Summer at sea puts a sailor in a happy mood. Well, unless he's becalmed near the equator or on the tropics. No one enjoys the prospect of - as such miserable delays were known in the Royal Navy - "sailing with Admiral Brown". Think about the general toilet facilities on a man-of-war with a crew of 500 and it doesn't take much to figure out why.
But there was always grog to hand, or one would hope so anyway, and the doldrums pass sooner or later. As everything does.
In the great cabin and the gunroom, officers supplied their own spirits and there was usually no shortage, particularly if said officers were wealthy. The same was true in other navies as well. Aboard a pirate or privateer, things tended to be a bit more egalitarian. Captain and officers drank what the men drank and, once we head into the 18th century, that meant rum. Rum is easily stored for years if not decades and easy to transport in large (sometimes not so obvious) containers. It fell out of favor in higher society - even among sailors - in the late 19th century. However, at least in the U.S., it saw another heyday during prohibition for all the obvious reasons.
So today, after a few warm, sticky days here in my neck of the woods (stop snickering!), I humbly offer two delightful summer drinks that were popular with sailors and others in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Variations of both can still be found regionally today and they can be made a number of ways. Many thanks to Anne Chotzinoff Grossman and Lisa Grossman Thomas for their inspiring book Lobscouse & Spotted Dog: Which It's a Gastronomic Companion of the Aubrey/Maturin Novels, from which both originals are taken.
First is a shrub, specifically one made with lemons. Similar drinks are known in Italy (lemoncilo) and France (limonade) and they are all basically alcoholic lemonade. The limonade specifically was a favorite with French Creoles in San Domingue and Louisiana and it is speculated by certain historians that it may be the ancestor of that ubiquitous drink of the Southern U.S., the mint julep. Here is the British recipe:
Zest of 1 lemon, 1/2 cup lemon juice, 3/4 cup sugar, 2 cups rum
Combine all, stir well, bottle and set aside in a cool place for about a week. To serve, mix 2 to 3 parts boiling water to one part shrub. Makes around 3 cups.
In place of the boiling water, Mediterraneans would mix cold or sparkling water. Italians traditionally use lemon liquor rather than rum. The French have been known to nix the water and rum and add champagne (my favorite). Add a few mint leaves and can a refreshing afternoon on the veranda be far behind?
Next is an iced lemonade sweetened with Marsala. This is an obvious result of the British, from society ladies to tars, spending a good deal of time in and around Gibraltar and Port Mahon where Marsala wine would have been readily available. It is still a sweet treat for a lazy day:
4 large lemons, 12 sugar cubes (1 tsp each), 1 quart boiling water, 3/4 cups sweet Marsala wine
Rub the lemon vigorously with a sugar cube or two. Peel the zest from one lemon, squeeze the juice from all four, and combine in a bowl with all the sugar. Pour in boiling water and stir until sugar dissolves. Add the wine. Cool, strain and serve over ice. Serves 4.
Another wonderful beverage that can be served either as an aperitif or after a meal to aid digestion.
Thus on to the weekend, Brethren. May your sails be full of fine breezes and your cup be full of good spirits. Huzzah!