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I have a book which has proven to be quite difficult to read. Appearing as though it were plucked from the shelf of an old library hidden away inside the musty mansion of some secret society, the “Victorian Book” puzzle box, by Jesse Born from New York, exudes an instant air of mystery. I think we should pour ourselves something apropos of the Victorian era to imbibe as we settle in with this formidable tome.

Dickens famously described a few of the celebrated tipples of the day in his “American Notes for General Circulation” from an 1842 visit he took to Boston. There, he marveled at the “Gin-sling, Cocktail, Sangaree, Mint Julep, Sherry-cobbler, Timber Doodle, and other rare drinks.” The Sherry cobbler is a great example of the simple pleasures which were state-of-the-art at that time – exotic sherry wine mixed with sugar imported from the tropics, citrus, and ice. Don’t overlook the ice; that was exotic too, imported down from frozen lakes in the north. This frosty and refreshing drink was so astounding that Dickens took it with him and added it to his next novel. A famous ‘cocktail’ scene from “The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit” (1843) portrays an astonished Chuzzlewit drinking the glass dry in one go with a look of ecstasy on his face.

I’ve featured the cobbler before and sadly, no one knows what was in a Timber Doodle, so here’s a classic port wine Sangaree, a perfect accompaniment for the Victorian Book puzzle. The Sangaree survived the test of time and we see it nowadays as Sangria. Originally it was made with madeira, or port, and—just like the cobbler—simply sweetened with sugar and diluted to frosty perfection with ice. Some citrus could be added, and it was crowned with the ultimate touch of class for the era, grated nutmeg.

Let’s settle in then, friends, with a good book, and toast the tales they tell, let’s “taste of Bacchus’ blessings now and then,” and never want for friends, or a bottle to share with them. Cheers!

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Port Wine Sangaree

4 oz port
1 teaspoon sugar
2 thin lemon wheels (optional)

Shake vigorously with ice and pour unstrained into a favorite glass. Garnish with grated nutmeg over top.

For more about this magnificent puzzle book, please see:
Boxes and Booze:Victorian Age