When it comes to seventeenth- and eighteenth-century culinary recipes, Hans Sloane (1660-1753), the famed doctor, naturalist, and collector, is best known for his chocolate. Sloane lived briefly in Jamaica, where he observed many people drinking liquid cacao; upon his return to Britain, Sloane adapted the recipe for metropolitan consumers. (This was apparently such a success that Sloane’s recipe was later used by Cadbury.) But Sloane was interested in drinks of all kinds, and wrote extensively on the fruity Caribbean cocktails which were apparently made and consumed by people in the eighteenth-century West Indies. In his 1707 treatise, A Voyage to the Islands Madera, Barbados, Nieves, S. Christophers and Jamaica, Sloane described seven of these sweet concoctions: Cool Drink, Corn Drink, Cane Drink, Acajou Wine, Plantain Drink, Perino, and Rum-Punch.
Sloane explained that the first three of these – Cool Drink, Corn Drink, and Cane Drink – were very simple, containing herbs or plants like “Sorrel or Pines,” a sweetening agent like molasses (plentiful in the eighteenth-century Caribbean), and water. These ingredients were allowed to ferment, “they turning sower in twelve or twenty four hours.” Cool Drink contained just two ingredients, “Molossus and Water,” and Sloane wrote that “To make cool Drink, Take three Gallons of fair water, more than a Pint of Molossus, mix them together in a Jar; it works in twelve hours time sufficiently, put to it a little more Molossus, and immediately Bottle it, in six hours time ‘tis ready to drink, and in a day it is turn’d sowr.” This produced a mildly alcoholic, mead-like drink which Sloane dismissed as “unwholesome.” Drinks made by fermenting fruit and water together, such as Acajou – an eighteenth-century term for cashew – and Plantain wines were, in contrast, “very strong,” but Sloane warned that they “keep not long, and cause vomiting.”
Sloane had better things to say about Perino, which was made from old loaves of cassava (Manihot utilissima) root bread. Sloane instructed his readers to “Take a Cake of bad Cassada Bread, about a Foot over, and half an Inch thick, burnt black on one side, break it to pieces, and put it to steep in two Gallons of water, let it stand open in a Tub twelve hours, then add to it the froth of an Egg, and three Gallons more water, and one pound of Sugar, let it work twelve hours, and Bottle it; it will keep good for a week.” Sloane said that Perino was “a Drink much used here” – not a ringing endorsement, but it was apparently better than Rum-Punch, which Sloane despised.
Sloane’s feelings about Rum-Punch weren’t necessarily based on the drink’s ingredients or taste. He explained that the cocktail was made up of “Rum, Water, Lime-juice, Sugar, and a little Nutmeg scrap’d on the top of it.” Although this might sound, at least to modern readers, like the most appealing of all of the cocktails described in this post, Sloane was unconvinced. He explained that Rum-Punch was made from burnt or very low-quality sugar, scraped from “the Sugar-Pot-bottoms” of colonial refineries. But, Sloane explained, “because ’tis cheap, Servants, and other of the poorer sort” could afford it. Rum-Punch was a bargain, and Sloane believed that for this reason, it was problematic.
For Sloane, the consumption of Rum-Punch was bound up with assumptions about poverty, self-determination, and social status. He explained that if lower-status people drank in Rum-Punch, they risked falling “into a fast Sleep, whereby they fall off their Horses in going home, and lie sometimes whole nights expos’d to the injuries of the Air, whereby they fall into Consumptions, Dropsies, &c., if they miss Apopleptic Fits.” This might seem like a pretty elaborate (and perhaps unlikely) scenario, but it fit precisely with Sloane’s prejudices about the poor: that they were unable to control how much they drank, that they didn’t know how to take care of their own bodies, and that they could not monitor and treat themselves if they fell ill. For this reason, Sloane declared, Rum-Punch was off-limits, and he finished by asserting that because lower-status people could become “very easily fuddled with it,” the drink should be classified as “very unhealthy.”
Quotations in this post come from Hans Sloane, A Voyage to the Islands Madera, Barbados, Nieves, S. Christophers and Jamaica… 2 Vols. (London, 1707), xxix-xxx.