Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Make hay while the sun shines...

And if the sun won't shine, make mead!

Here's a lovely harvest of salad greens from our garden. A couple kinds of spinach, maybe 4 kinds of lettuce, and baby beet greens. Behind them is the gallon of honey I just bought. 11.75 pounds of Cascade fireweed honey from Guilmette's Busy Bees, just around the corner from us.

The plan is to make 5 gallons of sweet heather flower & leaf tip mead this weekend. Plants for a Future says this about heather: "A kind of mead was once brewed from the flowers and the young shoots have been used instead of hops to flavour beer."

Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers talks about the psychotropic and stimulating qualities of ancient beers, made with local herbs before hops relaced them. Most brewsters were looking for a bitter herb in hopes that it would preserve the brew longer. Otherwise, lacking refrigeration, most brews went sour rather quickly. Coincidentally or not, many of the common bittering herbs also tended to make people feel energized, and maybe a bit, well...stimulated. Most areas, and even individual households, had their own special recipe for gruit ale. One reason hops almost universally replaced less homogenous concoctions, was that hopped ales had a soporific effect that law enforcement and religious leaders preferred in their subjects. Better drunk and sleepy than drunk and rarin' to go!

When you brew with herbs, the properties of the herbs are not only intensified, but you get the interaction with the honey or malt it's mixed with. So a catnip beer for instance (my next experiment) would probably be very relaxing, as catnip tea has that effect on humans.

As for the hay-making part....well...

We've found if you spend a day in the sun, scything lush tasty grass and other forage plants, then rain is due immediately. Normally if it's just a short bit of rain, followed by lots of sun, you can just go out and turn the cut grass and it will continue to dry fine. But so far we've had strategic intervals of rain and sun that just about guarantee we'll have a mown field of compost instead of hay. Luckily you can get a 2nd and even 3rd cutting depending on grass and weather. So now we have to finish cutting the whole field, rain or shine, and rake off the ruined stuff. Then the grass will regrow, with even more nutrients than the first cutting. The idea is by then the weather will be consistently drier and we can go from scything to barn with no hitches.

This photo courtesy of Hay in Art You can go to their site and search the database for pictures, paintings, advertisements, etc., showing everything to do with hay, from many times and places. The picture here is a couple turning hay (called tedding) in Enumclaw, WA in 1968.

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