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Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Drink found in Georgette Heyer's books

Having looked at the food, what about the drinks to be found in the ballroom and at the table!

The gentlemen are left to their Port, which is a fortified wine, like Madeira and Sherry, that is spirits have been added to them, commonly Brandy.  Brandy was the spirit of choice; and no Regency hero is going to be drinking Bourbon, on the rocks or otherwise.  Bourbon to a Regency man meant the ancien regime of France...

A less socially acceptable spirit was gin and this was considered acceptable for sporting gentlemen and at gentlemen's clubs.  It commonly went by the vernacular names of Daffy or Blue Ruin both of which Heyer uses.  The Daffy Club was named for it. It did not have the level of pernicious influence it did at the time of Hogarth's satirical drawings; the resurrection of its power in the Gin Palaces was yet to come.

Wine of various kinds was drunk including the sparkling wine from the Champagne area of France. Country folk would have probably drunk the home made wines such as those whose recipes are given by Mrs Rundell and James Farley; petal wines such as cowslip, elderflower, rose and dandelion, fruit wine such as fig, gooseberry, damson or mulberry [many of the mulberry trees in Britain had been planted mistakenly on the orders of James I who wanted British sericulture and did not realise that the mulberry that silk worms live on is not the same as the one that produces the lucious fruit] and others such as ginger wine, barley wine, turnip wine [probably very sweet] and sycamore wine.  A note to American readers: what you call sycamore is a plane.  In England the sycamore is Acer pseudoplatanus, a maple.  The sap may not be as plentiful or sugary as the sugar maple but it does run quite freely.

I do make my own wine so I am not about to get tedious with discussions of recipes as I know I can do! however bear in mind that fermentation was hit and miss and was started with a piece of stale or toasted bread in the must to attract natural yeasts as there was no such thing as brewer's yeast available to the public.  Nor were there airlocks in secondary fermentation demijohns; just a vat or barrel. I suspect that some of it tasted very peculiar without all the scientific controls wine makers of the modern era have.

The lower orders would drink Porter, otherwise known as a heavy wet and not to be confused with the similar sounding port.  This was a stout.  Incidentally Guiness was available! So was beer of course and ale. 



Tea came in black or green and a polite hostess would ask the preference of her guests. Since tea was valuable she would play mother, unlocking the tea caddy for the precious leaves.


Not so easy to prepare as nowadays! I can do no better justice to this than Kathryn Kane at


No instant coffee of course! Drinking coffee in coffee houses was a sociable activity for men and often societies of mutual interests grew up from the coffee houses.  It is worth remembering that Lloyds of London started in a coffee house too. There were those who would not drink coffee, Miss Bates in Jane Austen's 'Emma' for one for the ethical reasons of opposing slavery.  Coffee, like cane sugar, was produced by slave labour and it should be remembered that just because trafficking in slaves was illegal, this did not emancipate those already enslaved or their offspring.

Other drinks


A liquor or cordial – a mix of wine and brandy –  flavoured with lemon peel and spices typically cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, mint, anise, rosemary and sweetened with sugar.  Also added are bitter almonds or the kernels of peach or cherry, of which an excess can be fatal for the fact that they contain amygdalin and can lead to cyanide poisoning.  Fun!

The whole lot is infused together for a month and any other source of cyanide your villain may chose to introduce……


Wine, most commonly port wine, mixed with hot water and spices eg cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, peel. Effectively it’s mulled wine.


A non alcoholic beverage made with a mix of sweet and bitter almonds, tartaric acid and far too much sugar in water and orange flower water or rose water.  So far as I can gather sugar was dissolved in until no more could be absorbed.  [Sounds like a cherry-flavoured form of the repellent sports energy drinks of today to me as cherry flavouring tastes like bitter almonds...]

Below is a comment from Diderot’s encyclopaedia 1765

“ORGEAT, SYRUP OF. Orgeat syrup is called like this because pharmacopeas require a barley decoction rather than plain water. But barley ruins its taste without adding any virtues. So all master apothecaries, who know how to evaluate theoretical rules according to their own practical experiences, steer clear of using barley decoction when making orgeat syrup; & it is not easy to decide wether this infidelity deserves more contempt when found at the minister's than when charlatanism or routine is found at the law-maker's.”

From which we may infer that Orgeat may also have referred to sweetened almond flavoured barley water.  Hello, a diuretic?  At a ball? Well I suppose it is one way to kill any excess passions...Mrs Rundell who doesn’t use barley at all considers orgeat an excellent drink for an invalid with a weak chest especially with the addition of brandy.  Cheers, Mrs R.  She also gives a couple of recipes for use with company – the use of milk surprised me.  

Orgeat Mrs Rundell’s receipts 

Boil a quart of new milk with a stick of cinnamon, sweeten to your taste, and let it grow cold; then pour it by degrees to three ounces of almonds and twenty bitter that have been blanched and beaten to a paste, with a little water to prevent oiling; boil all together, and stir till cold, then add half a glass of brandy.

Another way blanch and pound three quarters of a pound of almonds, and thirty bitter, with a spoonful of water.  Stir in by degrees two pints of water, and three of milk, and strain the whole through a cloth.  Dissolve half a pound of fine sugar in a pint of water, boil and skim it well; mix it with the other, as likewise two spoonfuls of orange flower water, and a teacup full of the best brandy.

Way to go Mrs Rundell that might make it more palatable to our Regency heroes and heroines


  1. Do you know what "white wine whey" in The Reluctant Widow is?

  2. I do indeed! there is a recipe in Mrs Rundell of this drink for an invalid.
    "Put half a pint of new milk on the fire [she means put it in a pan first] and the moment it boils add as much sound raisin wine as will turn it [curdle it; this is a form of caudle] and it looks clear. Let it boil up, then set the sauce-pan aside until the curd subsides and do not stir it. Pour the whey off and add to half a pint of boiling water and a bit of white sugar. Thus you will have a whey perfectly cleared of milky particles and as weak as you choose to make it."
    Sounds revolting, doesn't it?