Do's and Don'ts for Hot Weather
Refreshing Summer Beverages

Virginia Mescher

Now that we entering summer and attending events in hot weather, there are some points that everyone should be aware of when out in hot, humid weather. Most of us are accustomed to being in air conditioning almost all of the time. When we attend a hot outdoor even, being unaccustomed to the sun, heat, and increased humidity, some people have problems dealing with the extreme variation of circumstances. Even those used to being out in the heat need to be careful when it is extremely hot. This is not a new problem and if one reads accounts of the troops on the march to Gettysburg and other summer-time battles, there are references to many men who succumbed to the heat.

NOTE: I am not a health professional so do not rely just on this information. Read other sources to get a complete understanding of the potential hazards of hot weather, particularly under the adverse conditions found at an event. Before an expected hot event, you may wish to talk with a doctor or, if you experience the symptoms described in the following article, seek medical help immediately.

There are three stages of heat related problems: heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. Heat cramps are the least serious, but are an indication of approaching trouble. Symptoms of heat cramps are: increased heart rate; a feeling of faintness; dizziness; extreme tiredness; hot or sweaty skin and a flushed face; and possibly nausea or vomiting. Heat exhaustion is more serious with the symptoms similar to heat cramps, but confusion sets in and the body temperature increases. Heat stroke is the most serious and if left untreated, brain damage can occur. Some symptoms that may occur with heat stroke are hot, dry skin; dry mouth; mental confusion; headache; shallow breathing; loss of consciousness; hysteria; and extreme weakness.

If someone is suffering from heat exhaustion or heat stroke, get medical help immediately. Get them out of the heat; remove the outer layers of clothing, and loosen any tight clothing; lay them down with the legs elevated; fan them and if the person has dry skin, apply wet compresses.

Do's and Don'ts

DO condition yourself before a hot weather event. If you are going to have to walk a great deal, get used to walking beforehand. If you are not used to being outside in the heat, get out in the heat and walk in order for your body to become more used to the change in conditions. Go slowly at first and then build up your exposure to the heat.

DO drink lots of water before, during and after an event. Your body loses fluid through sweating and the fluids must be replenished. Avoid caffeine and highly sugared beverages, such as soft drinks since both caffeine and sugar act as diuretics and cause you to loose more fluid. The popular sports drinks are not necessary and only end up giving you more calories than you is necessary. According to some medical professionals who were consulted, they stated that we do not need electrolyte replacement since our diet is usually salty enough at an event. The consumption of alcoholic beverages can be dangerous, since alcohol is also a diuretic and interferes with the body's temperature regulation. Water is the best drink, but some safe alternative period beverages are included at the end of the article.

DO drink from your canteen or water bottle since a full container doesn't do your system any good unless you drink. If you run out of water and if there is no water available stop and rest in the shade.

DO realize that if you are thirsty, your body is already 15% dehydrated. Don't wait until you are thirsty to drink.

DO be aware of how often you urinate and if possible the color of the flow. You should be drinking enough liquids that you need to urinate at least every two hours and the urine should be clear yellow; if it is dark yellow or orange, you are in trouble and get fluids into your system immediately.

DO seek medical assistance immediately if you feel sick or experience any problems.

DO DRINK, DRINK, DRINK WATER to keep your system hydrated.

DON'T drink caffeinated, super-sweet, or alcoholic beverages, including beer, no matter how refreshing it may taste when you drink it. They act as diuretics and create the need for more fluids. Alcohol will also upset your body's temperature regulation and the ability to cope with the heat.

DON'T continue to exert if you feel any symptoms of heat problems. Seek medical help immediately.

Tips for Staying Cooler

Wear all natural fabrics. The natural fibers will allow your skin breathe and wick out moisture. Synthetic fibers will retain moisture and don't allow the skin to breath, so one just gets hotter and hotter.

Keep a wet or damp cloth on the back of your neck. As the fabric dries out, re-wet it and continue to wear it. There are some products that can be hydrated ahead of time and worn like a neckerchief. They are filled with absorbent beads that will stay wet for a number of hours. A period remedy for keeping cool was to put a large cabbage leaf on the top of your head under your hat. The moisture from the cabbage leaf helps keep your head cool.

Stay in the shade as much as possible and use a fan to create a breeze. Since moisture is wicked away from the skin, a breeze will act as a desert cooler and you will feel more comfortable.

When it is extremely hot and humid, restrict your activity as much as possible.

Period Recipes for Hot Weather Beverages

For those of you who wish to drink something else besides water and would like to prepare period recipes, there are a number of refreshing beverages that are safe to drink and taste good. They do have some form of sugar in them, but do not contain as much sugar as soft or sports drinks.

Lemonade, cider, ginger beer (a non-alcoholic soft drink), fruit shrubs or vinegars, switchel, barley water, eau sucre (sugar water), and effervescing beverages are mentioned in diaries and period cookbooks as being refreshing in hot weather.

Lemonade was always a favorite and any modern recipe for lemonade or instant lemonade powder is fine to use. Raspberry or strawberry juice may be added for pink lemonade. Mother Bickerdyke wrote about preparing pink lemonade for "her boys" that were recovering in hospitals.

Since lemons were not always available, "portable lemonade" or lemonade powders could be purchased and there were a number of recipes for lemonade mixes. Lemonade powders were found in the cargo of the Steamboat Bertrand, were listed in Sanitary Commission stores, and were included in purchases recorded in store ledgers. In the January 1863 of Godey's there was a recipe for portable lemonade which the author has made and found it as good as commercial lemonade mixes. "Take of tartaric acid [cream of tartar], half an ounce; loaf sugar [may use granulated sugar], three ounces; essence of lemon [lemon extract or a few drops of lemon essential oil] half a drachm [ teaspoon]. Powder the tartaric acid and sugar very fine in a marble or Wedgewood mortar; mix them together, and pour the essence of lemon upon them, but a few drops at a time, stirring the mixture after each addition, till the whole is added; then mix them thoroughly, and divide it into twelve equal parts, wrapping each up separately in a piece of white paper. When wanted for use, it is only necessary to dissolve it [one tablespoon] in tumbler of cold water, and fine lemonade will be obtained, containing the flavor of the juice and peel of the lemon, and ready sweetened."

The Practical Housewife published a receipt for effervescing lemonade: "Boil two pounds of white sugar with a pint of lemon-juice, bottle and cork. Put a tablespoonful of the syrup into a tumbler about three parts full of cold water, add twenty grains [1/3 teaspoon] of carbonate of soda [baking soda], and drink quickly." [For a non-effervescing beverage, the baking soda may be omitted and just use the lemon syrup mixed with water.]

Among other fruit beverages that were enjoyed was appleade. The Practical Housewife gave the following recipe for this favorite beverage. "Cut two large apples in slices, pour a quart of boiling water on them, strain well and sweeten. To be drunk when cold or iced."

Ginger beer [non-alcoholic] was also favored, but it was not always convenient to carry the pre-bottled variety. Catherine Beecher in her Domestic Receipt Book gave several recipes for powdered drinks. The following seem to be the very practical. "Ginger Beer Powders and Soda Powders: Put into blue papers, thirty grains [ teaspoon] to each paper of bicarbonate of soda [baking soda] five grains [1/12 teaspoon] of powdered ginger, and a drachm [1 teaspoon] of white powdered sugar. Put into white papers, twenty-five grains [scant teaspoon] to each, of powdered tartaric acid [cream of tartar]. Put one paper of each kind to a half a pint of water. The common soda powders of the shops are like the above, and when the sugar and ginger are omitted. Soda powders can be kept on hand, and the water in which they are used can be flavored with any kind of syrup or tincture, and thus make a fine drink for hot weather." [Ginger is a remedy for nausea or stomach cramps.]

Other summer beverages fall into the category of shrubs, fruit vinegars or switchels. Switchel is defined in the 1861 edition of Webster's Dictionary as "a drink made from molasses and water, flavored with vinegar and spices." Some sources indicate that Roman soldiers drank something similar to switchel. This beverage was sometimes called "haymaker's punch" and was based on a mixture of vinegar; a sweetener (honey*, molasses, maple syrup or sugar; or brown or white sugar) and water. A modern adaptation of period recipes for plain switchel or haymaker's punch consists of cup each of cider vinegar and a sweetener, and seven cups of water. Combine the vinegar and sweetener of choice until well mixed and add it to the water. Chill. Optional: add 1 teaspoon of powdered ginger to the mixture, which helps prevent stomach cramps or nausea. NOTE: Do not put this mixture in a tin canteen or leave it in a tin cup for an extended period of time. The acid mixture will react with the tin.

For a more convenient method of transporting the switchel combine equal portions of vinegar and a sweetener which may be used as concentrated mix. Add two tablespoons of the concentrated to one cup of water for a beverage. The concentrate does not need to be kept cool to prevent fermentation as does the already mixed version. Store the concentrate in a glass bottle.

Shrub was defined in the 1861 Webster's Dictionary as a "drink made from syrup or a liquor composed of acid and sugar, with spirit to preserve it." These beverages, with the exception of the shrub made with spirits, are very refreshing in hot weather, because they replace fluids and nutrients lost through perspiration. A non-alcoholic fruit shrub was sometimes called a fruit vinegar, i.e., raspberry vinegar. Raspberry (or other fruit) shrubs were given to sick persons, but were also enjoyed by all during hot weather. There were numerous recipes for raspberry vinegar in period cookbooks. Some examples of the recipes are given below.

from Virginia Housewife:
"Raspberry Vinegar. Put a quart of ripe red raspberries in a bowl; pour on them a quart of strong well-flavored vinegar, let them stand for 24 hours, strain them through a bag, put this liquid on another quart of fresh raspberries, which stain in the same manner, and then a third quart; when this last is prepared, make it very sweet with pounded loaf sugar; refine and bottle it. It is a delicious beverage mixed with ice water."

from American Frugal Housewife:
"Raspberry Shrub - Raspberry shrub mixed with water is a pure, delicious drink for summer; and in a country where raspberries are abundant, it is a good economy to make it answer instead of Port and Catalonia wine. Put raspberries in a pan, and scarcely to a pint of juice; (of this you can judge by first trying your pan to see how much it holds); scald it, skim it, and bottle when cold."

from Miss Leslie's Directions for Cookery:
"Raspberry Vinegar - Put two quarts of ripe fresh-gathered raspberries into a stone or china vessel, and pour on them a quart of vinegar. Let it stand twenty-four hours, and then strain it through a sieve. Pour the liquid over two quarts of fresh raspberries, and let it again infuse for a day and a night. Then strain it a second time. Allow a pound of loaf-sugar to every pint of juice. Break up the sugar, and let it melt in the liquor. Then put the whole into a stone jar, cover it closely, and set it in a kettle of boiling water, which must be kept on a quick for an hour. Take off all the scum, and when cold, bottle the vinegar for use."
"Raspberry vinegar mixed with water is a pleasant and cooling beverage in warm weather; also in fevers."

from Buckeye Cookery:
"Place red raspberries in a stone jar, cover with good cider vinegar, let stand over night; next morning strain, and to one pint of juice add one pint of sugar, boil ten minutes, and bottle while hot." [The syrup was mixed with cold water for a refreshing beverage.]

A modern adaptation of raspberry vinegar or shrub uses modern ingredients commonly available in grocery stores. Combine equal parts of raspberry (or other fruit) vinegar or raspberry wine vinegar and honey* (or some other sweetener), mix well. The concentrated mixture may be kept without refrigeration for a number of days but after the concentrate is mixed with water, do not keep the mixture for more than a day in hot weather or it will start to ferment or go "sour." For an individual serving, combine two tablespoons of the vinegar/sweetening mixture with one cup of cold water. Another modern method combines one tablespoon fruit flavored pancake syrup and one tablespoon cider vinegar with one cup cold water.


Another common summer beverage is iced tea. Though, not a common summer beverage throughout the country, it was popular in the South at the time of the Civil War. The earliest reference that mentioned iced tea was How to Live by Solon Robinson in 1860. He wrote, "Last summer we got in the habit of taking the tea iced, and really thought it better than when hot." Since caffeine should not be consumed, decaffeinated tea may be used.

There are quite a few period beverages that are helpful for staying hydrated during the summer so one does not have to rely on modern sports or special beverages, whose identity must be disguised for authenticity. No matter what you drink, remember to:

Have a safe summer event season.


Beecher, Catherine. Domestic Receipt-Book: Designed as a Supplement to her Treatise on Domestic Economy. New York: Harper Bros. 1857.

Beeton, Isabella. Beeton's Book of Household Management. London: S. O. Beeton, 1859-1861. Originally published in 24 monthly parts with the first bound edition published in 1861.

Brown, John Hull. Early American Beverages. Rutland, VT: Charles E. Fuller. 1966.

Child, Lydia Maria. The American Frugal Housewife. Boston: Carter, Hendee & Co. 1833.

_______. Godey's Lady's Book. Sarah Josepha Hale (editor), Philadelphia: Louis Godey. Various issues from 1850 through 1870.

Haskell, Mrs. E. F. Housekeeper's Encyclopedia. New York: D. Appleton. 1860.

Hooker, Richard. Food & Drink in America. New York: Bobbs-Merrill Co. 1981.

Johnson, Sharon Peregrine & Byron. The Authentic Guide to Drinks of the Civil War Era. Gettysburg, PA: Thomas Publications. 1992.

Leslie, Eliza. Directions for Cookery. Philadelphia: Carey & Hart. 1848.

Mescher, Virginia. Historic Accounts: A Study of Store Ledgers from the Mid-Nineteenth Century with a Searchable Database. Burke, VA: Vintage Volumes. 2001.

__________. Peterson's Magazine. Philadelphia. Various issues between 1850 through 1870.

__________. The Practical Housewife: A Complete Encyclopedia of Domestic Economy. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co. 1860.

Oreck, Steven, MD. Correspondence on heat problems via e-mail.

Randolph, Mary. The Virginia Housewife. Philadelphia: Davis & Force. Philadelphia. 1824

___________. The Sanitary Commission of the United States Army: A Succinct Narrative of its Works and Purposes. New York: United States Sanitary Commission. 1864.

___________. Steamboat Bertrand Cargo Manifests. Steamboat Bertrand Museum. Missouri Valley, IA: DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge.

Wilcox, Estelle Woods. Buckeye Cookery and Practical Housekeeping. Marysville, OH: First Congregational Church. 1877.

This article is Copyrighted 2003 by Virginia Mescher. This article may not be reproduced by any means including printed or electronic, regardless of whether for fee or without charge, without the written permission of its author. This prohibition includes publishing it on a webpage except for small excerpts, appropriately credited.