Brewing up some history: recreating historical beer recipes

By Tiah Edmunson-Morton

At the expense of sounding cliché, historic recipe recreations are a way to taste the past. Figuring out proper ingredients, considering environmental conditions, and using appropriate equipment all bring you closer to what people ate and drank in “days of yore.”

Barclay and Perkins brewery, Southwark: visitors watching beer fermenting in a large brewhouse, 1847. Image Credit: Wellcome Images, London.

Home brewer forums are full of threads on authenticity, and a Google search for “home brewing ancient recipes” nets millions of pages with ideas and results. Commercial breweries are also in on this, researching and experimenting for single brews or regular releases. In 1989, Anchor Brewing made a Sumerian beer for the Institute of Brewing Studies’ Micro Brewery Conference based on the “Hymn to Ninkasi,” an 1800 BCE song that praises the Sumerian goddess of beer and an ancient beer recipe. Even grander in terms of production and promotion is Dogfish Head Brewery’s series of beers “Ancient Ales,” which they’ve recreated with molecular archeologist Dr. Patrick McGovern. The company reports that Midas Touch, Theobroma, and Chateau Jiahu are “truly liquid time capsules.” Brewing scientists from Oregon State University collaborated with the Heurich House museum to recreate a batch of Christian Heurich Brewing Company’s “Senate Lager” after a researcher discovered the recipe in the National Archives. A final example comes from Dupont Brewery in Belgium. The recipe for “Cervesia Archeosite” came from a beer made a thousand years ago in their region; they drew on traditional styles and ingredients as a point of pride.

I knew about projects like these when I started the Oregon Hops and Brewing Archives in 2013 and could see the outreach potential immediately. Oregon became a state in 1859, and much of its nineteenth-century beer history lore details a brewery on every corner. The story goes that wherever a community formed around an industry (farming, mining, logging), businesses to make and serve alcohol were among the first essential services. While I don’t doubt that plenty of alcohol was consumed, and probably made at home, the census records show that a brewery on every corner is an exaggeration at best and a myth at worst.

When I started to look for nineteenth-century brewery records, I was surprised to find so little. While the majority of Oregon’s earliest breweries were small and short-lived, if local breweries were omnipresent in the nineteenth century, I assumed there would be a treasure trove of information in libraries or archives.

Initially, I reached for the sources in my library, which included state history books with information on “prominent people,” laboratory publications that focused on the technical aspects of the brewing process, manuals on facilities management, and books on beer gardens. For historic recipes, I had the most luck in household management books; not only were there recipes for brewing beer, but also instructions for making bread and keeping bees. The Sanborn Fire Insurance maps were quite helpful in determining the size, layout, and location of breweries. Once I looked outside my building, I found probate records in county and state records, census records with biographical information about individual brewers, and mortgages and lawsuits that listed brewery assets.

The Roadshow, 2015

While these physical print sources are lovely for browsing, locating recipes from specific breweries or that used specific ingredients was really difficult. Both Google Books and the Hathi Trust are invaluable because they are both keyword searchable. In 2015, I worked with a brewery to make a beer for a public archaeology event; they wanted to make a lager with rice, and I found a short recipe in an 1883 brewing book published in England.

Roadshow 2015: The Recipe.

For the same event the following year I worked with a home brewer. I sent her links to several books and she chose one she found in a home management published in New York in 1872; the recipe was 10 pages long and the product was delightfully hoppy. Some of my favorite books are:

Choosing a recipe for the 2016 event.

In six years, I still haven’t found a recipe for an Oregon pre-Prohibition beer; however, I have gathered clues about nineteenth-century Oregon beer styles. Probably the most valuable source are the advertisements found in digitized newspapers. Breweries of all sizes made a range of styles, though they all regularly advertised a traditional German-style lager or steam beer, which uses a lager yeast but is fermented at ale temperatures to compensate for the lack of refrigeration. Oregon brewers also sold less familiar styles such as Philadelphia XXX Ale, XX Cream, and Flat. Those county probate records I mentioned sometimes included receipts, which meant I knew details about hops or barley orders, as well as bottling equipment and supplies. Those census records give clues about a brewer’s country of origin and the brewery income.

My most recent research has focused on the women involved in Oregon’s pre-Prohibition breweries, with an eye towards redirecting the need we have for women to be brewers. Since the records don’t indicate that they were, I am working with three female brewers to design a recipe based on the biographies of wives of brewers. Our goal will be to share the brewers’ creations, but also to engage consumers with the stories of nineteenth-century women in Oregon.

I still have hope that I’ll uncover a recipe gem, but I am also a realist. In the meantime, I know that my work in the twenty-first century to collect records will help the next generation recreate our present.

Fueling Beer Breweries in Early Modern London

By William M. Cavert

Detail from the panorama of London by Claes Visscher, 1616. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
Detail from the panorama of London by Claes Visscher (1616). Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

The shop down the road that sells alcoholic drinks offers such a variety of beers and ales that while shopping I sometimes imagine myself newly arrived from a communist planned economy into some bewilderingly choice-laden consumer paradise. Beer made in ever-so-small batches by Belgian monks, or by siblings in post-industrial Chicago, or wacky young guys working out of a garage in rural Oregon – all compete to position themselves as small-scale and artisanal, sharing nothing with the huge conglomerates that offer cheap prices but little taste. Such producers, as well as the growing numbers of home brewers, suggest that drinkers increasingly value the idea that beer should be a carefully-crafted product, something that connects us to a bygone (and yet recoverable) age of natural foods and careful cooking. As much as I applaud this shift in taste and values, as a historian I smile at the association between beer brewing and simpler modes of making food and drink.

This is because four hundred years ago in England the beer brewers of London operated businesses that helped inaugurate a modern world of environmentally-damaging industrial production. London, already during the reign of Elizabeth I and the career of Shakespeare, burned huge amounts of polluting mineral coal, and no one burned more of it than brewers. Hell, according to 17th-century English authors, was like the smoke emitted from a brewhouse chimney.[1]

But exactly how much Newcastle coal would be required to brew varied enormously, according to factors including the brewer’s preferred recipe and method, the kind of drink being prepared, and, in all likelihood, the brewer’s skill in conserving expensive fuel. One 18th-century expert on brewing, Michael Combrune, explained that brewers disagreed regarding how long to boil the wort, with preferences ranging from 5 minutes to 2 hours, concluding that experience and careful observation were the best guides. Once the hops were added, a further boil of 2-3 times the first was necessary. In general, he found, 6-7 hours of boiling was typical, but the entire discussion seems to be as much prescriptive and descriptive, a guide to what brewers ought to do.[2]

Jacob Adriaensz Matham, "View of the De Drie Leliën Brewery at Haarlem and of Velserend Manor, Owned by Johan Claesz van Loo" (1627), Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem.
Jacob Adriaensz Matham, “View of the De Drie Leliën Brewery at Haarlem and of Velserend Manor, Owned by Johan Claesz van Loo” (1627).  Image courtesy of the Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem.

Given this variety, it is no wonder that different brewers required different inputs of energy. The detailed records of the brewery within Westminster College, part of the complex surrounding Westminster Abbey, shows that in the decades around 1600 they were able to brew about 30 barrels of beer per ton of coal.[3] But in 1592 when the Brewers Company explained to the crown how much grain and fuel they required, their numbers suggest a ratio of about 3 times as much.[4] In the mid-18th century the brewhouse for Corpus Christi College in Cambridge made only about 25 barrels per ton, while at the end of the century the huge commercial brewhouse of Truman and Hanbury in London made almost 80.[5] Economies of scale must have mattered a great deal here; Truman’s produced more than 1000 times more beer than Corpus, and spent around £2000 per year on 1400 tons of coal during the 1790s. A business like that would have had both the experience and a powerful motivation to economize on fuel consumption. But even 200 years earlier some London brewers used around 500 tons per year, or 1-2 cubic meters of coal burned in a day’s brewing. Brewing, already in the 16th century, was undertaken by ambitious business people who employed dozens of workers and used a great deal of energy.

[1] This is explored in my new book, The Smoke of London: Energy and Environment in the Early Modern City (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016). For detailed calculations on industrial burning, see also William M. Cavert, “Industrial Fuel Consumption in Early Modern London” Urban History (2016), available here on FirstView.

[2] Michael Combrune, The Theory and Practice of Brewing (London, 1762), 186-88.

[3] Westminster Abbey Muniments 33,906-33,063, Abbey Stewards’ Accounts.

[4] Guildhall Library MS 5445/9.

[5] Corpus Christi College Cambridge Archives CCCC/O2/2/71; London Metropolitan Archives B/THB/B/150-1.

*****

William M. Cavert teaches early modern English, environmental, and world history at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, MN. He is the author of The Smoke of London: Energy and Environment in the Early Modern City (Cambridge University Press, 2016). Besides urban and environmental history, he has recently turned his attention toward England during the Little Ice Age.

First Monday Library Chat: The Brotherton Library at the University of Leeds

Welcome to the March 2016 edition of the First Monday Library Chat. This month we have the great pleasure of traveling to Leeds and talking to Karen Sayers, Assistant Archivist at the University of Leeds.

The Cookery Collection is one of the key collections at the Brotherton Library and was awarded ‘designation status’ in 2005. Could you give us an overview of the collection?

‘The Art of Cookery’ Hannah Glasse, 1755. Cookery A/GLA. Title page of the 5th edition showing the index and the additional recipes in the appendix.
‘The Art of Cookery’ Hannah Glasse, 1755. Cookery A/GLA. Title page of the 5th edition showing the index and the additional recipes in the appendix.

The Cookery Collection is primarily focused on recipes for cooking, but also contains many works on food production, the medicinal use of food and gardening. An outstanding feature of the collection is the presence of various editions of popular texts such as Hannah Glasse’s ‘The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy’ and Eliza Acton’s ‘Modern Cookery, in All Its Branches’. These allow the researcher to track innovation and changes in taste and fashion. Glasse’s book was first published in 1747 and appeared in 20 editions in the 18th century. By the time of the fifth edition in 1755 Glasse was appealing to an audience with cosmopolitan tastes! A new appendix contains advice on how ‘to dress a Turtle, the West-India Way’ and ‘how to make India pickle’.

‘The Art of Cookery’ Hannah Glasse, 1755. Cookery A/GLA. Title page of the 5th edition showing the index and the additional recipes in the appendix.
‘A treatise on adulterations of food, and culinary poisons’, Friedrich Accum, 1822. Cookery A/ACC. Title page with a warning quotation from the Bible and an illustration of a snake and skull to reinforce the author’s message.

A Treatise on Adulterations of Food, and Culinary Poisons’ by Friedrich Accum, (1820), is a practical text warning its readers of the dangers that can lurk in food including everyday items such as bread, beer and cheese. Accum was a practicing chemist who wanted to keep dangerous additives out of processed foods and to inform the public. His treatise was controversial as Accum was not afraid to name manufacturers who were adulterating food. However some of his revelations may have put readers off their favourite treats! Accum reveals that white wine can be adulterated with lead to make it clear, and ginger lozenges may contain pipe-clay as a part substitute for sugar.

We also have interesting cookery manuscripts including recipe books compiled by individuals. One 18th century notebook MS 894 signed by Mary Lee and Henry Danvers Hodges has recipes for ‘cake, a good one’ and, less appetisingly, ‘soop meagre’. Mixed in with the recipes are cures for various ailments such as ‘The American Receipt for the Rheumatism’. The recipe, which involves a lot of garlic, ought to be effective as the writer claims that ‘a hundred pounds has been given for it’.

For those of us interested in the history of archives, I wonder, could you tell us a little more about the history of The Cookery Collection?

The Cookery Collection began with a donation of 1,500 printed volumes and some manuscript volumes presented to the library by Blanche Legat Leigh in 1939. The oldest item in her collection is a Babylonian clay tablet of about 2,500 BC inscribed with a list of foods in cuneiform; and the oldest European book is Platina’s ‘De Honesta Voluptate’ in a 1487 edition printed in Venice.

In 1954 the Times Bookshop in London held an exhibition ‘Cookery Books 1500-1954. Some books from the Blanche Legat Leigh collection were on display. This encouraged a private collector, John F. Preston, to donate 600 British volumes published from 1584 to 1861 to Leeds in 1962. These include the first edition of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management.

In the 1980s Leeds acquired the Camden Library Cookery Collection. The most notable feature of this collection is its coverage of English cookery books published from 1949 to the mid-1970s. Special Collections acquired the Michael Bateman Collection in 2011. Bateman was a pioneering food journalist who wanted to enhance people’s diets and palates through his writing.

Beer and ale brewing has been a popular topic on our blog of late, I was delighted to see that the Brotherton has a rich collection of texts on the history of brewing. Could you tell us a little more about the Chaston Chapman collection?

Alfred Chaston Chapman (1869-1932) was an analytical and consulting chemist who worked primarily in relation to brewing. He was President of the Institute of Brewing from 1911-1913. His collection of books on the history of brewing was donated to the University of Leeds in 1939. The subjects covered include wine and winemaking, distillation and the distilling industry, drinking customs, ciders and whisky, and legal issues surrounding alcohol.

The brewing collection makes for fascinating reading and contains some entertaining and amusing titles. Of note are ‘The Anatomy of Drunkeness’ a Glaswegian publication from 1840, and ‘The History and Science of Drunkenness’ an illustrated volume published in 1883.

The Chaston Chapman collection is relevant to student social life both past and present, containing an 1835 edition of ‘Oxford Night Caps: Being a Collection of Receipts for Making Various Beverages Used in the University’. An intriguing collection of concoctions, it contains a recipe for Oxford Punch. Among the required ingredients are six glasses of calves-feet jelly, the juice of four oranges and ten lemons, half a pint of white wine, a pint of French brandy and a pint of Jamaica rum.

Can you highlight one or two of your favourite items?

3)‘Pomona: or the Fruit Garden Illustrated’, Batty Langley, 1729. Large Cookery A/LAN. Plate 3, showing the blossom on different varieties of peach trees.
3) ‘Pomona: or the Fruit Garden Illustrated’, Batty Langley, 1729. Large Cookery A/LAN. Plate 3, showing the blossom on different varieties of peach trees.

As a keen gardener one of my favourite items in the collection has to be ‘Pomona: or the Fruit Garden Illustrated’ by the delightfully named Batty Langley. It is full of practical advice for the gardener on the growing of fruit including peaches, cherries, plums and grapes. Langley gives practical advice on pruning and caring for plants and about picking and preserving their fruit. He asserts that cherries ‘are best eaten from the Trees, after a shower of rain’, adding helpfully ‘but most commonly out of spring water after dinner’. Langley has drawn detailed illustrations of the blossom, buds and fruit of various trees.

3)‘Pomona: or the Fruit Garden Illustrated’, Batty Langley, 1729. Large Cookery A/LAN. Plate 24, showing different varieties of plums.
3) ‘Pomona: or the Fruit Garden Illustrated’, Batty Langley, 1729. Large Cookery A/LAN. Plate 24, showing different varieties of plums.

 

What tips can you offer to help users find them via your catalog or finding aids?

The best tip is to access the Cookery Collections Guide on Special Collections’ webpages. This is a good way to gain an overview of the content of the collection. A dedicated search box enables the users to carry out searches within the cookery collections only. The webpage for the collections’ guide provides direct links to some of our major holdings including Cookery Printed Books and the Michael Bateman Archive.

We have also grouped all our Cookery Printed Books and Cookery Manuscripts together in two distinct collections to help researchers to navigate the catalogue. If you want advice or wish to visit Special Collections please email us.

Wormy beer and wet nursing in the Roman Empire

Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, on a Attic black-figure amphora, sixth century BCE. Source: Wikipedia
Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, on a Attic black-figure amphora, sixth century BCE. Source: Wikipedia

As pointed out by Elaine Leong in a recent post, beer is a favourite topic at The Recipes Project. As a Belgian, I felt I should perhaps add something to the subject. As a classicist, however, I rarely encounter beer. Famously, the Greeks and Romans were wine drinkers, and considered beer a Barbarian beverage. Still, ancient medical texts do give us some information on beer. The pharmacologist Dioscorides (first century CE) describes two types of beer:

Beer (zuthos) it is prepared with barley. It is diuretic and has an effect on the kidneys and tendons. It is particularly harmful for the membranes [of the brain?]. It causes flatulence and produces bad humours, and it causes elephantiasis. Horn becomes easy to work when soaked in this drink.

The so-called kourmi is also prepared with barley; it is often drunk instead of wine. It causes headaches, is unwholesome and harmful to the nerves/sinews. In Western Spain and Britain, such drinks are also made with wheat. [Dioscorides, Materia Medica 2.87 and 88]

Clearly, Dioscorides is not selling these drinks to us. They cause all sort of troubles to those who consume them, some of which sound particularly unpleasant. While Dioscorides’ elephantiasis is most certainly not full-blown Proteus syndrome, its symptoms must have included painful swellings. In fact, the only positive property of beer according to the pharmacologist is to make horn malleable, which I guess is useful if you specialise in deer-antler carving. Interestingly, Dioscorides describes beer as a Celtic drink, omitting the fact that the Egyptians too were beer-drinkers.

Ancient Greek and Roman regimens and recipes rarely mention beer, which is no surprise when we consider Dioscorides’ view of the beverage. There is, however, one significant exception: the diet of the wet-nurse recommended by Antyllus, a second-century physician, whose precepts are preserved in the writings of Oribasius (fourth century CE). In the ancient world, arrangements between family members and neighbours to breastfeed each other’s children may have been common, but they have gone unrecorded. Paid wet-nurses, by contrast, may have been relatively exceptional, but they are well documented in written records. Hiring a wet-nurse was an expensive and difficult endeavour. Fortunately (or not, depending on one’s interpretation of the evidence), ‘experts’ were on hand to ditch out advice. Antyllus was one such expert. Here are his recommendations to deal with a wet-nurse’s insufficient milk supply:

[Recipe] to make the milk come abundantly in the breast: crush 5 or 6 worms that are found in the mud of the river, those that are called ‘the guts of the earth’; add dates, wine dregs, and rub together. Give it to the woman to drink in beer, telling her to wash herself and to fast beforehand. Give for 10 days and wonder at how abundant and good the milk is. [Oribasius, Libri incerti 34.6]

The Egyptian Nile on a Roman mosaic, Rome Palazzo Massimo alle Terme. Photo: Laurence Totelin
The Egyptian Nile on a Roman mosaic, Rome Palazzo Massimo alle Terme. Photo: Laurence Totelin

‘Yum-yum’ I hear you say. Interestingly, beer and dates remain used as galactagogues to this day, preferably without added worms. Antyllus’ recipe is almost certainly Egyptian. As already mentioned, the Greeks and Romans did not drink beer, but the Egyptians did. Date palms did not bear their fruits to maturity in Greece and Italy, but they did in Egypt. The muddy river mentioned by Antyllus must be the Nile.

At the time of Antyllus, Egypt was under Roman rule, and Alexandria in the Delta of the Nile was a famous centre of medical knowledge, perhaps one where Antyllus himself studied. As it happens, wet-nurse contracts from Roman Egypt have survived (see here for an example), although they remain silent on the nurse’s diet and never mention worms.