How Unpure the Puritans!
Alcoholic beverages in Early America? Who’d a thunk it?
It’s true. In New England, beer was the first alcoholic drink to gain favor, and the colonists learned to brew it from Indian corn. Beer was considered a good family drink: a handful of hops, a pail of water, and half a pint of molasses makes good beer. A little fresh-gathered spruce or sweet fern adds a nice flavor. Boil 2-3 hours and strain. Let it stand til lukewarm and pour into a clean barrel. For ginger beer, add 1 cup ginger and 1 cup yeast.
Having acquired a taste for the pleasant effects of such beverages, Early Americans began to experiment, and thus were developed cordials, shrubs, brandies, and “bounces.” Often the brews had interesting names: Elephant’s Milk, for example. “Take of 2 ounces of benjamin (balsam); 1 pint spirit of wine; 2.5 pints boiling water. Mix. When cold, strain, and add l.5 lb sugar.” [From Mackenzie’s 5000 Receipts, 1829]
Here’s a recipe for Cherry Bounce. Mix 6 lb ripe morellas and 6 lb black heart cherries. Put in a wooden bowl and mash up with a pestle or mallet to crack all the stones. Mix in 3 lb loaf-sugar and put into a demijohn or large stone jar. Pour on 2 gallons of the best double rectified whiskey (!). Stop the vessel and let it stand three months, shaking it every day during the first month. At the end of the 3 months, strain the liquor and bottle it. It improves with age.” [From Miss Leslie’s Complete Cookery, 1839]
Fruit and berries were often used for alcoholic concoctions, as in Blackberry Cordial: “Take the ripest blackberries, mash, put in a linen bag and squeeze out the juice. To every quart of juice add 1 lb beaten loaf-sugar (put into a large kettle and pour juice on it). Boil to a thin jelly. When cold, add a quart of brandy to every quart of juice. Stir well and bottle.” [From Seventy-five Receipts, 1838]
Some of the kickiest joy juice gets its punch from liquor that’s already been brewed! As in Rose Cordial: Put a pound of fresh rose leaves into a tureen with a quart of lukewarm water. Cover and let them infuse for 24 hours. Then squeeze through a linen bag till all the liquid is pressed out. Put a fresh pound of rose leaves into the tureen, pour the liquid back in, and let it infuse again for 2 days. Repeat until infusion is very strong.
Then to a pint of the infusion add half a pound of loaf-sugar, half pint of white brandy, 1 ounce of broken cinnamon, and 1 ounce of coriander seeds. Put into a glass jar, cover well, and let stand for 2 weeks. Then filter through fine muslin or blotting paper pinned on the bottom of a sieve, and bottle for use. [From Miss Leslie’s Complete Cookery, 1839]
For Rum Shrub: Make Rose Cordial as above; leave out the brandy and add 1 gallon raisin win, 6 lb honey, and 10 gallons good flavored rum!
Here’s a recipe that caught my musician’s eye--Troubadour’s Elixir. 2 lb Musk roses; 12 ounces jasmine blossoms; 8 ounces orange-blossoms; 1 ounce ravenzaranuts (haven’t a clue!); 2 drachms mace.. Macerate for 15 days in 3.5 gallons of alcohol; distill and add to the product a syrup made with 10 lb of sugar. Color with cochineal. [From The Art of Confectionery, 1866]
Absinthe, or Wormwood Ratafia: Steep 4 lb bruised wormwood leaves, 3 ounces juniper berries, and 2 ounces ground cinnamon in 4 drachms of angelica rum and 17 lb of brandy (whooee!) for 15 days. Distill the mixture to 12lb of liquor, and re-distill this to 10 lb. Then add 2.5 lb powdered sugar, 2 lbs pure water, and 8 ounces of double-distilled orange-flower water. [From The Art of Confectionery, 1866]
Apricot Beer, or Ratafia, is drunk more for pleasure than for health. Apricots are boiled in white wine and brandy with sugar, cinnamon, mace, and the apricot pits. Infuse for 8-10 days and strain. Strain again, cut the fruit in pieces, and infuse 1-2 days in brandy.
Ratafia is also made by bruising cherries and putting them into a vessel of brandy; then add cherry pits, strawberries, sugar, cinnamon, white pepper, nutmeg, cloves. Use 10 quarts of brand to 20 lb of cherries.
Usquebaugh: This is a strong compound liquor, chiefly taken by dram. It is made at Drogheda in Ireland. Take 1 gallon of best brandy; l lb raisins, stoned; 1 oz each cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and cardamom, crushed in a mortar; ½ ounce of saffron; rind of 1 Seville orange and 1 lb brown sugar candy. Shake well every day for 14 days. At the expiration of that time, it will be ready to be fined for use.
Metheglin: For half a barrel of metheglin, allow 48 or 50 lb of fresh honey. Boil an hour in 1/3 barrel of spring water. Skim and test: it should be so strong with honey that a cold raw egg will not sink when dropped in. Add a small dessert spoonful of ginger, and as much of powdered clove and mace; also a spoonful of yeast. Leave the bung of the cask loose till the fermentation ceases, then stop it close. After six months, draw off and bottle. It improves until 3 or 4 years old, has a fine color, and is a very healthful cordial. [From The Young Housekeeper’s Friend, 1846]
White Tea: Put 2 teaspoons of sugar into ½ cup good milk and fill cup with boiling water. [From Beecher’s Receipt Book, 1857]
Hot Milk Punch: 1 quart milk, warm from the cow; 2 glasses best sherry wine; 4 tablespoons powdered sugar, 4 eggs (yolks only, beaten lightly); cinnamon and nutmeg. Bring milk to a boil; beat up yolks and sugar together; add the wine; pour into a pitcher and mix in the boiling milk, stirring all the time. Pour from one vessel to another 6 times, add spices, and drink as soon as it can be swallowed without scalding the throat. [From Breakfast, Luncheon and Tea, 1884]
Koumiss (or Tartar Wine): Take fresh mare’s milk; add 1/6th part water and pour into a wooden vessel; let it ferment using 1/8th part of the sourest cow’s milk that can be got. A small portion of old koumiss will answer this purpose. Cover with a thick cloth, set in moderately warm place for 24 hours. The milk will have soured, and a thick substance gathered on its top. With a stick, beat til the thick substance is blended and leave to rest another 24 hours. Repeat agitation as before, til the liquor is perfectly homogeneous. This wine operates as a cooling antiseptic, a useful stimulant, cordial, and tonic, and may prove a valuable article of nourishment. [From Family Receipt Book, 1819]
Rhubarb Wine: Take 2.5 ounces sliced rhubarb; 1.5 ounces cardamom seeds, bruised and husked; 2 drachms saffron; 2 pints Spanish white wine and ½ pint proof spirit. Digest for ten days and strain. This is a warm, cordial, laxative medicine; may be given in doses of ½ to 3-4 spoonsful or more, according to the strength of the patient. [From Mackenzie’s 5000 Receipts, 1829]
Overall source: Early American Beverages, by John Hull Brown.