Herb of the Year for 2023: Ginger ( (Zingiber officinale). 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 4. National Spaghetti Day. Easy-peasy one-pot meal, welcome after the elaborate dinners of the holiday.
January 5-6. Twelfth Night and Twelfth Day. Time to take down those holiday decorations.
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. 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.
January 21. The Celtic Month of the Rowan begins today. (Read about it in China Bayles’ always-thymely Book of Days)
January 23. National Handwriting Day. (Can’t guess what this has to do with plants? See the To-Do List below.)
January 25. Today is National Irish Coffee Day. (And yes, coffee is indisputably an herb!)
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. The Sumerians discovered the fermentation process, perhaps accidentally, when somebody left some bread out in the rain. The earliest account of brewing describes wheat or barley bread crumbled into liquid and fermented—a process involving natural yeasts—to produce a tasty drink.
Beer (sometimes called “liquid bread”) has been an important foodstuff in many cultures, especially in places where the water wasn’t fit to drink. 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 were considered to be the source of inspiration from the gods. They were ceremonially prepared and ritually drunk by priests, such as the Druids who celebrated the Feast of Brewing. Laws were frequently made to regulate the consumption of beer. For example, the Puritans were allowed to chug-a-lug only two quarts of beer for breakfast.
And yes, from the beginning, herbs have played an important role in the brewing of beer. Hops, the best-known of these flavorful herbs, were not added to beer until the seventeenth century. Before then, a mixture of herbs called gruit added subtle, complex flavors to the barley malt. Depending on what grew on the local hillsides, many plants were used: heather, bog myrtle, yarrow, rosemary, juniper berries, ginger, caraway seed, anise seed, nutmeg, cinnamon, wormwood, sage, broom. Hops came along in the Middle Ages and (because they were convenient, transportable, and a good preservative) became the herb of choice in beer. These days, artisanal breweries are returning to traditional practices. You can find a variety of hop-free beers, like these. Cloves, bananas, raisins–who knew?
Instead of barley or malt, some herbs—such as ginger, nettles, St. John’s wort, and dandelions—were the primary ingredient of some delicious alcoholic drinks. Ginger beer, for example, which was a fiery beverage made by fermenting water, sugar and ginger. Here’s a non-alcoholic 19th-century recipe that skips the fermentation process.
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!)
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 and concern for our health, your homemade meatless, gluten-free soy-free sausages will be cheered. Wassail (a cider drink) would goes well with those Victory Sausages. Here’s how to make it, spiked or booze-free.
If you live in Zones 8 or 9, celebrate St. Sebastian’s Day by planting parsley for a spring harvest in May and June. 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.
Did you ever wonder what people used for ink before the ballpoint pen was invented? You’d be correct if you suggested berry juice or chimney soot. But the most important ink in Western history was made from oak galls. Leonardo da Vinci invented with it; Van Gogh and Rembrandt drew with it; Bach made music with it; and the framers of our Constitution made history with it. This famous seventeenth-century recipe certainly involved a great deal of preparation.
Oak Gall-Iron Ink
To make good ink. Take 5 ounces of the best Nutt galls, break them in a mortar but not in small pieces, then put the galls into one quart of clear rain water or soft spring water, let them stand 4 or 5 days shaking them often, then take 2 ounces of white gum arabick, 1 ounce of double refined sugar, 1 piece of indigo and put in the same and shake them well and let them stand 4 or 5 days more. Then take 2 ounces of good green copperis [purchased from your local chemist] the larger the better and having first washed off the filth put in to the rest and also a piece of clear gum, about as big as a walnut to set the colour and it will be fit for use.
Celebrate Chocolate Cake Day and satisfy those chocolate cravings by baking an amazing Irish Coffee Chocolate Cake. (The spicy 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.