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Pimms, British Customs

The scene is set for a magnificent party. It’s a beautiful summer evening in July at the plush setting of the Hurlingham Polo Club. There’s a traditional fairground layout in the grounds, complete with an old-fashioned helter-skelter and shooting gallery.  Having enjoyed a fabulous dinner, we all file out into the grounds to enjoy the magnificent evening, looking resplendent in our tuxedos and ball gowns. But one thing is still missing.  Ah! Here it comes. As we walk out into the gardens we were greeted by the waiting staff, all holding trays of a fruit punch made with Pimms. Now the evening is complete, the punch is refreshing and delicious, not to mention free!

Take a moment to conjure up an image in your mind of a similar scene; a beautiful summer day in this ‘green and pleasant land’, large marquees erected and filled with daintily arranged sandwiches and all manner of other buffet goodies. Imagine the summer dresses and feel good factor in the air. Now complete this picture with several jugs of refreshing fruit punch laced with Pimms. As the glass in your spectacles begins to tinge with pink, it is easy to understand the appeal!

Quite how Pimms achieved this status is hard to know exactly. But one thing is for sure; the British Summer is not deemed complete without Pimms. Usually served with lemonade, or as part of a fruit punch, Pimms has become a somewhat generic drink for a garden party or wedding in Britain in the summer.

The classic Pimms drink is based on Pimms No. 1; a tea coloured drink based on gin and flavoured delicately with spices and citrus fruit. The original drink was first produced in 1823 and contained quinine. It was sold in small tankards referred to as ‘no.1 cups’ hence the modern name. James Pimm, who introduced the drink, offered it as an aid to digestion in the Oyster Bar that he owned close to the Bank of England. The fact that the drink originated at a location in the heart of the City of London, helps us to understand how the drink became a national institution that is associated mostly with the more affluent end of British Society. By the mid 19th century Pimm had to expand into large scale production to keep up with demand from other bars offering the drink and by 1859 he was selling the drink commercially using a bicycle based sales force.

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