Aah summertime! Somehow it seems the hotter days are seemingly already upon us, and as the thermometer rises, the conversation around Conner Prairie often turns to the heat and haze of Indiana summers. The sweltering heat can sometimes be overpowering in 2010, and so when we look to earlier eras, as we all want to do here at Conner Prairie, the question is often asked of how people stayed cool in the 19th-century?
The obvious methods of opening windows and doors come to mind, as does staying out of the mid day sun; however, in the stillness of a hot Indiana summer day, this no doubt only partially helped. That’s when we have dig a little deeper to see what folks did to try and beat the heat! We have to look through the pages of history to see what can be revealed.
One source that we can use is books published during this time. This way we can see what authors of the era said. Cookbooks such as "The American Frugal Housewife" by Lydia Child published in 1833, as well as "The Kentucky Housewife" published in 1839 by Mrs. Lettice Bryan can provide insights into what was popular to drink and keep cool!
I’ve transcribed a few tasty summer drinks below to give you an idea of what folks served on hot summer days to quench their thirst. Some of them you’ll surely recognize, while there may be new ones that are surprising to you.
Lemon Syrup and Lemonade from "The Kentucky Housewife" by Mrs. Lettice Bryan
Select one dozen large deep colored lemons, weigh eight pounds of loaf sugar, break it up in large pieces, and with it grate or rub off all the yellow rind of the lemons; put them in a bowl, pour on them three pints of boiling water, cover it and let it stand till it gets cold; then squeeze in all the juice from the twelve decorticated lemons, mix it well, put it into small bottles, corking them securely, and keep them in a cool place. A very little of this syrup, mixed with ice water, makes a cooling effervescent drink in summer. Lime syrup may be prepared in the same manner.
Take ripe lemons, roll them under your fingers on a table till they appear like they are full of juice; then squeeze the juice into a bowl, to each pint of which allow three pints of water, or if in summer, allow two and a half pints of water and a lump of ice equal to the other half pint.* Sweeten it to your taste with loaf sugar, and serve it up in small glasses.
*When rolling the lemons, they fail to mention- you need to cut them in half before you juice them!
Raspberry Shrub from The "American Frugal Housewife" by Lydia Child
Raspberry shrub mixed with water is a pure and delicious drink for summer; and in a country where raspberries are abundant, it is good economy to make it answer instead of Port and Catalonia wine. Put raspberries in a pan, and scarcely cover them with strong vinegar. Add a pint of sugar to a pint of juice; (of this you can judge by first trying your pan to see how much it holds) scald it, skim it, and bottle when cold.
I’ll leave you with a final simple drink from the book "Practical Housekeeping", also known as the "Buckeye Cookbook" first published in 1878. It’s for a simple drink called Grandmother’s Harvest Drink. Mix together one quart of water, table-spoon of sifted ginger, three heaping table-spoons of sugar, and a half pint of vinegar. Simple, yet surprisingly thirst quenching!
So the next time you’re trying to keep cool and summer’s heat has your thirst in need of quenching, take a look at these historic recipes and see if they work for you as they did for our ancestors!