of Blood, named for a Chicago nightclub. And Americans fleeing Prohibition loved it and brought back tales of the drink to their alcohol-starved countrymen.


Prohibition Put the Brakes on the Party

In the 1970s supporters of the antiwar movement were referred to as the doves, while those backing the war in Vietnam were called the hawks. Back in nineteenth-century America we had the wets versus the drys, and the issue was bourbon, not bullets.

Starting in the mid-nineteenth century a coalition was formed of rural Protestants and social Progressives regardless of their affiliation as Democrats or Republicans, and in the early twentieth century these groups were joined by the Woman's Christian Temperance Union to become the Anti-Saloon League. The emphasis was to ban alcohol state by state, and after most of the nation had gone dry, the Eighteenth Amendment, known as the Volstead Act, set down the rules for enforcing the ban on alcoholic beverages. The act was ratified in 1920, and for thirteen years was the law of the land—sort of. In truth, what the nation missed out on was not liquor but the tax revenues it generated when sold legally. In many ways it was seen as a conflict between rural Protestants and urban Catholics.

The act itself had the appearance of Swiss cheese. Wine used in a religious context was fine, and physicians could prescribe liquor for their patients.

The lack of legal sale gave rise to a whole new industry of illegal operators—the bootleggers. Urban crime rates soared as organized crime codified the bootleg liquor market, and the Volstead Act proved impossible to enforce. The speakeasy replaced the saloon. The Volstead Act went into effect on January 17, 1920, and within an hour, there were police reports of its having been broken.

In 1933 Congress proposed the Twenty-First Amendment to repeal Prohibition.

Although the national law was no longer in force, states and counties retained the right to set limits on or ban the sale of alcoholic beverages.


A Queen Dubbed Bloody Mary

With all of the attention paid to her father, King Henry VIII, and her younger sister, who reigned as Queen Elizabeth I, Queen Mary I has become almost a footnote in the history books. But she is the one whose nickname for the ages has been Bloody Mary.

Born in 1516, Mary was the only surviving child of Henry and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. After her parents' marriage was annulled—because Henry had yet to start the Church of England that would provide him with future divorces—Mary was declared illegitimate.

Five wives later when Henry VIII died in 1547, the crown was passed to his only son. King Edward VI was just ten years old at the time, and died a mere six years later but not before he had set a plan in place to exclude his two half-sisters from the line of succession. His choice instead was Lady Jane Grey, a distant relative who was the granddaughter of Henry's younger sister, who ruled for nine days before she was overthrown by Mary in 1553.

Mary remained a devout Roman Catholic and gained her sanguine nickname for the executions she ordered of Protestant clergy while trying to link England once again to the papacy. Her targets included Thomas Cranmer, archbishop of Canterbury, among countless others. Mary was thirty-seven at the time of her accession, and she was desperate to produce a Catholic heir so the throne would not go to her Protestant sister, Elizabeth, upon her death.

She married King Philip II of Spain and remained childless. There were reports of two "false pregnancies" during which she gained weight but no child was born, and historians now believe these were ectopic pregnancies. Mary died five years into her reign in 1558.

"Bloody Mary" was also memorialized in the children's nursery rhyme: "Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow? With silver bells and cockle shells and pretty maids all in a row." History disagrees on the actual significance of the bells, shells, and maids: The bells could represent church bells; the shells may be a nod to Saint James, whose symbol is the scallop shell; and the maids could be Catholic nuns. But other interpretations tie the silver bells to Mary's elaborate dresses, the shells to her fondness for exotic foods, and the maids to her ladies-in-waiting.

After the implementation of the Twenty-First Amendment the bar scene in the United States could once again thrive, and in 1933 Petiot moved to New York City after being wooed by industrialist Vincent Astor to head the King Cole Bar at the landmark Hotel St. Regis, known for its dominating mural by American illustrator Maxfield Parrish. But there his drink was called the Red Snapper, and a "secret ingredient" was a dash of vodka in which a handful of black peppercorns had marinated for more than a month. The media made the drink a darling, and it gained the status of a classic.

In most of the country the drink had become the Bloody Mary, with a reference to Queen Mary I of England and Ireland, who was known for her reign of terror against the countries' Protestants. Smirnoff started distilling vodka in 1934, when the ink on the Twenty-First Amendment was barely dry, when Russian immigrant Rudolph Kunnetchansky founded the company. There was an instant marriage between his product and the Bloody Mary, although vaudevillian George "Georgie" Jessel claims that the Mary in question was not a queen but his friend Mary Geraghty. Other stories say it was named after film diva Mary Pickford.

In an interview with the New Yorker in 1964, Petiot said that Jessel's claim was a simple brew of half vodka and half tomato juice, and it was he who added the salt, pepper, lemon, and Worcestershire sauce. No one has come forward to claim either the horseradish or the celery salt.

In 1942 Life magazine printed a recipe similar to a Bloody Mary but it was called the Red Hammer. The earliest recipe we can find for a Bloody Mary under its real name was printed in 1946, and many bars around the country claim to have added the celery stick as an edible swizzle stick.

Following World War II, when suburban living became the new Holy Grail, the Bloody Mary was already firmly ensconced as the leading drink to serve for brunch, a meal period that was new to the country. Although thought of by some as a hangover cure, the drink is most often associated with the convivial spirit of a brunch party.

The biggest boost to the popularity of Bloody Marys could be traced to the introduction of a great convenience food—bottled Bloody Mary mixers. It was Herb and June Taylor who became Mr. and Mrs. T and introduced their product through food-service channels in 1960. The brand's real break came a few years later when it was adopted in the small cans familiar to all airline passengers. It was the customers who then demanded that grocery stores carry it.

And that brings us to today. Bloody Marys are the go-to drink for the early part of the day, but their variations—especially the exciting hand-crafted drinks like the recipes in this book—are becoming increasingly popular at all times of day.


Telling the Future via Bloody Mary

Bloody Mary is also a lesser character rooted in nineteenth-century American folklore that ranges from benign to truly malevolent depending on which version of the tale is being told. Whether she's a ghost, phantom, or spirit, she is credited with the ability to reveal the future if conjured.

The ritual, primarily performed by young girls in order to see a vision of their future husband, is about as eerie and creepy as a haunted house. In one version the girls walk backward up the stairs in a darkened house with a mirror in one hand and a candle in the other. An alternative scenario is that a group of young women ritualistically call out her name in a dimly lit room.

If all goes well, they're supposed to catch a glimpse of their future husband. But it's not that easy. Sometimes they would see a skull or the face of the Grim Reaper; this is a sign that they're going to die before marriage.

But that's not the only thing to fear. Instead of being a harmless apparition, Bloody Mary can be evil; she is said to scream, or have the power to strangle or drink the blood of those who seek her. Not nearly as nice as a cocktail.


Anatomy of the Ideal Bloody Mary

To bring luck to a bride, her white gown is supposed to be accented by items drawn from the rather broad categories of "something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue." To bring happiness to the lips of a person sipping a traditional Bloody Mary, a parallel phrase for augmenting the tomato juice would be "something spicy, something salty, something tangy, and something complex." And then, of course, there's adding a jigger or two of liquor.

In both cases, there's a lot of latitude within these categories. And in this chapter you're going learn about all of the various foods that glorify the flavor of tomato juice, starting with an exploration of the juice itself.


You'll find recipes in Chapter 4 that aren't red at all. Some are green, others are yellow, and then a few are perfectly clear. But to most people a Bloody Mary is a red drink based on tomato juice or mixed vegetable juice such as V8, which is dominated by tomato juice.

After you make your own cooked tomato juice you'll be spoiled forever, but it's always good to have a bottle in the pantry. To determine the best brand, a group of friends and I got together one afternoon and tried eight juices commonly found across the country—you might say we got a lycopene overload.

The overall winner was R. W. Knudsen Family Organic Tomato Juice; it has the deep flavor of tomatoes ripened on the vine with a texture that is rich enough not to become wimpy when diluted with liquor and ice, but not so thick that you want to chew it when drinking it plain.

Our second-place winner, and not far below the organic juice, was Campbell's Tomato Juice, which is about half the price of the R. W. Knudsen drink. It really tastes like ripe tomatoes.

While these two were on the top of the tomato totem pole, other juices we found acceptable were produced by Welch's, Del Monte, Sacramento, and the 365 Everyday Value brand sold at Whole Foods Market.

But none of the commercial juices held a candle to this homemade juice.

Texture is the key to a truly exceptional Bloody Mary, and what most serious mixologists hold as the gold standard is a drink that retains the smooth, slightly thick, and velvety mouthfeel of tomato juice. That's not as easy as it sounds when you consider that the viscous red liquid is thinned out by myriad ingredients—from the liquor itself and the melting ice to citrus juice, Worcestershire sauce, and hot red pepper sauce.

A secret ingredient to achieve that rich texture is a stalwart of the Italian home kitchen rarely used on this side of the Atlantic. Called passata di pomodoro in Italian, it's basically just ground-up tomatoes that have been strained to rid it of the pesky seeds and skin, so it delivers a real tomato hit.

Many of the Italian imports are sold in tall glass bottles that resemble wine carafes; aseptic boxes of passata, both imported and made domestically, are also now available.

Passata may look a lot like tomato sauce, but appearance is where the similarity stops. Tomato sauce achieves its texture by reduction and its flavor from additional ingredients that can range from herbs and spices to carrots and onions. If anything passata is closer to tomato paste, which is just tomatoes that are cooked for hours to drastically reduce the amount of liquid. But tomato paste never regains a sense of fresh flavor.

Although passata di pomodoro is called strained tomatoes, the tomatoes do go through a minimal amount of cooking to break them down enough to strain, in the same way they are exposed to heat to peel them.

If you can't find bottled passata, or don't want to make it yourself, the best substitute is to drain whole canned tomatoes, reserving the juice. Purée the tomatoes and add some of the juice to achieve a thick yet pourable consistency.

Something Spicy:

Hot Sauces

Years back a definition of longevity was being so old that you had to buy a second bottle of Tabasco sauce. But Americans today like their food spicy, not only including but especially their Bloody Marys.

Tabasco, which has been around since 1868 and is still produced on Louisiana's Avery Island, controlled the market for decades. In fact, Tabasco is to the hot red pepper sauce category as Kleenex is to facial tissues and Formica is to plastic laminates; it's a trademarked brand that is used widely as a generic. Although companies like Frank's RedHot claim to be the sauce used in the authentic Buffalo chicken wings, Frank's is still a basic recipe of mashed red chile peppers with vinegar and salt.

It appears that most cuisines in tropical areas where chile peppers are grown have a sauce tailored to that country's favorite dishes; these condiments are more complexly flavored than American "hot red pepper sauce." More and more we are turning to an international array of products that all deliver a peppery punch. Here's an overview of some popular options.

Sriracha sauce: Although sriracha has been manufactured since 1980, it wasn't until this decade that it became mainstreamed into American life. Pronounced see-ROTCH-ahh as if the first r


On Sale
May 23, 2017
Page Count
192 pages
Running Press

Ellen Brown

About the Author

Ellen Brown is a versatile and respected author and recipe developer. She gained national limelight more than thirty years ago as the founding food editor of USA Today, and is the author of more than thirty-five cookbooks, including Scoop, Mac & Cheese, Soup of the Day, and Donut Nation. For the last six years she has written a popular weekly column for the Providence Journal, and profiles of her have appeared in the Washington Post, Coastal Living, and the Miami Herald. She lives in Providence, Rhode Island.

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