Recently someone asked me about toddy sticks. I was familiar with toddy strainers, I even had one (photo below) for sale in my Etsy shop, but had never researched toddy sticks or, for that matter, anything toddy related.
My understanding of a toddy strainer was that it was similar to a julep strainer, but smaller…a little over 4 inches in length. But now that my woeful ignorance of all things toddy was brought to my attention, I decided to do some investigating. I’ve assembled the following tidbits of information for my further reference.
A toddy is basically strong spirits (like rum or whiskey), sugar and water. It can be served room temperature or hot. For our purposes here in this post, we will be discussing the hot toddy. So if that recipe of alcohol, sugar and water is correct, why would you need a strainer?
I found the following paragraph in Alice Morse Earle’s 1906 “China Collecting in America”:
I had no idea that porcelain toddy strainers existed and love that sentence of Ms. Earle’s “I fancy some luxury-loving, toddy-drinking, money-spending old Newport merchant invented, explained to the Chinese, and imported to America these pretty porcelain toddy strainers.” And Ms. Earle also solved the reason for the strainer, those pesky lemon and orange seeds. I have since learned that toddy recipes varied according to individual tastes; some put spices and herbs in their concoctions in addition to citrus.
It appears that toddies were made and served in various ways….in the tavern, at home with family and when company came calling.
Let’s start with company. To really impress your friends and neighbors, you would pull out the old toddy bowl or two. These toddy bowls were smaller versions of punch bowls and measured approximately 10 inches in diameter.
Many of the pottery bowls were manufactured in the 19th century by Scottish potters, such as J. & M.P. Bell and the Annfield Pottery of John Thomson (shown above, picture from the Scottish Pottery Society). These bowls are hard to find today most likely because 1) those that have them are hanging on to them, 2) they have broken or 3) those that are selling them don’t know they are toddy bowls and are not describing them as such.
The April 28, 1897 article of The Jewelers’ Circular featured an article on a silver punch bowl and toddy bowl sets made by Whiting Mfg. Co. and presented to the battleship Oregon by the citizens of that state. Pretty fancy for a battleship, no? In any case, you can see the relative size of the toddy bowl to the punch bowl. Ladles were included as were glass punch cups in silver holders and tray. I don’t know if the punch cups were also used for the toddy.
The article above came from the 1908 Stirling Antiquary and mentions that toddy ladles could be found made of wood, brass, bone, pewter and silver.
Another interesting way to transfer the toddy from the bowl and into the cup is the toddy lifter.
The above article, from “Collecting Old Glass, English and Irish” by J. H. Yoxall, mentions that “The earlier way of doing this (transferring a drink from a bowl to a glass) was by a silver or wooden ladle, but about the year 1800 the glass lifter (which is really a pipette or siphon) came into use.” This really says something about how long we have been consuming toddies! These toddy lifters have a hole at the bottom which, when sunk into the toddy, allowed the fluid to fill the chamber. Placing your thumb at the opening at the top created a vacuum and you could then transfer your toddy to your glass.
And speaking of glasses, most likely footed cups with handles or rummers were used for toddies. A rummer is a goblet like footed, short stemmed glass. You wouldn’t want to hold on to a hot glass, so most likely you would want to use something with a stem or handle.
The following article from “Antique English Pottery, Porcelain and Glass” mentions “giant rummers” being used in combination with toddy lifters.
Now, let’s move on to imbibing of the toddy at home.
Most likely you would boil some water and place it in a toddy kettle. Toddy kettles have little feet on them, so as not to damage the table by the hot contents. Some toddy kettles, as the one shown above from the 1883 Army & Navy General Catalogue, have a spirit lamp as a heating source to keep the water hot. It should be noted that toddies were usually consumed after dinner (in addition to cold and damp weather) and more than one was usually had, so it was important to keep that water warm.
Toddy plates, on which to place the mug and spoon, were also popular. These plates were usually pottery (Scottish or English) or pressed glass.
The image above was taken from the book “Glass Tableware, Bowls & Vases” by Jane Shadel Spillman. She dates this plate to 1827-35 and attributes it possibly to the Boston & Sandwich Glass Company.
So, your sitting at the kitchen or dining table. You have a toddy kettle, mug or rummer before you on a toddy plate. You would also have a decanter or bottle of your spirit of choice. And you would have sugar available. Now you need a spoon to mix the concoction.
The first image above comes from a 1907 Good Housekeeping magazine. The second image came from an 1894 B. A. Stevens catalog.
Following are some interesting snippets from various publications. The one entitled “The Old Family Toddy” tells of an old Kentucky tradition of passing around the “toddy glass” among friends and family. Must have been one really big toddy glass.
And the “History of Leominster” article mentions that young people setting up housekeeping should have “two decanters, a dozen tumblers and at least as many toddy sticks”. These people were serious about toddies!
The page above is from the 1884 Vajen & New Hardware Catalog, and shows an example of “Muddler, or Toddy Sticks”.
And this brings us to the tavern setting.
The image above is from the 1900 “Stagecoach and Tavern Days” by Alice Morse Earle. It shows the toddy stick in the glass and also shows what is called a “loggerhead” on the table next to it.
The image above was taken from “Iron and Brass Implements of the English House” by J. Seymour Lindsay. These loggerheads, toddy irons or mullers as they are sometimes called, were how the tavern toddy was heated. You would have your mug or glass filled with water, sugar and liquor and the hot loggerhead would be inserted in the glass, producing pronounced steam and sizzle. I believe each toddy would be served with a toddy stick. The sizzling and hissing of the loggerhead and clinking of the toddy stick filled taverns with their own peculiar form of music.
It should be noted that loggerheads were sometimes also used at home as well, not just in the tavern setting. Paul Revere is said to heat his toddies at home using a loggerhead.
So there you have it. If you are a serious barware / bar tool collector you certainly have many items to be on the lookout for: toddy strainers, toddy bowls, toddy ladles, toddy lifters, toddy kettles, toddy mugs / glasses, toddy spoons, toddy sticks, toddy irons / loggerheads. Let me see, did I forget anything?