Mrs. Hudson on Victorian Lemonade
“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade”
— Christian anarchist and philosopher Elbert Hubbard in a 1915 obituary for little person actor Marshall P. Wilder
The pictured product, Fentimans Traditional Victorian Lemonade, was first brought to my attention by Anders Wiggstrom of the “Baskerville Hall Club of Sweden”. The beverage was remarkably sourced in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada by Charles Prepolec, BSI.
I shared my Fentimans (established in 1905) “traditional” Victorian Lemonade with Mrs. Hudson and our immediate reaction was one of great disappointment and disgust. Its onslaught of an overwhelming medicinal taste caused us to immediately turn to its list of ingredients: carbonated water, lemon juice from concentrate (19%), fermented ginger root extract (water, glucose syrup, ginger root, pear concentrate, yeast) beet sugar, glucose syrup ,pear juice concentrate, cream of tartar, flavourings (lemon, orange), herbal infusions (speedwell, juniper berry). Also noted on the label was “not a significant source of...vitamin C”. Mrs. Hudson pronounced that it is a far cry from what would be termed a “traditional” Victorian lemonade and that Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson would be equally repelled by it.
Mrs. Hudson then referred me to 3 lemonades from Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1861) for some authentic still lemonade recipes. I also added recipes for sparkling lemonade with a pink lemonade variation and one for the popular hard lemonade. These may be found at the end of this article. Please note the simplicity of these recipes compared with the so-called “Traditional Victorian Lemonade” by Fentiman’s.
The Victorians relished their lemonade – whether purchased from a street vendor or served at the most fashionable balls. The name “lemonade” was known in England at least since 1663 (OED) and is traditionally sweetened lemon juice and water. Following is a brief history of this simple but lovely beverage. Lemonade was for many British people the first soft drink they tasted. It appealed to people of all ages and has endured for thousands of years.
The origin of the lemon itself was not easily discovered until a study in 2018 revealed its development from a sour orange and citron hybrid. The science journal “Nature” stated that the discovery of fossil leaves in China proves citrus dates back to the late Miocene epoch, 8 million years ago.
Lemons were introduced from North China and spread to Arab countries including Persia (Iran), Iraq and Egypt in around 700 CE. Lemons were first used to flavour foods but the first written evidence of them used as a beverage is found in Egypt. Here it was part of a wine made from lemons, dates and honey. Poet and traveler, Nasir-i-Khrusraw who wrote about 10th century Egyptian life, plus Jewish books and documents from the time support that the Jewish community in Cairo consumed, traded and exported vessels of a sugary, lemon juice beverage through the 13th century.
Lemons and sugar cane are also native to India. They consumed a type of lemonade called nimbu pari.
A lemon, water and sweetened drink was brought back to Europe during the crusades. France embraced the drink and by 1676 a company, Compagnie de Limonadiers was founded in Paris. They were awarded a monopoly to sell lemonade. Venders appeared in the streets serving the drink in cups from tanks on their backs. It was also used widely and was believed to help Paris ward off the plague.
We also know from his private diary, that the popular beverage was also enjoyed by Samuel Pepys (Secretary of the Admiralty and MP) in London in the late 1660’s. It was a combination of lemon juice, mixed with honey and water, imported from France.
In 1767 English chemist Joseph Priestly invented carbonated water. The technique was adopted by Johann Jacob Schweppe whose commercial drinks company began to sell carbonated soda in England in the 1790’s. By 1833 the first reference to carbonated lemonade was documented and had begun to sell widely in British drink stalls. Over 170 years ago, Robert White and his brother Matthew had a mission to sell proper lemonade in the streets of London - thus R. White’s Lemonade has been sold in the U.K. since 1845. The original recipe has since been significantly modified and is available in many varieties including a diet version.
The still version of lemonade was made at home and was often available on a daily basis (for those who could afford the rather dear price of imported lemons) and was served both at casual and festive occasions.
Lemon juice, sweetener and water – this basic recipe has not changed for more than a thousand years. The many versions: tart, sweet, pink or yellow, clear, cloudy or carbonated have delighted people all over the world to the present day.
The first 3 lemonades are from Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, 1861 and used by Mrs. Hudson.
The rind of 2 lemons
The juice of 3 large or 4 small ones
½ lb. of loaf sugar (may substitute lump sugar cubes)
1 quart of boiling water
Optional: 1 beaten egg white and/or sherry
Rub some of the sugar in lumps on 2 of the lemons until they have imbibed all the oil from them and put it and the remainder of the sugar in a jug (pitcher); add the lemon juice (but no pips –or pits) and pour over the whole a quart of boiling water.
When the sugar is dissolved, strain through a fine sieve or a piece of muslin, and when cool will be ready to use.
The lemonade will be much improved by having the white of an egg beaten up in it; a little sherry mixed with it, makes this beverage much nicer.
Lemonade #2 – Nourishing Lemonade
1 ½ pint of boiling water
The juice of 4 lemons
The rinds of 2, ½ pint of sherry
4 eggs (well beaten)
6 oz. loaf sugar (may substitute sugar cubes)
Pare off the lemon-rind thinly, put it into a jug (pitcher) with the sugar, and pour over the boiling water.
Let it cool, then strain it; add the wine, lemon-juice and eggs, previously well beaten, and also strained, and the beverage will be ready for use.
If thought desirable, the quantity of sherry and water could be lessened and milk substituted for them.
To obtain the flavour of the lemon-rind properly, a few lumps of the sugar should be rubbed over it, until some of the yellow is absorbed.
Lemonade #3 – Lemonade for Invalids
lump sugar (or sugar cubes) to taste
1 pint of boiling water
Pare off the rind of the lemon thinly; cut the lemon into 2 or 3 thick slices, and remove as much as possible of the white outside pith, and all the pips (pits).
Put the slices of lemon, the peel and sugar into a jug (pitcher); pour over the boiling water; cover it closely, and in 2 hours it will be fit to drink. It should either be strained or poured off of the sediment.
Lemonade #4 – 21st Century
(Lemonade in England now is almost universally a drink made with sparkling water).
3 cups water (or your choice of sparkling water such as Perrier)
1 cup lemon juice (about 4 lemons)
½ cup granulated sugar
Mix all ingredients together and serve over ice.
For pink lemonade add 2 or 3 drops of red food colour and, if desired, 2 tablespoons grenadine syrup.
Lemonade #5 – Hard lemonade
Lots of ice, 8 oz. vodka
1 cup granulated sugar
Juice and zest of 8 lemons, water
1 thinly sliced lemon.
Fill a large pitcher with ice.
Pour in vodka, sugar, lemon zest and juice. Stir well to dissolve the sugar.
Fill the pitcher with water and stir again.
Garnish glasses with thinly sliced lemon.
Find more recipes like this in "Memoirs from Mrs. Hudson's Kitchen" Amazon USA, Barnes and Noble USA, Amazon UK, and for free shipping worldwide Book Depository. Available now in Audio format and in ebook Kindle.