Summer in the mid-Atlantic is hot. Any Virginia housewife would desire a recipe for a cool drink to offer their guests. The cordials section of The Virginia House-wife provides a number of possibilities, most alcoholic. Randolph’s Raspberry Vinegar is a relative to shrub, a colonial-era cordial composed of fruit juice, rum or brandy, and sugar. Citrus fruit appears most frequently as lemons and oranges, but raspberries and cherries were popular flavors. The drink is made by steeping the fruit in the liquor and served sweetened with sugar. Raspberry and other fruit-flavored vinegars remained a popular drink in many areas into the twentieth century.
Randolph recommends serving her Raspberry Vinegar cold, “it is a delicious beverage mixed with ice water.” Long before the era of refrigeration, ice was part of Virginia’s food culture from the earliest settlements with archeological evidence of ice pits at Jamestown dating to the seventeenth century. Those living in sufficiently cold climes, harvested ice from local ponds, lakes, and rivers during the winter. Saved in caves and underground cellars, the ice Stored in caves and underground cellars, the ice could be enjoyed during the warmer months. In the eighteenth century, ice houses, far more efficient than ice cellars, kept ice cold and allowed for chilling food and drink, and making ice cream. By the early nineteenth century, innovation brought cold storage into American homes with Thomas Moore’s 1802 invention of an insulated icebox. Randolph’s drawings for a refrigerator in the 1825 edition of The Virginia House-wife suggests American housewives were well aware of these innovations. Just a few years later, in the 1830s, these inventions were common in American homes.
The everyday use of iceboxes required a regular supply of ice. Starting in the 1790s and perhaps earlier, each winter, enterprising individuals would harvest a surplus of ice from local lakes, rivers, and ponds. Operations in northern states, such as the one run by “Ice King” Fredric Tudor of Boston, dominated the trade. Tudor’s extensive ice shipping business eventually reached as far away as China. In the warmer months, this cargo, packed with sawdust to limit melting, was sent by ship and later train to urban Southern areas like Randolph’s home in Virginia. By 1866, the Richmond Ice Company offered Kennebec River ice to the citizens of Randolph’s longtime home for their ice boxes and other cooling needs. One of those needs could have been a refreshing glass of raspberry vinegar.
Randolph’s Raspberry Vinegar has a deep red color and, when sampled alone, a strong vinegar flavor with a hint of raspberry. When mixed with ice water, alchemy transforms the bitter vinegar into a sweet, refreshing beverage flavored mostly by raspberries, and the vinegar fades into the background. It’s especially delicious mixed with ice-cold sparkling water.
Mary Randolph, The Virginia Housewife (1838), p. 173.
Adapted by RA Snell
- 10 oz raspberries
- 2 cups white vinegar
- 2 ½ cups white granulated sugar
1. Place 3.25 oz of raspberries in a quart-sized jar. Pour over the berries 2 cups of vinegar. Seal and let stand for 24 hours.
2. Strain the berries from the vinegar. Return the vinegar to the jar with 3.25 oz of new raspberries. Seal and let stand for 24 hours.
3. Strain the berries from the vinegar. Return the vinegar to the jar with 3.25 oz of new raspberries. Seal and let stand for 24 hours.
4. On the fourth day, strain the raspberries and add the vinegar to a small sauce pan. Add 2 ½ cups of sugar and heat the mixture until the sugar is dissolved. Cool and pour the mixture into a jar.
To Serve: Place 3 tablespoons of raspberry vinegar in a pint glass. Pour in ice water to fill the glass. Stir.
Yield: ~ 16 oz or 1 pint of vinegar.
Randolph advises “strong well-flavored” vinegar for this recipe. I selected white vinegar, but the substitution possibilities are endless. I’ve seen similar recipes with white wine vinegar, red wine vinegar, and apple cider vinegar.
The “pickled” raspberries are edible. We did not find them enjoyable.
Sweeten the vinegar to your taste. After steeping, I had two cups of vinegar and added 2 ½ cups of vinegar. Your desired ratio may be smaller or larger. Randolph does advise to make the mixture “very sweet,” but I didn’t want to lose any raspberry flavor.
 The first recorded shipment of ice from New York to Charleston, South Carolina occurred in 1799.
A Gardener’s Table: Celebrating The Harvest
John F. Mariani, The Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink (New York: Bloomsbury, 2013), 263 and 85.
Sandra L. Oliver, Food in Colonial and Federal America (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2005).
Andrew F. Smith, ed., The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 312.