RedHeadedGirl’s Historical Kitchen: Baby It’s Hot Outside

This has been a full month for me, so I thought I’d give you all a couple of examples for historical drinks that are good for hot weather, so when you’re on the beach with your beach reads, or sitting on the porch with your porch reads, you have some solid options to choose from.

Throughout a lot of history, drinking water hasn’t always been that safe to drink straight, and it’s often just not that pleasant to taste. Generally, that meant alcohol or boiling. While germ theory wasn’t understood until the 19th century, people did notice that they died less if they put alcohol in their water or boiled it first.

In addition, when it’s hot and you’re trying to keep hydrated, having some sort of electrolytes is good for water absorption and can be better on your stomach than plain cold water. Also it’s more interesting, so you might be more inclined to drink enough.

Sekanjabin is a Middle Eastern drink syrup made with vinegar and honey or sugar and sometimes mint. One you have the syrup, you can dilute it in water, and it’s very refreshing. There’s a 10th century recipe for it that’s extremely basic (Vinegar and honey) and an Andalusian cookbook that mentions that it’s good during Ramadan fasting.

I’m giving you a modern recipe I got from David Friedman, but honestly, it hasn’t changed much in the past thousand years.

“Dissolve 4 cups sugar in 2 1/2 cups of water; when it comes to a boil add 1 cup wine vinegar. Simmer 1/2 hour. Add a handful of mint, remove from fire, let cool. Dilute the resulting syrup to taste with ice water (5 to 10 parts water to 1 part syrup). The syrup stores without refrigeration.”

I have a 1767 English cookbook Primitive Cookery; or the kitchen garden display’d ( A ),  that bills itself as a guide for poor people who can’t afford meat. In it, there’s “A cheap drink for families.” Honestly, it sounds kinda gross.

“Take a quart of water, mix it with one or two spoonfulls of ground oat-meals, well brewed together makes an excellent drink in summer.”

It goes on to say that this drink will prevent stones and keep passages clear and generally improves cheerfulness. I mean, yes, oatmeal has fiber, and I am happier when I am regular, so I can see it. Story kinda checks out.

Sir Kenlem Digby (1603-1665) was an English courtier who had a cookbook published from his writings in 1669. He’s noted in SCA circles as the author of a recipe for “Excellent Small Cakes” (you’ll learn more about these in the fall) but he’s also got an extremely large collection of recipes for meads.

“A very pleasant drink is made of Apples, thus:

Boil sliced Apples in water, to make the water strong of Apples, as when you make to drink it for coolness and pleasure. Sweeten it with Sugar to your taste, such a quantity of sliced Apples, as would make so much water strong enough of Apples; and then bottle it up close for three or four months.

There will come a thick mother at the top, which being taken off, all the rest will be very clear, and quick and pleasant to the taste, beyond any Cider. It will be the better to most tastes, if you put a very little Rosemary into the liquor when you boil it, and a little Limon-peel into each bottle when you bottle it up.”

I’m going to have to try this when apples come into season this fall. It sounds VERY tasty. (Okay, it’s maybe not really hot weather drinks, except that cider and cider variants are delicious. But three or four months after apple season will be mid-winter, when you’re craving any vitamin C at all.)

Speaking of vitamin C, here’s a recipe from the 1767 book for lemonade, which is “extreme cooling in hot diseases, and particularly in fevers, much comforting if it does not recover.” (This seems to imply, “Look, even if you die, you get some relief from the tastiness of the lemonade.”)

“Scrape into water and sugar as much lemon-peel as you think is convenient, then drop in a few drops of the essence of sulfur, cut in some slices of lemon, and put in rose water.”

Sulfur is used in winemaking as a agent to prevent bacteria growth, so maybe that’s what’s happening here. If you want to try this, you can get essence of sulfur from homeopathic suppliers. I wouldn’t try this, to be honest, because I’m not a fan of rosewater.

The Jane Austen Center in Bath has an 1827 recipe for “excellent” lemonade, which looks pretty familiar:

Excellent Lemonade

Take one gallon of water, put to it the juice of ten good lemons, and the zeasts of six of them likewise, then add to this one pound of sugar, and mix it well together, strain it through a fine strainer, and put it in ice to cool; this will be a most delicious and fine lemonade.

(Take this and mix it with a light beer and you have yourself a shandy. Also excellent for beach drinking. Just saying.)

Go forth and stay hydrated, my lovelies!

What’s your favorite summer beverage? 

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