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Get in the Mood for Some Hot Negus

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One of the many things I find pleasurable about reading Victorian literature is the peculiar foods and drink references. Case in point, when I was rereading Charles Dickens's Bleak House a few weekends ago and I came across this passage:

I was to take hot soup and broiled fowl, while Mr. Bucket dried himself and dined elsewhere; but I could not do it when a snug round table was presently spread by the fireside, though I was very unwilling to disappoint them. However, I could take some toast and some hot negus, and as I really enjoyed that refreshment, it made some recompense.

(Some context: The narrator, Esther Summerson, is exhausted from chasing down her estranged aristocratic mother, who is actually disguised as a bricklayer's wife, in the middle of a raging snowstorm. Yeah, it's complicated.)

I could write a whole book theorizing why Esther, the novel's heroine, daintily declines almost all offers of substantial food and drink because they're too "rich," but I'll spare you that analysis and go straight to the second question that piqued my interest: What the heck is hot negus?

Simply put, it's a hot cocktail of wine, sugar and spices, though the exact proportions vary by the recipe. Negus was invented in the 1700s by Colonel Francis (you guessed it) Negus and reached the height of its popularity in the 19th century.

Considered a restorative beverage, negus was not infrequently served to small children, especially during the winter months.

Well, I'm not about to dish some out at my local playground, but I will scurry up a pot for some of my of-age friends. I recommend using a high-quality port rather than just a strong burgundy lest some naysayers simply write off your negus as "just mulled wine."


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