Herb of the Year for 2020: Blackberries, raspberries, and their cousins (Rubus ssp.) Named by the International Herb Association
Flower of the Month for January: Carnation, symbolizing love, fascination, distinction
January is Hot Tea Month
January Feature: Beer: A Marvelous, Mysterious Brew
January 5-6. Twelfth Night and Twelfth Day/ Time to take down those holiday decorations.
January 8-10. Loving Eleanor on the big screen? You can help! Go here to vote (Wednesday Jan. 8, 10 am PT through Friday Jan. 10 4 pm PT)
January 12. On this day in 1943, the U.S. government announced that “Victory Sausages’ would replace “frankfurters” for the duration of the war against Germany.
January 13. In pre-Christian Ireland, the Feast of Brewing was celebrated about this time
January 17. Blessing of the Animals Day in Mexico, in honor of St. Anthony Abbot. In the English West Country, this is the traditional Wassail Night—time to wassail your apple tree!
January 20: Today is the feast day of St. Sebastian, patron saint of gardeners. It is also the Eve of St. Agnes’ Day, traditional night for dreaming of your lover.
January 23. National Handwriting Day
January 25. Today is the birthday of Robert Burns, the famous Scottish poet. It is also National Irish Coffee Day.
January 27. National Chocolate Cake Day
January 28: National Blueberry Pancake Day
January 31: The Coca-Cola trademark was recorded on this day in 1893
A fine beer may be judged with only one sip, but it’s better to be thoroughly sure.–Czech proverb
Without question, the greatest invention in the history of mankind is beer. Oh, I grant you that the wheel was also a fine invention, but the wheel does not go nearly as well with pizza.–Dave Barry
People have been brewing beer for over six thousand years. It is thought that the Sumerians discovered the fermentation process by chance, perhaps when bread accidentally got wet. The earliest account of brewing pictures wheat or barley bread baked, crumbled into liquid, and fermented—a process involving natural yeasts—into a tasty drink.
Beer (sometimes called “liquid bread”) has been an important foodstuff in many cultures, especially in places where the water was impure. People of all ages drank it throughout the day, and workers were often paid with jugs of beer. Some beers played an important part in worship, where they was considered to be the source of inspiration from the gods, and were ceremonially prepared and ritually drunk by priests, such as the Druids who celebrated the Celtic Feast of Brewing. Laws were frequently made to regulate the consumption of beer. For example, the Puritans were allowed to drink only two quarts of beer for breakfast.
And yes, from the beginning, herbs have played an important role in the brewing of beer. The best-known of these flavorful herbs, hops, were not added to beer until the seventeenth century. Instead, other herbs, in a locally-created mixture called gruit, provided more subtle, complex flavors: bog myrtle, yarrow, rosemary, juniper berries, ginger, caraway seed, anise seed, nutmeg, cinnamon, wormwood, sage, broom. And rather than barley or malt, some herbs—such as ginger, nettles, St. John’s wort, and dandelions—were the primary ingredient of some delicious beers. For example, ginger beer was a much-loved nineteenth-century drink, in both England and America.
Miss Beecher’s Famous Ginger Beer (1857)
3 pints yeast
1/2 pound honey
1 egg white
1/2 ounce lemon essence [lemon zest]
10 pounds sugar
9 gallons water
9 ounces lemon juice
11 ounces gingerroot
Boil the ginger half an hour in a gallon of water, then add the rest of the water and the other ingredients, and strain it when cold, add the white of one egg beaten, and half an ounce essence of lemon. Let it stand four days then bottle it, and it will keep good many months.—Miss Beecher’s Domestic Receipt-Book
Two books to read
Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers: The Secrets of Ancient Fermentation, by Stephen Buhner
The Homebrewer’s Garden: How to Easily Grow, Prepare, and Use Your Own Hops, Malts, Brewing Herbs, by Dennis Fisher
In case you feel like feasting on Twelfth Day, check out the Duke of Buckingham’s 1508 shopping list and a 19th-century recipe for Twelfth Cake. You’ll need nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon, mace, ginger, and coriander. Oh, and a bottle of brandy. (Thanks to the Old Foodie, Janet Clarkson, for her wonderful blog!)
During Hot Tea Month, spend some time learning about tea (Camellia senensis), one of the three most wonderful herbal beverages in the world (coffee and beer are close seconds, in our opinion). Read a cultural history of tea, learn how it changed the world, and find out how to choose it, store it, and brew the perfect cup. (Your purchases help to support Story Circle.)
If you live in Zones 8 or 9, celebrate St. Sebastian’s Day by planting parsley for a spring harvest in April and May. For more about parsley and a pair of parsley recipes, listen to All About Parsley, the first of the ten podcasts in Susan’s series, About Thyme.
Make your own Victory Sausages. In the 1940s, these sausages weren’t much liked, not even when the newfangled hot dogs bore the flag-raising slogan, “less meat and more patriotism.” These days, given the plight of our planet, your homemade gluten-free soy-free sausages will be cheered!
Read about Robert Burns and listen to a wee bit of Scottish music—bagpipes, preferably—while you sip a cup of Irish coffee. Or, if you’re really ambitious (wi’ a mickle o’ Scots blood in your veins), you could host a bonnie Burns supper for friends who share your taste. Some cullen skink, perhaps? Or haggis, bridies, neeps, or tatties?
Celebrate Chocolate Cake Day and satisfy those chocolate cravings by baking an amazing Irish Coffee Chocolate Cake. (The secret: black pepper and cloves!) Comfort your soul with the knowledge that—yes, indeed—chocolate is an herb.
Find out what Susan is up to these days by visiting her blog, Lifescapes. There’s always something interesting going on in the Texas Hill Country. She posts book reviews, bookish thoughts, and notes on the fast-changing world of books on her “other” blog, BookScapes.