by Mark Yokoyama
The little brown book from Pierre Beauperthuy’s collection at The Old House is full of old knowledge. It contains recipes for medicines and techniques for making glue. It was carefully written. The pages were numbered. It contained very important things that had to be remembered. Like how to make rum better.
There are some clues to suggest that this book dates from the early 1800s. This is a time when sugarcane was grown on St. Martin and rum was made from it. The sugarcane industry was not very successful here and it didn’t last very long. But during this brief window, knowing how to improve rum was surely useful.
The first method starts with Balsam of Peru. The instructions call for adding 35 grains – about a third of a teaspoon – for every five gallons of rum. Balsam of Peru is a resin made from the sap of a tree that grows in Central and South America. It was used as a flavouring, a fragrance and a medicine. Many people have an allergic reaction to it, so it is not widely used today.
The Balsam of Peru was added after being dissolved or pulverized, and left in the rum for eight days. The next step was to construct a filter with a hoop, a flannel bag and charcoal. Impurities are removed by passing the rum through the charcoal. This is a process that is still done today to many spirits. The instructions specify that the charcoal should be made from White Oak.
Directly below these instructions, a second process is recorded under the simple heading “Another.” This method starts with 30 Tonka Beans, well-pulverized. Tonka Beans come from another South American tree, and they were also used as both a flavouring and a fragrance. The bean powder is to be added to a demijohn of rum taken from a puncheon cask and left in the sun for a day before being shaken and dumped back into the cask. A puncheon is a size of cask, about 85 gallons.
The next step is to take some gunpowder tea and a half stick of finely chopped liquorice and steep them in boiling water, closed for “24 hours or even a day.” This is then strained into the cask as well. The final touch is some burnt sugar to add colour to the rum. Although the burnt sugar – or caramel – tastes bitter, only a tiny bit is used to colour rum and it is still used today.
Could we try using these instructions to re-create the flavour of rum that was made in St. Martin 200 years ago? Perhaps, but maybe we don’t need to. Many of these steps are still used in rum- making today. Do you have a secret for improving rum? Tell us by writing to The Daily Herald or firstname.lastname@example.org.