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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 was to make sure that everyone got a fair chance and equal opportunity to offer toasts. Elaborate drinking games and toasting competitions became popular, as well as some rather gruesome customs. Impressing the ladies (or perhaps the other guys) seemed to be the motivation for most of these. Young men would sometimes stab themselves in the arm, mix their blood with their wine and drink it to the their wine when toasting a young woman to prove their devotion and prowess (hmm . . . students haven’t changed much, have they?), and the practice of drinking to a lady’s beauty from her shoe came into being, though I can’t imagine any lady being particularly amused by that.

Predictably, this excess eventually led to a backlash. Anti-toasting movements and laws began to appear, although they were largely unsuccessful. Eventually, the boisterous excess calmed down and toasting became once more an intellectual affair. Toasting clubs began to emerge and toasting evolved into a way to promote moral doctrine and patriotism, making toasting a social custom instead of a drinking one. William Jennings Bryan, a teetotaler himself, once toasted the British Navy with a glass of water, saying, “Gentlemen, I believe your victories were won on water.” British Ambassador rose and toasted, “George the Third, who, like the sun in its meridian spreads a luster throughout and enlightens the world.” He was followed by the French minister, who toasted, “The illustrious Louis the Sixteenth who, like the moon, sheds his mild and benevolent rays on and influences the globe.” Franklin then rose and toasted, “George Washington, commander of the American armies, who, like Joshua of old, commanded the sun and the moon to stand still, and both obeyed.”

We just don’t get great toasts like that anymore. Then again, nobody is asking you to thrust a bayonet in your arm to prove your manhood, so perhaps we should count our blessings.

Reprinted with permission from Scheid Vineyards: The Twisted Vine, Holiday 1999

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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 journeys. Navy captains turned to the most readily available sources of liquid in the day – water and beer, with no real discrimination made between the two. Water contained in casks was the quicker of the two to spoil by algae, but beer also soured when stored for too long. Royal Navy sailors took to drinking their rations of beer first and water second, sweetening the spoiling water with beer or wine to make it more palatable. The longer the voyage, the larger the cargo of liquid required, and the larger the problems of storage and spoilage would be.

As seafaring vessels entered the Caribbean regions captains took advantage of a cheaper and more readily available source of liquid sold by local sugar cane plantations called “kil devil” – a foul tasting by-product of sugar cane processing which later became known as rum. Rum quickly replaced the beer rations and became an official ration on British navy ships from 1655 onwards. Reportedly these rum rations were causing such a “rumbullion” (drunkenness and discipline problems) amongst the seamen that in 1740 Vice-Admiral Edward Vernon issued an order to dilute rum rations with sugar and lime juice (possibly why the mixture was reputed to fight off the sailors ‘lurgy’ or scurvy). Due to his nickname – the ‘old grog’ – this new mixture attained the new name of ‘grog’.

Dilution ratio’s varied aboard different ships and over time but the tradition continued until ‘black tot day’ on July 30, 1970 when the last “up spirits” rum measure was served aboard Royal Navy ships forever.”*

Classic Rum Cake
1 c. chopped pecans (walnuts will do)
1 18.5-oz. box yellow cake mix (do not use the sort with pudding in the mix)
1 3.75-oz. vanilla pudding mix
4 eggs
1/2 c. cold water
1/2 c. oil
1/2 c. rum

Mix all cake ingredients together. Bake in bundt or tube pan at 325 for one hour. Let cool slightly and remove from pan. Glaze when cool.

1/4 lb. butter
1/4 c. water
1 c. sugar
1/2 c. rum

Melt butter in saucepan. Stir in water and sugar. Boil 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat; add rum.

In order to glaze the cake, first use a carving fork to poke holes in the top and sides of the cake. Slowly spoon glaze over cake. It will take a while for the cake to soak up all the glaze. Sometimes it is necessary to let the cake stand for five minutes or so in the midst of glazing so it can absord the liquid. Then continue to glaze the cake until the glaze is all used up.

To purchase your own authentic Bermuda Rum cake– baked on location at the Royal Dockyards, Charles Austen would have been so familiar with, visit

Step by step instructions with photographs can be found at The Pioneer

*The history of Rum provided by Barcardi

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Jane Austen’s Spruce Beer

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.”

Spruce beer was a common drink in Georgian England and was brewed for reasons including those of health (it was cleaner than water in many cases), holiday drinking, and sometimes simply as a tasty option. 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:

Take 7 Pounds of good spruce & boil it well till the bark peels off, then take the spruce out & put three Gallons of Molasses to the Liquor & and boil it again, scum it well as it boils, then take it out the kettle & put it into a cooler, boil the remained of the water sufficient for a Barrel of thirty Gallons, if the kettle is not large enough to boil it together, when milkwarm in the Cooler put a pint of Yest into it and mix well. Then put it into a Barrel and let it work for two or three days, keep filling it up as it works out. When done working, bung it up with a Tent Peg in the Barrel to give it vent every now and then. It may be used in up to two or three days after. If wanted to be bottled it should stand a fortnight in the Cask. It will keep a great while.
From the Journal of General Jeffrey Amherst (1717-1797), Governor-General of British North America

Spruce Beer

5 gallons of water
1/8 pound of hops
1/2 cup of dried, bruised ginger root
1 pound of the outer twigs of spruce fir
3 quarts of molasses
1/2 yeast cake dissolved in 1/2 cup of warm water

  1. In a large kettle combine the water, hops, ginger root and spruce fir twigs.
  2. Boil together until all the hops sink to the bottom of the kettle.
  3. Strain into a large crock and stir in the molasses.
  4. After this has cooled add the yeast.
  5. Cover and leave to set for 48 hours.
  6. Then bottle, cap and leave in a warm place (70-75 degrees F) for 5 days. It will now be ready to drink.
  7. Store upright in a cool place.

Other options include:

  • Replacing the hops in any home-brew recipe with a doubled amount of the new needles of Sitka spruce gives a wonderfully tasty, slightly resiny brew.
  • You can use Spruce essence, but it is extremely powerful and can over power your brew to the point of being undrinkable. Here’s a good basis for a Spruce Beer. Modify to your own desire.

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The Story Behind A Proper Cup of Coffee

A Proper Cup of Coffee

The Rich History Behind 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 – each serving their own customers.

The popularity spread through Europe to such an extent that, during the 17th and 18th centuries, there were more coffee shops in London than there are today. Coffee shops were nothing like the trendy shops that we have today. A true coffeehouse was crowded, smelly, noisy, feisty, smoky, celebrated and condemned. On the street in London you located the nearby coffeehouse by sniffing the air for roasting beans, or by looking for a wooden sign shaped to resemble a Turkish coffee pot.

It was the coffeehouses of England that started the custom of tipping waiters and waitresses. People who wanted good service and better seating would put some money in a tin labeled “To Insure Prompt Service” – hence “TIPS”.

Coffee shops then were influential places, used extensively by artists, intellectuals, merchants, bankers and a forum for political activities and developments. When they became popular in England, the coffee houses were dubbed “penny universities”. It was said that in a coffee house a man could “pick up more useful knowledge than by applying himself to his books for a whole month”. A penny was the price of a proper cup of coffee.

In 1674 The Women’s Petition Against Coffee was set up in London. Women complained that men were never to be found at home during times of domestic crises, since they were always enjoying themselves in the coffee houses. They circulated a petition protesting “the grand inconveniences accruing to their sex from the excessive use of the drying and enfeebling liquor”. A year later, King Charles II tries to suppress the coffee houses because they were regarded as hotbeds of revolution but his proclamation is revoked after a huge public outcry and the ban lasts just 11 days.

Some of the coffee houses in London became very well known with different groups of workers and soon became the kingpins around which the capital’s social, political and commercial life revolved. Jonathan’s Coffee House in Change Alley was where stockbrokers usually met – it eventually became the London Stock Exchange. Likewise, ship owners and marine insurance brokers visited Edward Lloyd’s Coffee House in Lombard Street – it too moved on and up in the world and became the center of world insurance and the headquarters of Lloyds of London.

In 1732, Johann Sebastian Bach composed his “Kafee-Kantate” or Coffee Cantata. Partly an ode to coffee and partly a stab at the movement in Germany to prevent women from drinking coffee (it was thought to make them sterile), the cantata includes the aria “Ah! How sweet coffee tastes! Lovelier than a thousand kisses, sweeter far than muscatel wine! I must have coffee…”

Coffee fever spread throughout Europe in the 18th Century and by 1715 the French had introduced coffee into the New World. Coffee consumption in Britain began to decline as import duties for coffee increased; the British East India Company concentrated on importing tea as the market began to grow.

In Europe, however, people were gradually inventing new and improved ways of making coffee and, in 1822, a Frenchman Louis Bernard Rabaut invented a machine which forced the hot water through the coffee grounds using steam instead of merely letting it drip through. The first espresso machine had been born.”

Still, coffee remained a popular drink in homes, and, as alert readers of Jane Austen’s novels will recall, it was served in the evenings, along with tea, when the gentlemen returned from their port after dinner. It was under cover of her post at the coffee pot that Elizabeth takes the courage to address Mr. Darcy again upon his return to Longbourne, after Lydia’s elopement. Tea sets of the time could contain up to 43 pieces, including 12 teacups and saucers and 12 coffee cups. Also included were a tea pot, coffee pot, sugar bowl, mote spoon and slop bowl.

This excerpt from Maria Eliza Kettleby Rundell’s New System of Domestic Cookery, London, 1808, offers the following advice for procuring a proper cup of coffee.

As you can tell, times have changed. With the invention of the coffee filter in 1908, the arduous task of clarifying (or allowing the grounds to sink to the bottom) coffee was simplified into it’s modern form. Isinglass, once so prevalent (made from the swim bladders of Sturgeon and Cod) lost place to good old grounds and water.

While the process of choosing which coffee bean to brew may be dizzying, the actual making of coffee couldn’t be simpler…once you have it down.

If beginning with a standard drip coffee maker, make sure it has been recently cleaned. Remember, that your standard drip coffee maker pot (8 cups) really only makes about 6 coffee mugs of coffee. It was (for some strange reason!) designed for tea cups which only hold about 5 or 6 ounces. Keep this in mind when measuring coffee.

Fresh roasted coffee beans are best. If you can’t roast them yourself, choose beans from a local roaster, standard bought beans will work fine, too, but, to paraphrase Mr. Elliot, we are talking about not simply good coffee, but the best.

Of second importance is the freshness and consistency of the grind. Grind the beans in the store if necessary, but a better choice is an at home grinder designed for coffee beans. (If necessary, consult How to Grind Coffee Beans Without a Grinder.) Grind only enough coffee for the pot you are making. Grounds will grow stale quickly, when exposed to air. Store your extra beans in an airtight container.

The grind, either for a drip machine or French Press, should be fairly coarse, like poppy seeds, rather than powder. Too powdery, and the grinds will clog your machine and make their way into the coffee.

One writer suggests that you “pay special attention to water temperature and quality”, stating that “the best coffee is achieved when the water is between 190-200 F when it hits the coffee grounds. Many automatic drip coffeemakers cannot heat the water to that temperature when it starts out cold. If your coffee maker produces coffee with bitter or weak flavor, try adding room temperature or hot water. On the other hand, if you have a coffee maker that’s known to make burnt-tasting coffee because the water is too hot for infusion, wet the coffee grounds first with 1/4 cup of the cold water. This temporarily prevents the grounds from exposure to too hot temperatures. ”

Good advice if needed. Use bottled, distilled or at the very least, filtered water to avoid the taste of minerals, as well as mineral buildup in your machine.

Now– decide how many cups of coffee you would like to make. Bear in mind that a large coffee pot may make mediocre coffee in smaller batches. If you normally brew 4 or fewer cups of coffee at a time, invest in a smaller pot for the purpose.

Choose the appropriate filter for your machine and add your freshly roasted, freshly ground beans, generally, 1 tbsp per 6 oz of water. You may prefer your coffee weaker or stronger than this and you can adjust accordingly, once you’ve made your first pot.

A drip machine will produce coffee in only a few minutes– but don’t leave it just sitting there! After 30 minutes or so on the hot plate, coffee grows bitter and strong. A better way to keep it piping hot and ready for drinking is to pour it into an insulated carafe once it has been brewed. For great coffee, be sure to brew only as much as is immediately desired and make it up fresh when wanted again. One nationwide coffee chain routinely dumps all its pots after 30 minutes in order to ensure fresh coffee for every customer.

Take your coffee making to the next level with a French Press machine. The French Press was developed in the 1850s and remains popular today. Simply follow the preceding instructions about roasting and grinding. Add the coffee grounds to the bottom of the machine, then boil your desired amount of water with a stove top or electric teapot. The perfect temp is just below boiling, so once the water is boiling, remove it from the heat for a few minutes. Fill your French Press with enough water for the desired number of cups and allow the beans to steep for 3-5 minutes. Depress the plunger to force the grounds to the bottom, pour and enjoy!

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More up to date – You can also check a fab article on espresso machines here.