Book View Cafe Eats: And Drinks

I don’t do recipes. I’ll happily eat or drink anything anyone wishes to fix for me, within reason, but my cooking involves opening the freezer door. If I’m lucky, I’ll find something edible (not surprisingly, my freezer contains inedibles like warranties and inventory lists in hopes of saving them from fire). I’ll then let the hunk of whatever defrost, find appropriate veggies in the garden (or the freezer, if winter), and fling them on the stove or in the oven at a convenient time. Voila, food.

Drinking is another matter. I never learned to drink alcohol. Alcoholism in the family and dire poverty prevented wasting cash on anything except iced tea bags for the better part of my life. But as you can tell from the new book I have coming out here at BVC, I write Regencies, and Regency society apparently drank like fish. One assumes fish drink, anyway. So at some point I had to at least study alcoholic drinks so I had some vague notion of what I was writing about.

I have since learned to drink sweet wines or mix bad daiquiris, but I don’t believe I  could have survived with Regency beverages. The poor, of  course, drank the local stuff—beer and ale and porter and gin. Ale is apparently less bitter than beer and stout is an aged, dark, stronger beer, so they seem pretty interchangeable to me. Small beer was for children, from the second or third mash refermentation. Blech, ptui. Gin originally came from the Netherlands but after tasting Dutch Courage during one of their many European wars, the English figured out it was basically alcohol and juniper, of which they had plenty right at home. They didn’t call the stuff blue ruin for nothing.

The aristocracy, having more money to waste, generally favored fine wines, which had to be imported since wine grapes did not fare well on the damp isle. Those blasted French wars often interfered with the wine supply, however, so the English had to become more inventive. Bordeaux (often called claret in Regencies, as in “he drew his claret” since blood and Bordeaux apparently have similar color) and burgundy had to be supplemented at the table with hock (any German wine), and Spanish and Portuguese Madeira, Malaga, and sherry (which is also called sack or Canary, for those of you who dive deeply into Regency-speak).

Any good Regency gentleman had to have his brandy, smuggled or however, which is distilled from wine. The true gentlemen would serve French brandy, but the thrifty housewife would take the brandy and dilute it with leftover fruit and create buckets of cherry brandy—ladies after my own heart.

The one Regency recipe I’d be very wary of is ratafia. Should you be jolted back in time, don’t drink it unless you’ve seen it made. A  basic—harmless—recipe from Wikipedia includes a bottle of wine, 1/4 cup vodka, 1 cup fruits, vegetables, or herbs, 1/4 cup sugar. Combine all ingredients in a large jar and refrigerate 3 to 4 week. Strain and keep refrigerated. See that last part? The Regency era didn’t come with proper refrigeration. Worse yet, England didn’t keep a large supply of fresh fruits and vegetables in winter. Thus other seasonings were sought, such as peach and cherry kernels or bitter almonds—which just happen to contain high levels of toxic amygdalin—cyanide.

So there you go, my summer recipe for you—cyanide on the rocks.




Book View Cafe Eats: And Drinks — 8 Comments

  1. Not having researched it, I was always very leery of the ratafia. Especially since some writers quite correctly showed the young women getting drunk on one glass. Now I know I must be bold and ask for sherry!

    Water was pretty scary, too….

  2. Tea. A lady is always safe demanding tea. (When my daughter went to Britain for several weeks of training with the British armed forces, she was horrified at how much time they spent making and drinking tea. Apparently this is to make up for the smaller rations. An American soldier seems to eat half again as much as a British one.)

  3. Sherry often had more alcoholic content than brandy! Those ladies in the drawing room were getting drunker than their lords.

    Americans were eating half as much as the English? Wow. That’s amazingly hard to imagine. But yes, tea is essential. Can you imagine all those dreary cool days without it? I need my tea!

    • Well it is important to keep in mind that my daughter was known as the Tummy That Walks Like A Teen. Still, her entire platoon whined with hunger until finally their commander took the Brits aside and said that there had to be more rations, something other than tea.