There are so many stories around the mojito but the one I hope is true is that its name comes from the African word for “mojo” or casting spells. This makes perfect sense because, as a friend pointed out, mojitos make everyone happy. Assuming all other conditions are equal and in moderation, a strong mixed drink can make someone pensive or low key, exhilerated or stupefied, wild or reckless, but a mojito – happy. It’s even hard to think of a mojito without smiling, it’s a charming little cocktail.
I was planning my sister’s surprise birthday party and was determined to have mojitos on hand but there was no time for conjuring. To make it more interesting, I had to complete a long begged for kitchen renovation just days before the party which left my sink in the hallway, my appliances in the closet, and my pots and pans behind the couch. I wish I could say I was Mary Poppins, serenely willing everything back into place with a spoonful of sugar but I was a more Miss Hannigan, whipping the orphans into shape and swearing my apartment was going to shine like the top of the Empire State Building or else. After a couple of late cleaning nights, the refrigerator was out of the living room and back in the kitchen, the shelves were restocked, and the light covering of grout dust sprinkled over everything I own was (mostly) gone.
Down to the wire with little time to prepare, I still had to decorate a cake with white chocolate butterflies, fry up a fresh batch of croquetas, and stir up the mojitos before guests got there. The croquetas never made it though the butterflies did and my pitcher of mojitos became a mix-on-demand set-up manned by my friend Lang. With everyone crowding my apartment, my sister being held up with threadbare excuses while we got our act together for the surprise, and my mother skyping in, time seemed to disappear and if it wasn’t for everyone’s helping, I would have never pulled it off. Though the party went off as well as I could have hoped and my sister was thrilled- I couldn’t get over my mojito disappointment.
My mojito in La Bodeguita, My daiquiri in El Floridita. – Ernest Hemingway
When the dust had literally settled, I decided to try my hand at the mojito again. If I could cast a spell, it would be to walk into this black and white picture of my grandparents at La Bodeguita del Medio and find out exactly what inspired Hemingway to write such a definitive, albeit back-handed compliment to the drink that made the restaurant. Instead, I asked people who I knew mixed a great one for their secrets but the responses were confusing – it could be granulated sugar (white, brown or powdered) or simple syrup, limes squeezed or muddled, club soda or ginger ale, yerba buena crushed or bruised. With so much advice, I wasn’t sure how I was going to put it all together, but I had everything I needed to make it happen and hoped that the magic would come later.
I still can’t say that I came up with a definitive recipe but testing out a few variations, I came closer to figuring it out. I like a lot of mint, stems and all, and prefer bruising to crushing, the simple syrup mojito was smoother but I liked the taste of the one made with granulated sugar, and a mix of lemon and lime was nice but could be overpowering. Here’s a start.
12 spearmint (yerba buena) leaves with stems
1-2 teaspoons sugar or 1 ounce simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water)
1 ounce lime juice
2-3 ounces mineral water
1 1 /2 – 2 oz white rum
Muddle mint, sugar, and lime juice in a glass until the mint is just bruised. Stir in the rum and add ice. Top off with mineral water. Garnish with a sprig of mint.