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The Real History of the Strawberry Daiquiri

Michael Hillman

During recent renovations aimed at turning the old summer kitchen into a library, it was necessary to tear down one of the original walls. Much to my surprise, the falling plaster revealed a package securely stowed between two beams. Intrigued, I reached down and carefully unwrapped it. Inside was a bundle of hand written stories and a carefully sealed envelope, on which was written the following:

Folklore: The blending of historical and ludicrous facts, often the result of delusions brought about by the fermented juices of sugar cane.

As I carefully open the envelope, the unmistakable smell of summer strawberries knocked me to the floor. When I awoke, I found the content of the packages spread all around me. Dizzy, I picked up the closest story and began to read ...

Back in the days before refrigerators, ice was a precious commodity. Because of its value, ice was harvested all winter long from Tom's Creek and its tributaries. Once the ice had achieved sufficient thickness (usually 6 inches), it was cut into sheets and carted off to ice barns. Ice barns, or ice cellars to be more accurate, were large pits in the ground below normal barns, surrounded by thick layers of straw for insulation. Once the pit was full, another thick layer of straw was placed over the cold treasure. Ice, of sufficient quantity, and properly insulated, would last well into the hot summer months.

For the better part of the 1800's, the Zacharias' family was known for their ice cream. Mathias Zacharias discovered the recipe for ice cream back in 1805 when he was experimenting with methods to improve the time milk could be keep fresh. Well aware that salt was effective in maintaining meats, Mathias took the bold step of mixing salt with crushed ice, and packed the mixture around an old sugar canister which he had filled with cream. Mathias instructed his children Mathias, Christian, John, and Mary, to stir the milk aggressively once an hour and headed off to do his farm chores.

The following day as Mathias loaded his canisters of milk onto the wagon for his daily trip into town, the cap fell off the canister of cream that had been chilled, spilling a thick goo all over the buck board. When Mathias returned with a pail of water to wash the spill away, he discovered his children fighting over the goo. Mathias, always quick on the uptake, realized that he might be onto something.

Over the ensuing year, Mathias fine-tuned his process for making his "ice cream". The most significant advancement, the idea of adding fruits to flavor it, is credited to his wife Ann. Over the years, Ann tried many fruits, with varying degrees of success. Her strawberries however, which she cultivated in a special little patch on the northeast corner of the farm, were renowned for their sweetness and were always a hit when added to Mathias' ice cream.

In 1814, the Zacharias family summer ice cream socials were interrupted by the British invasion of Maryland and the capture of Washington D.C. Having been present at Cornwallis' surrender at Yorktown, Mathias could not restrain himself, and joined in the effort to recapture the capitol. As fate would have it, Mathias arrived just as the British were withdrawing. Being one of the first soldiers on the scene, Mathias was requested to inspect the President's house, which the British had attempted to burn.

On completing his assignment, Mathias was greeted by a grateful Dolly Madison, who rewarded his courage with a keg of rum that the British had forgotten. While humble by nature, Mathias was nevertheless flattered at being recognized by an individual of such importance. Feeling the need to return her kindness, Mathias was chagrined that the only thing he thought worth offering was his recipe for ice cream. However, Dolly, who was known for the lavish parties she gave, was always on the lookout for new ways to entertain. She listened attentively and took notes as Mathias told his tale.

When he was finally done, Mathias felt a little embarrassed, as if he had not given enough. Almost as an after thought, Mathias turned to the burnt Presidential house and remarked that a coat of white paint would make it look good as new. Dolly turned to the house, nodded her head and agreed "Yes, white would look nice."

As he started to leave, Mathias turned one last time, "Up in our parts, we name our houses, you should give it a grand name after you paint it white."

Dolly smiled at Mathias and thought for a minute. "How about something grandiose, like um, Thurmont House?"

Mathias caught himself as he was about to laugh. "I'm not sure that would work, how would someone out of town know what to look for?" Mathias looked about him at the many colors that adorned the surrounding houses and after reflecting for a minute proposed: "How about simply calling it the White House. It will be the only white one on the block, so it will be easy to find."

The presidentís wife shook here head in amazement at his lack of imagination, but wishing not to offend him, agreed to consider his suggestion and take it up with the President.

With Washington safely back in American hands, Mathias returned to his farm. As for his ice cream recipe, it was a hit in the Washington social scene, and as everyone knows, Dolly Madison was given credit for inventing it.

The story now fast-forwards to June 1863. Christian Zacharias, who had inherited Single Delight, the family farm, was carrying on the family tradition of ice cream socials. With tension high over rumors that the south was planning to invade Maryland, conversations turned to incidents that occurred the last time Maryland was invaded. Christian's rendition of his father's chance meeting with Dolly Madison and his claim that ice cream had been invented by the Zacharias family, met with hoots and hollers from the assembled neighbors and friends.

Taunted with "prove its", a jury of men were selected to view his evidence. After swearing an oath of secrecy, Christian led the group down into the basement of his ice barn. Much to the amazement of the group, Christian pulled away a false wall, behind which sat a keg of rum, stamped with a Royal Navy seal dated 1813. Returning to the social, the jury unanimously voted in front of all that the evidence they had seen proved conclusively that Christian's claim that Zacharias had invented ice cream was indeed true. And true to their oath, the jury refused to divulge the nature of the evidence they had seen.

For the following week, Christian and his neighbors worked feverishly to bring in the year's first cutting of hay, all the while however, their minds were on that keg of rum. With the hay safely put away, Christian and his friends gathered at the appointed hour in the woods next to his mother's old strawberry patch, which his wife Sarah was now tending. The keg of rum was quickly tapped and a portion of its contents passed around to all the celebrants. Being prohibitionists by nature, the rum brought on much coughing, gasping, and throat clearing.

The record gets a little bit fuzzy here but sometime during that evening it was supposedly suggested by someone that fruit should be added to 'smooth' the taste of the rum. All eyes turned in unison, to the well-tended strawberry patch.

'Hey Christian, your wife's strawberries tasted pretty sweet in that ice cream last week, do you think she'll notice if we take any."

Christian hemmed and hawed. Stealing away and drinking rum with his friends was one thing but plundering his wife's strawberry patch was another, especially if they were going to be added to the rum. The rum however got the better of him, and within minutes of giving his go ahead, the group descended upon the patch like locust upon a wheat field.

Once securely back in the woods, the strawberries were mashed and mixed with the rum and ice. The addition of the strawberries met with everyone's approval, and over the ensuing evening, the quantity of the various ingredients were altered and tested to produce the 'perfect smoothness'. As the evening progressed, the conversation turned to the war and the talk of Lee's intended invasion of Maryland and the Union's intention to block the advancement at Emmitsburg.

James Welty
7-4-1829   12/13-1900

Unbeknownst to the party participants, James Welty had been recruited as a spy for the Confederacy. Because of his handsome appearance, and debonair style, he had drawn the attention of the French officers advising General Lee and was given the code name 'Daiquiri' by them. While James' neighbors fell under the influence of the rum, James sat back and listened, gathering valuable intelligence on local food supplies, foraging conditions, union troop strength, and possible union fortification sites.

It was late in the evening when the last drop of the rum was consumed. Those who could still manage to walk, loaded those unable to, into wagons. Swearing an oath never to reveal the night's debauchery, all headed off in their own direction. The wagon train back to Emmitsburg was long and boisterous, much to the dismay of the other party goers, who were trying to sneak back into their own farm houses.

That evening, June 15, 1863, the great Emmitsburg fire occurred, starting in the livery stables of Gunther & Beam, the final destination of the boisterous wagon train. The origins of the fire and its relationship to the first Stony Branch Daiquiri party I'll leave to the reader's imagination. Suffice it to say, the next day, party participants were universally mum about their activities the night before.

The final recipe for the strawberry rum drink invented that night would have been lost to antiquity if not for the efforts of James Welty. Being the only one sober of mind throughout most of the evening, James recognized a great business when he saw one, or in this case, drank one. James wrote the final recipe down, shoved it into his pocket and then joined the others in polishing off the rum. Unfortunately for James, the rum obliterated his memory of all the intelligence he had gathered on the union positions around Emmitsburg and Gettysburg. Without his vital information, a frustrated Lee proceeded into the North blind, and stumbled into Gettysburg. Following the defeat at Gettysburg, their paths crossed one last time, Lee's only comment to Emmitsburg's Confederate spy was "Gettysburg, the war, all lost because of Strawberries, Daiquiri?"

A disgraced James returned to the south where, to make ends meet, he began marketing the strawberry and rum mixture under his code name: Daiquiri. It became an instant success. The fortune James made however was short lived. The collapse of the southern cause, and with it the Confederate currency, erased all his profits. The Strawberry Daiquiri, however, lived on, and as we know, became the mainstay of many a Southern social party.

Before he died James passed the original recipe for Stony Branch Strawberry Daiquiris onto his niece Mary A. Welty, who in 1888, purchased the windy meadow upon which lay the strawberry patch planted by Mary Zacharias one hundred years before. Before selling her home to James Schealy in 1918, Mary documented for prosperity, the above story and sealed it in a wall, along with seeds from the original plot and a treasure trove of other memorable stories and folklore. 

Read other Humor stories by Michael Hillman

Read other stories by Michael Hillman