11 Refreshing Facts About Margaritas

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istock

Kick back, grab the salt and limes, and enjoy a frosty drink while reading these facts about your favorite summer cocktail.

1. ITS ORIGINS ARE MURKY.

No one is quite sure who invented the margarita, but there are a lot of theories. The most widely spread rumor is that an American socialite named Margarita Sames created the drink for her friends in 1948. One of her party guests was Tommy Hilton, who added the drink to the bar menu at his hotels. This is probably not true, though: The first importer of Jose Cuervo used the tagline "Margarita: it's more than a girl's name" in 1945—three years before Sames debuted her drink.

Another story is that a man named Danny Herrera made the drink in his Tijuana restaurant in the '30s or '40s (accounts vary). Marjorie King, one of the showgirls there, was unable to drink any hard liquor but tequila. She wanted a cocktail using the liquor, so Herrera began experimenting. He concocted the now-famous drink and named it after the showgirl, as Margarita is a Spanish version of the name Marjorie.

The very first print mention we can find of the drink (but not the name) comes from the 1937 book Café Royal Cocktail Book by William Tarling. The drink had a similar recipe but was called Picador (a type of bullfighter).

2. MARGARITA MEANS DAISY IN SPANISH.

The daisy is an old prohibition drink that has a base spirit, sugar, and a sour. The cocktail later inspired the sidecar, which is basically a margarita with cognac and lemon. Some believe that the margarita is just a spin on a tequila daisy.

3. THE FIRST FROZEN MARGARITA MACHINE WAS INVENTED IN 1971.

The origins of the cocktail are unclear, but the origins of the machine are pretty straightforward: Mariano Martinez invented the frozen margarita machine in the early '70s. The 26-year-old Dallas restaurateur was having trouble creating the frozen drink for customers; bartenders complained they took too long, and customers thought they melted too quickly. 

After seeing a Slurpee machine in a 7-Eleven, Martinez was struck with inspiration. He transformed a soft-serve ice cream machine into one that pumped out frosty margaritas. The drinks were a huge success, and the machines can now be found all over the country.

4. THE SALT IS IMPORTANT.

The salt is there to bring out the sweet and sour flavors of the drink; even just a pinch will help subdue the bitterness and enhance the important flavors. On top of this, salt intensifies the drinker’s perception of the drink’s aromas, making the flavors even more powerful.

5. MARGARITAS ARE INCREDIBLY POPULAR.

In fact, it was the most ordered mixed drink of 2008, according to the Cheers On-Premise Handbook. That year, Americans were consuming 185,000 margaritas per hour on average.

6. THERE ARE TONS OF VARIATIONS.

The original recipe calls for tequila, Cointreau, lime, and salt to garnish, but there are a number of creative spins of the cocktail. Different fruits like peaches, mangos, and pineapple can be added to give the drink a more tropical feel. Some replace the salt with sugar, or garnish with sage or coriander leaves. Even crazier, adventurous types will add ingredients like Sriracha or chocolate. Here’s a full list of creative margaritas to try.

7. THE WORLD'S LARGEST MARGARITA WAS MADE IN LAS VEGAS.

The Flamingo Hotel’s Margaritaville Casino in Las Vegas holds the honor of making the largest margarita in the world. This enormous drink was 8500 gallons (32,176 liters) and “served” in a 17-foot-tall tank. It took 60 people 300 hours to create. The drink, called the “Lucky Rita,” was created to celebrate the opening of the casino in 2011.

8. THE WORLD'S MOST EXPENSIVE MARGARITA COST $1200.

In 2013, 230 FIFTH Rooftop Bar & Penthouse Lounge in Manhattan baited partiers with a frozen margarita that used some incredibly high-end ingredients—the tequila alone cost $1800 a bottle. Even the ice was made from $450 bottles of Lois Roederer Cristal Champagne. The final product was poured into a Ralph Lauren hand-blown Hungarian crystal glass that can be taken home afterward. The decadent drink was for a good cause though—half the money was donated to a charity of the drinker’s choice. 

9. OR YOU CAN BUY ONE WITH EARRINGS FOR $30,000.

If you thought $1200 wasn't too bad to spend on a cocktail, how does $30,000 sound? For Valentine’s Day in 2015, the Iron Cactus in Austin, Texas, offered an extremely expensive margarita that came with a pair of diamond earrings. The bar's "romance expert" would set the whole thing up; no word on whether all that dough covered dinner, though.

10. THERE'S A "WORLD" COMPETITION.

The Tucson Originals and the Southern Arizona Arts and Cultural Alliance get together every year to bring the public the World Margarita Championship. Renowned bartenders from Tucson come to duke it out for the honor of best margarita in Arizona. Visitors also vote for their favorites in a People's Choice category. Last year’s overall winner was an orange jalapẽno margarita by Eric Brenner of Pastiche.

11. YOU CAN GET YOUR MARGARITA IN FRIED FORM.

Kristy, Flickr

Why drink your cocktail when you can eat it? This strange food is served at the Texas State Fair, along with a variety of other food that shouldn't be fried. Funnel cake batter is put through a margarita mixer, fried, and then soaked in more margarita. The finished product is topped with whipped cream and served in a salt-rimmed glass.

All images courtesy of iStock unless noted otherwise 

The History Behind 10 Thanksgiving Dishes

VeselovaElena/iStock via Getty Images
VeselovaElena/iStock via Getty Images

Halloween is for candy comas, and on Independence Day we grill, but no holiday is as completely defined by its cuisine as Thanksgiving. No matter what part of the country you're in, it's a safe bet that at least a few of the below dishes will be making an appearance on your table this week. But what makes these specific entrees and side dishes so emblematic of Thanksgiving? Read on to discover the sometimes-surprising history behind your favorite fall comfort foods.

1. Turkey

A roasted turkey on a platter.
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Turkey has become so synonymous with Thanksgiving that most of us probably imagine the pilgrims and Wampanoag tribe of Native Americans chowing down on a roast bird in 1621. Although we don't know the exact menu of that first Plymouth Colony feast, a first-person account of the year's harvest from governor William Bradford does reference "a great store of wild turkeys," and another first-person account, from colonist Edward Winslow, confirms that the settlers "killed as much fowl as … served the company almost a week." However, culinary historian Kathleen Wall believes that, although turkeys were available, it's likely that duck, goose, or even passenger pigeons were the more prominent poultry options at the first Thanksgiving. Given their proximity to the Atlantic, local seafood like oysters and lobsters were likely on the menu as well.

As the holiday grew in popularity, however, turkey became the main course for reasons more practical than symbolic. English settlers were accustomed to eating fowl on holidays, but for early Americans, chickens were more valued for their eggs than their meat, and rooster was tough and unappetizing. Meanwhile, turkeys were easy to keep, big enough to feed a whole family, and cheaper than ducks or geese. Even before Thanksgiving was recognized as a national holiday, Alexander Hamilton himself remarked that "No citizen of the U.S. shall refrain from turkey on Thanksgiving Day." The country followed his advice: according to the National Turkey Federation, 88 percent of Americans will eat turkey in some form on Thanksgiving Day—an estimated 44 million birds!

2. Stuffing

Pan of breaded stuffing.
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Stuffing would have been a familiar concept to those early settlers as well, although their version was likely quite different from what we're used to. We know that the first Plymouth colonists didn't have access to white flour or butter, so traditional bread stuffing wouldn't have been possible yet. Instead, according to Wall, they may have used chestnuts, herbs, and chunks of onion to flavor the birds, all of which were already part of the local fare. Centuries later, we're still stuffing turkeys as a way to keep the bird moist through the roasting process and add extra flavor.

3. Cranberries

Dish of cranberry sauce.
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Like turkeys, cranberries were widely available in the area, but cranberry sauce almost certainly did not make an appearance at the first Thanksgiving. Why not? The sugar reserves the colonists would have had were almost completely depleted after their long sea journey, and thus they didn't have the means to sweeten the terrifically tart berries.

So how did cranberries become such an autumnal staple? For starters, they're a truly American food, as one of only a few fruits—along with Concord grapes, blueberries, and pawpaws—that originated in North America. They grow in such abundance in the northeast that colonists quickly began incorporating cranberries into various dishes, such as pemmican, which mixed mashed cranberries with lard and dried venison. By the Civil War, they were such a holiday staple that General Ulysses S. Grant famously demanded his soldiers be provided cranberries for their Thanksgiving Day meal.

4. Mashed Potatoes

Bowl of mashed potatoes.
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Potatoes weren't yet available in 17th-century Plymouth, so how did mashed potatoes become another Thanksgiving superstar? The answer lies in the history of the holiday itself. In America’s earliest years, it was common for the sitting president to declare a "national day of thanks," but these were sporadic and irregular. In 1817, New York became the first state to officially adopt the holiday, and others soon followed suit, but Thanksgiving wasn't a national day of celebration until Abraham Lincoln declared it so in 1863.

Why did Lincoln—hands full with an ongoing war—take up the cause? Largely due to a 36-year campaign from Sarah Josepha Hale, a prolific novelist, poet, and editor, who saw in Thanksgiving a moral benefit for families and communities. In addition to her frequent appeals to officials and presidents, Hale wrote compellingly about the holiday in her 1827 novel Northwood, as well as in the womens' magazine she edited, Godey's Lady's Book. Her writing included recipes and descriptions of idealized Thanksgiving meals, which often featured—you guessed it—mashed potatoes.

5. Gravy

Plate of turkey and potatoes covered in gravy.
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Despite a dearth of potatoes, it's likely that some type of gravy accompanied the turkey or venison at the earliest Thanksgiving gatherings. The concept of cooking meat in sauce dates back hundreds of years, and the word "gravy" itself can be found in a cookbook from 1390. Because that first celebration extended over three days, Wall speculates: "I have no doubt whatsoever that birds that are roasted one day, the remains of them are all thrown in a pot and boiled up to make broth the next day." That broth would then be thickened with grains to create a gravy to liven day-old meat. And, if Wall's correct, that broth sounds suspiciously like the beginning of another great Thanksgiving tradition: leftovers!

6. Corn

Plate of corn.
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Corn is a natural symbol of harvest season—even if you're not serving it as a side dish, you might have a few colorful ears as a table centerpiece. We know that corn was a staple of the Native American diet and would have been nearly as plentiful in the 17th century as today. But according to the History Channel, their version would have been prepared quite differently: corn was either made into a cornmeal bread or mashed and boiled into a thick porridge-like consistency, and perhaps sweetened with molasses. Today, we eat corn in part to remember those Wampanoag hosts, who famously taught the newcomers how to cultivate crops in the unfamiliar American soil.

7. Sweet Potatoes

Bowl of mashed sweet potatoes.
bhofack2/iStock

In the midst of so many New England traditions, the sweet potatoes on your table represent a dash of African-American culture. The tasty taters originally became popular in the south—while pumpkins grew well in the north, sweet potatoes (and the pies they could make) became a standard in southern homes and with enslaved plantation workers, who used them as a substitution for the yams they'd loved in their homeland. Sweet potato pie was also lovingly described in Hale's various Thanksgiving epistles, solidifying the regional favorite as a holiday go-to. More recently, some families further sweeten the dish by adding toasted marshmallows, a love-it-or-hate-it suggestion that dates to a 1917 recipe booklet published by the Cracker Jack company.

8. Green Bean Casserole

Plate of green bean casserole.
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Beans have been cultivated since ancient times, but green bean casserole is a decidedly modern contribution to the classic Thanksgiving canon. The recipe you probably know was whipped up in 1955 by Dorcas Reilly, a home economist working in the Campbell's Soup Company test kitchens in Camden, New Jersey. Reilly's job was to create limited-ingredient recipes that housewives could quickly replicate (using Campbell's products, of course). Her original recipe (still available at Campbells.com), contains just six ingredients: Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup, green beans, milk, soy sauce, pepper, and French's French Fried Onions. Her recipe was featured in a 1955 Associated Press feature about Thanksgiving, and the association has proven surprisingly durable—Campbell’s now estimates that 30 percent of their Cream of Mushroom soup is bought specifically for use in a green bean casserole.

9. Pumpkin Pie

Slice of pumpkin pie.
bhofack2/iStock.com

Like cranberries, pumpkin pie does have ties to the original Thanksgiving, albeit in a much different format. The colonists certainly knew how to make pie pastry, but couldn't have replicated it without wheat flour, and might have been a bit perplexed by pumpkins, which were bigger than the gourds they knew in Europe. According to Eating in America: A History, however, Native Americans were already using the orange treats as a dessert meal: "Both squash and pumpkin were baked, usually by being placed whole in the ashes or embers of a dying fire and they were moistened afterwards with some form of animal fat, or maple syrup, or honey." It's likely that Hale was inspired by those stories when pumpkin pie appeared in her culinary descriptions.

10. Wine

Two glasses of wine.
Moncherie/iStock.com

Chances are good that a few glasses of wine will be clinked around your table this November, but did the pilgrims share a tipsy toast with their new friends? Kathleen Wall thinks that water was probably the beverage of choice, considering that the small amount of wine the settlers had brought with them was likely long gone. Beer was a possibility, but since barley hadn't been cultivated yet, the pilgrims had to make do with a concoction that included pumpkins and parsnips. Considering the availability of apples in what would become Massachusetts, however, other historians think it's possible that hard apple cider was on hand for the revelers to enjoy. Whether or not the original feast was a boozy affair, cider rapidly became the drink of choice for English settlers in the area, along with applejack, apple brandy, and other fruit-based spirits. New England cider thus indirectly led to a less-beloved Thanksgiving tradition: your drunk uncle's annual political rant. Bottoms up!

Why Do We Eat Cranberry Sauce on Thanksgiving?

MSPhotographic/iStock via Getty Images
MSPhotographic/iStock via Getty Images

While plenty of people eat turkey, mashed potatoes, and pie year-round, it seems like cranberry sauce almost exclusively exists in the Thanksgiving universe. Although we don’t know for sure whether it was eaten at the very first Thanksgiving, the jiggly, gelatinous side dish does have deep roots in the history of America’s fruited plains.

According to Insider, cranberries are one of only three commercially grown fruits native to the United States, and the Wampanoag tribe had been using them for food, dye, and medicine long before feasting with the Pilgrims in 1621. If there were cranberries at the party, they probably didn’t taste much like the sweetened sauce we’re (circumstantially) fond of today; at that point, the settlers hadn’t yet succeeded in growing sugar cane in the New World.

But a little more than 50 years later, according to a 1672 account cited by The Washington Post, the new Americans and Native Americans had both started to enjoy cranberries much like we do at Thanksgiving dinner: “Indians and English use it much, boyling them with Sugar for a Sauce to eat with their Meat.”

In 1796, Amelia Simmons—author of American Cookery, the first-ever American cookbook—took it one step further by recommending that roast turkey be served with cranberry sauce. Considering that the Library of Congress included the book on its list of “Books That Shaped America,” it’s possible that Simmons’s suggestion reverberated through kitchens across the nation, and the tradition gained momentum from there. She does mention pickled mangoes as an alternate side dish for turkey, but the then-Indian import was likely less common than the locally-grown cranberry.

Then, in the early 1800s, Ocean Spray revolutionized the labor-intensive process of hand-picking cranberries from vines with what’s called a wet harvest. Basically, farmers flood the bogs where cranberries grow, and then they wade into the water to collect the floating berries en masse.

farmer wet-harvesting cranberries
A farmer gathering cranberries during a wet harvest.
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This was a more efficient technique, but a mass harvest meant that more cranberries got damaged. So in 1912, Ocean Spray began crushing them into canned, jellied cranberry sauce—maximizing the yield and making it easier than ever for every home in America to slice up a cylinder of solid, sugary, berry goodness.

Explore the stories behind your other favorite (or least favorite) Thanksgiving foods here.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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