Friday, May 25, 2012

Tippling, Toasting, and Quaffing in Colonial Times by Susan F. Craft

By Susan F. Craft
 
Cider making
Most colonial Americans thought that alcohol was beneficial to one’s health, aiding digestion, strengthening the weak, keeping one warm, improving one’s outlook on the world, and enlivening social events such as weddings, christenings, election-day gatherings, and funerals.
Americans brought with them from the Old World the suspicion that water could make you sick. They believed alcohol cured some sicknesses. Whiskey was taken for colic and laryngitis. Hot brandy punch addressed cholera. Rum-soaked cherries helped with a cold. Pregnant women and women in labor were often given a shot of whiskey to ease their pain.
Colonial Americans started their day with a pick-me-up, enjoyed a midmorning whistle wetter, with libations at luncheon, in the afternoon, and at supper, imbibed either at home or at a local tavern.

Drinking was everywhere - at work, in the fields, in shops, at sea, and in military camps. College students drank malted beverages. Harvard had its own brewery, and in 1639, when the school didn’t supply enough beer, President Nathaniel Eaton lost his job.
The Founding Fathers also enjoyed a glass or two.  Each day, John Adams had a draft of hard cider. Thomas Jefferson imported fine wines from France. Samuel Adams managed his father's brewery for a time. John Hancock was accused of smuggling wine. Patrick Henry worked as a bartender and served home brew to guests.
The names of the variety of beverages included, Syllabub (see recipe below), Flip, Toddy, Rattle-Skull, Whistle Belly, Stonewall, Bogus, Blackstrap, Bombo, and Mimbo.  Most preferred cider and beer--cider made from apples, and beer made from corn, wheat, oats, persimmons, and green cornstalks. Madeira, imported from the Portuguese island, became popular in the 1750s when brandy was added to it. Peach brandy, a Southern specialty, was also popular, as was applejack, which came from distilling cider. Rum was king of the colonies before the Revolutionary War. It was made from molasses imported from Caribbean sugar plantations. Sometimes the raw material arrived legally; sometimes it was smuggled.

Rum, Sugar, Slave trade
By 1770, the colonies had more than 140 rum distilleries, making about 4.8 million gallons annually. That was on top of the 3.78 million gallons imported each year. Production was concentrated in the Northeast.
Some people tried growing grapes for wine, but failed as the European root cuttings succumbed to disease and weather. Vintners in the Southern states learned to cultivate indigenous grapes such as muscadines and scuppernongs.
Early Americans really did not care what anybody thought about their love of alcohol. As a Georgian wrote: "If I take a settler after my coffee, a cooler at nine, a bracer at ten, a whetter at eleven and two or three stiffners during the forenoon, who has any right to complain?"
Benjamin Franklin came up with
over 200 names for being drunk.

But not everyone approved of drinking.  As early as 1622, the Virginia Company of London complained to Governor Francis Wyatt at Jamestown that drinking hurt the colony. James Oglethorpe, founder of Georgia, tried to ban rum.  Even though Puritans attacked drunkenness, they saw alcohol as a necessary part of life. Benjamin Franklin called for moderation, writing "nothing is more like a fool than a drunken man." He came up with hundreds of names for drunkenness including -- addled, afflicted, biggy, boozy, busky, buzzey, cherubimical, cracked, and "halfway to Concord," bowz'd, cherry merry, fetter'd, lappy, and mountous. Perhaps you have poetically seen a Flock of Moons, or, more nautically, been Right before the Wind with all your Studding Sails Out. Or perhaps even had a Thump over the Head with Sampson's Jawbone.
In 1790, United States government figures showed that annual per-capita alcohol consumption for everybody over fifteen amounted to thirty-four gallons of beer and cider, five gallons of distilled spirits, and one gallon of wine.
Recipe for Syllabub
The name originated in Elizabethan times and is a combination of the words "sillie" (a French wine that was used in the mixture) and "bub" (old English slang for "bubbling drink"). 

Recipes for syllabub, a frothy cappuccino-like drink, can be found back to the time of the Tudors who ruled England from 1485 until 1603. Earlier recipes contained new milk and cider, with the cows milked directly into an ale pot. Everlasting Syllabub allows for the cream to rise and thicken by letting it stand for several days.

Here’s a recipe from “The First American Cookbook – A Facsimile of “American Cookery,” 1796 by Amelia Simmons.

Take two porringers* of cream and one of white wine, grate the skin of a lemon, take the whites of three eggs, sweeten it to your taste, then whip it with the whisk, take off the froth as it rises and put it into your syllabub glasses or pots, and they are fit for use.

A porringer* was a small dish  (4” to 5” diameter and 1 /2” to 3” deep) with a low usually metal bowl with a single and usually flat and pierced handle from which Europeans and colonial Americans ate their gruel or porridge, or other soft foods. Colonial porringers tended to have one handle whereas European ones tend to have two handles on opposite sides, on which the owner's initials were sometimes engraved, and they occasionally came with a lid. Porringers resembled the smaller quaich, a Scottish drinking vessel.
Contemporary syllabub recipes can be for either a drink or a parfait:

Ingredients
1 cup heavy whipping cream, chilled 1/2 cup white sugar 1/4 cup white wine 1/8 cup fresh lemon juice 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg (or to taste) fresh mint leaves for garnish lemon slices for garnish Whip the cream and sugar in a chilled bowl, until the cream begins to thicken. Gradually whip in the white wine, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Continue to whip until light and fluffy, but not grainy. Cover the mixture and chill until serving time. Serve in chilled parfait glasses, garnished with a dash of nutmeg, a sprig of mint, and a slice of lemon. Syllabub should be eaten with a small spoon, and savored.

For Syllabub punch
Continue to add white wine to the whipped mixture, until the mixture reaches a drinking consistency.

14 comments:

  1. It funny yet strange to think that in the colonial times they believed alcohol was good for you when now we know how terrible it's affects can be!

    Thank you for a fascinating post!

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  2. I agree, it is strange. It's amazing how different cultures handle this too. For instance, I had always heard how Italian mothers thought nothing of serving wine to their young children.

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  3. Great post, Susan! I'm so amazed that children in colonial times began drinking these beverages when they were very young since the water was often polluted. I enjoy using syllabub and flip and other things in my books but my absolutely favorite has to be Cherry Bounce:) It even sounds delicious and whimsicle though I'm sure it had a bite! Being a non-drinker, I'm always amazed at the appeal of alcohol though I would have gladly downed some whiskey during labor as you've detailed above. Thanks for such an informative post!

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  4. When I was researching this, it made me wonder if drinking could have had anything to do with people dying so young. And I didn't even include the research about the effect of alcohol on Native Americans. Tragic.

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    1. Susan, I've been researching that subject for my current WIP, particularly among the Oneida nation, and the missionary Samuel Kirkland's efforts (largely successful) to curb drinking at least in the Oneida town where he lived. He even, with the consent and help of the Oneida chiefs, appointed deputies to refuse even the gifts of rum and other "ardent spirits" traders sought to introduce into the town, going so far as to pour it out on the ground. But there were many other places the Iroquois could go to find the traders' rum.

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  5. I have always savored these words: muscadines and scuppernongs.

    Scuppernong wine. I'd never drink it, but the name feels like poetry as it rolls off the tongue.

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    1. Lori, the characters in my series of novels beginning with The Chamomile become vintners in the Blue Ridge Mountains. As I mentioned in the post, at first Americans were unsuccessful in growing European grapes because of climate and disease issues. They cultivated muscadines and scuppernongs. It took about 60 years for the European vines to finally be successful. My characters in Laurel, the sequel to The Chamomile, visit the Outer Banks of NC and find out about the now 400-year-old scuppernong "mother vine" on Roanoke Island, which was discovered by Sir Walter Raleigh.

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    2. Lori, scuppernong wine tastes nasty. Overly sweet and weird on the tongue. I have a friend from Arkansas who offered me some in grad school. Yuck!

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    4. My sister and I visited a vineyard in Georgia where they produce scuppernong wine. In the interests of research (uh-hmmm) we tasted some so that I'd have an idea of what my characters are growing and producing. You're right, it was nasty.
      FYI, I deleted my first reply after I saw all the typos! Typing in too much of a hurry, I guess.

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    5. I've tasted whisky for the same purpose, Susan. Yuck, indeed.

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  6. Fascinating, Susan! Thanks for the information. I knew they drank a lot back then, just didn't know how much! And all the different drinks and names for being drunk. Made me laugh. The Syllabub sounds delicious!

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    1. I laughed too, particularly at the "Thump over the Head with Sampson's Jawbone." I thought you might like "Right before the Wind with all your Studding Sails Out."

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  7. Interesting post, Susan. Thanks for sharing.

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