What is Negus?
Feverish with hopes and fears, soup and negus…’
I have long been fascinated by the types of foods and drinks which are mentioned in many eighteenth-century novels, especially in those of Jane Austen. When I come across a drink I have never heard of, I like to look up what it was, and usually someone has, very kindly and conveniently posted up a recipe for it.
So I decided to do a post on Negus, for a few reasons.
Firstly, it sounds so mysterious! Like some sort of bizarre, catatonic state, eg .’She was in a state of utter Negus…’ Perhaps after a couple of glasses…
Negus is also interesting to me because it appears in two of Austen’s novels; once as part of the supper fare provided at a ball in Mansfield Park, and again in her unfinished work, The Watsons. I like to include new, useless bits of information in my novels, so I had Catherine Moreland serve Negus at a dinner party in my upcoming work-in-progress, Woodston, a sequel to Northanger Abbey. So, I have no excuse not to have a quick look at it's origins, and to make some to see for myself to see what all the fuss is about!
On looking up Negus in Wikipedia I found it was usually served hot, in cooler weather, and seems very much like mulled wine. It is made from port, hot water, oranges or lemons, and spices, usually nutmeg, and sweetened with sugar. It was actually invented by a Colonel Francis Negus in the early 18th century, and retained its popularity as a winter warmer as late as 1880s. The website janeausten.co.uk however reports that by Victorian times it had become more of a children’s drink—I assume it was diluted down quite a bit for the kiddies, but who knows! It does have added water, and is heated, but not enough to evaporate all the alcohol.
Anyway, one cool winter afternoon recently, I browsed the various recipes online and found this one on Epicurious which looked pretty easy to make, and I tried making some myself.
Here is a link to the recipe I used: https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/negus-200931
I used a midrange priced port. I made half this recipe, as it calls for a quart, which is 4 cups and too much for me. I halved the recipe to 2 cups of port and two cups of hot water.
I grated my zest of the citrus I had chosen, and squeezed the juice. I chopped my mandarin skins, as they were soft, and it looks a bit chunky in the pot (pictured below) but you don’t have to do that, especially if you are only using lemon or oranges which are easier to zest.
The recipe called for lemons, but I added a mandarin, juice and rind, which I really think added extra sweetness, and a lovely flavour. Once I had all my ingredients in the pot and had added the hot water, then steeped it for half an hour, and I think the flavours will get stronger as it sits.
I like the idea of serving it as per the next illustration, with a cinnamon stick and a piece of cut orange!
So that was my midwinter afternoon foray into Negus production, and I have to say, I might just go into business! I liked it, although not sure how it might keep. But it really is very reminiscent of Mulled Wine…and just as delicious!
And with that said, I raise my glass in a toast to good old Frank Negus, for coming up with the idea for this delicious hot drink…. and to Jane Austen, of course! Cheers!