Ever seen a “Prada” or “Gucci” purse at a swap meet for a suspiciously low price? Anything of value will eventually be counterfeited, and that includes food and drink. Sushi is notoriously dodgy, with trash fish standing in for pricier delicacies, and there have been scandals involving cheese and wines, but that’s not all. The world’s largest counterfeit food scam may be in honey, because there are thousands of tons of material labeled as honey coming from China that are really corn syrup or other sweeteners with food coloring added. It’s the same with alcohol, and particularly convenient for the fraudsters because by the time you have that first sip, you may be far away from the place where you bought it.
This is a longstanding problem – consider this bottle that one of my readers found at an estate sale:
Those who know Jamaican rums are probably familiar with Two Dagger, an excellent rum produced by Wray & Nephew. They also know from one glance that this isn’t it, and it’s not just that the the name on the label is plural instead of singular and the Wray & Nephew name isn’t there. If you look closely beneath the word “Rum” you will see the word “type” and those four letters devalue this bottle a lot. They mean it is quite possible that whatever is in this bottle isn’t all rum, or that it doesn’t contain any rum at all and is something else designed to taste like rum. What might that be? It’s hard to tell, because the raw material for Jamaican rum is molasses, and on that island it’s about the cheapest thing that can be fermented and distilled. Given that some fraudsters are quite willing to misrepresent what they’re selling, this might not be from Jamaica at all.
My best guess is that this bottle dates from the 1950’s or 1960’s based on the typography, and that it was bottled for sale to unwary tourists. I could be wrong, and would welcome any enlightenment – has anybody else seen a bottle like this?
Though most posts on this site involve food and beverage, I have long had an interest in 16th Century theater and culture, and at one point was Theater Director for a nonprofit historical society. In that capacity, and later as an instructor at Osher Institute/UCLA Extension, I developed a lecture series called “What Shakespeare Left Out. I still occasionally present talks about the structure of Elizabethan society and the way it was reflected in Shakespeare’s plays. One of my more popular programs involves the class structure of Britain, which at that time had a rigid dress code.
That code was written into law in 1574, and it regulates in minute detail what people of different classes could wear. The text immediately below governs the nobility, and has been abridged to modernize some terms and avoid repetition:
No man shall wear cloth of gold or silver, or silk of purple color except Earls, all above that rank, and Knights of the King (and then only in their mantles).
None shall wear cloth of gold or silver, tinseled satin, silk, cloth mixed or embroidered with gold or silver, or foreign woolen cloth except Barons, all above that rank, Knights of the Garter, and Privy Councillors.
None shall wear any lace of gold or silver, lace mixed with gold or silver, silk, spurs, swords, rapiers, daggers, buckles, or studs with gold, silver or gilt except Baron’s Sons, all above that rank, Gentlemen attending the Queen, Knights and Captains.
None shall wear velvet in gowns, cloaks, coats, or upper garments, or embroidery with silk, or hose of silk except Knights, all above that rank, and their heirs apparent.
None shall wear velvet, satin, damask, taffeta, or grosgrain in gowns, cloaks, coats, or upper garments, or velvet in their jerkins, hose or doublets. except Knight’s Eldest Sons and all above that rank.
None shall wear cloth of gold or silver, or silk of purple color except Countesses and all above that rank.
None shall wear silk or cloth mixed with or embroidered with silk, pearls, gold or silver except Baronesses and all above that rank.
None shall wear cloth of silver in belts or kirtles except Wives of Knights and all above that rank.
None shall wear embroideries of gold, silver or silk (mixed) or headdresses trimmed with pearls except Wives of Baron’s Eldest Sons, all above that rank, Baron’s Daughters, Wives of King’s Knights or Privy Councillors, or Maids of Honor.
None shall wear velvet in upper garments or embroidery with silk thread except Knight’s Wives and all above that rank.
None shall wear velvet in kirtles or petticoats, or satin in gowns, cloaks and other outer garments except Wives of Knight’s Eldest Sons, Gentlewomen attending Countesses, and all above that rank.
None shall wear satin, damask, taffeta or grosgrain in their gowns except Landed Gentlemen’s Wives and all above that rank.
Among the middle and lower classes, there were still more restrictions – on the cost of fabric in clothing, on the quality of jewelry, and on the height of men’s hats and shoes. Gentlemen could wear swords, which were a fashion statement as well as a weapon, and ladies might wear a single or double ruff depending on their husband or father’s income and social status.
Where people were restricted as to the quality of the cloth they wore, they would make up for it with ornate embroidery, the finest buttons allowed, and finally, with simple volume of fabric. An edict of 1562 read:
“For the reformation of the use of the monstrous and outrageous greatness of hose, crept alate into the realm to the great slander thereof, being driven for the maintenance thereof to seek unlawful ways as by their own confession have brought them to destruction: it is ordained that no tailor, hosier, or other person, whosoever he shall be, after the day of the publication hereof, shall put any more cloth in any one pair of hose for the outside than one yard and a half, or at the most one yard and three-quarters of a yard of kersey or of any kind of cloth, leather, or any other kind of stuff above the quantity; and in the same hose to be put only one kind of lining besides linen cloth next to the leg if any shall be so disposed; the said lining not to lie loose or bolstered, but to lie just unto their legs, as in some ancient time was accustomed; sarcanet, muckender, or any other like thing used to be worn, and to be plucked out for the furniture of the hose, not to be taken in the name of the said lining.”
The very fact that these laws needed to be made shows how the human desire to be social climbers is eternal. It also tells you something very important about how audiences reacted to each character as they came on stage. They may not have known who that person was, but they knew what they were, their social status compared to everyone else on stage. There is an element of fraud to anyone who pretends to be something they are not, dresses in a way that does not reflect their actual place in society. Many scenes in Shakespeare’s plays have less impact to a modern audience because of the fact that we don’t have that immediate and instinctive reaction to the arrival of someone who is vastly more important than everyone already there. Those with experience in the military might consider the effect on a group of private and sergeants if a general were to arrive unexpectedly and have a pretty good idea what this was like.
Modern costumers and theater producers often ignore these rules, either because they are ignorant of them or because it will cost the theater company a lot more money to dress people appropriately. It is worth doing, because when done well and consistently the audience gets it even if it has never been explained to them.
Charles Dickens is revered, but only a few of his works are frequently read, which is a pity. A look at his writings reveals not only a lot about his society, but also much about the author that we can sympathize with. That goes double if we appreciate the pleasures of the table. Dickens was a sensualist and an enthusiast for the finest food and beverages. He was a rare Victorian gentleman who did much of the shopping for his household, and purchased the finest wines, whiskeys, and brandies for his cellar. In appreciating good scotch whiskeys he was ahead of his time, because that was not a common enthusiasm in those days.
The beverage that he seems to have most enjoyed was a punch of his own recipe, which he wrote down in a letter to his cousin Amelia Austin Filloneau, who evidently had requested it after a party or gathering at his home. He sent a it to her on January 18, 1847, with the note, “I hope it will make you a beautiful punchmaker in more senses than one.” The recipe and abridged instructions are reprinted by permission from Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl by David Wondrich, Perigee Books, copyright 2010. If you are at all interested in beverages of the Victorian period, you should own at least one copy.
Please note that if you recreate this beverage, neither that author or Richard Foss may be held responsible for kitchen fires, inebriation, sudden and unforeseen attraction to other people consuming it, or other consequences.
Original recipe: To make three pints of punch, peel into one very strong common basin (which may be broken, in case of accident, without damage to the owner’s peace or pocket), the rinds of three lemons, cut very thin, and with as little as possible of the white coating between the peel and the fruit, attached. Add a double handfull of lump sugar (good measure), a pint of good old rum, and a large wine-glass full of brandy- if it not be a large claret glass, say two. Set this on fire, by filling a warm silver spoon with the spirit, lighting the contents at a wax taper, and pouring them gently in. Let it burn for three or four minutes at least, stirring it from time to time. Then extinguish it by covering the basin with a tray, which will immediately put out the flame. Then squeeze in the juice of three lemons, and add a quart of boiling water. Stir the whole well, cover it up five minutes, and stir again.
At this crisis, having skimmed off the lemon pips with a spoon, you may taste. If not sweet enough, add sugar to your liking, but observe that it will be a little sweeter presently. Pour the whole into a jug, tie a leather or coarse cloth over the top, so as to exclude the air completely, and stand it in a hot oven ten minutes, or on a hot stove one-quarter of an hour. Keep it until it comes to the table in a warm place near the fire, but not too hot. If it be intended to stand three or four hours take the lemon peel out, or it will have a bitter taste.
Suggested modern procedure: Use an enameled cast-iron pot for the basin, or something else heatproof, but not aluminum. A crockpot can be used, but let it heat to medium before setting the fire. This will fume eh alcohol, and eliminate any danger of cracking the crock.
Use six ounces of Demerara sugar, 20 ounces of rum and 6 of Courvoisier VSOP, the kind Dickens kept in his cellar. David Wondrich’s book has an essay on recommended rums – brands include Smith & Cross and Sea Wynde. I use Jamaican medium dark rum or a mix of Myers’ dark and an amber rum – the more expensive rums do make a slightly better product. You can use Raynal brandy, which has a cognac flavor but is far less expensive.
The fire melts the sugar and extracts the oil from the lemon peel. Dickens’ advice about lighting the spirits from a metal spoon is sound – do not try to light the whole pot while holding the match in your hand. You may have trouble lighting the alcohol on fire unless you heat the mixture slightly to make it fume. The alternative is to take a more alcoholic rum, like Wray & Nephew overproof, and use a spoonful of that as a liquid fuse. If you heat this over a stove be very careful to avoid spills because it will burn.
The water should be Imperial measure, or 40 ounces, rather being based on the American quart, which is 16 ounces rather than 20.
The punch can be drunk hot or cold, and if you remove the lemon peel will keep for days if kept cool and sealed. Grate a bit of fresh nutmeg over each cup before serving for an added Victorian flavor. Dickens was a master punchmaker, and the sweet and sour flavor with a hint of spice will delight your guests. When you serve it, raise a glass to the master of literature and hospitality.