I made a terrible strategic error the other day, mistaking Old Man Winter’s toothless and gummy early attack, followed by January’s balminess, as a sign he was weak, that he’d been easily tamed this year, that global warming had finally triumphed over the season’s bone-breaking bitterness. As I strode out of my Old Port apartment clad in my favorite jeans — the pair we all have, made frail and thin by repeated washings and vented in indiscrete places — it didn’t occur to me that the old man was just playing rope-a-dope.
Oh what a difference a day makes! Yesterday’s 40 degrees and calm winds was now 6 degrees and blustery. It took me a minute to catch my breath. I turned my collar against the wind and quickened my pace up Exchange Street as a phrase from S. S. Field’s American Drink Book crept into my head: The winter winds do howl up ye pantaloon leg! (And, I realized, through cracks and crevices closer to the crux of the matter!)
Field’s book, first published in 1953, is a clever and engaging (if fanciful) history of the drinking customs of our early Republic, complete with an extensive — though now mostly obsolete — section on wines. Also included is a series of primers on “What You Should Know About” various spirits and liqueurs. (“What You Should Know About Vodka” is my favorite. “Not much,” Field begins, and the section ends a scant three paragraphs later with, “Otherwise, Vodka should be drunk ice cold and well-surrounded with food.”) The recipes for what Field considers “The 100 Greatest American Drinks” and his accompanying commentary are worth the price of the book.
When I arrived home that evening, still breathless but with my manhood more or less intact, I pulled Field from the bookshelf and settled into his section on “Warmers.”
A full description of the Tom and Jerry can be found in the December 2007 edition of this column on thebollard.com. I’ll add here that though tradition asks us to use hot water as the vehicle for heating this mixture, our tastes run to deploying hot milk for a richer and more warming quaff. Field’s recipe also seems a little parsimonious in the spice department, as it relies solely on allspice. Adding ground cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon (use a light touch here!) rounds out the flavor profile.
Hot Buttered Rum probably has its antecedents in some of the weirder drinks from the English Middle Ages, like Posset, Syllabub and Caudle — drinks that featured hot beer, eggs, cream, spices and, occasionally, butter, in various combinations. We don’t mourn their passing, preferring their streamlined and higher-octane offspring of the American colonial era.
Some recipes for Hot Buttered Rum call for the spices and sugar to be added to the glass, and then the drink is finished with unsalted butter. This is Field’s approach. We, however, are partial to the other method, mixing butter, spices and sugar only once and keeping a batch of the flavored butter on the kitchen counter all season long, ready to be deployed at a moment’s notice.
Under the proper circumstances, a Hot Toddy … is one of the clearest signs I know that there is a providential plan to the universe. Of course, those circumstances include things like faulty central heating, dripping eaves, gray mists and moth-eaten cardigan sweaters, all of which are in short supply in modern American life. But it’s almost worth artificially creating them just to feel the blissful warmth seeping farther into every muscle and nerve with each sip until, as far as your body is concerned, you’re laying out on the Grand Anse beach in Grenada, not hunched against a cold and cutting nor’easter.
— Dave Wondrich, Imbibe!
The Hot Toddy is a study in pure efficacy — it does something, and does it exceedingly well, at that — but we love this cocktail for its flexibility. Simply put, a Hot Toddy is a heated single serving of an old 18th century–style punch, and should be treated with as free and inventive a hand as the mixer can muster. It can be sweetened with anything you like, from honey or maple syrup to the various shades and grades of cane; fortified with nearly any brown liquor at hand, whether brandy, applejack, any of the whiskies, or rum; flavored with citrus peels, cloves, cinnamon sticks, nutmeg, or even a dollop of your favorite liqueur. My father’s recipe for us kids when we were stricken with the croup featured a crushed aspirin mixed with honey.
We’re used to seeing Brandy Milk Punches on the brunch table down in New Orleans, where they fortify the awakening, bottle-fatigued denizens of the Crescent City against the stifling heat and humidity of their native clime. A Hot Rum Milk Punch is its contrarian brother, and in Field’s opinion, “One of the loveliest sleep-inducers known to man. Should be served in bed, with firelight dancing on the walls …” I suggest foregoing Field’s use of gold rum and reaching instead for Cruzan’s Black Strap bottling. It contributes a big, fat, molasses-y richness that should soon have you dancing with the Sandman.
But keep your britches on, because, oooh baby, it’s cold outside!
— John Myers
Recipes (From The American Drink Book)
Tom and Jerry
Work into the beaten yolk of 1 egg a teaspoon of maple sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of allspice, 1 jigger of white or gold label rum, beating until smooth and thick. Beat separately the egg white to a stiff froth and add to the above mixture, stirring well as 1/2 jigger of brandy is poured in. Put this mixture into a preheated Tom and Jerry mug, fill with hot milk or boiling water, and dust with nutmeg.
Hot Buttered Rum
Scald a mug or Old Fashioned glass [that is, fill with hot water and let stand until ready to use]. Put in 1 teaspoon of maple sugar, 1 slice of lemon studded with 6 cloves, 1 stick of cinnamon and a pinch of nutmeg. Pour in 2 ounces of gold label rum, fill with boiling water and drop in a generous gob of unsalted butter. Carefully float a flaming tablespoon of rum on top.
1 teaspoon of sugar, 1 slice of lemon, 3 cloves, 1 piece of cinnamon bark, 2 ounces of Puerto Rican rum. Place ingredients in a small mug or bar glass, add boiling water and dust with nutmeg.
Hot Rum Milk Punch
1 teaspoon of sugar, 1 dash of bitters, 1 jigger of gold label rum, 1 cup of very hot milk. Mix in a preheated shaker or electric mixer, and serve in a large mug with a pinch of nutmeg.
Hot Buttered Rum Butter
Let 1 pound of unsalted butter soften on the kitchen counter in a mixing bowl. In a separate vessel, mix 2 teaspoons each of cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice and 1 teaspoon of ground cloves. Add 1 cup of brown sugar (or a mixture of brown sugars like Muscovado, etc.). Mix the dry ingredients into the butter either with your fingers or a food processor until it is very well mixed.
For the drink:
1 ounce of dark, aged or spiced rum (again, Cruzan Black Strap is good here)
1 ounce of a lighter rum
1/2-3/4 ounce of simple syrup
Fill with hot water. Stir in 1/2 tablespoon of the butter mixture.