Hot Toddy Time

Settle in with fall's seaworthy tripple.

October 4, 2007

As I write this, the last days of Indian summer are drifting away, and there’s been a bite in the evening air and a colder wind off the water. There is always a hot pot of coffee in the galley, and the thought of a slush margarita just doesn’t occur to me much right now.

What does occur to me are those days when the weather indeed turns cold and the sea becomes, in Walt Whitman’s words, a “howler and scooper of storms. Then my thoughts turn to hot toddies, which have been part of seagoing at least since the 17th century. It’s a very simple drink that can take myriad forms, and the word itself dates back to the days when the trade winds ran back and forth to India, where the Hindi word tari was used for the fermented sap of a palm tree.

Originally the drink was made cold, but as time wore on and the toddy became a favorite drink of British seamen, it became a cold-weather staple. In contrast to grog, which was simply heated, sometimes diluted, rum meant to keep body and soul together on British ships, toddies contain sugar and various spices. At its simplest, a toddy is a mixture of rum with boiling water, a couple of cloves, a stick of cinnamon, sugar and a lemon rind.


By the 19th century rum was joined by whiskey and brandy and had as much popularity on shore as off, sometimes with a lowly connotation distinct from the loftier associations that punch enjoyed among the upper class. An 1830s account remarked on the “universal practice of toddy drinking among the middle-class of the countryside. Brits and Americans even made it into a verb-to get toddied.

The pejorative wore off by the end of the century, allowing it to vie with punch and nogs as a festive drink. Nevertheless, you don’t hear that much about toddies these days unless it’s to help mellow the effects of a head cold, which, I assure you, it does with amazing charm: The steam can clear the sinuses, the rum relaxes you, and the vitamin C in the citrus fruits can’t hurt either.

The Black Stripe: The Black Stripe is a dandy fruit toddy, absorbing the sweet-sour flavors of maraschino cherries and honey with spices and rum.

Maraschino cherries 1 tsp. honey 2 cloves 1 stick cinnamon 1 oz. gold rum 1 oz. dark rum

In a heated mug crush 2 to 4 cherries with the honey. Add boiling water halfway up the mug, then stir with the cinnamon and add rums. Flame, if desired.

Tom and Jerry: One of my favorite old toddies, from a time when eggs were used to give drinks body, is the Tom and Jerry, created by “Professor Jerry Thomas in the 19th century, who also claimed responsibility for the martini (very much open to question). Today you can buy a bottle of froth-inducing liquid that gives you the same egg-white effect.

1 egg, separated 1 oz. rum 1 oz. brandy 1 Tbs. powdered sugar 1/8 tsp. powdered nutmeg 1/8 tsp. powdered cinnamon

Beat the egg yolk and the egg white in small separate bowls (the whites should form soft peaks). Combine and mix until well blended. Pour the rum and brandy into a serving mug. Add the powdered sugar, nutmeg and cinnamon, and mix to dissolve. Add the egg mixture and fill mug with boiling water. Top with a little grated nutmeg.


Blue Blazer: I am a little hesitant to recommend this dramatic drink, especially on board, because it takes a dexterous display of pyrotechnics.

1 tsp. sugar 2 oz. boiling water 2 oz. Scotch, heated Cinnamon stick

Heat two large mugs. In one, dissolve the sugar in the boiling water, and in the other, place the heated Scotch and-carefully-ignite with a match. Pour contents back and forth between the two mugs to create a stream of blue flame between them. (It’s even better in a darkened room.) When the flames die out, pour the drink into one mug, add a twist of lemon and a grating of cinnamon.

Bishop: Bishop is a form of toddy that is sometimes made with mulled wine or port, but as a form of toddy, a little brandy is usually added. It was a favorite drink of Samuel Johnson and may have derived its name from the color of the drink, which resembles a bishop’s robes.

1 orange 1 dozen cloves 2 cinnamon sticks 1 tsp. allspice 1 bottle ruby port 1 cup brandy

Stud the orange with the cloves and bake in a 300-degree oven for 30 minutes. In a saucepan combine the cinnamon sticks, allspice and 2 cups water, and bring to a boil. Boil down until reduced by half. In another saucepan heat the port just below the boiling point. In a punch bowl (rinsed with hot water) place the orange and the reduction, then add port and brandy. Serve in heated cups.


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