Monday, December 5, 2016

Snowdrift and Other Stories with Negus

'Snowdrift', the repackaged edition of Heyer's "Pistols For Two' with three rediscovered stories added has to be the perfect present for any Heyer fan, or at least any Heyer fan who has managed to hold of buying it for two months. To be fair that may be quite a few, if you already have 'Pistols For Two' buying shelling out for another copy might not be an immediate priority, unless like mine the old one was falling apart.

Anyway, if you do like Heyer you can't go wrong with this, especially if you're in need of some light hearted fluff which mixes old fashioned romance and humour. I'm often in need of Heyer's brand of escapism, I also find her attitude on drinks and drinking interesting. 

Gentleman drink a lot, they drink port, brandy, maybe a rum punch, claret, and burgundy, sometimes ale for breakfast, but despite drinking a lot they more or less handle it - being obviously drunk would not be gentlemanly. When women are disguised as men appearing to be able to drink like a man is a vital part of the masquerade, though generally they pull this of by discreetly disposing of the alcohol in question. Some of her more forceful heroines favour the masculine drinks listed above, the others drink ratafia or negus, which Heyer sometimes dismisses as a sickly sweet confections.

The regency period undoubtedly had a hard drinking culture, and the details are right (lots of port, smuggled brandy, you can feel the effects of war with France) but I don't know if contemporary attitudes would have been quite as fastidious about actual drunkenness - I feel this might rather reflect Heyer's generation instead. The idea that a gentleman should know his limits certainly seems more Victorian than Georgian.

Meanwhile she certainly mentions negus, as do any number of other Writers (Trollope, Dickens, and Charlotte BrontĂ« included, also John Buchan) and having looked up a few recipes I think it sounds pretty good. The general idea seems to be to gently heat port, add lemon juice and rind along with sugar to taste, top up with an equal amount of boiling water to port, and grate a little nutmeg in. One recipe also calls for cinnamon and cloves - I'd be inclined to use cinnamon bark rather than powdered (as suggested) to avoid a sludge at the bottom of the pan or glass, and only use either if making a considerable quantity. The simpler versions seem like a sensible way to use up any left over port that's hanging around after Christmas, though perhaps not vintage or single Quinta examples...

Generally though, port doesn't keep especially well. It should be drunk within a couple of weeks of opening, so anything bought for cooking would be better off going into something like this than left to gently oxidise in a corner.

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