Hacking Galliano in 1970s Tucson

In a 1978 Tucson community cookbook, Autumn Giles stumbles upon a DIY recipe for Galliano—the Italian liqueur that defined a moment in 1970s drinking—and simultaneously unlocks a trove of odd midcentury homemaker secrets.

Dismantling my life in New York City meant re-homing my booze. All of it. At the risk of sounding melodramatic, for someone who writes about cocktails, clearing out your bar feels a bit like surrendering your livelihood. The fact that it would be difficult to replenish only added to the sting. After moving to a small town in Arizona, the nearest ‘big’ city (read: decent liquor store) would be an hour and 45 minutes away.

Last summer, while here visiting, I bought a spiral-bound community cookbook, its cover decorated, unceremoniously, with brown silhouettes of cacti, put out by a group of museum docents in Tucson, in 1978.  According to food historian Traci Nathans-Kelly, these community cookbooks, which were likely first produced as fundraisers during the Civil War, became popular again in the 1940s and experienced one last an upswing in the ’70s when the spiral binding industry was booming.

My thrifted museum docent cookbook is full of fairly unsurprising community cookbook fare with a Southwestern bent—three iterations of chile relleno casserole, plenty of finger foods and the use of the word “oriental” to describe an entree that contains bottled teriyaki sauce. However, the last recipe in the book is for Galliano—yes, that Galliano—the herbal Italian liqueur best known for its role in the ’70s hit drink the Harvey Wallbanger. Perhaps more absurd than the simple fact that a DIY recipe for a complex European mixer is lodged within an obscure community cookbook from Tuscon, Arizona, is how it’s made.

Nathans-Kelly jokes about the rediscovery in recent years of DIY culture by the urban set, calling them “really just old-school Lutherans at heart.” Although largely disconnected from a place of geographic and economic necessity, the trending handmade culture among city dwellers has roots in the making-do brand of DIY that once dominated church culture in the midcentury, particularly in Lutheran hotbeds throughout the Midwest.

In order to replicate the flavor of a liqueur that, according to Galliano’s website, begins “with the meticulous sorting and quality control of some 30 herbs, spices and plant extracts,” contributor Marguerite H., uses imitation butter, anise, orange and lemon extracts and a few drops of yellow food coloring.

In the context of modern do-it-yourself culture—which is typified by buzzwords like “small-batch” and artisanal—this is, frankly, a pretty audacious hack.

There is a long history of DIY in community cookbooks that Nathans-Kelly characterizes as “making do” by folks living in smaller, more far-flung communities that likely wouldn’t have access to certain foods otherwise. “Their only choice was DIY,” she says. To the contrary, our contemporary DIY culture is often a reaction against having access to so much. It’s a choice to pare down, to do more with less.

Lacking self-congratulation, the old-school brand of DIY is more “let me show you how I did it” rather than “let me show you that I did it.” And Nathans-Kelly jokes about the rediscovery in recent years of DIY culture by the urban set, calling them “really just old-school Lutherans at heart.” Although largely disconnected from a place of geographic and economic necessity, the trending handmade culture among city dwellers has roots in the making-do brand of DIY that once dominated church culture in the midcentury, particularly in Lutheran hotbeds throughout the Midwest.

Rae Katherine Eighmey, author and food historian, elaborates on the role of midcentury community cookbooks as spaces for contributors to “celebrate of the community they represent,” she says. They’re also historical documents.

Looking at Midwestern church and community cookbooks from the 1950s, Eighmey recalls being “astounded at how much the women chose to reveal about their lives,” through their selected recipes. Besides the makeshift Galliano, Marguerite H. contributed a recipe for caramelized bacon, a gumdrop salad—a fruit salad with literal gumdrops, save for the licorice ones, which the recipe instructs the cook to eliminate—and an innocuous peachy pecan bread. Although the spirit of her Galliano recipe is in line with an “old school Lutheran” DIY ethic, a church cookbook would be much less likely to include a cocktail recipe.

Eighmey speculates about how a DIY Galliano recipe ended up in Tucson community cookbook, speculating that it likely stemmed from Galliano’s role as a key ingredient in “a cake that was all the rage—the Harvey Wallbanger Cake,” she says. “I do wonder if this faux Galliano recipe was a way to get the key cake ingredient without having the big, tall bottle sitting on your shelf.”

Marguerite’s Galliano does, in fact, contain a suggestion of butter flavor and no, that part is not particularly enjoyable. But side by side, it’s remarkably close to the real thing. And as a oddball suburban nod to the memory of Galliano, made with a resolute spirit, it’s right on the money.

Autumn Giles is a food writer and poet. Her work has appeared in Modern Farmer, Serious Eats, and elsewhere. She lives in Arizona.

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