Five Unusual Scottish Drinks from Days of Yore
From Glasgow Punch to Het Pint, we offer here recipes for some of the more obscure beverages enjoyed by the Scots in previous centuries. No responsibility is accepted for any repercussions, bodily or otherwise, from those who might be foolhardy enough to experiment with our ancestral liquid heritage.
(Mrs Dalgairns’ Recipe)
Juice from the birch tree 1., sugar, raisins, almonds, crude tartar
To every gallon of juice from the birch tree, three pounds of sugar, one pound of raisins, half an ounce of crude tartar, and one ounce of almonds are allowed; the juice, sugars and raisins are to be boiled twenty minutes, and then put into a tub, together with the tartar; and when it has fermented some days, it is to be strained, and put into the cask, and also the almonds, which must be tied in a muslin bag. The fermentation having ceased, the almonds are to be withdrawn, and the cask bunged up, to stand about five months, when it may be fined and bottled. Keep in a cool cellar. Set the bottles upright or they will fly.
1. About the end of March, or later if Spring is backward, bore a hole in a birch tree and put in a faucet and it will run for two or three days together without hurting the tree; then put in a pin to stop it and the next year you may draw as much from the same tree.
Pennant, writing in 1769, tells us that in the Aberdeenshire Highlands, the birch, which grows plentifully in this district, was applicable to a great variety of purposes for all implements of husbandry, for the roofing of houses and fuel; whilst with its bark leather was tanned and “quantities of wine are extracted from the live tree by tapping.”
From the bonny bells of heather,
They brewed a drink longsyne,
Was sweeter far than honey,
Was strong far than wine.
Robert Louis Stevenson
Crop the heather when it is in full bloom, enough to fill a large pot. Fill the pot, cover the crossings with water, set to boil, and boil for one hour. Strain into a clean tub. Measure the liquid and for every dozen bottles add one ounce of ground ginger, half an ounce of hops, and one pound of golden syrup. Set to boil again and boil for twenty minutes. Strain into a clean cask. Let it stand until milk-warm then add a teacupful of good barm. Cover with a coarse cloth and let it stand till next day. Skim carefully and pour the liquor gently into a tub so that the barm may be left at the bottom of the cask. Bottle and cork tightly. The ale will be ready for use in two or three days. This makes a very refreshing and wholesome drink as there is a good deal of spirit in heather.
This liquor, it appears from Boethius, was first used among the picts, but when they were extirpated by the Scots, the secret of preparing it perished with them.
Oatmeal, salt, water, milk
Put a heaped teaspoonful of oatmeal in a tumbler. pour a little cold water over it and stir well. Fill up half-way with boiling water, then to the top with boiling milk. Season with salt and serve. This is said to be splendid for nursing mothers.
In Shetland the name stoor-a-drink is given to a mixture of oatmeal and water or swats. In Aberdeen stouram is a kind of gruel.
Rum, cold water, sugar, lemons, limes
From Peters Letters 189
The sugar being melted with a little cold water the artist squeezed about a dozen lemons through a wooden strainer and then poured in water enough almost to fill the bowl. In this state the liquor goes by the name of sherbet and a few of the connoisseurs in his immediate neighbourhood were requested to give their opinion of it – for in the mixing of the sherbet lies, according to the Glasgow creed – at least one half of the whole battle. This being approved by an audible smack of the lips of the umpires, the rum was added to the beverage in something about the proportion of one to seven. Last of all the maker cut a few limes, and running each section rapidly round the rim of his bowl, squeezed in enough of this more delicate acid to flavour the whole composition. In this consists the true tour de maitre of the punch-maker. Glasgow Punch should be made of the coldest spring water newly taken from the spring. The acid ingredients above mentioned will suffice for a very large bowl.
Cascade hops on the vine
(Meg Dod’s Recipe)
Ale, sugar, eggs, whisky, nutmeg
Grate a nutmeg into two quarts of mild ale and bring it to the point of boiling. Mix a little cold ale with sugar necessary to sweeten this and three eggs well beaten. Gradually mix the hot ale with the eggs taking care that they do not curdle. Put in a half-pint of whisky and bring it once more nearly to boil and then briskly pour it from one vessel into another till it becomes smooth and bright.