We’ll be taking a summer break in the last week of July and the first week of August. Look for new content on the blog starting August 6, 2019: a teaching round-up to help everyone who’s heading back into the classroom prepare your syllabi for the new school year.
Although the 18th century was not the era of mixed drinks or “cocktails” (those come out in force in the late 19th to early 20th centuries), one important exception was punch. This popular and convivial beverage swept the globe in the 1600s. Punch combined five basic components: citrus juice, sugar, botanicals, water, and distilled spirits – usually rum, brandy, or arrack, a beverage made from either rice, palm juice, or coconut flower sap, common throughout South and Southeast Asia.
Some clues about punch’s origins point to India, and others to the practical needs and available resources of European sailors. The title of the recipe we decided to recreate points to this origin on ship board: “To make Milk Punch that will keep Years by Sea or Land.” As part of their victuals, sailors had increased access to distilled alcohols during the 17th century. Some European ships had citrus on hand to combat scurvy, long before such fruits were formally dolled out as rations and scientifically understood as antiscorbutics. Sugar and spices were also often part of the cargo. If punch did begin life aboard long-haul voyages, it quickly jumped ship, making its way into well-to-do homes, where people could afford costly ingredients (one citrus fruit in 18th-century Europe cost the modern equivalent of roughly $8).
To make Milk Punch that will keep Years by Sea or Land.
Steep the Peel of twenty Lemons, and four Seville Oranges, in six Quarts of Brandy or Rum, for twenty-four Hours; and then add two Quarts of Lemon and Orange Juice (almost three Parts of Seville Orange Juice) five Quarts of Water, four large Nutmegs grated, and two Pounds and a Half of double-refined Sugar. When these have stood twenty-four Hours, add three Quarts and a Pint of boiling Milk; then let the whole stand about twelve Hours; after which run it through a Jelly-Bag, till the Liquor becomes quite clear. This will keep good to either of the Indies.
With its heavy dose of lime or lemon juice, punch was highly acidic; one way to counteract its zing was to add sugar. Another way to cut the sourness of the citrus juice was discovered somewhere in the late 1600s, and is used here: add milk! By the mid-18th century, milk punch was extremely popular and enjoyed its ride into late 19th century (and is currently seeing a bit of a resurgence in modern cocktail culture). The recipe we used in Alcohol’s Empire was published in Ireland by Mary Johnson in 1770.
Making Johnson’s 18th-century milk punch is an experience in textures quite unlike our modern experiences with cocktails and punches. Rather than relying on sweet juices or sodas, whey from curdled milk is what smooths the bite of the rum and citrus juice and makes this a pleasant summer beverage. When boiling milk is added to the punch in the third step, it immediately curdles (see video) in a process that is essentially the same as making paneer, ricotta, or other soft cheeses. When it meets milk at a high temperature, lemon juice causes the separation of milk solids from the whey. When the milk punch is strained a few times and the curds are removed alongside the citrus peel, the whey remains to give the drink a much smoother mouthfeel, and a taste that, at least to us, is slightly tangy and yogurty. Being able to remove the milk solids from the punch also has the benefit of ensuring that the punch is shelf stable, which is why Johnson could assert that her punch would keep during the voyage to “either of the Indies,” meaning either the Americas or Asia.
This video shows what happens when boiling milk is added to the punch in the third step.
The milk immediately curdles, with milk solids hanging down from the top as the punch steams from the milk’s heat.
Emily Beck is the assistant curator of the Wangensteen Historical Library of Biology and Medicine at the University of Minnesota. She received her PhD from the Program in the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine at the University of Minnesota. Her research focuses broadly on histories of medicine, pharmacy, and making in early modern Europe.
Nicole LaBouff is associate curator of textiles at the Minneapolis Institute of Art and worked previously in the Department of Costume and Textiles at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. She received her PhD in history from the University of California, Irvine. Her research deals with the intersection of art, science, and women’s domestic work in early modern Europe, with interests spanning needlework, botany, and distilling.
“Stockvisch muss man bleüwen – One must beat stockfish” declared Balthasar Staindl in the first line of a lengthy entry on cooking cod in his 1544 Kochbuch. Wielding a blunt instrument, the sixteenth century cook was meant to hammer away at the flesh of a desiccated, full-length codfish until it was soft enough to soak in water. For this reason many markets sold purpose-made stockfish hammers, which regularly appear in early modern household inventories and ship cargo manifests. Hammering away at the dried flesh of what was once a living, deep-sea fish broke it down the fibers and made it easier for them to absorb water. So common was the practice that in Venice imported, dried stockfish was popularly known as battuto, “beaten,” derived from the word battere, ‘to beat.’ Here was a food which made you grapple with texture in a direct way: to eat it you had to beat it.
Though today it is overshadowed by its salt-cured cousin bacalao, in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries a kind of preserved fish called “stockfish,” literally a fish like a stock of wood, was amongst the most widely consumed proteins in northern Europe. In the widespread consumption of stockfish we can see that texture was not merely an ancillary consideration, a factor of taste, for early modern diners. Texture itself carried information about nutrition and was valued on its own terms. The dryness of stockfish conveyed that it was a manmade, preserved kind of meat, one which could be relied upon to stay edible for a long time. You could trust your battuto precisely because of its hard, unyielding texture.
Cod, which lives in the far north Atlantic from Norway to Newfoundland, was important to households and military contractors alike because its oil-free flesh was easy to dry for preservation. Stockfish was a kind of codfish which could only be made at very northern latitudes, such as Norway and Iceland, where the cold winters and windy coasts made air-drying possible. Whole fish were headed, gutted and split open before being left outside on racks. The cold winds, alternating with sunlight, effectively freeze-dried the fish. The result was a board-like fish mummy, rock-hard and tough, earning the popular nickname “buckhorne” in England for its resemblance to animal horn. Today in Nigeria stockfish is even sold as “okporoko,” so named for the sound the hard pieces of fish make as they clang against a metal pot. Freeze-dried cod were sold whole in the market, stacked like logs or hung on walls, and were instantly recognizable to early modern consumers thanks to their long, thin shape. A seventeenth-century Dutch painting shows stockfish being wielded like a club by a group of monks – like a stick of wood, it could be used as a weapon.
To sixteenth-century consumers, it was the texture of stockfish which mattered more than its taste. Stockfish meat was thought too bland to be nutritious by many experts, including Erasmus of Rotterdam, but this was compensated for by its unusual physical nature. It was from its hard, dry consistency that the food derived its most important quality, that of durability. Cod which had been transformed into stockfish resisted decay in a manner that was unusual, even unnatural, in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Fourteenth- and fifteenth-century English sources sometimes called it pessoun dure (poisson dur, hard fish), or even winterfish, so-called for its ability to last throughout the cold months when other food had spoiled. Without water it could not rot, mold or putrefy. Where most fish would rot in a matter of days, stockfish could be trusted to last not merely months but years before going bad, and it could be shipped over vast distances. Though coming from Norway and Iceland it was popular as far as Budapest, Rome and Seville. In an age of food insecurity and uncertainty these qualities were much-prized and sought out by consumers, creating a pan-European culture of stockfish cookery by the early sixteenth century.
But that trust came at a cost, for processed cod like stockfish could not be consumed directly, but rather underwent a texture-reversing treatment which could border on the violent – it had to be made battuto before it was ready to be eaten. Cooks learned that beating, soaking and burning the freeze-dried cod produced a softer, moist fish which could be boiled, roasted, mashed or fried. The hard texture had to be forcibly altered through hammering and soaking. In English, the process was described as ‘weakening’ the fish, and partially soaked stockfish was known as wokedfish (i.e. weakened-fish) in fifteenth century London. To speed up soaking, the German cookbook of Sabina Welseren called for adding caustic lye to the water, and in the sixteenth century Hanse merchants sold lye-soaked cod dressed with mustard on the wharves of London. Too much lye could even create something entirely different from dry or soaked fish, a gelatinous and translucent lutfisk which was popular around the Baltic. But if its rigidity could be weakened, the artificial texture could not be entirely eliminated. Resuscitated stockfish would never quite be like fresh fish, and always remained firmer, more fibrous and denser than the real thing. Each bite was an inescapable reminder of a food which had been processed and remade by humans.
 Baltasar Staindl. Ain künstlichs und nützlichs Kochbuch. (Germany: 1547). 22.
 This is known from a reference made by the Venetian merchant Alessandro Magno while visiting London in 1561, “un certo pesco seco che viene dalle Indie, e chiamano stofis, che vien a dire in nostra lengua battuto, et altramente si chiamano Bacalari.” Folger Shakespeare Library, V.a. 259. “Account of Alessandro Magno’s journeys to Cyrpus, Egypt, Spain, England, Flanders, Germany and Brescia, 1557-1565.” fol. 176.
 Examples can be found throughout: C.M. Woolgar. Household Accounts from Medieval England. 2 vols. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006).
 Laura Wright. Sources of London English: Medieval Thames Vocabulary. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996). 102-105.
 A transcription of Sabina Welserin’s book, dated to 1555, can be found at: http://www.staff.uni-giessen.de/gloning/tx/sawe.htm. For the description of Hanse merchant, see: Thomas Moffett, Healths Improvement: Or, Rules Comprizing and Discovering the Nature, Method, and Manner of Preparing All Sorts of Food Used in This Nation. (London : Thomas Newcomb, 1655). 262.
Jack Bouchard serves as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Folger Shakespeare Library, where he works with the Before “Farm to Table”: Early Modern Foodways and Cultures project, a Mellon-funded initiative in collaborative research at the Folger Institute. He received his PhD from the University of Pittsburgh History Department in 2018, and currently contributes to the Before Farm to Table team’s ongoing efforts to explore, through publicly-oriented research and programming, evolving food cultures and thought in early modern Europe. Dr. Bouchard’s research interests involve fish consumption and maritime food production in early modern Europe, as well as the environmental history of islands in the early Atlantic.
Popular eighteenth-century pharmacopoeias often included animal-based
substances such as musk, which might seem nauseating to the modern palate. In The New DispensatoryContaining the Theory and Practice of
Pharmacy (London, 1753), William Lewis describes musk or moschus as “a grumus substance like
clotted blood, found in a little bag in the umbilical region” of the Asian musk
deer, “an animal met with in China, Tartary, and the East Indies” (162). To
harvest the musk gland, male deer were trapped and killed in large numbers,
leading to musk deer’s current endangered status. According to Lewis, the “musk
pod” was “the size of a pigeon’s egg, covered with short brown hairs” and it
exuded a scent that attracted female deer (162). Although musk was an expensive
product, in minute quantities it formed the basis for perfumes, as well as for pharmaceuticals and culinary recipes. Based on Lewis’ description, eighteenth-century users were
likely ambivalent about the idea of ingesting the pungent-smelling contents of
an animal’s gland with the texture of coagulated blood. However, users were
torn between their potential aversion and their desire for a substance with
aphrodisiac and medical potential.
Unpleasant medicines, such as musk, were often mixed with sugar or
sweet tasting substances to form a more palatable “julep.” The New Dispensatory’s author admitted that
although the musk ingredient was often dried into a powder, musk julep still
had a feral-smelling “strong perfume.” Nonetheless, for those who could bear
the repugnant taste, it “proves of great service in lowness, fainting,
&c.,” as well as for convulsions and “the bite of a mad dog.” In humoral medicine, musk julep’s “bitterish
sub-acrid taste” might even convince reluctant sufferers of its efficacy
maladaptive humours from the body. (162, 434).
Despite musk julep’s loathsome savor, the remedy appears in
eighteenth-century English and North American pharmacopoeias, popular medical
manuals, and women healers’ recipe books, which demonstrates the overlap
between the prescribing practices of doctors and non-physician practitioners. To
make “Julepum e Moscho or Musk Julep,” William Lewis advised the reader to “Take
of Damask rose water, six ounces by measure; Musk, twelve grains; Double-refined
sugar, one dram. Grind the sugar and the musk together, and gradually add to
the rose water” (433). Due to its expense and pungency, musk was measured in
grains or 6.5% of a gram. Nonetheless, in his popular self-help manual, Domestic
Medicine, William Buchan gave directions for a larger batch of
musk julep by increasing the amount of musk in his recipe to half a drachm (30
grains) and adding eight times as much sugar. He substituted cinnamon and
peppermint water for the rose water. Like Lewis, he recommended musk julep for
convulsions, “nervous fevers,” and “spasmodic affections.” Although the
medicinal uses of musk had its origins in ancient Asian medical practice, it came
into increasingly popular use in eighteenth-century Britain and its colonies.
During the American Revolution, the widowed Quaker healer, Margaret Hill Morris prescribed musk julep in her Burlington, New Jersey medical and apothecary practice. Creating medicines such as musk julep required hands-on skills in chemistry and botany, and it allowed women to produce novel scientific knowledge and products. Morris likely obtained the musk julep recipe from her personal copy of Buchan’s Domestic Medicine. Women’s home-production of medicines was particularly important in the face of shortages of imported pharmaceuticals due to the Royal Navy’s blockades of American port cities during the war. However, while Morris was compounding musk julep one afternoon, her fetid concoction spilled onto a letter that she was writing to her sister. The sugary liquid pooled and stained the fabric-like texture of the cotton and linen paper. Morris apologized and explained, “Son John [and I] had been making musk julep for [Neighbor] Carey, on the Counter where my paper laid and scented it.” Although Morris had apprenticed her son to her physician brother-in-law, she relished his visits home, where “the business of an Apothecary be still carried on by a diligent apprentice, & watchful Mother.”[i] Morris’s kitchen was a site of medical education as well as odiferous medicinal production.
As new Western European theories of the nervous and vascular systems influenced humoral medicine in the eighteenth-century Atlantic world, doctors and non-physician healers became interested in the stimulating power of musk. The expense, exotic origins, pungent taste, and gelatinous consistency of the fur-encrusted musk gland added to the medicine’s mystique. The intermixture of cinnamon, peppermint or rose water, along with sugar, added complexity and sweetness, making musk julep’s earthy taste more appetizing. Musk julep recipes highlight how the unique flavors and textures of a global trade in pharmaceuticals enlivened eighteenth-century medical prescriptions and practices.
Hill Morris to Hannah Hill Moore, ca. 1780,
G. M. Howland MS Coll. 1000, Haverford College Quaker and Special Collections,
Haverford, PA; Susan Hanket Brandt, “‘Getting into a Little Business’: Margaret
Hill Morris and Women’s Medical Entrepreneurship during the American
Revolution,” Early American Studies
4, no. 4 (2015): 774-807.
Brandt teaches history
at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. Her dissertation, “Gifted Women
and Skilled Practitioners: Gender and Healing Authority in the Delaware
Valley, 1740-1830,” was awarded the 2016 Lerner-Scott Prize for the best doctoral
dissertation in U.S. Women’s History by the Organization of American
Historians. Brandt has published an article in Early American Studies
and a chapter in Barbara Oberg, ed., Women in the American Revolution:
Gender, Politics, and the Domestic World. She is under contract with Penn Press to publish a book based
on her dissertation. Prior to pursuing a career in history, Brandt worked as a