In my book on the history of rum I included a recipe for making Landlord May’s Flip, a Colonial American drink of dark beer with cream, sugar, and egg stirred with a hot poker while rum is added. When done correctly this makes a rich, creamy hot drink that is similar to an alcoholic marshmallow. Here’s a picture of me doing this at home:
Some people who tried doing this after reading my recipe were successful, some weren’t, and at first I couldn’t figure out why. Then I did a demonstration at an excellent restaurant in Los Angeles called Redbird, which has a beautiful fireplace at one side of the dining room. When I arrived the poker was already in the fireplace, and I didn’t pay attention to it while making sure the other ingredients were ready. When everything was in order I pulled the poker from the fire and started to stir, and immediately recognized that there was a problem. There was a brief spurt of steam but not the sustained bubbling I achieved at home, and it was very difficult to move the poker inside the jug. A look at the poker revealed the problem – it was a very spindly thing made of thin welded rods, and the hooks for moving the logs extended four inches from the shaft. The traditional fire poker I had used had a heavy bulb of metal at the end, and the log hook extended only about an inch. As a result the traditional poker held heat for a long time, and it was easy to move around inside the jug. We couldn’t go out to search for another fire poker at Redbird, so had to make do with putting the cream and alcohol mixture in a saucepan and stirring it vigorously over the flame.
Since then I have looked around and found that almost all modern fire pokers are the simple welded rod type, and it’s very hard to find the traditional style. Ironically, I got rid of my traditional set before I found this out, and I am now scavenging thrift stores for a traditional set. If I’m really lucky I may find a tool designed for the job. Serious flip makers in the Eighteenth Century used a rod with a bulb on the end that had no log hook at all; it was called a loggerhead. Here’s a picture of one:
I have no great hope of finding one of these in my home in Southern California, but if any of my faithful readers finds one, it would be a great birthday present… hint, hint…
Another tip: Take the beer and cream out of the refrigerator at least half an hour before making the flip, because it doesn’t need to be cold. Beer in Colonial America was drunk at room temperature, and if it’s cold when you start making this, it will speed the rate at which the poker cools down.
I hope that helps… If you have other problems, please feel free to contact me with specifics and I’ll try to help.