Lips That Touch Liquor...

My husband's comment on the above picture: "Is that a threat or a promise?"

Since last time we talked about alcohol substitutions in food, I thought it would be helpful and interesting to do one on what our tea-totaling great-grandmother's would have consumed.

Before the Victorian Era, there really was no concept of avoiding alcohol. While it was safe to drink water, juice, or milk in the country, in cities everywhere water was extremely contaminated. Raw sewage and factory runoff was dumped into rivers that people downstream regularly used. For this reason, Cholera epidemics were common. Sadly, the work of Dr. Jon Snow pointed to communal water pumps as the source of Cholera in the 1840's, but Americans and Europeans remained unconvinced for quite some time.

The other side of the coin is the Temperance Movement, which began in the 1830's in response to the more decadent attitudes of Regency culture, as well as growing out of a desire to help the poor. Given that the worst cholera outbreaks were between 1831 and 1866, I wonder sometimes whether there were some people in inner-city neighborhoods who could have avoided their fate if they had chosen to continue drinking alcohol until the water supply was safer. A bit of a lose-lose situation, either way, since these women were fighting against the rampant alcoholism that led to inner-city problems not too different from our own.

So when alcohol was no longer an option, what was drunk? Tea was, far and way, the queen in many homes. The advent of soda fountains also created a wholesome location for people to gather and mingle. Starting in 1877, the Hayes administration entered the White House, and First Lady Lucy Hayes established a zero-alcohol policy, earning herself the nickname "Lemonade Lucy". This stance was far from popular with all the guests at state dinners, so the solution was to improvise on the concept of a syllabub:

One White House steward, sympathetic to those disappointed drinkers, created a concoction known as Roman Punch. Roman Punch was a kind of Sherbet or frozen punch made of lemon juice, sugar, beaten egg whites, and a hearty dose of Saint Croix rum. At first, this dish was served during the sherbet course inside oranges. Later, it was more boldly served in glasses. One reporter said, "This phase of the dinner was named by those who enjoyed it 'the Life-Saving Station.'" It apparently went unnoticed by the President and Lucy.
nterestingly enough, President Hayes, after leaving the White House, firmly denied that there had ever been "Life-Saving Stations." Hayes wrote, " The joke of the Roman punch oranges was not on us, but on the drinking people. My orders were to flavor them rather strongly with the same flavor that is found in Jamaica rum! This took! There was not a drop of spirits in them! This was certainly the case after the facts alluded to reached our ears. It was refreshing to hear "the drinkers" say with a smack of the lips, 'Would they were hot!'" Whether or not Lucy was the cause of the ban on liquors, she was certainly responsible for, or in complete agreement with, a number of other reforms.

Read more at Suite101: LEMONADE LUCY

Another common beverage was to make a light "beer" from roots or ginger--left until it became fizzy, but not until it began to ferment into alcohol. Here is a recipe for Ginger Beer, compliments of Log Cabin Cooking: Pioneer Recipes and Food Lore by Barbara Swell.

Ginger Beer

Fresh ginger root the size of your thumb
1 lemon, squeezed
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. dry yeast
1 tsp. cream of tartar

Smash the ginger root (one good whack with a rolling pin) and add it to two quarts boiling water along with lemon juice and the sugar. When mix cools to lukewarm, add yeast and cream of tartar. Stir until yeast dissolves. Cover, and let stand overnight. In the morning, pour liquid in clean bottles, and cork for old-timey effect, Leave sediment in pan. Let bottles stand for 3-4 days until lightly fermented. Chill, then enjoy.

Warning: If left to ferment too long, beverage will blow cork out. Check after two days to see if its bubbly, chill as soon as it reaches this stage.


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