Puerto Rico, 1815
SHE LOVED THE dashing pirate Roberto Cofresí.
She shouldn’t have, for he was common and she the daughter of a marquis, but she couldn’t help herself. There was something about him … the way his puffy shirt draped over his sculptured frame, how the sea breeze ruffled his flowing dark curls or even the way he swung acrobatically from the rigging the day he saved her from that wicked French count she was supposed to marry.
She would never forget that sunset on that evening off the coast of Puerto Rico, when, as the nightcap to a meal eaten on the deck surrounded by a pod of dolphins, he handed her … a coconut. But no, not just a coconut … a coconut that had been hollowed out and filled instead with some divine libation, an elixir he had invented himself (he was handy in the kitchen as well as handsome): one part white rum he’d lifted from that Spanish galleon they took off the coast of Jamaica, three parts tangy juice of the pineapples he traded her jewelry for with those shifty boucaniers, and one part milk from more of those coconuts harvested on that unnamed deserted island where he first told her he might love her if only she were less beautiful.
“What is it?” she asked, her voice trembling with anticipation.
“I have named it … ” he began, his dark eyes smoldering like two Costa Rican volcanoes, “the ‘piña colada.’ ”
That was the story she told, anyway, and long after her third marriage, to the English earl, and 17 great-grandchildren later, she still would wake up in the middle of a summer night; walk out to her veranda; and put her lips slowly, softly, to a straw sticking out of a hollowed-out coconut containing the drink her long-lost lover had created for her.
Never mind that others said it wasn’t true, that Cofresí actually created the drink to boost crew morale among employees given to mutiny when becalmed. And still others, mostly those with so-called “history degrees,” who claimed the whole episode was a fabrication, that the drink actually had been unromantically devised in a bar in a Hilton hotel in Puerto Rico in the 1950s by a bartender named Ramon Marrero.
Well, let them have their revisionist history. And let them have their frothy, whipped bastardizations — Cofresí had needed no blender, only two glasses pressed together that he shook as if his life depended it on it, sweat glistening like dew on his skin in the steamy tropical air, slightly melting the ice within for which she suspected he’d blackmailed the mayor of Santo Domingo.
Cofresí made piña coladas for her often those days, sometimes using dark rum (more complex, which her aristocratic palate preferred), and often with a garnish made of a slice of pineapple that he carved himself using the saber he kept always on his hip.
But some modern additions include heavy cream — heresy! And those store-bought, cloying, premade mixes were, to her, an absolute insult. No; a piña colada had to be pure, made with the freshest fruits picked with fingers that knew the sweet agony of true love. Only then would it be worth the memory it evoked whenever she drank it, always in the moonlight, accompanied only by the ghost of the man who really knew how to buy a girl a drink.