Here we come a-wassailing

November 21, 2007 § 2 Comments

When I left for college, my mom gave me a survival guide called Where’s Mom Now that I Need Her? It was full of laundry tips, recipes and remedies. I found the laundry tips most helpful— I’m quite certain my own mother didn’t know half of them— but the recipes were pretty heavy on canned foods, dairy, meat and fat. But there were a couple of pages that fascinated me: the nog section.

Until then, I’d had no idea there were nogs besides egg nog; nor had I suspected egg nog wasn’t the only modern drink that contained eggs. I did a little research (while I should have been doing my FYP reading) and found a whole plethora of drinks I’d never heard of: shrubs, nogs, punches, and many, many rum and ale recipes dating back centuries. I love these old-fashioned recipes, and how they rely on the cook’s senses and preferences rather than an exact method, and how they taste of the past, but have a certain modern flair, as well. I suppose that’s called timelessness.

There’s a whole family based around milk. Apparently, during the Prohibition, bootleggers (or honest folk, I suppose) would serve milk-based drinks during the day before breaking out the gin at night. From thence we inherit the milkshake, but less than a century ago you could have ordered a dozen different milk cocktails in any drugstore.

Here are a few favorites from my collection:

Raspberry Shrub
Popular with North American colonists in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, shrubs are a tangy mixture of fruit, cider vinegar, and sugar. This recipe comes from the kitchen of Margaret Chase Smith, “the lady of Maine”. It was her grandmother’s recipe.

Ingredients
four quarts raspberries, cleaned and picked over
one quart cider vinegar
sugar

Method
Pour the vinegar over the berries and let stand (either refrigerated or at room temperature) for four days. It’s not exact— whenever the berries start looking pale and lifeless, it’s time to move along. Measure the resulting liquid, and add 1 cup sugar for every cup of raspberry vinegar. Stir the whole concoction in a saucepan, heating slowly until the sugar dissolves, then bring to the boil, lower the heat, and simmer for fifteen minutes. Let cool, and bottle into cool jars.

Serve ice-cold, one part shrub to two parts either still water, fizzy water, or champagne.

Martha Washington’s Rum Punch
Be careful; our foremothers had a surprisingly high tolerance.

for the Simple Syrup
In a saucepan, combine 2 cups sugar to one cup water. Stir well over low heat to dissolve the sugar, bring to the boil, then remove from heat. Stores indefinitely in a sealed jar in the fridge.

Ingredients
3 oz. white rum
3 oz. dark rum
3 oz. orange curçao
4 oz. simple syrup*
4 oz. fresh lemon juice
4 oz fresh orange juice
3 whole lemons, quartered
1 whole orange, quartered
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
3 cinnamon sticks, broken
6 whole cloves
12 oz boiling water

Method
Mrs. Washington didn’t list the method in her diary; I assume you just mix them all together and designate a driver.

Switchel
I first read about this in a Laura Ingalls Wilder book— On the Banks of Plum Creek, at a guess. Laura and Pa are out haying, and Ma sends out some “ginger water” becayse plain water staright from the creek would for some reason give them cramps. At least, I think that’s the story. It’s been a while since I read those.

Ingredients
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup cider vinegar
½ cup molasses
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
2 quarts cold water

Method
Mix together sugar, vinegar, giners and molasses, then add the mixture to the water. Stir well.

I’d love to find a recipe for Ebulum, a seventeenth century ale flavored with elder and juniper berries, but I haven’t had much luck yet. Does anyone have antique family recipes?

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