Thursday, November 12, 2009

Whistlebelly Vengeance.

'Whistlebelly Vengeance' - isn’t that a great name for a drink? A great name for a not-so great drink. A drink designed specifically as a way to recycle sour household beer, and particularly associated with Salem, according to the journalist from the Waterloo Daily Reporter (Waterloo, Iowa) in 1897. Here is what was said, under the header ‘The Puritan Folk. Men And Women Who Gave Us Thanksgiving Day’:

“A popular drink in Salem was “whistlebelly vengeance”- charming name! It was made of sour household beer simmered in a kettle, sweetened with molasses, filled with brown breadcrumbs and drunk hot.”

An alternative name was ‘Whip-belly-vengeance’ and a number of sources say that the names derive from an old English term. The eighteenth century Grose’s Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue has this to say:

“Whip-belly vengeance, or pinch-gut vengeance, of which he that gets the most has the worst share. Weak or sour beer [or, in dialect, simple whip-belly, cf the Lancashire whistle-belly vengeance]”

I was reminded, when I came across Whistle-belly vengeance, of another charmingly named drink that featured in a blog post in the past – Mahogany, a mixture of brandy or gin and treacle, and supposedly a Cornish fisherman’s drink – an alternative name for which was ‘whistle-jacket’.

At the time of the Mahogany post, I had no idea of the origin of the name ‘whistle-jacket’ – now, with another drink with ‘whistle’ in the name, the plot thickens. When a word-plot thickens there is only one place to start: the dictionary.

The OED gives whistle-belly vengeance as slang for ‘bad liquor, such as causes rumbling in the bowels’ and gives the first use as 1861. Under whip-belly-vengeance however, the first use is 1731, in one of Jonathan Swift’s Conversations. Presumably it is the sound of the disturbed bowels that is being referenced.

The Routledge dictionary of historical slang (1973) throws a different light on the story. After defining whistle-belly vengeance as ‘inferior liquor, esp. bad beer’, it goes on to give the following:

- whistle-drunk: exceedingly drunk
- whistle-cup: a drinking cup fitted with a whistle, the last toper capable of drinking it receiving it as a prize [the whistle apparently serving as notice that the cup is empty.]

The OED has no mention of whistle-drunk or whistle-cup, which is surprising, to say the least.

Sour beer in the household is not an issue these days, but it was in previous times, when larger households brewed all their own supplies. Old cookbooks have many rescue remedies for recovering sour beer; here is one of them.

To Recover Sour Beer.
When beer is become sour, add thereto some oyster shells, calcined to whiteness, or, in place thereof, a little fine chalk or whiting. Any of these will correct the acidity, and make it brisk and sparkling, but it should not be kept long after such additions, otherwise it will spoil.
The New Family Receipt Book, containing eight hundred truly valuable receipts in various branches of Domestic Economy selected from the works of British and Foreign writer of unquestionable experience and economy, and from the attested communications of scientific friends… (New Haven, 1819)

Quotation for the Day.

Filled with mingled cream and amber
I will drain that glass again.
Such hilarious visions clamber
Through the chambers of my brain –
Quaintest thoughts - queerest fancies
Come to life and fade away;
Who cares how time advances?
I am drinking ale today.”
Edgar Allan Poe.


Judith Klinger said...

Whistlebelly... great word for stomach rumblings.
I took a historical cocktail class with David Windrich and sour beer was an ingredient that we discussed. His theory was that it could have been used for its acidic properties when lemons were not available.

The Old Foodie said...

Interesting, Judith. I guess a use was found for everything, back in the day - sour or dried out or just plain old. Wonder if it was ever used to make bread?

Mimi said...

Manufactured things must have come with an acknowledged invisible weight on them - someone's investment in time and physical labor, not to mention cost.

I sometimes wonder what it would have been like to raise raw materials from the most basic scratch and process it into good food or drink.

I imagine eating bread from wheat I grew, harvested, threshed and milled myself - boy, I wouldn't waste a crumb of it after all that work.

The Old Foodie said...

Yes Mimi - that's what it is about, isnt it? It is about the investment in time and effort that must not be relinquished easily.