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Revolutionary War-Era Recipes for the Fourth of July

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Milk and water. Traditionally the most wholesome, most healthy stuff a person can drink. Drinks that a hard-working, pure-hearted colonial American would rely on. Fuel for his freedom-hungry soul as it wrestled the constraints of British rule. Right?

Nope. In reality, the colonists hardly touched the stuff. The thing about 18th century milk and water was that there was always a good chance it would sicken or kill whoever drank it. Milk was unpasteurized and often teeming with disease. And water? Death in a Pewter Stein. Diphtheria, cholera, typhoid … all that horrible stuff came from just drinking water that was impure, which was most of it. 

Our young country was founded by people of exceptional strength and brilliance … who still pooped really close to their own water sources and dumped all sorts of rotten and foul things into their rivers. It wasn’t their fault. Science was still mostly leeches and trepanning back then. 

So, boiled-water drinks—coffee and tea—were relied on heavily. But, they were imported at high cost and heavily taxed. (There was some fuss over that in Boston Harbor one night. You may have heard of it.) Plus, colonists, for the most part, preferred stronger hydration.

But rotten water doesn’t have to be a problem—because if you let the right things rot in it, that water becomes sterile. We call it alcohol.  

Getting Lordly with Sir John Strawberry

Alcohol was extremely important to the colonials. They used it for basic hydration, for medicine, and for the rare leisure such a difficult existence allowed.

In accordance with that leisurely attitude toward the stuff, in 1737, Benjamin Franklin compiled a dictionary of 200 synonyms for “being drunk.” My personal favorites include, “Been too free with Sir John Strawberry,” “Nimptopsical,” and simply, “Lordly.” (The mental_floss Store currently carries some fantastic and unique drinkware if you intend to get Lordly with some friends this Fourth, and want to introduce them to Sir John Strawberry.)

One of the reasons a person in the 18th century could drink all day and still have a functioning liver as they entered middle-age (which, to be fair, was their late 20s) was because of “small beer.” For centuries, Western civilization had relied on small beer which usually contained only between 2 to 4 percent alcohol, enough to make sure the water was safe, but not enough to mess you up.  The American colonists (cheerfully fueling the slave trade at the very moment they were considering the concept of their own freedom) especially enjoyed small beer brewed from Caribbean molasses (they were also quite fond of Caribbean rum).

Boozing Without Brits

All that molasses brew and rum dried up when the Revolutionary War started, and the British blockaded colonial seaports. Americans tried to make their own wine, but that never took off. They honestly thought it would, bless them. But, as it turns out, America’s west coast would be more ideally suited for wine valleys.

So, replacements were needed to soothe the dry throats of our militia. Cider, made from pressing apples or peaches and allowing them to ferment, replaced a lot of the molasses-based drinks. And then came corn whiskey! During the Revolutionary War, corn whiskey wasn’t just the domain of moonshiners and pipe smoking, Hatfield-hatin’, Appalachian grandmas.

The whiskey biz turned a major perishable crop of America—corn—into something shelf-stable. And it helped the fledgling nation grow its economy. In 1799, George Washington’s distillery at Mount Vernon was producing 11,000 gallons of whiskey a year. George Washington brewed whiskey as a means of boosting the American economy and helping to establish independence from all things British. Thus, by the transitive property, if you love America, you will drink whiskey this Fourth of July.

Some Real 18th Century Drink Concoctions for Your Flossy Fourth Party

Some of the most well-named, most creative colonial drinks are, sadly, not suitable for summer consumption.  Rattle-Skull involves mixing 3/4 ounce dark rum, 3/4 ounce brandy, 1 bottle of porter, and the juice of half a lime. Grate nutmeg on top. Drink. Lie down for the rest of the day.

Whistle-Belly Vengeance, which is such a good name I would consider it for a child, was made of sour household beer simmered in a kettle, sweetened with molasses, filled with brown breadcrumbs and drunk hot.

Below are some better options for your Fourth of July BBQ. These may be the very drinks our founding fathers used to toast the likelihood of their eminent executions for treason after signing the Declaration of Independence. (A better glass for such a toast doesn’t exist.)

Or, if you would like for your party’s drinkware to be reflective of a more modern staple of Americana, try these Red Cup Living cups. They look just like the kind you toss (in the recycling bin) when the party is over, but these are super-sturdy, dishwasher-safe, and reusable for many parties to come. The wine and cocktail versions give the “classier” libations the casual attire they need for a backyard barbeque.

Fish House Punch

Difficulty Level: Pretty darn complicated. For true patriots only.

Ingredients:
¾ pound sugar
1 Bottle of lemon juice
2 Bottles of Jamaican rum
1 Bottle of Cognac
2 Bottles of water
1 Wine-glass-full of peach cordial
Lots of ice (it says “cake of ice” but we don’t know where to tell you to find one of those)

Directions:
Completely dissolve 3/4 pound of sugar in a little water, in 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. 
Put a big cake of ice in the punch bowl. 
Let Punch stand about 2 hours, stirring occasionally.
In winter, when ice melts more slowly, more water may be used; in summer less.  The melting of the ice dilutes the mixture sufficiently.
Makes about 60 4-ounce glasses

GINGER BEER

Difficulty level: Medium to Hard – sometimes finding the ingredients will be the hardest part. By the way, the fermentation time isn’t long enough to create alcohol, just a nice carbonated fizz.

Ingredients:
2 ounces of powdered ginger root (or more if it is not very strong)
1/2 ounce of cream of tartar
2 large lemons, sliced
2 pounds of broken loaf sugar
2 gallons of soft boiling water 

Directions:
Put all ingredients into a kettle and simmer them over a slow fire for half an hour (you may be able to find a more modern solution that produces the same effect).
Remove from heat.
When the liquor is nearly cold, stir into it a large tablespoonful of the best yeast (only the best).
After it has fermented, which will be in about 24 hours, bottle for use.

Switchel 

An electrolyte-heavy, sweet-tart drink that staves off thirst. The Gatorade of the Revolutionary War.

Difficulty level: Really pretty easy

Ingredients:
1 c. light brown sugar
1 c. apple vinegar
1/2 c. light molasses
1 tbsp. ginger
2 qtrs. cold water

Directions:
Combine and stir well. 

So at your first-annual Flossy Fourth Party, raise your cup of American corn whiskey mixed with Switchel, and give thanks to the magnificent drunkards that came before you!

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7 Surprising Uses for Tequila
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Happy National Tequila Day! While you could celebrate by having a few drinks, you could also skip the hangover by unlocking one of tequila's amazing abilities outside of a glass. Many spirits are useful for activities beyond sipping (vodka, for example, is a great stain and odor remover), but tequila holds some particularly magical powers. Here are just a few of them.

1. SYNTHETIC BAUBLE

In 2008, a team of scientists in Mexico discovered that when the heated vapor from an 80-proof tequila blanco was combined with a silicon or stainless steel substrate, it resulted in the formation of diamond films. These films can be used in commercial applications, such as electrical insulators, or to create one big fake diamond. Who knew that spending $50 on a bottle of Don Julio was such a wise investment?

2. ALTERNATIVE ENERGY SOURCE

Keeping with the science theme: In 2011, researchers at England’s University of Oxford suggested that we may one day be gassing up our cars with tequila. They identified agave, the plant from which tequila is produced, as a potential biofuel source—and a particularly attractive one, as the plant itself is not consumed by humans and can thrive in desert climates.

3. WEIGHT LOSS SUPPLEMENT

Scientists have long promoted the potential benefits of the agave plant for its ability to help dissolve fats and lower cholesterol. The bad news? These properties get a bit diluted when the plant is distilled into alcohol. Even more so when it's whipped into a sugary margarita.

4. SLEEP AID

Take three or more shots of tequila and you’re bound to pass out. A single shot can have the same effect—just not in that drunken stupor kind of way. Relaxation is one of the positive side effects of tequila drinking; a small amount (1 to 1.5 ounces) before bedtime can reportedly help you fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly.

5. COLON CLEANSER

Too much of a good thing may not bring a welcome turn of events for your liver … but your colon will thank you! Researchers at Mexico’s University of Guadalajara have identified the blue agave as a potentially helpful source for delivering drugs to the colon in order to treat colitis, IBS, Crohn’s disease and even cancer.

6. DIABETES PREVENTATIVE

If Ernest Hemingway had known about the healing properties of tequila, his signature drink might have been a margarita instead of a daiquiri. In 2010, experiments conducted at Mexico’s Polytechnic Institute of Guanajuato revealed that the agave plant (which is high in fructans, a fructose polymer) could stimulate the GLP-1 hormone, aiding in increased insulin production.

7. COLD REMEDY

“Plenty of liquids” is a well-known remedy for getting oneself out from under the weather. But expanding that definition to include a kicked-up shot of tequila makes a day laid out on the couch sound much more appealing. In the 1930s, doctors in Mexico recommended the following concoction to fight off a cold.

.5 ounce of tequila blanco
.5 ounce of agave nectar (to eliminate bacteria and soothe sore throats)
.5 ounce of fresh lime juice (for Vitamin C) 

Though some people (including tequila companies) swear by its healing powers, others say it's hogwash.

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What's the Kennection? #158
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