Imperial Britons, stationed in withering climes but determined to keep wearing knits and eating roasts, were of necessity drunks. And although today certain brands of gin try to market themselves as the face of Victorian alcoholism, in the heyday of the Raj, when mad dogs and Englishmen came out of the mid-day sun, it was often to cool themselves off over an enormous bowl of boozy, sugary punch. This poses the obvious question: what must their hangovers have been like?
To find out for ourselves, we threw a party.
Nothing approaches the torpor and desperate whimsy of late empire like grad students throwing a theme party. The friends of cookingtheraj, bless them, were more than game, bringing drinks, snacks, and bar-tending wisdom, and, for the most part, politely pretending not to notice Blake’s attempts at dancing. In return, we punished their bodies with strange punches and a pastry you won’t believe isn’t from a state fair.
Drink 1) Imagine that half your friends want Cuba libres, the other half want egg-nog, and you’re too lazy to make more than one drink. You might turn to The Indian Cookery Book, which offers a “milk punch” made of rum, limes, milk, and nutmeg. It’s easy to make, if not to drink. Just peel the limes, leaving the peels steeping in the rum overnight. The following night (or morning if it’s the holidays), squeeze the lime juice into the milk and give it half an hour to curdle. Add the rum and nutmeg, stir, and try not to smell it.
It’s not so bad, though! At least for a few shots. Well, it definitely tilts more to ‘surprising you can drink it at all’ than ‘good’.
Our next drink was a resounding success, although it started just as gross.
Drink 2) Europeans in India drank a lot of the local arrack, a rum-like liquor made from sugar. Arrack never took off in the metropole, but, for some reason, it did become a hit in Sweden, which now produces its own arrack. The beverage seems to have been brought back by employees of the Swedish East India Company, part of the once far-flung Swedish empire. The latter is now reduced to a deli in Andersonville, where, to our horror, they could not locate their arrack among the dusty boxes of pickled fish and ginger cookies. Luckily, a boutique liquor store around the corner had a bottle, proving that we are not the only terrible hipsters having misguided theme parties.
The bottle’s label accurately warned us that arrack has ‘distinctive notes of smoke and leather’, which is label-speak for ‘tire fire in grandpa’s basement’. Letting it breathe only made it smokier.
We were rescued by friends who convinced us to turn the arrack into an iced tea, and to sweeten it with an oleo-saccharum. Being the kind of people who think getting a bag of ice makes a party ‘fancy’, we were unfamiliar with this pseudo-classical mixer. But after pouring some sugar over a pile of lemon zest and letting it sit for a half-an-hour, we had a grainy brown goop that turned our arrack iced tea into the hit of the party. Plus, oleo-saccharum and [iced] tea are 100% Victorian, so we upheld our commitment to historical accuracy!
(adapted liberally from the original recipe, which called for 6 quarts of rum)
Steep the rind of two limes in a bottle of rum for at least a day. Combine with a quarter cup lime juice, a cup of sugar, half quart milk, and much more nutmeg than you think is necessary. Stir well and often.
Sweet Arrack Tea
Brew a large pot of black tea. Combine with half bottle of arrack. Make oleo-saccharum by adding the zest of six lemons to a cup of sugar. Stir together and serve chilled.
Macaroni Cheese Pie
Macaroni cheese pie is an amazing invention that developed somewhere in the intersection between Scottish and West Indian cuisine. The internet will tell you it is supposed to be made with a hot water pastry crust and cheddar cheese. We used a classic American preparation–Pillsbury premade pie crust–and mac and cheese made with scraps of cheese leftover from a reception in the history department.
Line the cups of a muffin tin with pie crust and fill with cooled mac and cheese. Sprinkle with more cheese and bake for 20-25 min. Eat warm, cold, or hungover.
Peepsage to India update! We did not win fame, fortune or a toothbrush in the St. Paul Pioneer Press’s annual Peeps diorama contest, but we did get called out and shamed (and rightly so), as “a couple of Northwestern University Ph.D. students who decided to wield their expertise on European colonialism in India by dressing marshmallow rabbits in turbans instead of working on their theses.”