Friday, December 29, 2017

Historic Alcoholic Drink Recipes to Try on New Year's Eve

With New Year’s Eve right around the corner, it’s time once again to share some of our favorite historical drink recipes. A word of caution...we are not responsible if your guests get out of control, refuse to leave for days on end, try to shake you down for money or become extra “snugly” after consuming these punches.


Planter's Punch Rum

This 19th Century drink has been said to have originated at the Planters Hotel in Charleston, South Carolina. A description of the drink appeared in the September, 1878 edition of the London magazine Fun. “A wine-glass with lemon juice fill, Of sugar the same glass fill twice Then rub them together until The mixture looks smooth, soft, and nice. Of rum then three wine glasses add, And four of cold water please take. A Drink then you'll have that's not bad—At least, so they say in Jamaica.”

To make a Planter’s Punch, you’ll need:

½ bottle (12 ounces) fresh lime or lemon juice
1 bottle sugar syrup (or 1¼ pounds of sugar)
1 ½ bottles rum
3 lbs ice and water

Mix all ingredients well. Decorate with fresh sliced fruit as desired. This recipe makes about 30 4-ounce glasses.

Fish House Punch

Fish House Punch is a strong, rum-based punch containing rum, cognac, and peach brandy. The drink is typically served over an ice block in a punch bowl and garnished with lemon slices.

Fish House Punch is believed to have been first concocted in 1732 at a Philadelphia's fishing club, known as the “State in Schuylkill” or simply, the "Fish House". The drink was traditionally served in an enormous punch bowl. A 1744 description of the drink notes the punch bowl was “big enough to have Swimmed half a dozen of young Geese.”

To make Fish House Punch,

Completely dissolve 3/4 pound of sugar in a little water, in a punch bowl
Add a bottle of lemon juice
Add 2 bottles Jamaican rum
1 bottle cognac
2 bottles of water
1 Wine glassful of peach cordial.
Add a ½ gallon ice block to the punch bowl.

Let Punch stand about 2 hours, stirring occasionally.

This recipe makes about 60 4-ounce glasses.

Hot Cider Punch or “Wassail”

There is so much we could write on about Wassail, the tradition of “Wassailing” and other related yuletide activities.

In short, Wassail was a beverage of hot mulled cider, drunk traditionally as an integral part of Wassailing, a Medieval Christmastide English drinking ritual intended to ensure a good cider apple harvest the following year.

By the 17th Century, Wassailing had evolved into a tradition where townsfolk would take to the street while consuming bowls of Wassail. Wassailers went house to house offering the warm drink in exchange for food, more drink or payment. A late seventeenth-century commentator wrote, "Wenches their Wassels at New-years-tide ...present you with a Cup, and you must drink of the slabby stuff; but the meaning is, you must give them Moneys."

According to a period account from Salem, Wassailing often led to drunken street brawls and random acts of violence. When one Salem family refused to partake in the activity, a drunken mob turned on them. “They threw stones, bones, and other things at Poole in the doorway and against the house. They beat down much of the daubing in several places and continued to throw stones for an hour and a half with little intermission. They also broke down about a pole and a half of fence, being stone wall, and a cellar, without the house, distant about four or five rods, was broken open through the door, and five or six pecks of apples were stolen.”

To make Wassail, you’ll need:

1 Gallon heated apple cider
1/2 ounce brandy flavoring
1/2 ounce rum flavoring OR (even better) 1/2 quart light rum
3 sticks cinnamon
3 to 6 whole oranges
Small bag of whole cloves

Simmer mixture with 3 sticks whole cinnamon to melt--DO NOT COOK.

Allow to cool, pour into punch bowl. Separately stick whole cloves around entire surface of 3 to 6 whole oranges. Place oranges into baking pan with 1/2 inch of water, and bake at 350° for 45 minutes. Place oranges into punch bowl

This recipe serves 40 4-ounce glasses.

USS Richmond Punch

The punch is named after one of the longest serving vessels in the Navy’s history and became popular in the late 19th Century. The USS Richmond saw action in multiple locations during the Civil War, including, among others, chasing a Confederate raider through the Caribbean, participating in the Mississippi River blockade, and helping capture New Orleans. The Richmond also went to the Mediterranean to protect U.S. citizens potentially endangered by the Franco-Prussian war, served in the West Indies Squadron, and was the flagship of the Asiatic Fleet.

To make this drink you’ll need:

6 Lemons
1 1⁄2 cup Superfine sugar
2 cup Strong-brewed black tea (use 2 teabags, 16 oz water)
2 cup Dark Jamaican rum (Smith & Cross or Myers’s, 16 oz)
2 cup VS or VSOP-grade Cognac (16 oz)
2 cup Ruby port (Graham’s Six Grapes, 16 oz)
4 oz Grand Marnier
1500 ml Club soda or Champagne

Place a 2- or 3-quart bowl of water in the freezer and let freeze overnight. Peel 6 lemons with a swivel-bladed vegetable peeler, trying not to get any of the white pith.

In bowl, muddle the peels with 1.5 cups of superfine sugar and let stand for an hour for the lemon oil to leach out. Juice the peeled lemons and add the juice to the sugar mixture, along with the tea. Strain out the peels and pour into a 1-gallon container.

Add the rum, cognac, port and Grand Marnier, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

To serve, unmold the block of ice into a 2-gallon punch bowl. Add the chilled punch stock and top off with the club soda (or, if feeling dangerous, Champagne).

Garnish with grated nutmeg and 1 seeded lemon sliced thinly.

This recipe serves 20 4-ounce glasses.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

"the first Lord in the younited States of A mericary" - The Crazy Antics of "Lord" Timothy Dexter

Ah…”Lord” Timothy Dexter, the man who easily personifies bat sh*t crazy.  How this atrocious speller and outrageously eccentric character slipped through the cracks of American lore is beyond us.  

Timothy Dexter was born in Malden, Massachusetts on January 22, 1747. He apparently had little schooling and by the time he was eight years old he was employed as a farm laborer.  As a teenager, he was an apprentice to a leather-dresser.  When Dexter turned twenty-one, he left the apprenticeship and opened his own shop in Charlestown.  While there, he met and somehow charmed a wealthy widow named Elizabeth Frothingham.  By 1769, the two had married, relocated to Newburyport and purchased a mansion.

Towards the end of Revolutionary War, Dexter took all of his savings and bought vast amounts of depreciated Continental dollars.  He sat on the currency for years.  When the United States Constitution was finally ratified, the federal government stipulated that the worthless paper could be traded in for treasury bonds at one percent of face value.  Dexter became rich overnight.

With his newly found fortune, he built two ships and began an export business.  He also purchased a stable of brilliant cream colored horses, a coach emblazoned with his initials and a “princely chateau with tasteful and commodious outhouses” that overlooked the Atlantic.  Dexter then hired artists to carve and mount over forty massive wooden statues on his property.  According to period accounts “the tasteless owner, in his rage for notoriety, created rows of columns, fifteen high feet at least, on which to place colossal [statues] carved in wood. Directly in front of the door of the house, on a Roman arch of great beauty and taste, stood general Washington in his military garb. On his left was Jefferson; on his right, Adams. On the columns in the garden there were figures of indian chiefs, military generals, philosophers politicians, statesmen...and the goddesses of Fame and Liberty.”  

Not surprisingly, the final statue Dexter erected was a monument to himself.  On the pillar was the inscription:  “I am the first in the East, the first in the West, and the greatest philosopher in the Western world.”  

Mortified by Dexter’s behavior, his wife Elizabeth moved out and took up residence in another part of Newburyport.

After his separation, Dexter began to host his social gatherings which quickly devolved into odd spectacles.  Women of “ill repute” came and went throughout the night and the fine interiors of Dexter’s mansion, including curtains once owned by the Queen of France, were soon covered in “unseemly stains, offensive to sight and smell.”

Disgusted with his antics, many of his neighbors intentionally offered erroneous investment advice in the hope he would go bankrupt and have to move away.  One suggested Dexter sell bed warming pans in the West Indies.  Dexter took the advice and  shipped no less than 42,000 pans.  Upon arrival it was discovered there was no need for them in the hot climate.  Undeterred, he had the pans re-labeled as ladles and sold them to sugar and molasses plantation owners. The demand was so great that Dexter significantly marked up the price and returned with a massive fortune.

He was also duped into shipping wool mittens to the same islands.  As luck would have it, Asian merchants were in the West Indies at the time and bought them to export to Siberia.  

Yet another neighbor convinced Dexter that there was a great demand for coal in Newcastle, England.  What he did not know was large coal mine already existed there and any foreign shipment of coal was unnecessary.  Of course, when Dexter arrived, Newcastle miners were on strike.   Dexter immediately jacked up the price of his coal and sold it to desperate locals.  He was so successful in the venture one account suggests he returned to Newburyport with “one [barrel] and a half of silver”.

On another occasion he was encouraged to ship gloves to the South Sea Islands. His ships arrived there just in time to sell the items to Portuguese sailors en route to China.

When a Caribbean island experienced a rat infestation, Dexter rounded up Newburyport stray cats and shipped them off to the island for considerable profit.  He also mistakenly hoarded over three hundred and twenty tons of whalebone, but ended up with a monopoly because of a sudden high demand for the item in women’s clothing.

Dexter may have been far more intelligent than he let on.  He later wrote “I found I was very lucky in spekkelation . . . Spekkelators swarmed me like hell houns.”  Historian Sarah Anna Emery suggested “Though ignorant and illiterate, and doubtless somewhat indebted to luck for his good fortune, still it is evident the man was both shrewd and sagacious.”   

In 1797, Dexter authored A Pickle for the Knowing Ones or Plain Truth in a Homespun Dress, in which he complained about politicians, the clergy, and naturally, his wife. The book lacked punctuation but contained random capitalizations.  Dexter initially handed his book out for free.  It was so popular it had to be reprinted eight times. In the second edition, Dexter added an extra page which consisted of thirteen lines of punctuation marks.

By the end of the 18th Century, Dexter completely went around the bend.  When a painter made a mistake on one of his statues, Dexter tried to shoot him.  Dexter often told Newburyport residents that his estranged wife had died and the woman they saw walking around town was actually her ghost.  Outraged that Newburyport high society refused to accept him into their social circles, Dexter suddenly declared himself “the first Lord in the younited States of A mericary Now of Newburyport.” He insisted everyone refer to him as “Lord Dexter”.  He even copied the King of England and hired a poet laureate to publish verses extolling his greatness. Unfortunately, unlike His Majesty's poet who hailed from Italy and was an accomplished writer, Lord Dexter's poet was a witless purveyor of pornography and a fishmonger who sold halibut out of a wheelbarrow in Market Square.  

True to his nature, Dexter even faked his own death just to see who would show up to the funeral.  He forced his wife and children (yes, this guy reproduced) to participate in the scheme and gave them specific instructions on how to behave during the service. More than 3,000 people came, most only out of curiosity. Of course, he was discovered alive and well immediately after the ceremony as he beat his wife for not grieving sufficiently at his passing.

Dexter died on October 26, 1806.  Some historians have suggested his wife and children refused to accept the body and as a result Dexter was buried in a simple grave.  In his will he left his fortune to the poor of Newburyport.  

In 1848, Attorney Samuel L. Knapp shared his personal thoughts on Dexter and his legacy.  “There are but few men who are sufficiently attentive to their own thoughts, and able to analyze every motive or action. Among these, Timothy Dexter was not one.”

In a final postscript, most of the gaudy statues on his property were damaged in a hurricane that struck Newburyport in 1815.  Two of the carvings, entitled “Peace and Plenty”, survived and recently sold at auction for almost $60,000.