They say “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”[i] and this has become my view on mead. Technically, mead should not be part of my portfolio[ii] as it was not particularly popular in colonial America. Keeping bees and processing honey into mead, while a straightforward and simple process, was not nearly as economically viable as taking Caribbean sugar and processing it into rum. Mead was certainly made but not abundantly. Among my reenactor friends, however, mead is immensely popular (especially for the women) so it stays in the mix.
This mead does, however, incorporate a story about life in the 18th Century in two themes: Hospitality and affluence. The pineapple, often referred to as the “King Fruit” was THE way to impress your guests and show your prowess as a hostess extraordinaire in the 18th Century[iii]. In Colonial America, if you wanted to show your guests just how much they meant to you, or perhaps how much money you spent in preparing a feast, you would make sure you put a pineapple in the center of your table and “wow” your guests upon arrival. The pineapple became such a widespread symbol of hospitality that it was incorporated into patterns on wallpapers, printed into the headpieces of social documents like invitations and calling cards, and even sculpted over into the moldings and ornaments over doorways. This symbol of hospitality and status was so popular that those who could not afford to buy a pineapple, would often RENT them to display at events and gatherings. Of course, bringing shipments to the colonies from the Caribbean often meant that the conditions were hot and perfect for rotting the cargo. So, if you were able to obtain a fresh, juicy pineapple, you might have been the talk of the town. This was especially true for the more northern colonies where shipments of pineapples were typically only brought to Boston.
Spices were equally a symbol of affluence and wealth in the colonies. In fact, what we now call New York (especially Manhattan) owes its very existence to nutmeg. Cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves from the tiny Banda Islands in the south Pacific were highly prized and made the 17th Century Dutch empire colonists extremely powerful. Spices had value not only for their exotic and unique flavors but also their medicinal properties, balancing the “humors” of the body and as a symbol of extreme opulence and luxury. The Dutch, British and Portuguese fought multiple wars to control these islands and the spice trade. Eventually, after suffering a huge defeat in southern Asia, the Dutch gave the British their claims in North America (Manhattan and the Hudson valley) to retain one small spice island. For the Dutch, securing a nutmeg monopoly was worth giving up Manhattan. The tradeoff was likely a no-brainer, given the lengths they had already gone to corner the market.
So, this brings us to our mead. This mead incorporated these two symbols of opulent hospitality with, naturally, the sweetness of fermented honey. Pineapple juice and mulled spices are brewed then incorporated into the wort before fermentation to add a little complexity of taste to our champaign finished natural mead.
With the incorporation of both the pineapple and giving of spices, this mead would make an excellent addition to a housewarming tradition. No, I am still not selling this so you can’t give it to your friends but from hence, whenever we set up a new encampment, tavern, or other public social space for the Colonial Brewmeister (not breweries which are workplaces), I will be dedicating the space with both a glass of this mead for all who put it together and the traditional housewarming/hospitality prayer – Birkat Habayit or the blessing for our home. May all who come to our 18th Century home away from home, be welcome…
- 15 lb honey
- 12 oz frozen pineapple juice concentrate (melted)
- 2 tsp clove
- 2 tsp allspice
- 2 tsp cinnamon
- Dilute in water to 6 gal
Ferment at room temperature for 6-8 weeks, racking 2 times (2 weeks and 5 weeks), then bottle. Bottle condition for at least 6 additional weeks.
[i] 1. Howell, James (1659). Paroimiographia. Proverbs, or, old Sayed Sawes & Adages in English (or the Saxon Toung) Italian, French and Spanish whereunto the British, for their great antiquity and weight are added. London: Samuel Thomson.