Cinco de Margarita 

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Many, many margaritas will be consumed on Cinco de Mayo. Actually, many margaritas will also be consumed before and after Cinco de Mayo. The margarita has nudged out the martini, sea breeze, rum & Coke and even the good, old vodka tonic as America’s favorite cocktail.

For decades, I’ve wondered where the margarita came from. Its origins are commonly attributed to Mexico, but I’ve traveled far and wide in Mexico, and about the only places I’ve seen margaritas are in restaurants and bars that cater to American tourists. Also, given that ice is a premium commodity in many Mexican locales, I can’t imagine that a drink so ice-intensive as the margarita would have been a wise invention.

Granted, my conclusions are anecdotal; I’ve never conducted a statistically valid study on margarita drinking in Mexico. But I don’t recall ever seeing a Mexican drinking a margarita, frozen or otherwise, in Mexico. When it comes to booze, the Mexican people tend to drink beer, tequila (straight), mescal (straight) and simple mixed drinks like the ever popular Cuba libre or El Presidente Brandy and mixers.

There are three margarita-origin stories that vie for most popular. One is about a bartender in Rosarita Beach, Mexico, who was commissioned to concoct a drink for a showgirl/actress named Marjorie King. Marge was allergic to alcohol except for tequila. So the bartender simply poured tequila over ice, then added lemon and triple sec. Voila! Frankly, I find this tale suspect. First, you don’t see lemons in Mexico; you see the more acidic “limones.” And, while “margarita” is a direct translation of the name Margaret, I’m not so sure about Marjorie. Most important though, triple sec contains alcohol. So wouldn’t Marjorie have been allergic to the triple sec?

Another popular story about margarita’s pedigree involves a bartender in 1942 working at Tommy’s Place in Juarez. A woman ordered a Magnolia cocktail. The bartender, not knowing what a Magnolia was, instead brewed up a drink made of Cointreau and tequila and called it a margarita, the Spanish word for daisy. This explanation I find dubious as well, especially since it doesn’t explain how lime juice wound up in margaritas.

The margarita origin tale that has the most staying power with me is about a woman named Margarita Sames, a socialite from Dallas who owned a home in Acapulco. As the story goes, in 1948, Sames threw a Christmas bash at her Acapulco home. On a whim, she served her guests a cocktail of lime juice, tequila and Cointreau. It went over so well that Margarita’s American friends imported the recipe stateside, named it after their hostess and'salud!'the margarita cocktail was born. This theory makes sense to me if only because I’ve always suspected that the margarita cocktail might just be a daiquiri made by a bartender who’d run out of rum.

Frankly, the margaritas I’ve had in Mexico have been fair to middling. The best margarita I ever consumed was at Rick Bayless’ Topolobampo restaurant in Chicago. Courtesy of Rick, here is a recipe for four servings.

First, make a tangy limeade: Combine grated zest from 1 ½ limes, ½ cup lime juice, ¼ cup sugar and ¹/3 cup water in a pitcher. Cover and refrigerate for at least two hours. Strain into another pitcher or container to remove the zest.

To serve, rub the rims of four martini glasses with a lime wedge, then dip them in a dish of coarse salt. In a shaker, combine the limeade, ¾ cup Sauza Conmemorativo tequila and 3 tablespoons Gran Torres or Grand Marnier orange liqueur. Add 1 cup cracked ice, shake and strain into the prepared glasses.

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More by Ted Scheffler

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