Sunday, August 1, 2010

Methinks One Tooth is Dry

Give me yesterday's Bread, this Day's Flesh, and last Year's Cyder.
Poor Richard's Almanac, 1744

On 23 August 1775, King George III declared the American colonies to be in "open and avowed Rebellion" and issued a "Proclamation For suppressing Rebellion and Sedition."

Yet at the time General Washington had other than Rebellion on his mind.  An epidemic of dysentery raged through his camp.  As this coincided with the pressing of the first apple harvest, he made the connection and issued his own Proclamation:

"As nothing is more pernicious to the health of Soldiers, nor more certainly productive of the bloody-flux; than drinking New Cyder: The General in the most possitive manner commands, the entire disuse of the same..."
George Washington, August 28, 1775

Cyder in the 18th century meant unfiltered hard cider--a popular and very common drink.  (If you wanted it with no alcohol, you requested sweet cider.)  Every farm and estate in America (and England) had an apple orchard, and nearly everyone else with a bit of ground near their houses kept a few apple trees.  Communities had cider mills where you could bring your apples to be pressed if you couldn't do it yourself.

So it's interesting that the drinking songs of the era, while extolling the virtues of beer, wine and whisky, fail to mention cider.  Perhaps because after beer or wine, at least, you can still hold a quill to write a song.

Still, each New Year the apple trees were blessed so they'd bring a good harvest in August, along with the assurance of cider to last the winter through.

As for General Washington's dilemma, he'd likely have done better to forbid the drinking of water.

TRUDGE away quickly and fill the black bole,
Devoutly as long as wee bide,
Now welcome, good fellows, both strangers and all,
Let madness and mirth set sadness aside.

Masters, this is all my desire,
I would no drink should pass us by;
Let us now sing and mend the fire,
For still me thinks one tooth is drye.

from Thomas Ravenscroft's A Brief Discourse, 1614
(This song can be heard on Colonial Revelers'

Your humble servants,

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