Robinson Crusoe Quote

"He preferred, however, "gourmandization," was an idolater of a certain decent, commodious fish, called a turtle, and worshipped the culinary image wherever he nozed it put up."
---The Contradiction (1796)

Friday, 6 May 2011

Cheyne's Rules: On Punch

Allow me to introduce a new correspondent on this blog: Dr. George Cheyne, Scottish physician and nutrition guru (he even ran his own wellness spa cum resort for a while).  But he was probably most famous for his best-selling self-help books and extreme weight fluctuations (at his peak he was 450 pounds).

Kind of like the Oprah of the 1720s.

Anyway, Cheyne wrote volumes and volumes about what one should and shouldn't eat.  He had thoughts about everything from raising livestock to how to sleep properly to regulating one's bowel movements.  Nothing escaped his criticism.

Here are some of his thoughts on punch, from An Essay upon Long Life (1724).   

"Next to Drams, no Liquor deserves more to be stigmatized and banished the Repasts of the Tender, Valetudinary, and Studious, than PUNCH.  ‘Tis a Composition of such Parts, as not one of them is salutary, or kindly to such Constitutions, except the pure Element in it...”

And: "The principal Ingredient is Rum, Brandy, Arrack, or Malt Spirits, as they are called, all of them raised by the Fire... [which] retains a caustick, corrosive and burning quality for ever afterwards... [I]t is likest Opium, both in its Nature, and in the Manner of its Operation, and nearest Arsenick in its deleterious and poisonous Qualities."  

Leading him to conclude: "And so I leave it to them, Who knowing this, will yet drink on and Die."

But Cheyne was hardly the only person to hate on punch.  Beginning in the mid-17th century, foreign goods –– chocolate, tea, coffee, but also hard alcohol, or what were referred to as "spirituous liquors" –– began to take England by storm.  Imagine what a difference the latter made to a people who had for centuries pretty much subsisted on beer and cider.  Not only was punch yet another example of a foreign luxury causing drunkenness, violence and moral turpitude, but nothing in it –– the spices, the fruit, the various kinds of booze –– was native to England.  Indeed, Cheyne doesn't only criticize the actual alcohol used to make the punch, but reserves a lot of venom for the Spanish lemons and oranges in it too.  

It didn't help that punch was known as a communal party drink for rakish men rather than an emblem of civility.  Perhaps Hogarth can give us a good impression of what went down at one of these so-called punch parties.  Look on the left side, sort of towards the back.  There's a woman drinking punch in what I like to call the 'Dionysian Style' –– ie. straight out of the bowl.  

Hogarth, 'The Rake's Progress: Plate 3- The Orgy' 1732
Tom Rakewell consorts with a brothel of syphilitic prostitutes
(The entire series of the Rake's Progress, actually, is worth checking out)

Using a friend's 18th century cookery receipt, I made some a while ago (it contained batavian arrack, rum, brandy, green tea, and champagne, seasoned with coriander seeds, cinnamon, cloves, pineapples and lemons).  Below, dear readers, is journalistic proof that almost three hundred years later, the pleasures of the punch bowl continue to seduce the 21st century palate.  

Punch Consumption circa 2011