Madeira Mondays: Discovering an 18th Century Energy Drink

Those who have been reading this blog for a while know that I like to try out historical recipes. Sometimes, my culinary experiments go pretty well: like the time that I tried to make a frothy whipped syllabub. Sometimes, they don’t go well at all: like the time I made an absolutely vile warm rum drink called ‘flip’. And, sometimes, these experiments succeed wildly, and this wild success was what I experienced when I made ‘switchel’ for the first time yesterday. Damn! This drink was excellent. A refreshing, invigorating, slightly tart and slightly sweet, healthy and easy-to-make historical drink that I’m thrilled to have stumbled across.

I made this drink in part as a celebration of some goods news: the historical fiction novel that I’ve been working on was long-listed for the Mslexia Novel Award! For those who might not be familiar, Mslexia is a popular magazine in the UK, and they run an international competition every two years for debut novel manuscripts by female authors. It was a tremendous honor for my manuscript to be long-listed. Some amazing novelists, and in particular historical novelists, have won or been long or short-listed for this award in previous years (Imogen Hermes Gowar who wrote The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock, for instance), so it was a real thrill to have my manuscript long-listed. As a poet who has been transitioning to fiction writing these last few years, it was also a major confidence boost to be recognized for my fiction, as well.

And speaking of poetry…I also made switchel to celebrate receiving the first copies of my brand new poetry pamphlet – Anastasia, Look in the Mirror – which will be published by Stewed Rhubarb Press next month on July 2nd! I can’t wait to share this book with you, and I have several posts lined up already focused on: what it’s about, how I researched and wrote it, etc. So stay tuned for that! For now, back to switchel. 

What exactly is ‘switchel’?

‘Switchel’ is a summery drink that was widely enjoyed in 18th century America, but versions of it date back much, much earlier. It’s made typically with water mixed with apple cider vinegar and ginger, and then sweetened with something (like molasses or honey or maple syrup). It’s a drink that thirsty American farmers would enjoy after a hot day harvesting the hay, thus its nickname of ‘haymaker’s punch’. It’s a drink meant to quench the thirst and revive the body, which is why I think of it as an historical ‘energy drink’.

It goes by several other names besides ‘switchel’. You could call it: aqua forte, ginger-water, haymaker’s punch, Yankee beverage, or (my personal favorite) swizzle.

How do you make it?

This is one of the best things about switchel: it’s super easy to make!

The version that I made combines two recipes: this recipe from the Townsend’s YouTube Channel (a favorite channel of mine, as frequent readers of this blog will know!) and a recipe from Forgotten Drinks of Colonial New England by Corin Hirsch (a very fun book if you’re interested in food and old New England-y things).

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Here’s what I used:

  • 5-6 cups of cold water
  • Quarter cup of maple syrup
  • Quarter cup of lemon juice
  • Half a tablespoon of powdered ginger

I mixed all of those together in a pitcher and that’s it.

As I mentioned earlier, it’s often made with apple cider vinegar, but I didn’t have any of that on hand and Townsend had recommended that you could use lemon juice instead. But I’d be eager to try it out with apple cider vinegar. And for the maple syrup, you could also use honey or molasses.

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I poured some into a jar with a slice of lemon and there you go!

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What does it taste like?

In a word: refreshing!

I was very uncertain about adding the ginger, but honestly this tastes like a delicious mixture of ginger-beer and lemonade. It would be an incredibly refreshing drink after working outside on a hot day. My partner and I drank all of it very quickly and it’s so simple to make that I might make more very soon. (It would also make for an excellent mixer to go with vodka, I think, or rum…).

I’m not at all surprised that its popularity is apparently on the rise! According to this article from The Guardian, modern versions of this drink are becoming popular with: ‘the types of people who ride vintage bicycles, raise chickens and keep bees on their roof.’ I laughed a lot when I read that because while I don’t do any of those things – I have no bike, I don’t eat chickens, and I’d be too scared to keep bees – I probably fall loosely within that ‘hipster’ demographic.

Whether switchel is actually ‘threatening to dethrone kombucha as the next hip health trend’, as the article predicts, remains to be seen. But if it does become as popular as kombucha, I think it is deserved!

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Have you ever heard of switchel? I would not be surprised if it is already a trend in America and I just haven’t heard of it! Here in the UK, I’ve not seen it anywhere. But I would definitely buy it if I did.

If you try making your own switchel, I would be so delighted to hear about it! (As you can see from the recipe above, it’s extremely simple to make and you could maybe even rustle up a version of it with things already in your kitchen!).

Recommended Reading/Viewing:

PS Today’s Featured Image is ‘Harvest Rest’ by George Cole c. 1865

‘Madeira Mondays’ is a series of blog posts exploring Early American history and historical fiction. I’m not a historian, but an author and poet who is endlessly fascinated by this time period. I am also currently writing/researching a novel set during the American Revolution and recently finished a Doctorate of Fine Art looking at how creative writers access America’s eighteenth-century past. 

Follow the blog for a new post every Monday and thanks for reading!

 

 

 

Madeira Mondays: Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (A to F)

Do you know what it means to be a ‘dog in a doublet’? Or how you can become ‘The Admiral of the Narrow Seas’? If not – you’re not alone! These are obscure late 18th and early 19th century slang words that I discovered in Francis Grose’s 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue!

So what is The Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue?

The British Library explains it thus:

Francis Grose’s ‘Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue’ was first published in 1785, and is a dictionary of slang words. Grose was one of the first lexicographers to collect slang words from all corners of society, not just from the professional underworld of pickpockets and bandits.

The words in this ‘dictionary’ range from the obscene to the mild. Some are creative and colorful, some are nonsensical (to us and perhaps even to people at the time!). Some are derogatory and cruel (especially many of the words describing women) and some are kind of sweet. Many of the phrases in it have to do with men’s leisure activities (e.g. drinking and card playing) or they are about sex. But there are various terms to do with practical jokes, games and a whole host of other topics too.

I found this book an entertaining read and have picked out a few choice words to share with you! But you can also have a read through the entire thing yourself here! It’s definitely NOT a suitable read for children (these are swear words, after all!) but for the adults who want a glimpse behind the curtain of propriety into the rowdier reality of 18th century language and life, it’s worth a look!

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There were so many great words that I’ve had to split this up into several different posts, so these are my favorite slang words from The Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, Letters A through F! I’ve included a few of my own comments (in italics) as well, because I could not resist.

So how do you swear like an 18th century person? Read on…

ADMIRAL OF THE NARROW SEAS. one who from drunkenness vomits into the lap of the person sitting opposite him. SEA PHRASE.

AMBASSADOR. A trick to duck some ignorant fellow or landsman, frequently played on board ships in the warm latitudes. It is thus managed: A large tub is filled with water, and two stools placed on each side of it. Over the whole is thrown a tarpaulin, or old sail: this is kept tight by two persons, who are to represent the king and queen of a foreign country, and are seated on the stools. The person intended to be ducked plays the Ambassador, and after repeating a ridiculous speech dictated to him, is led in great form up to the throne, and seated between the king and queen, who rising suddenly as soon as he is seated, he falls backwards into the tub of water. (Something I learned from reading this book was that men at sea had a lot of time on their hands and loved playing tricks on each other. There were other sea games listed and they were all just as silly.)

TO AMUSE. To fling dust or snuff in the eyes of the person intended to be robbed; also to invent some plausible tale, to delude shop-keepers and others, thereby to put them off their guard.

ANKLE. A girl who is got with child, is said to have sprained her ankle.

APRIL FOOL. Any one imposed on, or sent on a bootless errand, on the first of April; which day it is the custom among the lower people, children, and servants, by dropping empty papers carefully doubled up, sending persons on absurd messages, and such like contrivances, to impose on every one they can, and then to salute them with the title of April Fool. This is also practised in Scotland under the title of Hunting the Gowke. (So they had April Fools’ Day!)

ARSY YARSEY. To fall arsy varsey, i.e. head over heels.

BEDFORDSHIRE. I am for Bedfordshire, i.e. for going to bed. (This one was perhaps my favorite phrase I encountered. I am going to start saying this.)

BOTTLE-HEADED. Void of wit.

CAT CALL. A kind of whistle, chiefly used at theatres, to interrupt the actors, and damn a new piece. It derives its name from one of its sounds, which greatly resembles the modulation of an intriguing boar cat. (So this word was already around, but its meaning has shifted in the last few centuries. Also, what is an ‘intriguing boar cat’?)

DEVIL DRAWER. A miserable painter. (How often was this used?)

DOG IN A DOUBLET. A daring, resolute fellow. In Germany and Flanders the boldest dogs used to hunt the boar, having a kind of buff doublet buttoned on their bodies, Rubens has represented several so equipped, so has Sneyders.

DOODLE. A silly fellow, or noodle. (More on this word in a later blog post about the history of the song ‘Yankee Doodle’.)

FIRING A GUN. Introducing a story by head and shoulders. A man wanting to tell a particular story, said to the company, ‘Hark! did you not hear a gun?—but now we are talking of a gun, I will tell you the story of one.’ (I love that there used to be a phrase for this, when someone brings up a topic only so that they can talk about it more e.g. ‘Did I smell food? Speaking of food, when are we going to have dinner?’)

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I hope that you enjoyed these antiquated slang words, and let me know if you manage to squeeze any of them into conversation! Be on the lookout for the next round of ‘vulgar’ phrases in a future post.

Madeira Mondays is a series of blog posts exploring Early American history and historical fiction. I’m not a historian, but an author and poet who is endlessly fascinated by this time period. I am also currently writing/researching a novel set during the American Revolution and recently finished a Doctorate of Fine Art looking at how creative writers access America’s eighteenth-century past. Follow the blog for a new post every Monday and thanks for reading!