Saturday, March 29, 2014


There are about four dozen drink recipes in Corin Hirsch's Forgotten Drinks of Colonial New England: From Flips & Rattle-Skulls to Switchel and Spruce Beer. (Here's the first part of my review, on the historical survey that makes up the bulk of the book.) Some are traditional drinks of the sort that colonists would actually have made and drunk (give or take some ice). Others are modern adaptations, using ingredients not available to colonists, possibly because they hadn't been invented yet.

At first, I thought including modern recipes was a bit of a cheat, a way of padding out what would otherwise be a rather thin collection. But they seem like pretty decent cocktails, even the ones that don't appear to have anything to do with either colonial times or New England.

And, quite frankly, a little traditional drink recipe goes a long way. There are only so many ways I need to be told to combine rum, sugar, and water before I have the hang of it.

Still, I'm looking forward to trying a Stone-Fence (1 1/2 oz rum added to hard cider), and maybe laying up a bottle of Cider Royal (1/2 cup apple brandy in a bottle of cider for 3-6 months). I went through a flip phase a few winters back, and Forgotten Drinks includes a couple of flip recipes I might try when it gets cold again (which better not be till November).

Oh, and yes, some day I will make a Rattle-Skull. (I'm more interested in trying the traditional recipe than the modern one. Several other drinks also feature traditional and modern versions.)

Syllabub? Posset? Sangaree? Yeah, I can see taking a whack at these. Switchel? No. I've already discovered the hard way that I'm just not a shrub man, and switchels sound a bit too much like shrubs. Spruce beer? Say it with me, people:

Pine Trees Aren't People Food.

There are also a few traditional traditional recipes -- like Martha Washington's own recipe for cherry bounce:
Extract the juice of 20 pounds well ripend Morrella [aka sour] cherrys. Add to this 10 quarts of old french brandy and sweeten it with White sugar to your taste. To 5 gallons of this mixture add one ounce of spice such as cinnamon, cloves and nutmegs of each an Equal quantity slightly bruis’d and a pint and half of cherry kirnels that have been gently broken in a mortar. After the liquor has fermented let it stand close-stoped for a month or six weeks then bottle it, remembering to put a lump of Loaf Sugar into each bottle.
I'm not sure what I would do with five gallons of cherry bounce -- more importantly, I'm not sure how I'd hide five gallons of cherry bounce from my wife while figuring out what to do with it -- but the point of these recipes is less to make them at home than to get a sense of how drinks were made back then. You didn't need a half-ounce jigger when you were laying up stores for the winter. (And if you really want to make cherry bounce, you can always just ask the Internet.)

Overall, Forgotten Drinks of Colonial New England works as both a short and informal reference book on alcoholic drinks in colonial times (including a glossary and several pages of sources) and a short cocktail recipe book (though, yes, a lot of the drinks predate the creation of the cocktail). I'll keep my copy with my other recipe books, and pull it out occasionally to see if there's something I feel like trying. (The paperback is $19.99; it's also available as a Kindle edition for $9.99. As I mentioned in the first post, I got a review copy free in the mail, so I'm not going to try to tell you whether it's worth it to you to buy it, but I hope I gave you enough information to help you decide.)

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