Tree-Hugging Dirt Worship

June 22, 2012

English Cottage Beer

Filed under: food, Vinting — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paragardener @ 5:41 pm

Herein I will show you the way the English made beer in 1780 or so, before England started taxing malt and hops, subsidizing tea, and even banning the sharing of brewing utensils. It also happens to meet the German Purity Law. I “translated” the recipe from William Cobbett’s 1823 book “Cottage Economy,” wherein Cobbett exhorts British workers to maintain a productive homestead, rather than fully buying into the industrial, globally-ambitious economy of the Empire. Cobbett intersperses a lot of political rants into his instructions, goes out of order, uses strange old words and writes sentences that go on for paragraphs, so it would be quite hard to make beer by thumbing through the book as you go along. In other words: disorganization and high reading level don’t make for clear instructions, so I had to write this just to figure out the recipe for myself!

My translation is faithful to the original, it’s for a really big batch of beer, and you need some special equipment such as a 40-gallon copper kettle and a bundle of birch twigs. With no modifications, the recipe might help a historical re-enactor. My next step towards making this beer it to scale down the recipe to use junk available at the local homebrew shop.


Water: Soft water from a brook or river is best, and a pond fed by a rivulet will do just fine. Hard water, or mineral-rich well water, is advised against. For the modern brewer, water from the tap is likely fine, as long as it isn’t too full of minerals. In some areas, there is so much chlorine in the water that it will kill your yeast, but you can remove the chlorine by boiling or filtering the water through charcoal (the latter method will also remove hardness and other minerals).

Since you’ll be boiling it, go ahead and use water contaminated by cholera and dysentery.

Malt: If you are so fortunate as to have a local maltster, look for barley that is fully malted — all the kernels should be sporting sprouts, and float rather than sink. The shells should be thin and the interior mealy — hard and steely is bad. Whether you like light or dark roasted malt is up to you, depending on your taste in beer. This recipe is for two bushels of malt.

Alternatively, you can make your own malt from fresh barley

Soak the barley for three days. Pour it out onto bricks, stone, or concrete. Watch for the roots to shoot out, and the above-ground shoots to advance about halfway through the inside of the barley seed. Dry the barley, such as by roasting it at a low temperature.

Making your own malt was a criminal activity in the England of 1823… I can imagine Cobbett writing books about growing marijuana if he lived today!

Hops: You are looking for the cones of the hops plant, pure and free of leaf and vine. The cones should not be brown, but between yellow and green, free of mature seeds (big, hard, dark seeds), have a lively, pleasant smell, and have lots of resinous powder. Anyone who has bought cannabis should have a good handle on what to look for in hops, although good hops is described as slippery rather than sticky. This recipe uses two pounds of hops.

Yeast: Cobbett recommends making yeast cakes once per year, during a hot, dry stretch of summer.

3 ounces good fresh hops

3.5 ounces rye flour

7 pounds corn meal

1 gallon water

Boil the water. Rub the hops to separate it into the water. Boil 1/2 hour. Strain into a big bowl.

Stir in the rye flour while the water is hot. Cover with a loose cloth and leave out for a day.

Stir in the corn meal. Pull out the resulting stiff lump of dough and knead it well, “as you would a pie-crust.” Roll it out at about 1/3 of an inch thick. Cut out 3-inch round pieces of dough. Place them on a board in the hot sun; turn them every day and protect them from wet (I imagine you have to put them out every morning and take them in every evening.) When the yeast cakes are as dry and hard as ship biscuits, they are ready to be stored in a dry place.

To prepare liquid yeast from the cakes, take 2 cakes, crack them, and drop into hot water. Leave in a warm place overnight.

Froth from fermenting beer is also good, traditional yeast — but it’s only available when you already have some beer going!


40-gallon copper kettle

60-gallon mash tub with a 2″ drain hole located at the center. A tapered stick, a bit taller than the tub, serves as the stopper. A bundle of birch sticks or straw is used as a strainer. You must weight the straw into place with something you can move the stopper-stick through — but please don’t follow Cobbett’s suggestion to use a leaden collar! “The thing they use in some farmhouses is the iron box of a wheel,” if that clears things up.

An “underbuck,” a shallow tub to go under the mash tub.

30-gallon “tun” tub

2 to 4 big shallow tubs, for cooling hot liquid.


Big, bowl-like ladle

3 18-gallon casks

Stir stick: somewhat larger than a broomstick, with two or three 8-10″ sticks pushed through perpendicularly near one end.

A very large piece of cheesecloth or some burlap sacks sewn into a sheet.

Strainer (such as a clean wicker clothes basket)


Baking pan


Coarse linen

Boil the Wort

Fill the 40-gallon copper kettle with water and bring to a boil.

Set up the mash tub. It should be up on stools or sawhorses or the like, so that the underbuck can be placed under the drain hole. The straw or birch filter must somehow be set into place, and the stopper-stick shoved through it and into the drain hole.

Pour water into the mash tub, sufficient to stir two bushels of malt around in (perhaps 20 gallons?). Top the kettle up and keep it boiling.

Allow the water in the mash tub to cool to 170 Fahrenheit. Add two bushels of malt, ground, into the mash tub, and stir well with the stir stick. Leave the mash this way for 15 minutes (stirring occasionally?).

Add boiling water until the mash tub is a little more than half full — about 30 gallons of water, total, should have gone into the tub by this point, though much will be absorbed into the malt. Stir the mash well again. Cover with loose fabric, such as burlap sacks or cheese cloth, and leave for 2 hours.

Little by little, pull out the tapered stopper-stick, so the wort drains slowly into the underbuck and your filter catches the malt. Ladle the wort into the tun-tub (or use a hose and a submersible pump, I don’t care).

Start the Small Beer

Beer for hobbits? I guess you could use coffee grounds twice, and call the second batch “small coffee.” We are going to take the wort we drained out and make it into ale, but first we’ll extract the last goodness out of our malt to make small beer.

Plug the mash tub drain hole back up. Pour 36 gallons of boiling water into the tub, and stir well with the stir stick. Cover with loose cloth, and leave stand for only one hour.

Ale into the Kettle

Pour the wort from the tun-tub into the empty copper kettle. Add one and a half pounds of good hops, well rubbed and separated as you add it. Boil from one to one and a half hours.

Remove from heat and pour into the shallow cooling tubs, straining out the hops (and saving them for the small beer).

Small Beer into the Kettle

The small beer wort in the tun tub is now returned to the copper kettle, with the lightly-used hops you strained out of the ale wort. Add half a pound of fresh hops, and boil for an hour.

During this time, you need to watch for the cooling ale wort to reach 70 Fahrenheit, as well as clean the mash tub out and set it up for another use.

Ale into Tun Tub for Primary Fermentation

When the ale wort (in the shallow tubs) cools to seventy Fahrenheit, pour it back into the tun-tub.

Put a half-pint of yeast into a gallon bowl or jar, then fill the container with wort. Stir in a handful or wheat or rye flour. Pour the mixture into the tun-tub and stir it all together.

Cover with a loose cloth and place in an area as close to 55 Fahrenheit as possible.

Fermenting the Small Beer

Put out your fire, and strain the small beer wort from the kettle into the mash-tub. Throw the hops into the compost, or onto the dung-hill if that’s your style.

Let the wort cool in the mash tub.

Put three half-pints of yeast into a gallon bowl or jar, then fill the container with wort. Stir in a handful or wheat or rye flour. Pour the mixture into the mash-tub and stir it all together.

Cover with a loose cloth and place in a cool area.

Treat as in “Fermenting the Ale,” below, but cask the small beer while it is still a little warm from yeast action.

Fermenting the Ale

Let the yeast work and skim off froth every twelve hours or so, until no more froth is rising up.

When the beer is as cold as its surroundings, it is ready to cask. Block the casks with the bunghole up but slightly to one side, so that any runoff goes down the one side into an awaiting pan. Then, pour bucketfuls of beer through the funnel into the cask, leaving a couple of gallons behind for topping up. Allow the beer to work for several more days, and top up the cask as needed. When the bubbling is really, finally over, turn the bunghole straight up. Add a handful of hops, and fill the cask completely full. Put a piece of coarse linen around the bung and hammer it into place. You may weight the bung into place with a sandbag, if desired.

Leave beer in the cask from about two weeks to the limit of your patience. Small beer may be ready in a couple of weeks, but ale benefits from longer aging and is said to keep forever. Modern wooden casks feature a replaceable “keystone” through which you hammer a tap. Drink the beer. Be sure to seal the cask tightly back up when you are through with the beer, or you will mold the cask and ruin it!

Clean the cask by pouring it out, scalding it in several changes of hot water, and rolling it about with a chain inside.

That’s how you make beer. What a project — no wonder American pioneers preferred hard cider! Cobbett says that you can brew beer in one day, if you start at four in the morning. So, uh, seize the day. Or just enjoy knowing something new.

Have a happy summer, y’all!


June 17, 2012

Alternatives to Crumb-Sharing

Filed under: Soapbox — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , — paragardener @ 11:27 pm

There is a horrifying wealth disparity in America, where a few hundred families dominate all of politics, business, and even “charitable” foundations. Meanwhile, other folks can’t find any way to make money, and they’re losing homes left and right. The basic, default left/Socialist solution to wealth disparity is to tax the rich more heavily and disperse their money with entitlement programs, or perhaps job-creating enterprises (how about a bullet train?).

That’s not a horrible solution. It’s not always politically feasible, Goddess knows, and there are a few problems it creates, such as resentment from those who don’t quite qualify for the program that would help them, or are too proud to take a “hand-out.”

I believe that much of our wealth disparity problem stems from operating our markets under the wrong rules, and not from some inherent tendency of markets to concentrate wealth. I want to suggest alternatives to sharing tax-crumbs around, just to stimulate some thought. Perhaps we could stop thinking of “redistributing the wealth” (which is fine) and start thinking of “economic justice” (which is better.)

* More forgiving bankruptcy laws. Bankruptcy is available as an escape from total debt entrapment. In 2005, Congress imposed a means test (that is to say, a poverty test) on Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Why? So that those who fail the means test can become resentful of those who are even worse off? At the same time, it required credit counseling before filing for bankruptcy. Hopefully, all of the credit counselors approved by the government are honest dealers. They also complicated the matter to the point where bankruptcy lawyers have to bill you more hours to get through the process.

Congress should have moved in the opposite direction — how about forgiving student loans through bankruptcy, instead of keeping people in debt chains for their entire lifetimes?

* Usury is a crime. Civilizations that have developed banking generally limit interest rates — indeed, neither Christians nor Muslims could loan at interest, period, for over a thousand years. Having no laws against usury is akin to legalizing theft or rape. Credit cards at 20% interest and payday loans at 200% interest are crimes that suck the middle and working classes.

* End debt-based money. A bank makes a loan, and creates the money for that loan out of thin air… however, they don’t create the money to repay interest on the loan at the same moment. The borrower must scramble to get that money from somewhere, which, as in a Ponzi scheme, works just fine as long as more suckers are buying into the system.

Did you know that the Earth is not an infinite space, but rather like a marble in space? All Ponzi schemes end, and debt-based money leads to times of repo activity, such as the Great Depression.

Money should be issued directly by way of the government printing the money it spends, or we could use silver, gold, or kilowatt-hours as money.

* Jubilee. The Old Testament describes the Israelites returning all land to its previous owners and freeing all indentured servants every 49 or 50 years. Lately, a world-wide forgiving of debts seems necessary if we aren’t all to become indentured to the banks, both individuals and nations. Current bank-oriented monetary policies put debt into the world faster than they put money into it. Clearly we need to wipe that debt, much of which is unpayable anyways. Some of this debt even comes tied to austerity measures (rolling back crumb-sharing programs), a strategy proven to make it harder  to pay back debt (because the economy doesn’t grow as well under austerity.)

* Prosecute fraud. Fraud is still a crime. Bankers who commit fraud shouldn’t get a fine for breaking a regulation, or be allowed to sign a “no wrongdoing” settlement. They should be prosecuted as fraudsters, and far fewer municipalities and pension funds would be going broke. Instead, our current government believes in bailing fraudsters out when their schemes go belly-up!

* Unionization. It allows people to effectively negotiate the terms of their employment — working as a unit, like the corporations we all have to deal with. ‘Nuff said.


Well, there are six ideas there for making “the free market” a fair market. They would hardly remove the need to sometimes give somebody a helping hand, but I believe that these kind of reforms would make the economy a lot more friendly to the 99%, and lessen poverty and the need for giant entitlement programs. These are just skeletons of ideas that demand a lot of development — of course, they’re not original and plenty of people are working on them.

Sharing crumbs around is not enough — demand JUSTICE!

June 10, 2012

Ozone Alert: Your neighbors’ lawnmowers are killing you today.

I went to this morning to check the weather. There was a little note with a hyperlink stuck to my local forecast: “Hazardous Weather Conditions: Ozone Alert.”






It’s remarkable that the Department of Environmental Quality is not blaming this toxic cloud on industry’s Satanic mills. This pollution is being done neighbor-to-neighbor, through cars, lawnmowers, paint, and grills. Somebody with asthma has to stay inside today for someone else to live the suburban dream of mowing the lawn, driving to the store and barbequing.

For my part, it never occurred to me that lighter fluid was a serious pollutant. I’ll be only too happy to switch to a chimney-style charcoal starter.

Someone gifted me their old gas-powered lawn mower last Fall, and I treated it like crap and it died after about three mowings. To replace it, I got a hand-powered reel mower — American innovation, Chinese manufacture, bought through

Reel mower with a grass catcher.I can’t wait for the grass to grow! Oh, I shall dance the dance of Green Consumer Superiority the day I get to mow with this! It’s quieter and it doesn’t smell bad, besides requiring no gas and generating no pollutants of any type.

Well, I’m happy to change one practice at a time towards sustainability / not poisoning my neighbors. It’s a long road out of mutually-imposed suburban Hell, but making the trip is better than living and dying this way.

June 7, 2012

Feed the Heads

Filed under: Soapbox — Tags: , , , , , — paragardener @ 3:23 pm

Enough pruning people down into well-controlled bonsai bushes. Let’s feed the heads, and build a world from the individuals up.

Here are some great skills that empower people:

* Literacy. Arming people in the battle of wits since the dawn of civilization. An essential to learning from books or using the internet, not to mention expressing yourself in writing.

* Computer literacy. Having access to the Internet and means to look things up and communicate with your social network and interest groups. Excellent for self-education and organizing.

* Gardening. It produces food and medicine, and can be quite cheap to keep going. It’s also insight into the natural world.

* Statistics. Understanding the difference between median and mean, and the significance of error bars, gives you a much stronger grasp on polls and studies as reported in mass media. A little insight into study design will go even further.

* Critical Thinking. Examining arguments for logical validity and fact-checking their axioms. Spotting fallacies and biases. If this were effectively taught in public schools, those schools would be shut down.

* Domestic Chores. We’ve been sold a lot of harsh, expensive and unnecessary cleaning agents — let’s try mixing our own. Cooking is the difference between a crash pad and a home. There’s nothing lowly about operating your own household.

A lot of people worry that Americans have become too stupid to operate a democracy. It’s pretty sad, indeed, that public opinion can be bought for a few dollars a head.

After the disappointment that is Barack Obama, I don’t see change as something that is gonna come through political campaigns (well, maybe we can lift marijuana prohibition, but that’s about the deepest we can go.) Bonsai people just vote along with the rest of their hedge. We need to teach each other and train up, through reading groups, internet DIY forums, maybe even offer some time at a community program teaching people how to read. You can reach out really far if you learn Spanish or Conservative.

It’s going to take a lot more intelligent and undomesticated people to pull civilization off of its suicidal path.

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