History Of The Hot Toddy
A lot of these old drinks that we still make today are actually really hard to find information on. Hot buttered rum, hot ale flip, buttered beer, toddies, etc. Most actual written recipes are around the mid 1800s and later. Books were mostly published for histories and stories, but skills and trades were just taught from master to apprentice. There were a few but not like there is today. One tries to piecemeal as much as they can together.
In a 1769 book “A Dissertation On The Oleum Palmae Christi” by Peter Canvane he mentions adding medicines to “warm milk punch, common punch, or toddy, in which a hot poker has been quenched.” as ways of administering medicine to those who complain about the taste. (Total side note. All the really old stuff has the long “S” character ( “ʃ” ) but I changed it to a normal “s” in the quote, it looks like kinda like an f but it’s just another symbol for s that we don’t use anymore. Thats why the Declaration of Independence looks like they spelled everything wrong.) In an 1783 fictional book “Smyth’s Tour of The United States” by J.F.D. Smyth, he notes that his character likes to “take a draught of Bumbo, or toddy, a liquor composed of water, sugar, rum and nutmeg.” There was also a kinda funny romance story from 1741 I found, where a beautiful lady walks into the kitchen and ask the lord of the house for a toddy. “Would you like it hot, or cold? warm I replied.”
All silliness aside the point I am trying to get at is, there is no actual formal recipe to make a toddy but the parts and qualities of a toddy. There are as many toddies as there are people. What matters are the parts, so based on the works I referenced lets brake those parts down.
- The first reference points to the colonial American way of heating up drinks. Not by using a stove but by using a hot fireplace poker often called a toddy rod or loggerhead. In a home setting a stove probably was used as it was already fired up for cooking food but in a tavern it was more efficient to simply place iron rods in the already running fireplace. Rather than having a stove run all night just to be ready for the occasional warm drink they could simply dip the toddy rod into the drinks people request warmed.
- The second reference give us the ingredient of the toddy. The 4 parts are water, sugar, rum, and nutmeg. Now any spice will do but it is worth noting that even in the early 1862 Bartenders guide only nutmeg is mentioned when adding spice toddies.
- The third reference lets us know that toddies were served both hot and cold and sometimes warm. Now I am willing to bet that a cold toddy was just not a heated one. Commercial refrigeration was not invented till the 1850s so access to blocks of ice was limited mostly to business. and while they did have ice houses that saved ice for most of the summer (some stayed in use up to the 1930s), something as special as ice was not going to be wasted on a single drink.
So for this hot toddy recipe I will stick to those points. Using only rum, water, sugar and nutmeg. Heated up with a toddy rod. Almost every recipe you find has lemon juice added it to add to its medicinal qualities but since that is not traditional to the 18th or 19th century I will leave it out and stick to the classic structure. On a fun side note, did you know the original name for the muddler was actually the toddy stick. Thats right, It was based off the pestle from the mortar and pestle but made of wood so it wouldn’t shatter glass cups. The shape was perfect for smashing together fruits, spices and sugar cubes.
Do Hot Toddies Actually Help You Feel Better When You Are Sick
So the short answer is, I guess… sure. The long answer is it depends on what ailment you hope to relieve. Western medicine has come a long way since the 18th century but there are three reasons a person makes a hot toddy today other than it just tasting good. 1). When they have a soar throat. 2). When their sinuses are congested and 3). It just feels nice to cozy up with one during the winter. The main health benefit from a hot toddy comes from honey, if you use sugar then you are missing most of the benefits of a hot toddy. Honey is actually a pretty awesome nectar and has shown to have anti-inflammatory properties. In some lab studies if is found to reduce pro-inflammatory cytokines, this combined with the warm steam from the drink can help reduce congestion as that is a inflammation of the sinuses. Or you can pop some Sudafed during the day and Benadryl at night as those are some of the present day gold standards of over the counter anti-inflammation medication.
Ignoring mechanical irritation of ones throat like screaming a bunch, the most common reason for a sore throat is infection and the bodies natural response to infection is inflammation. So again its honey with that anti-inflammatory response, or you could just pop an ibuprofen or naproxen as they would be a more effective treatment. And the last point is it just feels good to cozy up with one, and it does. Being cozy just makes you feel happy, but did you also know that nutmeg is a hallucinogen. The dose is so low that its hard to credit any effect on the brain to the nutmeg but it does contain myristicin which in large doses can make people trip. Maybe that good feeling is just a psychedelic nut and alcohol induced feeling. Some people are very sensitive to nutmeg and the active chemicals in it and get pounding headache from even the smallest amount. So don’t ever use too much nutmeg and don’t use it for the purpose of getting high and be careful as it can be dangerous in large doses. Make wise choices.
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