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Here’s To You: A History of the Toast

His leave of absence will soon expire, and he must return to his regiment. And what will then be their acquaintance? The mess-room will drink Isabella Thorpe for a fortnight, and she will laugh with your brother over poor Tilney’s passion for a month.” -Northanger Abbey The term “Toast” didn’t come into being until the 16th century, and possibly earlier (our original source said 17th, but Shakespeare mentions it in Merry Wives of Windsor, so thpbbtt to them!), when it became customary to put a piece of toasted bread or crouton into the drink to either improve flavor, or as sort of a built-in snack. Adding flavorings to wine was nothing new. Spices, aromatics, honey, raisins, saffron, mint, sea water, rose petals, pepper, violets, resin and a multitude of other additives had been used to alter or improve the flavor of wine (which makes me think that the modern day fruit-flavored wine producers aren’t being all that original . . . but I digress). The toast craze, however, caught on, and soon anything found floating in a drink was called a toast. “Drinking a toast” to someone or something became immensely popular in the 17th and 18th centuries, to the point of excess. When a gathering would run out of attendees to toast, it became custom to toast absent friends, thus prolonging the drinking. It was during this period, the heyday of the toast, that the position of Toastmaster came into being. A sort of party referee, the Toastmaster’s duty (more…)
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Rum Cake

Tortuga Rum Cakes are perhaps the most readily available, commercially baked rum cakes. As a Naval man, Charles Austen would have been quite familiar with the Rum rations offered at sea, and with his many years in Bermuda and the Caribbean, would, no doubt have been familiar with rum cake, as well. Just as rum was adapted from available resources, so rum cake is a variation on classic Christmas, or Plum Pudding recipes– instead of boiling it for hours in a pudding cloth, however, cooks in the tropics took to baking the ingredients in a cake tin– saving a lot of labor and heat in the kitchen! Rum cake is now sold year round at tourist hotspots and each island has its own specialty flavor and brand.   “So romantic is the history of rum that it has long since been adopted as the drink of the working class man throughout the world. This might be due to its association with the “fighting man” and the strength of victorious sailors fighting for the New World; or perhaps, the defeat of Napoleon’s fleet by Admiral Nelson’s rum drinking crew at the crucial battle of Trafalgar; or maybe down to the swashbuckling, freedom-tales of Caribbean pirates handed down through the centuries. Whichever, it is clear that rum has had a checkered history undeniably linked to the riskier business of the day. One of the main challenges of sixteenth century sea voyages was providing their crews with a liquid supply to last long (more…)
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Spruce Beer

“But all this,” as my dear Mrs. Piozzi says, “is flight and fancy, and nonsense, for my master has his great casks to mind and I have my little children.” It is you, however, in this instance, that have the little children, and I that have the great cask, for we are brewing spruce beer again; but my meaning really is, that I am extremely foolish in writing all this unnecessary stuff when I have so many matters to write about that my paper will hardly hold it all. Little matters they are, to be sure, but highly important. Jane Austen, to Cassandra Southampton, Wednesday, January 7, 180 Portrait of Jeffrey Amherst (1717-1797), By Joshua Reynolds, 1765 In the June, 1759, orders for the Highland Regiment in North America stipulated that: “Spruce beer is to be brewed for the health and conveniency of the troops which will be served at prime cost. Five quarts of molasses will be put into every barrel of Spruce Beer. Each gallon will cost nearly three coppers.” Winter orders that year instructed that each post should keep enough molasses on hand “to make two quarts of beer for each man every day.” Whether it was brewed for health, holiday drinking, or simply as a tasty alternative to water (that’s debatable) Spruce beer was a common drink in Georgian England. Brewed along similar lines as Root Beer and Ginger Beer, it could be drunk fresh or allowed to ferment. The British Army’s recipe for Spruce Beer: (more…)
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A Proper Cup of Coffee

It is rather impertinent to suggest any household care to a housekeeper, but I just venture to say that the coffee-mill will be wanted every day while Edward is at Steventon, as he always drinks coffee for breakfast. Jane Austen to Cassandra June 11, 1799 The history of coffee drinking is as colorful as any food history can be. According to the The Roast and Post Coffee Company, “Coffee was hardly known in Europe before the seventeenth century. European travellers, who visited Middle Eastern countries at this time, probably visited the coffee houses, where business would be transacted, or saw street coffee peddlers carrying coffee for sale in copper pots. When these travelers returned, their reports about coffee aroused European interest in coffee. Perhaps these travelers brought back small samples of coffee beans, but the Venetians were the first people to bring larger quantities of coffee into Europe. In 1615, Venice received Europes’ first shipment of green coffee beans and the first coffee house there, Caffè Florian, opened in 1683. Coffee was known in the first half of the 17th Century in Venice and Marseille but there was no trade in beans there. Although famous for their tea drinking, the British were the first European nation to embrace the pleasures of coffee drinking on a commercial basis. The first coffeehouse was in Oxford in 1650 where it was opened by a Turkish Jew named Jacob. More opened soon after in London in 1652 where there were soon to be hundreds (more…)