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21 December 2010

A Glass of Cheer



Today is the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. I’d like to salute winter with a good drink, or chase the chill out of my bones in a time-honored fashion. Yes, I do like to know exactly what my characters ate so I can imagine the tastes and the scents.

George Washington and Robert E. Lee both enjoyed eggnog, a delightful concoction of eggs, cream, and brandy. (Or eggs, cream, brandy, whiskey, and sherry, in Washington’s case.) Or, from my grandmother…

Three dozen eggs, three pounds of sugar, half a gallon of brandy, half a pint of French brandy, half a gallon of milk. Beat the yolks and whites separately. Stir the sugar thoroughly into the yolks, add the brandy slowly so as to cook the eggs, then add the milk, and lastly the whites, with cinnamon and grated nutmeg, reserving enough for top dressing.

I think Dickens and Austen would have enjoyed it.

Cavalry punch, as drunk by officers at Fort Laramie and Fort Lincoln, was composed of very strong tea mixed with rum and homemade blackberry wine. A recipe for artillery punch from the same era calls for a pound of gunpowder green tea steeped overnight in two gallons of cold water, then mixed with rum, sauterne, brandy, whiskey, gin, sugar, cherries and other fruit, plus dry champagne. Just in case, you thought there weren’t quite enough alcoholic spirits involved, several modern cavalry regiments celebrate their storied histories at big parties by pouring a new variety of alcohol into a punch bowl every time they list another campaign. Given how long some of them have been around, there are a few dozen types of booze from multiple continents swishing around there. (Okay, I admit I wonder about other countries’ regiments’ drinking traditions.)

I just turned in “Talbot’s Ace,” my novella for next July’s Improper Gentlemen anthology. It takes place during the depths of winter in a 19th century mining town, and features several saloons. My family vacations while growing up featured many trips to Wild West towns, including historic restaurants and saloons. But researching this story gave me the excuse to delve deeper into matters like lighting and beverages. I must say that all those old horse operas my father and foster father loved to watch never hinted at bars which served only beer. Or who knew that Englishmen complained even then that Americans corrupted their alcoholic beverages with ice?

The original cocktail was a Sazerac cocktail, invented in New Orleans. The second place it could be found was Denver. Or how about Deadwood’s fascination with gin cocktails? It basically consisted of gin, bitters, and simple syrup (or gum syrup). Deadwood Dick invented the Yellow Daisy, which contained 2 glasses gin, 2 glasses French vermouth, 1 glass Grand Marnier, plus a dash of absinthe before shaking. Honestly, those ingredients sound more like The Great Gatsby than Deadwood to me.

But those recipes, glamorous though they might be, involve ice. I’d like to focus on nice, warm, comforting thoughts. Like hot toddies or perhaps a rum punch.

A very simple recipe for rum punch, which I’ve never tried, states “Make a rich, sweet lemonade, add rum and brandy to taste, only dashing with brandy. It must be sweet and strong.”

Care to suggest a hot toddy recipe? What’s your favorite recipe for a good, old-fashioned winter drink or a scene featuring a good winter drink?


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6 Comments:

Blogger Christine Trent said...

I have no hot toddy recipe to share, but I did want to say that thought of Washington's combination of eggs, cream, brandy, whiskey, and sherry makes me want to run for a bottle of Tums! Whew, what a concoction that must be.

7:34 AM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...

I'm a hot buttered rum girl (thanks to Dicken’s Christmas Faire, which I’m missing this year due to my deadlines!).

You can buy a decent mix at places like Cost-Plus, or you can make it yourself for next to nothing (1 cup brown sugar, add small amounts of cinnamon, allspice, cloves, cardamom, and nutmeg to taste).

To make the drink, add 1 ½ tbl. sugar mix, 1 shot rum, 1 pat butter to a glass. Top with ½ c. hot water.

Oh, and my favorite regimental drink has nothing to do with the booze! The 14th Light Dragoons captured Joseph Bonaparte's silver chamberpot after the battle of Vitoria and they’ve used it every since as the regimental punchbowl.

And I'm so making myself a Yellow Daisy when my book is done!!!

10:11 AM  
Blogger Diane Whiteside said...

Christine - isn't it amazing what goes into these recipes? One regiment's recipe foe "cavalry grog" includes French brandy (thanks to 2 world wars) and Vietnamese brandy. Not to mention ye good olde standards from the American frontier. My eyes crossed by the time I reached the tribute to their deployment to Kosovo.

Isobel - My former boss always ladled out tons of hot buttered rum at his annual Christmas party. Yum! I too would like to toast Deadwood Dick with a Yellow Daisy. Or remember all those nameless Wild West bartenders who served up Manhattans as fast as rye whiskey or bourbon.

12:53 PM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...

Manhattans are one of my four food groups . . .

9:01 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Great post, Diane! IMO, cocktails are essential to surviving holiday chaos :-). It's not exactly a warm drink, but I like to toast the holidays with blood orange champagne cocktails. A sugar cube soaked in blood orange bitters with brut rosé sparking wine.

5:47 PM  
Blogger Diane Whiteside said...

Thanks for the recipe, Tracy! That one is definitely going into my keeper file. :-)

6:51 PM  

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