Green River Star -

By David Martin

An 18th century experiment


Sometimes, it’s hard to know where a person will end up after falling down the rabbit hole known as Youtube.

A person could start watching videos about ancient Roman civilization and end up watching clips from Andre the Giant’s greatest professional wrestling matches.

This happened to me recently while watching cooking videos and I somehow ended up finding a series dedicated to recreating recipes from the 1700s.

The series, “18th Century Cooking with Jas. Townsend and Son” is produced by a company specializing in producing period-specific items mainly for the historical re-enacting crowd, especially those re-enacting colonial America. The videos are designed to help sell the company’s wares, which is expected, but they go beyond simple promotion though the host’s research and work in recreating foods enjoyed 200 years ago.

Some of the foods are surprisingly contemporary, such as fried onion rings, while others probably won’t be seeing a resurgence in popularity anytime soon. One recipe I recently tried from the video series is a refreshing drink the host billed as an 18th century energy drink, though it is more similar to Gatorade than the Red Bull or Monster energy drinks.

Switchel is a very easy drink to make, which is one of the reasons I decided to give it a go in the first place. It’s known by a number of names, including haymakers’ punch, swizzle and harvest beer, and was a drink that was enjoyed by farm hands and sailors. It was often made with powdered ginger, molasses and cider vinegar. I ended up substituting the cider vinegar with lemon juice because I didn’t want to deal with the vinegar smell, which I believed would be unappetizing.

The taste is rather interesting, to put it mildly. It’s the sort of flavor that reminds me of something reminiscent of those old-fashioned hard candies with favors that haven’t been popular in several decades.

One would assume I didn’t like it after the description I just gave, but it did grow on me, especially after it cooled. With the number of substitutions that can be made in the recipe, has a lot of room for experimentation as well. Chilled, it’s easy to see why it was a popular drink in the fields as a cool glass could help revitalize a tired worker. Just don’t use too much ginger, as the drink can take on a very spicy aftertaste.


1/2 gallon of drinking water

1/2 cup of unsulfured molasses (honey can be substituted)

1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar (lemon or lime juice can be substituted)

1 “heaping” tablespoon of powdered ginger

1/4 cup of rum (optional)


In a large pitcher, pour half a gallon of drinking water, followed by the other ingredients, then stir until everything dissolves. Place into a refrigerator and serve cold.


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