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Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

09 October 2009

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.

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7 Comments:

Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

Lynna, this is great! And you've made me so thirsty! I'm off to try them all!

11:53 AM  
Blogger Le Loup said...

May I respectfully suggest Leslie that you take a good book with you. You are likely to be indisposed for a while especially after sampling the Rhubarb Wine!
With respect and regards, Le loup.

Good post, well done.

9:51 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Fascinating post, Lynna! The names alone could give so much texture to an historical novel!

12:03 AM  
Anonymous Maryan said...

One of the more fascinating observations by explorers and settlers of "the new world" was the clarity and purity of the rivers. With our relatively recent water sanitation programs, we forget that a major problem with pre-20th century life was water pollution. The local water supply, stream and river served as faucet, laundry, bath and outhouse. Fermented beverages were not only healthier but also more nutritious than simple water--and cheaper than imported tea or coffee.

So, actually, alcoholic beverages were much more prevalent and respectable in early America. Cotton Mather preached that wine is from God but the drunkard is from Satan.

But couldn't we do without the koumiss? No wonder it's promoted as medicinal.

6:35 AM  
Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

Thanks, Le Loup, I'll keep that in mind! :)

I'm amazed by the quantities of sugar and honey that are called for in these recipes. I wonder how much yield there is for those amounts. The Metheglin recipe, for example, yields half a barrel. How big is that barrel? And imagine how much money it would cost today to purchase 50lbs or so of honey!

6:46 AM  
Anonymous kathrynn dennis said...

These sound delicous! I especially like the apricot beer. My DH is a brewer and makes delicous honey ale and I just asked him a day or two ago about fruit beers. He said he wasn't aware of any---so now he is. I'm working on getting him to make me some apricot beer. I'll let you know how it turns out. ;-)

8:22 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Sugar and honey act as preservatives, so I suspect that was part of the reason for using so much of them. Kathrynn, your DH's beers sound wondeful!

11:10 AM  

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