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Cocktail (History Lesson) of the Week: Caudle

Whisky, oatmeal, ‘three large Blades of Mace’ – what’s not to like?
By Beatrix Swanson
Silver caudle cup, c. 1667
Silver caudle cup, c. 1667
Caudles, a kind of alcoholic, spiced gruel or set posset, feature frequently throughout the history of British cuisine, from the Middle Ages to the Victorian era. They were to be slurped before or between meals, and were seen as particularly suitable for invalids, new mothers and infants (regardless of the alcohol content!).

In some periods, caudles were based on milk and eggs, and similar to related drinks like eggnog and posset (a mixture of milk and wine); in others, they were more like drinkable porridge, as in our recipe. As Mary Spaulding explains in Nurturing Yesterday's Child: A Portrayal of the Drake Collection of Paediatric History (1991), gruel becomes caudle by the addition of ale, brandy or wine.

Indeed, Dorothy Hartley’s classic Food in England (1954) quotes a medieval manuscript describing "chef [chaud] ale" (caudle), and six cookbooks dating from 1734 to 1816, according to Spaulding, recommend the addition of wine, but suggest the substitution of ale to make "brown caudle" – we, however, will naturally be using whisky.
English Caudle Cup commemorating the restoration of the monarchy with Charles II, 1660

In 1714, Mary Kettilby and others published a cookbook by women, for women – or, according to the subtitle, For the Use of all Good Wives, Tender Mothers, and Careful NursesA Collection of above Three Hundred Receipts in Cookery, Physick and Surgery. The book’s caudle recipe (see below), which is relatively standard, uses "White or Rhenish-wine", but whisk(e)y should do just as well (though perhaps in a rather smaller quantity).*

A good Way to make Caudle.

To four full Quarts of Water, you may put a Pint of whole Oatmeal; let it boil very slow for five or six Hours at least; then strain it out, and put to two Quarts, three large Blades of Mace, a full Pint and a half of White or Rhenish-wine; and make it sweet to your Taste: And just as you take it off the Fire, slice in a Lemon, from which all the White is cut, which is apt, by lying long, to make it bitter; just the Yellow of the Peel may be put in. A little Salt does very well in Caudle, but is not often used.

There are a lot of cough, cold and fever recipes near the caudle in the Collection – clearly, this would make an excellent tonic for the intrepid cocktail-maker’s wintery sniffles! Otherwise, we can follow Hartley's idea that this "would be a popular brew today in many country pubs as there is nothing at present that well serves a really hungry man who is too tired to eat."

Once you've made your caudle, do as Hartley says: "Drink it as hot as possible – and go to bed at once."

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*Please note that the author is here acting in the capacity of historian, not gourmand, and cannot be held responsible for the outcome of any culinary experiments.

[Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons, Jonathan Dresner via Flickr]