If you are interested in 19th century American cooking look no further than Miss Beecher’s Domestic Receipt Book by Catherine Esther Beecher. The 1846 edition was intended to be a supplement to her other book called Treatise on Domestic Economy. A digitized copy can be found here.
The book contains an entire chapter called “Temperance Drinks,” which features recipes for coffees, home-brewed beer and mead substitutes, syrups, ice cream and other unusual [mostly] alcohol-free beverages. According to Mrs. Beecher, “The great abundance of delicious and healthful drinks that are within reach, leaves no excuse for resorting to such as are pernicious.”
Coffee with Cod?
Skin your fresh cod or codfish fillets, rinse, then dry them at the lowest setting in your oven. Perhaps you could even use a dehydrator? Cut into 1-inch squares and use one square per 2 quarts of coffee.
I initially assumed the square would be steeped with the coffee grinds rather than simply tossing it into the pot, but after reading up on fish-coffee it seems the purpose of skins was not to add flavor, but to improve the texture! Turns out that fish skin was once used as a way to collect coffee grit, before electric coffee makers and finely tuned paper filters. Egg whites were used for the same purpose. Salted codfish skins were not an unusual ingredient to have on-hand in 19th-century New England, according to The Boston Cooking School Magazine (1903):
Fake Coffee and Tea for the Kids
There is a small section of “healthful” kids’ beverages to replace the less appealing teas and coffees enjoyed by adults. Boy’s Coffee and White Tea are considered children’s drinks.
I don’t know why this “coffee” is for boys. Perhaps Boy wants to be just like Dad, drinking his super sweet pudding coffee with a spoon at the breakfast table.
The recipe is straightforward enough. Crumb some bread or toast and sweeten it with sugar or molasses. Pour in equal parts milk and boiling water. Depending on how much liquid you use, drink or eat it with a spoon.
This is just watered-down warm milk with sugar in it!
This one I actually tried and I’ll admit, I was very skeptical going in. I didn’t hate it.
- 1 pint / 2 c. boiling water
- 6 oz / 3/4 c. white sugar
- 1/2 c. lemon juice
- 1/4 c. sherry wine. For a non-alcoholic substitute, use apple cider or cider vinegar
- 1 1/2 c. cold milk
Pour the boiling water over the sugar. Add lemon juice and wine. Add the milk and strain.
Note that the directions tell us to add cold milk directly to the hot water, so naturally the milk is going to flash cook and you’ll end up with little white clumps in your lemonade. Straining is going to be very important! If you don’t care about following the recipe exactly you could add the hot water to the milk instead and see what happens. I strained mine a couple times and decided “nice and clear” is an overstatement. But it’s clear enough.
Sherry wine is going to give you the truest flavor, but if you want something sweeter without the alcohol you could use apple cider instead. Apple cider vinegar is typically a great substitute for cooking sherry, so you could use that as long as you dilute it a bit first. The vinegar isn’t as sweet as wine but we’re not using enough of it to make that much of a difference. I actually like the slight vinegary tang and thought it went really well with the tart lemon juice.
Drink it while it’s still a bit warm or chill it with a few ice cubes. This is a very quick and easy recipe.
In 1846, refined white sugar was still only sold in loaves. Kitchens were usually equipped with a sugar nipper to break bits of sugar from the moulded loaf (or cone).
Three More Intriguing Beverages
I would especially like to tackle Strawberry Acid someday, which seems like it might be something akin to a strawberry syrup. If it’s delicious for both the sick and the well it’s worth a shot, at least!
If you end up trying one of these unique 19th-century beverages, be sure to tell me how it turns out!