Saturday, June 6, 2009

Summertime means...

I was reading Ray Bradbury's "Dandelion Wine" the other day, and he used the beverage as a metaphor for the idyllic summer days of youth. And then, cosmic coincidence, I was doing a piece of research just days later, and I came across a cookbook in the DUP archives called How To Cook (Chicago: Belford, Clarke & CO, 1883). It was owned by Mary Clark (mother of Annie Clark Kimball), and on the front blank page someone had written this receipt in an elaborate Spenserian hand:

Dandelion Wine
Boil for half an hour 6 lbs of Sugar 7 quarts of Water and 2 lbs of dandelion flowers or 4 ounces of the roots. When luke warm strain it into a clean cask add 4 ounces of raisins and a teaspoon of fresh beer yeast. Stir daily for 10 days then bung close.

So there's my first post of summer. After you've "bunged it close" I recommend you let it sit in your cellar for six months, and then when winter gets depressing, you can go down to the cellar for a brief reminiscence of those lovely summer days.


J Rock said...

What exactly is "beer yeast"? Is that like hops or something else?

Brock said...

In the most general sense (and in this case) beer yeast would be the live yeast residue that forms from the beer making process. In modern terms it would be like a cake of fresh, moist live yeast. This is in contrast to home cultured yeast that pioneers would feed in a small crock by the stove. Beer yeast would be fresh and pure; home cultured yeast is diluted in strength and not always fresh. The cookbooks of the day advocated using yeast from breweries for baking, rather than home culturing. I wrote a post about this a couple of months ago.

More specifically in the modern sense, however, beer yeast is rather different than bread yeast. They do different things so they have been "bred" and cultured for specific purposes. Beer yeast is cultured to live in a high alcohol environment, where bread yeast might be made ineffective by the alcohol. Alcohol can be antiseptic, keeping the microbes from multiplying. Some beer yeasts are bred for lower temperature fermentation, darker beers, hoppier beers, higher alcohol beers, etc. Bread yeast is cultured to raise bread at 70 degrees F. More than you wanted to know?

Back in the day, hops was used in yeast culturation. Hops also has a sort of antiseptic quality to it, but was friendly to yeast. This made hopped yeast more impervious to infections, and stayed fresh longer. Hops was sometimes called the "yeast plant".

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