Robert Burns and Punch

This Sunday, 25th January 2015, will be Burn’s Night or Burn’s Supper, when Scots around the world celebrate the life and works of their national poet, Robert Burns (1759-1796). This year it falls on his actual birthday, but otherwise takes place on the nearest Sunday. Traditionally a haggis is piped in with the bagpipes, whisky is drunk and Burns’s poems recited.

Around 1780, there were about eight legal distilleries and 400 illegal ones. In 1823, Parliament introduced an Excise Act designed to encourage the licensed distilleries and ease out the hundreds of small illegal operations. Technology improved whisky production with the introduction of the column still in 1831. This was a less expensive method of production and made for a smoother, and more commercially attractive drink. Punch, or toddy, made with whisky, hot water or tea, honey or sugar, and sometimes lemon, was a popular form of drinking whisky. Continue reading

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Shared Traditions of Wassail and Punch

On Sunday 28th December 2014, my friend Joanna Crosby (who is working on her PhD on the social and cultural history of apples and the orchard, and who founded the Trumpington Community Orchard) was interviewed by Lucie Skeaping on BBC Radio 3’s Early Music Show in a programme called Here We Come a-Wassailing (no longer available). As Joanna recounted the history of the drink wassail, wassailing songs of each period were performed, such as Here We Come A-wassailing:

Here we come a-wassailing
Among the leaves so green;
Here we come a-wand’ring
So fair to be seen.
Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail too;
And God bless you and send you
a happy New Year.

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