Drinks in the 1800s.

Emanuel Philips Fox_Al FrescoWhat did people drink in the 1800s? Homecooks prepared a wide variety of beverages for everyday consumption and for special occasions. Fresh juices would have been available during the summer and fall, and wines and distilled liquors offered a way to preserve summer’s bounty for the long winter months. Just like today, people would have welcomed mulled wines on those chilly days, and refreshing lemonade on their summer outings. As for our coffee lovers, it was popular back in the day, too, a staple and a part of almost every meal.

Distilled Liquor.

Home distillation was not uncommon, and not limited to alcohol. Women might practice the art of distillery to extract delicate oils for perfumes or additives (think mint extracts or rose water) that could later be used for infusions. Recipes often called for fruits or herbs to be bottled with rum or brandy for several weeks to impart their flavors. Recipe collections, do not, however, include instructions on how to set up a distillery physically, leading to the conclusion that either everyone already knew how it worked and it was common knowledge, or you went down to the local pub and purchased your distilled liquors already prepared to use for your infused beverages.


All Housewives May Add Wines to Their Household Stores. The difficulty and the expense is trifling.

By the 1800s, science had introduced the idea of hydrometers, yeasts, basic sanitation, and temperature control to help with quality wine production. Women were expected to oversee the fruit harvests, pressing, fermentation, and bottling of wines for the household, often in quantities of 7, 25, or 60 gallons. Most wine recipes are country wines, made from local fruit, for example gooseberries or damson. Often, recipes tried to mimic famous grape wines, like claret or sherry. The wine recipes included in cookbooks from this era are actually straight forward and simple to update for home winemakers who are comfortable with the basics.

By the late 1800s, you see a shift because of the Temperance movement. Cookbooks include recipes for teetotalers and make reference to ensuring there are alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages available for all guests as proper etiquette. Leading up to and following Prohibition, there is a conspicuous absence of recipes for home brewing in your general homemaker cookbook. As such, wine making has become something of a lost art for your average home cook and not something you would see in a general cookbook today.

Juices and Punches.

Pineapple Beer.jpg
Pineapple Beer c. 1875

Juices and punches were popular in all recipe collections, and offer a sweet alternative to their alcoholic counterparts. These beverages would have been served to house guests, on picnics, at dinners for those who abstained from alcohol, and at grand social gatherings. Most recipes called for boiling water and sugar together, effectively sanitizing the water and making a simple syrup. Add the fruit to infuse and you have a lovely non-alcoholic beverage. By modern tastes, most recipes you find are not cloyingly sweet, but mild and refreshing. Homecooks interested in trying out a recipe or two will find this pineapple beer recipe and this lemonade recipe both easy and delicious!

Coffee, Tea, and Cocoa.

Coffee, like tea, should be an infusion, not a decoction.

Coffee, tea, and cocoa are popular additions in all cookbooks through the 1800s. For coffee especially, most recipes focus on how to roast the beans, which would have been purchased fresh from the market, with an emphasis on how not to burn them. These recipes also address how to prepare coffee of different strengths and how to avoid pouring the grounds into the drinker’s cup. Our cookbook authors impart a sense of pride in making the perfect cup of coffee that mimics the flavor and quality of the same beverage sold at the great coffee houses and gentleman’s clubs.

Cookbooks written for the poorer classes and during times of distress, for example the American Civil War or the Irish Potato Famine, include recipes for ingredients that can be substituted for coffee beans, including various roots and toasted grains.



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