Jim Heffernan column: Here’s a raisin/gin confidential

Thoughts on raisins in gin, magnetic watches, discarded horseshoes.

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Jim Heffernan (News Tribune)
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I recently heard that golden raisins soaked in gin might be good for what ails ya — things like various aches and pains.

It reminded me of my lifelong (and that’s a good period of time) disdain — yes, disdain in its purest form — of raisins. And raisins in gin? I’m not that nuts about gin, either. But for medicinal purposes? Well, maybe.

My dislike of raisins in all forms goes all the way back to my childhood when they showed up disguised as chocolate chips in cookies. Yuck. What a gross disappointment. You think you’re biting into the best cookie ever invented and instead of chocolate chips, you get dark, gooey raisins?

There’s a lesson in life in there somewhere having to do with trust. I got it mighty early.

I actually don’t like anything like that — dates, currents, figs, dried fruits used in holiday baking such as fruitcake. Never touch the stuff. We have a saying in our family: “The only good raisin is a dead raisin.” Well, I have a saying.


Yup. I coined that phrase years ago, and now it is used by my children (who are no longer children) and their children (who are). The trouble is, they all like raisins. The young ones like to taunt me with raisin packages or oatmeal cookies containing them.

“Get thee away from me,” I bellow. “The only good raisin is a dead raisin!” The youngest ones would scream with glee when they were still of a screaming age.

But getting back to the health theory of soaking golden raisins in gin as a remedy for feeling achy in the back or possibly other places: I suppose if I felt achy enough, I’d try it. But I was raised a Lutheran, so I hate to imbibe in a raisin full of gin. “The evil gin does is hard to assess,” go the lyrics of a song I once knew. Not a hymn, though.

This silly raisin-gin nostrum reminds me of a bracelet I have had for years containing a bunch of magnets that, when worn, work wonders on aches and pains, too. Once years ago, my left shoulder began hurting and I got to thinking I might have to have rotator cuff surgery. It wouldn’t go away.

So one day walking through the mall, I ran into an old acquaintance who showed me the magnetic bracelet he’d just bought to ward off various pains and aches. They were selling them at a special table in the mall that day. Hmm. Maybe a magnetic bracelet would cure my shoulder pain, I deduced. So I ran over and bought one. And it came with a guarantee: If it doesn’t work, try and find the seller.

Now I’m not saying it is responsible for eliminating — completely eliminating — the pain in my shoulder, but the pain went away. No rotator cuff surgery. On with life wearing a magnetic bracelet. Who can say?

I once heard a story about Niels Bohr, the brilliant Danish physicist who won the Nobel Prize for illuminating understanding of atomic structure and quantum theory, as everyone knows. Well, Google knows.

As the story goes, a visitor to Bohr’s home noticed a horseshoe fastened to the wall above a doorway, apparently for good luck. The visitor remarked to the great Nobel laureate that surely he didn’t believe horseshoes could bring a person good luck.


Bohr reportedly responded that nobody has ever proved they don’t. If you can explain quantum theory, you can prove a negative any day of the week and twice in Sunday.

Well, there it is. Raisins in gin, magnetic watches, discarded horseshoes. Prove they don’t work to alleviate certain pains or bring good luck.

Still, I don’t really believe any of it myself. I have a bachelor’s degree, for crying out loud. But I do know that I hate raisins, and that the only good raisin is a dead raisin.

Which brings to mind a time when I shared that sentiment with a grieving relative at exactly the wrong moment. Without going into detail about who’s who here, a few of us who share parts of the same gene pool were gathered in a restaurant following the funeral of our kin to console those closest to the person we’d honored with coffee and a bite. Toward the end of this gathering, a plate of cookies was passed around, and I spotted a raisin cookie disguised as a chocolate chip.

When handed the plate by a somber mourner, I proclaimed, “The only good raisin is a dead raisin.” It was out of habit.

The remark didn’t seem to go over that well with the grieving group, as anyone with an ounce of sense can understand.

But that was years ago and forgotten by everyone but me. Now onward to sampling one yellow raisin with a pint of gin … for medicinal purposes, of course. A pint? I guarantee that’ll make anyone feel better … until the morning after.

Jim Heffernan is a former Duluth News Tribune news and opinion writer and columnist. He maintains a blog at and can be reached by e-mail at

Jim Heffernan is a former Duluth News Tribune news and opinion writer and columnist. He maintains a blog at and can be reached by email at
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