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A comfort drink - hot toddy

"If it could speak, the Toddy would whisper, “There, there, now. Just rest and feel better.” And who doesn’t need that every once in a while?"

Amy Zavatto/

Well I need a bit of comfort today, so I have abandoned the original post that I was working on and turned to my faithful Coles Magazine and hot toddy. The picture above is of their version which was featured in their June magazine. It's hot water poured on to whisky, lemon juice and honey and flavoured with lemon peel, cinnamon sticks, cloves and star anise. But that is, of course, only one version. It was featured at the beginning of their 'In season' section - the 'in season' item being citrus. It's not that cheap a remedy though - they say $4.42 per serve. You could go poor and just have lemon juice and honey mixed with boiling water. My favourite head cold cure. Though I will say that if you add some brandy it seems to give it a bit of extra palliative action.

There are at least three origin stories for hot toddy, though personally I reckon it is something that people have been making from ancient times. Alcohol has always been considered medicinal after all - and it is in certain contexts. As long as it is used for the right purpose in the right way. And alcohol seems to be one of the first things that man mastered when it came to doing things with food and drink other than roasting it on a stick over a fire or drinking it from a shell. Lemon and honey have been used as medicine too, so how more natural than when you were feeling a bit ill, or down that you would make yourself a warm drink. And if you were poor the only liquid available might have been water. Honey - also very ancient and medicinal. Lemon? Perhaps not so available to the British way back, so perhaps they used some herbs. And then they might have had some home-brewed alcohol that would have given it that extra kick.

However, the actual origin stories are as follows.

The first one. It's Indian. In the 1610s there was a drink made from fermented palm sap called taddy in the HIndu language. Mind you I think the original palm wine - its other name - was not drunk hot. Nevertheless in 1786 it was officially defined as "an alcoholic drink made with hot water, spices, and sugar." By whom the articles did not say but I'm guessing the British who may have tampered with the original idea. Like so much Indian food and drink, the British loved it, took it back home and made it their own. The Scots and Irish with whisky, the English sometimes with brandy - maybe even gin or rum.

Number two - it was the brainchild of a nineteenth century Dublin physician called Dr. Robert Bentley Todd - who prescribed his patients a drink made from brandy, cinnamon, sugar and hot water. Todd - toddy.

The third origin story is Edinburgh where the water from Tod's Well was heated, mixed with whisky and served in the local pubs.

I think I'd go with the Indians or the peasants.

The most interesting article that I found from my brief search of the net, was the one from by Amy Zavatto who talked to various bartenders about it's history and when is a hot toddy a hot toddy and when is it something else altogether - or as she says:

"But what happens when the Toddy is reimagined? What happens when its parameters—spirit, sweetening agent, lemon peel, hot water and perhaps a few aromatic cloves—are expanded, contracted or added to? Is it still a Toddy? Amy Zavatto/

Which is a question I have pondered on over the years with respect to any particular 'classic' dish I have talked about. You always have to ask what are the core things that make it the 'real' thing. When it comes to the hot toddy, one bartender - Brandon Lockman - said:

I’ve seen a lot of Toddy variations, but it basically boils down to alcohol, citrus, sweetener and hot water.”

The spices are extra, but the hot water is in fact the most important element. I guess it's the heat that provides the comfort factor.

"once you start digging, you realise it's not really a drink but more a loose family bonded by heat". New York Times

Which takes me back to the peasants, although the citrus part is a bit troubling historically for the British Isles, because 'ordinary people' in Britain could not afford any citrus fruit until the nineteenth century. Even the rich didn't get them until the 16th and 17th centuries.

It's a fasting day for me, it's cold and David is not that well, so comfort is required. Although I don't think it qualifies for a fasting day. Still the very thought is warming. And as I was about to close this shortish ramble down I found this:

"the Hot Toddy has a specific function in this world: It exists to light and fuel a little, glowing furnace somewhere between your heart and your liver ... It doesn’t sound like much, does it? Sugar, water, and booze. But here’s the thing: if you choose your ingredients carefully (by which I mean the booze—water is water and while there are plenty of types of sugar out there, which one you use won’t make or break the drink), the combination lights that furnace and keeps it glowing for a remarkably long time, as even the sharpest drafts and nastiest, most Arctic chills are beaten back into their holes. Your cheeks glow, your heart is off on a beach in Tobago, your gizzard is lounging around in its skivvies. Without all those extra frills and flounces to cushion its impact, the Toddy becomes an elemental, almost feral drink. It laughs at the cold, and you with it. ...

and to make it:

once the mug is warmed, it goes like this: Sugar, water, stir; booze, water, stir. Memorize that." The Daily Beast


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