A Glass of Cheer
Today is the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. I’d like to salute winter with a good drink, or chase the chill out of my bones in a time-honored fashion. Yes, I do like to know exactly what my characters ate so I can imagine the tastes and the scents.
George Washington and Robert E. Lee both enjoyed eggnog, a delightful concoction of eggs, cream, and brandy. (Or eggs, cream, brandy, whiskey, and sherry, in Washington’s case.) Or, from my grandmother…
Three dozen eggs, three pounds of sugar, half a gallon of brandy, half a pint of French brandy, half a gallon of milk. Beat the yolks and whites separately. Stir the sugar thoroughly into the yolks, add the brandy slowly so as to cook the eggs, then add the milk, and lastly the whites, with cinnamon and grated nutmeg, reserving enough for top dressing.
I think Dickens and Austen would have enjoyed it.
Cavalry punch, as drunk by officers at Fort Laramie and Fort Lincoln, was composed of very strong tea mixed with rum and homemade blackberry wine. A recipe for artillery punch from the same era calls for a pound of gunpowder green tea steeped overnight in two gallons of cold water, then mixed with rum, sauterne, brandy, whiskey, gin, sugar, cherries and other fruit, plus dry champagne. Just in case, you thought there weren’t quite enough alcoholic spirits involved, several modern cavalry regiments celebrate their storied histories at big parties by pouring a new variety of alcohol into a punch bowl every time they list another campaign. Given how long some of them have been around, there are a few dozen types of booze from multiple continents swishing around there. (Okay, I admit I wonder about other countries’ regiments’ drinking traditions.)
I just turned in “Talbot’s Ace,” my novella for next July’s Improper Gentlemen anthology. It takes place during the depths of winter in a 19th century mining town, and features several saloons. My family vacations while growing up featured many trips to Wild West towns, including historic restaurants and saloons. But researching this story gave me the excuse to delve deeper into matters like lighting and beverages. I must say that all those old horse operas my father and foster father loved to watch never hinted at bars which served only beer. Or who knew that Englishmen complained even then that Americans corrupted their alcoholic beverages with ice?
The original cocktail was a Sazerac cocktail, invented in New Orleans. The second place it could be found was Denver. Or how about Deadwood’s fascination with gin cocktails? It basically consisted of gin, bitters, and simple syrup (or gum syrup). Deadwood Dick invented the Yellow Daisy, which contained 2 glasses gin, 2 glasses French vermouth, 1 glass Grand Marnier, plus a dash of absinthe before shaking. Honestly, those ingredients sound more like The Great Gatsby than Deadwood to me.
But those recipes, glamorous though they might be, involve ice. I’d like to focus on nice, warm, comforting thoughts. Like hot toddies or perhaps a rum punch.
A very simple recipe for rum punch, which I’ve never tried, states “Make a rich, sweet lemonade, add rum and brandy to taste, only dashing with brandy. It must be sweet and strong.”
Care to suggest a hot toddy recipe? What’s your favorite recipe for a good, old-fashioned winter drink or a scene featuring a good winter drink?
Labels: Diane Whiteside