The first time Meyer Wolfsheim met Jimmy Gatz, the young man hadn't eaten in days. Freshly released from Army duty and on the hunt for a job, the major wore his medal-decked uniform around town not to tout his valor or value - but rather because he couldn't afford civilian clothes.
For the princely sum of just over $4, Wolfsheim stuffed the starving kid full of food and locked in his loyalty for life.
Jay Gatsby, as F. Scott's Fitzgerald's most famous creation re-dubbed himself, picked up his benefactor's trick - along with a lucrative career in bootlegging. He used the spoils of his illicit trade to dazzle, drunken and stuff the beautiful gadflies of the Jazz Age, including his former flame, the wealthy, spoiled Daisy Buchanan. While Gatsby himself drank minimally (female friends of a former employer used to rub Champagne in his hair in the throes of wild parties and it put him off the stuff), cocktails flowed freely at the lavish garden soirees he threw to woo the swells of Manhattan and Long Island's Gold Coast.
Narrator Nick Carraway (also not much of a boozer, drunk only twice in his life by his own count) noted, "Every Friday five crates of oranges and lemons arrived from a fruiterer in New York - every Monday these same oranges and lemons left his back door in a pyramid of pulpless halves. There was a machine in the kitchen which could extract the juice of two hundred oranges in half an hour if a little button was pressed two hundred times by a butler's thumb."
That was just the beginning of the bacchanal. "At least once a fortnight a corps of caterers came down with several hundred feet of canvas and enough colored lights to make a Christmas tree of Gatsby's enormous garden. On buffet tables, garnished with glistening hors-d'oeuvre, spiced baked hams crowded against salads of harlequin designs and pastry pigs and turkeys bewitched to a dark gold. In the main hall a bar with a real brass rail was set up, and stocked with gins and liquors and with cordials so long forgotten that most of his female guests were too young to know one from another."
The host had grown up with no such privilege or excess, and rather supplied the muscle and sweat to bear the food from the earth and the sea to supply such a fete. The Gatz family were, by his account, "shiftless and unsuccessful farm people" and he broke from them to make his way in the world any way he could, including working as a clam digger and salmon fisher along the shores of Lake Superior.
The struggle hardened Gatsby, body and spirit, but he maintained a warm, tender spot for rich, careless, now-very-married former girlfriend Daisy. He stuffed the mouths and stomachs of everyone around her to make the case for his worthiness, and eventually, it all burst open.
On a wild, angry night full of far too many mint juleps, Daisy commandeered a car and struck down her husband Tom's mistress Myrtle. While Daisy and her spouse reconciled over a couple of beers and some cold fried chicken, Myrtle's husband ordered (and didn't eat) a sandwich and drank a cup of coffee to fuel himself for the walk over to Gatsby's home. At the hands of the cuckolded man, the farmboy-turned-gilded cipher (who'd taken the fall) met a bloody end in the glittering pool at the center of his garden.
"In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars," Carraway wrote. And at last, their host fluttered away with them.
Simple Mint Julep
Note: Juleps are traditionally served in silver cups because they retain an even chill. If you don't have one, a chilled tumbler will do just fine.
Spoon the sugar into the bottom of the cup. Place the leaves on top of the sugar and crush, pushing down and twisting with a muddler or wooden spoon until slightly pulped.
Fill the cup with crushed ice, pour the bourbon over the ice, garnish with the mint sprig and serve.
Try these five julep recipes from the contemporary to the classic.
2 cups flour
Have the bowl slightly warm, measure butter into it and beat butter until creamy, add sugar slowly, the yolks well beaten, flavoring. Mix and sift the flour and baking bowder and add to the mixture, alternating with the milk; fold in the egg whites beaten very stiff. Do not stir after the whites are added.
Bake in a greased, flour-dusted pan at 350°F until the cake comes away from the edge of the pan.
Filling for cake
1 1/2 cups sugar
Beat the butter, sugar and eggs together. Set a dish of boiling water until heated; then add the lemon and stir until thick. Spread between layers of cake.