Friday, May 30, 2014

Fathom the Bowl

By Lacey Villiva
Education Manager

Drinking in the 18th century was often a very communal activity, and begun at a young age, as cited by our previous blog on the topic.  George Mason was no exception.  He kept cellars at Gunston Hall, as evidenced by the sheer number of wine bottle seals uncovered through archaeology.  Through documentation it is also believed that Mason made cider, peach brandy and a cherry liquor of some sort.  Mason himself, however, is described in his son John's Recollections of John Mason, as being "abstemious - and particularly in drinking..." Which, considering the fact that Mason was producing alcohol is very interesting.  On the other hand, John goes on to say that he "drank a glass or two of wine a every day, when wine was to be had."  It may be said that in an age in which it was often unsafe to drink water, Mason drank alcohol in careful moderation.  Especially because of the tradition John goes on to describe.

John states: "We dined in those days at two o'clock.  [George Mason's] habit was every day between 1 and 2 to send for one of his sons to make the bowl of toddy which was compounded always of West India Spirits, loaf sugar, and water - with a little nutmeg grated over the top."  Toddy and punch were very similar beverages with many descriptions of the blending and mixing of alcohol, sugar and water, with nutmeg for a garnish.  Punch most commonly is improved by the addition of citrus.  In 1808, the London based Sporting Magazine carried an article on punch which opined that "punch is wholesomer than...toddy, which is grog with the addition of sugar."  He goes on to note that "It is remarked that the drinkers of toddy get sooner intoxicated than those who drink punch."  Both beverages can be served hot or cold dependent on the alcohol added to them and the time of year.  In this case, it sounds as if Mason was serving a cold toddy with, or just before, the midday meal.

A toddy ladle with a baleen handle.  Baleen was often used in
 the handles of such ladles as it floats should the instrument fall
into the bowl.  This ladle in the the shop at Gunston Hall.
 John also says that Mason "drank his toddy just before dinner every day, made very weak."  Like the Roman practice of mixing water with wine at gatherings centuries before, the pungency of the toddy was very dependent on the maker and the recipe. It took some skill, and knowledge about how sugars, alcohols and waters blended.  In Mason's time, rum was the most common base for both punch and toddy.  While it is not unusual that either drink might be made with gin, whiskey or an Asian liquor called arrack, we can be sure that Mason was using rum based on his son's reference to "West India Spirits."  The name toddy, however, may refer to the original use of the Asian arrack rather than rum.

Toddy was on of the names for the wine of the palm tree found in southeast Asia.  Arrack was often a term given to liquors of local manufacture which were made from a variety of plants.  Eventually, arrack came to either the distilled palm wine from Sri Lanka, or, when spelled arak, licorice flavored liquor in the Middle East. In 1859 Sir James Emmerson Tennent gave an account of Ceylon, or Sri Lanka, remarking that cultivated palm "trees are devoted to 'Toddy' drawing, the liquor being drunk fermented, distilled into arrack, or converted into sugar."  Rack, or Arrack Punch was very popular in 17th and 18th centuries.  These beverages were so popular that they spawned songs about them.  One such song remains in modern memory called Fathom the Bowl.  It's date of origin is unclear, but the song clearly refers to the communal practice of drinking punch and toddy.

Come all ye bold heroes give an ear to me song,
We'll sing in the praise of good brandy and rum,
It's a clear crystal fountain near Ireland doth roll,
Give me the punch ladle, I'll fathom the bowl.

I'll fathom the bowl,
I'll fathom the bowl,
Give me the punch ladle
I'll fathom the bowl.

From France we do get brandy, from Jamaica comes rum,
Sweet oranges and apples from Portugal come,
But stout and strong cider are Ireland's control,
Give me the punch ladle, I'll fathom the bowl.

I'll fathom the bowl,
I'll fathom the bowl,
Give me the punch ladle
I'll fathom the bowl.

Roud 880: "Fathom the Bowl" Accessed online, 29 May 2014.
"Sir John Sinclair, On Punch" The Sporting Magazine, vol 32, London, 1808, p215.  Accessed online, 29 May 2014.
Tennent, Sir James Emmerson. Ceylon: An Accounty of the Island, vol 2. London: Longman, Green, Longman and Roberts, 1859.  Accessed online, 29 May 2014.

Wondrich, David. Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl.  NewYork: Penguin, 2010.

No comments:

Post a Comment