In Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, the unctuous Lord Beckett offers Captain Jack Sparrow a small glass of honey-colored liquid that must surely have been Madeira, the preferred drink of 18th-century British and Americans alike. (It was Thomas Jefferson’s favorite drink.)
Least expensive of the fortified wines, Madeira bears the singular virtue of being utterly still like whiskey or eau de vie. Uniquely aged in heat rather than cool, the sweet wine oxidizes slightly and thus after opening retains its flavor even in hot climates.
Riddled with flu on his return from Italy, Mr. Henry repaired to his favorite apothecary, Nancy’s Wines for Food. Though his head was full of cotton, his reasoning was not occluded. Mr. Henry decided that the purchase of a subtly aromatic libation would be money wasted. Consequently he threw himself on the mercy of a young apprentice with shaven pate and satyric smile who recommended an $11 bottle of Rainwater that Mr. Henry dutifully drank every evening for a week.
The cure was thorough and complete. Rainwater is the cough syrup of the gods.
With newly-acquired curiosity for the mysteries of Madeira, Mr. Henry detected traces of it in a mascarpone cream dessert served by Cipriani at the McKim, Mead & White designed 55 Wall Street, one of Manhattan’s greatest rooms, former site of National City Bank, the Merchant’s Exchange, and the New York Stock Exchange.
The dessert is one that itself must be very resistant to decay because the cream is principally composed of stiffly beaten egg whites with some mascarpone and a splash of Madeira. Sandwiched between pastry layers and sprinkled with shaved coconut, it was light and toothsome. (Best of all, it can be prepared without cooking!)