Sunday, May 26, 2013

Being by way of a general introduction

At a talk the other night, Badger was regaled with the news that mead "is the oldest drink in the world". This came as something of a surprise to Badger, because as we all know, ale is by far the oldest drink in the world, certainly older than mead, and much much older than wine, yet another oldest drink in the world, which is in itself so completely ancient as to be far older than milk, which is really ancient, definitely the oldest drink in the world, almost as old as mead, which as we mentioned before was also the oldest drink in the world. (But what of water?)

Speaking of the oldest drink in the world - mead, that is - Badger has it brewing in a corner of his burrough at the moment. Badger began brewing the oldest drink in the world at a time in the remote past, about four weeks ago, and it remains in his burrough unto this very day, along with some English brown ale, fejoia wine, porter, oatmeal and whey stout, Almond and honey brown ale, scrumpy, and a ginger beer plant. The recipe for this, the oldest drink in the world came from a 17th century cookbook by a Cavalier knight, who collected many such recipes. Badger is very pleased to be the owner of such a venerable drink; someday, when all is ready, he may even drink it*.

To return to the talk, the chap further informed Badger that in order to make mead, that most ancient of all the drinks, it was completely essential to use such antique ingredients as pectin, malic acid, tannins, campden tablets, spoonfuls of Vegemite and Marmite and yeast nutrient. Pectin, malic acid, and tannins, Badger knows, all come from apples (though you can get pectin and tannins from other fruits too); but what of campden tablets, Vegemite, Marmite, and yeast nutrient? It is hard to imagine the original mead maker finding an ancient source of Vegemite or Marmite (which are, in fact, both potential sources of nutrient for the yeast in its early stage of growth before it begins to ferment the sugars into alcohol). What you may find, however, in early recipes for meads and ciders are hints such as "spread the yeast before you add to the drink on a slice of bread"; one old method of providing nutrient for yeast (in cider making) is by dropping a steak into the barrel.

It is curious that while this is a time of growing interest in the cultivation of the old domestic arts - cheese making, beer brewing, pasta elongation, sauerkraut whispering - such curious myths should circulate about these arts. Everyone making cheese, or wine, or beer, has a different way of making it, all ways are of equal value, and there is only one proper way it should be made. Everyone worries about the preservatives, conservatives, additives, and other unnatural ingredients in supermarket foods, and end up putting the same in their own. Every wine made at home is made just like one's ancestors made it, complete with the Vegemite, Marmite, and Campden tablets which have been used in Europe since time immemorial. When it comes to these ancient domestic arts, everyone is full of certainty about the facts and confidence about their certainties; in fact, Badger is certain, there are is so much certainty and confidence to go around, that the only certainty we can certainly be certain about is how uncertain every certainty is.

Of course, beer and cheese and wine and other domestic arts have always been bound by the seasons; yeast and fungus and mould and bacterial culture are all finickity things, that will respond in eccentric ways to slight changes in the weather. (In fact, Badger goes out of his way to keep his brews and cheeses as cosy as possible, putting little jumpers on his beers and wines at night, and giving his cheeses little turns every few days so as to make sure they get exercise and their whey runs off properly.) In other words, you make them according to the day of the year and the time of the day and you keep a close eye on the rain clouds. But, Badger observes, the only certainty about the weather and the seasons is how uncertain they will be. 

Into this world of ambiguous certainties and definitive equivocations, then, Badger has set this blog. It is a seasonal recording of the seasonal productions of the Badgerial burrough, and just like the seasons, it will be fickle, changeable, full of contrasts and light and shade and the occasional spot of rain (Badger hopes your computer has an umbrella) and autumnal leaves. And, of course, cheese and ale and mead and a good deal of fungus - just like all the most up-to-date and fashion-conscious blogs. What ho! Badger is greatly looking forward to it! 

*Can we call a drink a 'drink' before it has been drunk? Something for us all to think about - over a drink.

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