Beyond A Southern Tradition: The Hot Toddy
Written by Marvin Stoxstell
I remember my grandfather would look me straight in the face, squint his eyes, and in his low baritone tell me stories of how the people of the South would call him “The Sheriff” because he could drive so well. He described how he’d turn a corner so fast it would throw rocks up into the back of his truck. It wasn’t until later that I learned he got these skills running moonshine, just like my great-great grandfather Lee Stoxstell did before him.
My great-great grandfather had one of the largest stills in Batesville, Mississippi, and would run moonshine from Memphis, Tennessee, all the way to Chicago, Illinois. His liquor was so good, a white man traded him a now antique Winchester from the 1800s for a gallon of moonshine and Southern Hot Toddy. That Winchester is still in my family to this day, along with several of those same rifles that won the West.
In 1937, my father M.C. Stoxstell was born on a cotton plantation in the Mississippi Delta and he worked the fields as a boy. It was grueling work that didn’t pay much and the likelihood of getting a great education was slim to none for a black man at the time.
In fact, my father received only an 8th grade education due to trying to help support his family in a place where everybody in the community was suffering from one adversity or another. As soon as he could manage it, my father got our family out of the Delta hoping to build a better life in eastern Texas where I was born in 1968.
My father has been a Christian man for as long as I can remember. Whenever any of us took sick with severe flu or cold and Nyquil could no longer do us justice, my dad would pull out the secret family weapon— no, not those rifles, but the very commodity that helped us get them— The Southern Hot Toddy.
Like an ancient ritual, Dad would always share the story of how this legendary drink became such an important part of our family’s tradition. He would recount how, working those cotton fields, they couldn’t afford a doctor when someone took sick. Instead, they relied on their own remedy which seemed to work every time.
Dad would be standing over the pot, boiling sliced lemons. He’d say that most people who make a Hot Toddy with a little lemon juice, “don’t know what the heck they’re doing.” Then he’d say that the key is to cut up whole lemons, boiling the husk and seeds together and stirring the pot until some of the pulp starts floating in the water.
At this point, you’re told, “Go in there and take a hot bath— as hot as you can stand it. I’m not telling you to soak in the tub, but bathe and get out; then you’ll be ready to sip down this Hot Toddy.”
When dealing with a severe cold, you can’t really smell much of anything— but when Dad was making a Hot Toddy, your nose opened before the drink even touched your lips. I’ve never known a lemon to smell so good.
“Son, we didn’t have Vicks vapor rub. We made hog salve (Talon) and cow chip tea to treat congestion,” he’d say. “Nowadays people will frown at you just by mentioning these things, but these remedies are what kept us alive.” Every time I take a sip of a Hot Toddy, I’m taken back to these words— and it makes me feel connected to my ancestors.
“Miss Hot Toddy” was perfected through a process of combining honey, lemon, ginger, and Southern distilled whiskey, all brewed by hand and passed down across generations. It was more than a Southern tradition for so many, and to me and my family, that hasn’t changed.
The legacy of this legendary spirt lives on, allowing you to experience over 200 years of excellence, healing, and history. Drink up and be well.
Written by Marvin Stoxstell
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