It’s February, it’s cold, it’s flu season, here and everywhere else in Europe, I imagine. Flu season brings with it a new and interesting cultural experience: here in the South of Europe, people have a distinctly different approach to health and sickness from what I’m used to up North. Italians have a whole range of ailments that we hyperboreans simply don’t suffer from (if I may refer you to this article, which explains it well and humorously), and to avoid catching any of these life-threatening conditions (which, to me, are all imaginary), they have a wide variety of precautions to be taken – which I steadfastly ignore.
When it comes to ailments that actually exist in the world I come from, the story is much the same: pure, unadulterated terror. For instance, Italians call anything from 37.5 degrees upwards ‘a fever’. When people here have the flu, they’ll call in sick and say they have a fever. The flu also struck here in Casa Dittatrice, and I was asked, as I was going to the shop, to bring home a thermometer. “I want to check if I have a fever”, was the explanation. But having a fever is like finding true love, or the Arkenstone: you’ll just know. If you have to use a thermometer to check whether or not you have a fever, it’s not a fever. In comparison, in Scotland, at 38 degrees, you’re ‘somewhat under the weather’ and you’re feeling a little warm. Here, your life’s in immediate and grave danger. The concept is similar to that of the man flu, except Italian women seem to be subject to it as well.
Inevitably, this nation has a similar approach to getting over the flu as it has to getting and having it in the first place: one of vast exaggeration. So bed rest, woollen blankets, turtlenecks, and a load of medicine that would knock out a horse, ranging from plain old paracetamol to substances I’d never even heard of. What with their dietary restrictions, I can imagine that Italians are terrified of catching something, because apparently all they’re meant to eat whilst they’re recovering is plain white rice and, the most famous of all health foods, ‘mele cotte’, or boiled apples. Yeah, that’ll keep anyone down for a couple of weeks. Boiled apples, are you kidding me?
In the North, we treat flu with much less respect, or rather, cowardly terror, than they do here. In Scotland, the best medicine for a cold or flu is a hot toddy. A hot toddy is a whisky-based hot drink, and it has everything you need for a rapid healing process: alcohol to chill you the fuck out and put you to sleep, honey to soothe the throat, lemon juice to boost your vitamin C supply, spices to open up the sinuses. Apart from that, it doesn’t taste like you’re being punished – it’s actually really tasty, which means that you can have it when you’re not ill, too.
There’s lots of different ways to prepare a hot toddy, and I think you should let it depend on the whisky you’re using what the ingredients you want to add. My whisky is a good one, it’s dead peaty, so I want to make it the dominating flavour. If you’re using a more gentle kind of whisky, you can maybe go for some more experimental spices – you decide. This is how I like mine.
For a couple of ill, cold or otherwise afflicted individuals, use:
- 70 ml (or just a little more, go on, we’re not in a bar, no need for precision!) of peaty whisky
- about the same amount of water
- juice of half a lemon
- 2 tsp honey
- 6 cloves
- 1 small stick of cinnamon
- a good strip of lemon peel
Put your water in a small saucepan, add the cloves, cinnamon and lemon peel, and leave it to simmer on low fire for a good 10 minutes so that the water can soak up all the delicious flavours.
In the meantime, put a good shot of whisky (35 ml if you want to be precise about it) in a couple of glasses, and add some lemon juice to each, and a small teaspoon of honey. Top it with the still hot (but not boiling – aim for about 70°C) water, stir well, and drink it as hot as you can.