Robinson Crusoe Quote

"He preferred, however, "gourmandization," was an idolater of a certain decent, commodious fish, called a turtle, and worshipped the culinary image wherever he nozed it put up."
---The Contradiction (1796)

Thursday, 16 February 2012

By Porter and Limonade Inspir'd

Zounds!  A Dearth of recent Updates might have led my worthy Readers to believe that the Lady of Quality hath forever abandoned her Researches into the Tastes and Appetites of 18th Century Britons.  And although I entertain little Doubt that my inquisitive and efficacious Readers have had far more worthwhile Businesses on their Minds than to await the Thoughts and Opinions of this Blog's humble Authoress, I assure my Readers that from hereafter I shall endeavor to ensure that dreaded Grant Proposals and Dissertation-Writing will not, in the future, interfere with the Regularity of my Posts.

And since today the sun shines upon the Fertile-Grounds Coffee-House in the Eastern Bay, where the Lady of Quality presently writes, I was pleased to notice that this Coffee-House offered several pleasant cold drinks to regale the Palate.  Reader, I ordered a Lemonade.

"Limonade" on a sunny Berkeley Day
Lemonade, or "Limonade" was hardly unknown in 18th century Britain.  Even my beloved Thursday's Club –– the elite dinner club to which botanists, physicians, and other sundry Royal Society virtuosi subscribed –– was familiar with this refreshing drink.

While the original club rules only made provisions for wine, an amended rule in 1760 reflected these evolving tastes:

NB: As many of the Gentleman chose to drink Limonade, and Porter, the Treasurer always estimated these liquors at Equal in value to a bottle of wine, and paid 2 shillings in every reckoning for them, whatever numbers the company was.

Today's lemonade is rather simple –– nothing but a simple concoction of lemon juice, water, and sugar –– consumed on lazy summer days to quench one's thirst.  But I wondered what this early modern "Limonade" really entailed.
Tissot touted the medicinal properties
of lemonade, which were translated
for the English public's benefit

Seems like the same 'quenching properties' of lemonade were recognized then as now, although 18th century physicians tended to give it a decidedly medicinal flair.  The French physician Samuel-Auguste Tissot, for example, proposed it as a potential remedy to "malignant fevers" and "strokes in the sun,"calling it "the best drink in this disorder."  But in the case of a lemon scarcity, "Water and Vinegar" was deemed an appropriate substitute.  Hmm.  

But what about the Porter?  In the 18th century, this too was known as a peculiar London novelty beverage.  Contemporary recipes list a host of ingredients essential to brewing a good batch, ranging from Cinnamon to Liquorice Root, and from Treacle and "India Berries."

Although I've seen a handful of "Porter-Lemonade" concoctions –– sometimes described as a variation of the "Shandy" for sale at upscale modern British pubs –– I was not certain whether the custom was alive at this point in the 18th century.  It didn't take long, however, until my researches led me to discover yet another 18th century club: "The Robin Hood Society."  Seems like these guys had a particular penchant for the two drinks, either consumed separately or as a mixture.

"It is observable," wrote one satirist, "that among the Orators of this Society, those who quaff Porter, generally speak with great Gravity, unmeaning and solemnity, and un-interrupted dullness; while, on the other hand, those who drink Lemonade are impertinently witty, unseasonable smart, and acutely ridiculous. (1764)

Who knew that porter and lemonade were perceived to be so beneficial to the arts of elocution?  Normally you'd think a simple shot of liquid courage would do the trick.  But yet another satire remarked, "The writings of different authors have been compared to wines: but the orations delivered here can be resembled to nothing so properly as the liquors of the Society; for while they are once so weighty and so sharp, they seem to be an equal mixture of porter and lemonade." (1755)


"Debating Society, Picadilly" by Thomas Rowlandson (1808)
The Robin Hood Society met at a tavern, however, and I doubt
it was nearly as fancy
It is rather remarkable that the Thursday's Club seemed to announce its members' preferences for porter and lemonade at the exact same time that the literature about the Robin Hoods was first popping up.  One would think, therefore, that these two drinks were most likely valued by members of the Thursday's Club who wished to present themselves as cultured, health-conscious and progressive individuals thirsty for a lively intellectual debate without the soporific qualities induced by wine.

Sort of like a literati's Kombucha, I suppose.