Beverage, Holiday

Orgeat, A Necessary Refreshment at all Parties

If you are a fan of Mai Tais, you may be familiar with Orgeat syrup, a sweet syrup made from almonds, sugar, and rose or orange flower water, a key ingredient in Tiki cocktails. Of course, Randolph lived long before the Tiki craze swept the United States after WWII, and her nonalcoholic recipe likely traces back to the drink’s origins as a cooling beverage, much like Randolph’s raspberry vinegar.

Orgeat, pronounced “or-zsa,” like Zsa Zsa Gabor, has ancient origins. Originally a thin drink of barley and warm water prescribed to fever patients by the 6th Century C.E. Byzantine physician, Anthimus, Orgeat evolved into a refreshing drink to enjoy on a warm day flavored with melon, cucumber, or ground sweet almonds. Over time, the almond flavor became dominate, and, eventually, almonds replaced barley entirely in the recipe.

Display of Tiki drinks at the Trader Vic’s in San Francisco, 1956. Chain founder Victor Jules Bergeron, Jr. is one of two people credited with inventing the Mai Tai. Photographer- Nat Farbman Time Inc Owned Merlin-1199442

In eighteenth century England, orgeat became an elegant drink for social occasions. Like Randolph’s recipe, the mixture was sweetened and served as a punch. Randolph implies this use by labeling the recipe “a necessary refreshment at all parties.” In her research, C. Anne Wilson identified two versions of orgeat (or ozyat to the English). One, composed of ground almonds, sugar, orange flower water, and citrus fruits, could be the predecessor of the Orgeat syrup used in Tiki drinks. Randolph’s recipe appears to be closely related to “milk ozyat” made from boiled spiced milk, cooled, and mixed with ground almonds. Special ozyat glasses with handles developed to serve the drink. Once again, this custom is referenced by Randolph with her suggestion to serve the beverage “in glasses with handles.”

These glass punch cups with handles from the collections of the Metropolitan Museum could be similar to those used by Randolph to serve orgeat. The Sylmaris Collection, Gift of George Coe Graves, 1930.

As Randolph recommended, we sampled her orgeat cold and lukewarm. Unfortunately, we don’t own “glasses with handles” and settled for port glasses. With a splash of bourbon or rum, it would be reminiscent of a milk punch: sweet and creamy with a hint of cinnamon, almond, and rose. I don’t recommend trying Randolph’s Orgeat in a Mai Tai; however, you can easily make your own orgeat syrup, which could be used to make a tropical tasting drink. I found the drink most enjoyable when used to make an Orgeat latte (see below).

Orgeat

Mary Randolph, The Virginia House-wife (1838), p. 70.

Adapted by RA Snell

Ingredients

  • 4 cups milk*
  • Cinnamon stick
  • 2 ounces raw almonds
  • 1/8 teaspoon rosewater
  • 2 tablespoons sugar

* This recipe can easily be made dairy-free. Simply substitute the milk with the alternative milk of your choice. If using nut milk, I would avoid anything other than almond milk as the flavor of the milk will compete with the delicate flavor of almond in the final product.

Method

1. Place milk and cinnamon stick in a medium sauce-pan over medium-low heat. Stir frequently to prevent burning until the mixture comes to a boil.

2. Once the mixture had boiled, remove the cinnamon stick and leave the milk to cool to room temperature.

3. When the milk is cool, blanch the almonds by pouring boiling water over them in a small bowl. Leave for one minute, then remove the boiling water and plunge the almonds into an ice water bath.

4. Place the milk mixture, almonds, and rosewater in a blender. Blend enough to break the almonds into small pieces.

5. Pour the resulting mixture into a sauce-pan and add sugar (you may wish to add more or less to taste). Bring to a boil, again stirring frequently, and allow to boil for 2-3 minutes.

6. Strain the mixture through a fine mesh strainer into a vessel and allow to cool.

Randolph recommends to “serve it up either cold or lukewarm, in glasses with handles.” Alternatively, this milk punch makes a delicious latte. Simply steam one cup of Randolph’s Orgeat in place of your usual milk and pour over espresso.


Sources

Alan Davidson, The Penguin Companion to Food (New York: Penguin Books, 2002), 670.

“Orgeat,” French Country Food: Traditional French Food (accessed 7 Jan. 2021), https://www.frenchcountryfood.com/drinks/orgeat.html.

Marcia Simmons, “Orgeat Recipe,” Serious Eats 11 Nov. 2011 (accessed 7 Jan. 2021), https://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2011/11/how-to-make-orgeat-recipe-almond-syrup-for-cocktails.html.

John F. Mariani, The Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink (New York: Bloomsbury, 2013), 372.