Saturday, July 4, 2009

Ypsilanti's Very First Fourth of July Celebration Featured Log Cannon Firing, Oceans of Whiskey, Dainty Loaf Sugar

A discussion of the first Fourth of July celebration in Washtenaw County with DDH centered not on the nation, or the oration, but the libation.

DD: "They had half a barrel of whiskey!"
DDH: "How much is half a barrel?"
DD: "I think it's a small wouldn't just fill a big barrel half way. I think 'barrel' was a unit of measurement as well as a container."

DDH: "So...I'm guessing there was at least a gallon in there." [activate geek mode] "There are 128 ounces in one gallon."
DD: "A shot is one ounce."
DDH: "Yeah."
DD: "There were fewer than 100 people everyone got at least one shot. Except, wait, probably not the women. So all the guys got at least TWO shots. And, there might have been as few as 29 people there! And there might be more than one gallon in a 'barrel'!"
DDH: "That might be enough to get me through an oration."

They ate well, too, with a cartload of goodies trucked in from Detroit that included expensive loaf sugar and raisins. The peas and beets suggest that there were some early local gardens contributing to the feast.

Note too that there were multiple nummy chickens--so we can see the history of poultry-keeping in the city goes back to the very first patriotic celebration. You could call it a venerable history. You could also call it historically accurate--people kept chickens in town well into the Depression and beyond, as DD's fat "poultry" file reveals.

DD's takeaway mental image from this 1907 Ypsilanti Daily Press story is of the blue and white Greek flag by the water tower rippling in slow motion, with a nice fat chicken in front, holding aloft, in one wing, a sip of golden beverage. Happy 4th!


jml said...

According to the Barrel (volume) article on Wikipedia, as of the early 1860's, the standard whiskey barrel was 40 gallons, but there were barrels as small as one gallon. I'm guessing someone had about 1/2 left of the latter.

Oh, and don't leave the women out. On a site about what supplies people took on the Oregon Trail, I found this quote:

Ellen Tootle who wrote honestly in her diary: The brandy and whiskey we brought for medicinal purposes, but indulged in a little as we had just started on our journey.

jml said...

One more: Loaf sugar was the way sugar was sold all through the 1800's. Sugar syrup was poured into blunt conical molds (think Sugar Loaf Mountain), wrapped in paper and sealed. To use it, you broke off a piece, then bashed it with your mortar and pestle. Or you could just suck on it for candy.

One early cocktail simply mixed loaf sugar with water, then added whiskey.

Dusty D said...

jml: That is fascinating, about loaf sugar. I GIS'd "loaf sugar" and sure enough, they are those weird cone shapes. Why did they make them like that? (As opposed to something in a brick shape, which would presumably be easier to transport and store). Bizarre--and interesting! Thanks!


Dusty D said...

jml: Thank you for another interesting comment about the volume of a 1/2 barrel of whiskey. Perhaps they only had half a gallon? Ah, phooey. I had romantic visions of a more uproarious celebration.

Your point about the women is well taken, and also interesting. But, hmm, would women in the early 1800s drink in public at this kind of celebration? I don't know, but would love to find out. Maybe James Mann knows.

jml said...

The molds were conical to allow uncrystallized syrup (treacle) to run out a hole in the tip. A block wouldn't drain properly.

The link below mentions this, and has several photos of sugar nippers used to snip off bits of sugar. It also says that loaf sugar was usually wrapped in indigo blue paper, and thrifty consumers could soak the dye from the paper for cloth.

Dusty D said...

jml: That is fascinating stuff--thank you for posting that! I had had no idea.

I love those old sugar-nipping tools. It would be a major kick to spot one--now that thanks to you I know what they look like--in an antiques show.

Neat stuff! Thank you!