Sunday, April 26, 2015

Forgotten Drinks of Colonial New England

I'll drink to thatIn 1845, there were 221 distilleries in New York State, local historian and folklorist Marjorie Lansing Porter noted in an issue of North Country Life in 1953.

Moreover, she wrote, “great-grandma made dandelion wine, blackberry cordial, wild grape wine and used persimmons, elderberries, juniper berries, pumpkins, corn-stalks, hickory nuts, sassafras bark, birch bark and many other leaves, roots and barks to make ‘light’ drinks.

“One man boasted, ‘Oh, we can make liquor to sweeten our lips, of pumpkins, of parsnips, of walnut tree chips.’

“Perry was made from pears as cider is from apples and peachy from peaches.”

Not that long ago, there were fewer distilleries in the state than there were in the 1920s, when Prohibition destroyed the local beverage industry. But thanks to changes in the laws that offer incentives to young entrepreneurs anxious to make their own whiskey, locally-based distilleries, like craft breweries and hard cider houses, are returning to New York.

According to some reports, there are now more than 30 craft distilleries in New York, with at least two scheduled to open in Lake George within the next year.

It’s not clear that New Yorkers will start drinking as much as they did in the 19th century when, Porter wrote, “almost everyone drank to some extent, some giving the excuse that milk was scarce, water was unsafe to drink. Rum, whiskey, cider, high wines, forty rod gin, whistle belly vengeance and other specially mixed drinks were the order of the day.”

But even if they lack their ancestors’ hollow legs, today’s drinkers may wish to sample at least a few of those “specially mixed drinks” enjoyed by our forefathers.

Switchel, a 19th century light drink that has also been revived and which is available at Dave’s Market in Bolton Landing, can, for instance, be served with whiskey or practically any other spirit.

Recipes for some of these cocktails are now available in the recently published Forgotten Drinks of Colonial New England, which we purchased at Fort Ticonderoga not long ago. It can also be purchased at Trees, Main Street, Bolton Landing.

Written by Corin Hirsch, a food writer for Burlington’s Seven Days weekly newspaper and subtitled, “From Flips & Rattle-Skulls to Switchel & Spruce Beer,” the book belongs next to your copy of  Old Mr. Boston’s Official Bartenders Guide. It’s especially useful to have on hand at this time of year, when searching for hot drinks to serve on a cold night. There’s the cider slammer, Josiah Bartlett’s Hot Toddy, the Ale Flip, various mulled wine drinks and, for the hangover that’s bound to follow, a Brandy Milk Punch.  Now that winter has finally passed, there’s the Ice-Out, which can be made from applejack and maple syrup. Enjoy!

A version of this post first appeared in Lake George Mirror Magazine.

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Anthony F. Hall is the editor and publisher of the Lake George Mirror.

Anthony grew up in Warrensburg and after an education that included studying with beat poet Gregory Corso on an island in the Aegean, crewing a schooner in Hawaii, traveling through Greece and Turkey studying Byzantine art and archeology, and a stint at Lehman Brothers, he returned to the Adirondacks and took a job with legendary state senator Ron Stafford.

In 1998, Anthony and his wife Lisa acquired the Lake George Mirror, once part of a chain of weekly newspapers owned by his father Rob Hall.

Established in the 1880s, the Mirror is America’s oldest resort newspaper.

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