Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Maria Edgeworth with a Gin Punch

Just over half way through this books and booze advent it seems timely to talk about drinking. I really don't drink a lot (at least I don't think I do) and that's one reason why not many wines will feature. I don't, generally, drink alone (I'm making an exception tonight for research purposes) but if I do it will be a small glass of something, and only 1. Because I basically live alone that means it's most likely to be spirits simply because they keep. Wine is, for me, an essentially convivial drink - something to be shared, talked over, talked about, and celebrated. I can't do that on my own, and I don't want to feel constrained to drink the couple of glasses a night it takes to get through a bottle before it loses its freshness.

Meanwhile, as I will keep saying, it's all about quality over quantity, when you don't drink much it makes sense to buy better and explore more. I also favour a drink that has a touch of ritual about it, the time it takes to make a cup of tea, a coffee, a hot chocolate, a gin punch, is time to anticipate the pleasure of settling down to read.

I know that gin divides people, but I'm extremely fond of it - as much for its long and colourful history as for the knife edge sharp juniper taste. I've been looking for some good gin based drinks for this series - something that would suggest a book to me as well as sound good, and found just the thing on the Sipsmith's website with the Bee's hot knees recipe. 

The Bee's Knees is a prohibition era classic which would have relied on the honey and lemon to disguise the roughness of bootleg gin. Eighteenth century gin would have been every bit as rough and honey and lemon would have been common enough punch ingredients then too, turning the Bee's Knees into a hot drink makes me think of that older tradition. 

There's no need to disguise the taste of modern gin (or worry about what exactly might be in it) but diligent research shows that this is an entirely acceptable way of drinking it. The honey just softens the astringency of the gin and lemon, but only just and the whole thing is wonderfully aromatic and warming. It might be worth experimenting with a syrup based on a light muscavado sugar rather than honey. The recipe calls for 25ml of honey syrup (make by warming equal amounts of honey and water to simmering point) 25ml of lemon juice, 50ml of gin, and 100ml of boiling water. Mix and drink. 

I've spent a good 20 minutes researching 18th century gin punch recipes without finding anything concrete to back up my assumption that this is just the sort of thing you might have been given in a coaching inn, or that more respectable gin drinkers may have made at home, but it feels right. It's not so far from a simple rum punch after all, and what really matters to me is that I can imagine it with 'Belinda'. Or 'Castle Rackrent' for that matter. 

Maria Edgeworth should be much better known, 'Belinda' still sticks in my memory after a good 5 years for its mix of serious issues and downright craziness (cross dressing women in duels, and why not). Belinda herself may toe the line of respectability, but Lady Delacour seems just the sort to enjoy a night on the town drinking hot gin in low taverns (at least at the start of the book before she reforms). 

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