Thursday, January 03, 2013

An Ale for Every Occasion.

There is more to ale than I thought.  To start with, there are (or were) far more varieties than I would ever have guessed. Or should that be there were far more ale-drinking occasions? Or maybe I mean ale-drinking excuses. So many, in fact, that the events themselves were sometimes styled ‘ales.’

I have referred to John Bickerdyke’s  The Curiosities of Ale & Beer, (1889) in previous posts, but he has much more of interest to share with you. I give you some selected snippets:

Thoroton, in his Nottinghamshire gives an account of a shepherd who kept ale to sell in the Church of Thorpe. He was the sole inhabitant of a village depopulated by inclosure. Besides the Ales already mentioned, there were Bid-Ales, Bride-Ales, Give-Ales, Cuckoo-Ales, Help-Ales, Tithe-Ales, Leet-AIes, Lamb-Ales, Midsummer-Ales, Scot-Ales, and Weddyn-Ales. Some of these are sufficiently explained by their names. … Bride-Ale, also called Bride-bush, Bride-wain and Bride-stake, was the custom of the bride selling ale on the wedding-day, for which she received by way of contribution any sum or present which her friends chose to give her. In the Christen State of Matrimony (1545) we read: "When they come home from the church, then beginneth excesse of eatyng and drynking, and as much is waisted in one daye as were sufficient for the two newe-married folkes halfe si yeare to lyve upon." Modern wedding breakfasts and the presents given to the happy pair are, doubtless, descendants of this old custom. In Norway at the present day, a peasant's wedding is celebrated with much the same ceremony as the old English Bride-Ale. Ale is handed round to the guests, and they are each expected to contribute, according to their ability, to form a purse to assist the bride in commencing housekeeping.

… The old custom of Cuckoo-Ale appears to have been only of local observance. In Shropshire the advent of the first cuckoo was celebrated by general feasting amongst the working classes; as soon as his first note was heard, even if early in the day, the men would leave their work and spend the rest of the day in mirth and jollity.

… The Tithe-Ale was a repast of bread, cheese, and ale, provided by the recipient of the tithe and enjoyed by the tithe-payers. …

Leet-Ales, in some parts of England, denoted the dinner given at the Court Leet of a Manor to the jury and customary tenants. Another somewhat similar custom was known by the name of Drink-lean, and was a festive day kept by the tenants and vassals of the Lord of the Manor, or, as some say, a potation of ale provided by the tenants for the entertainment of the Lord or his steward. The origin of the term is not known; it probably has not connection with the effect which a lover of old ale said that the beverage had upon him. “I always find it makes me lean,” said he. “Lean!” cries his friend in amazement; “why, I always thought ale made folks fat.” “That may be,” was the reply, “but it makes me lean, for all that – against a lamp-post.”

… Foot-Ales seem to have meant not so much feasts as sums of  money paid to purchase ale on a man’s entertaining a new situation. We still talk of a man “paying his footing.”

As the recipe for the day, I give you a nice beer cake. I know that technically, beer is not ale, although we often use the terms interchangeably today, so this will have to do!

Beer Spice Cake.
1 cup beer, 1 cup seedless raisins , 3 cups sifted cake flour, 3 teaspoons baking powder, ¼ teaspoon baking soda, ½ teaspoon salt,  ½ teaspoon cinnamon, ½ cup shortening, 1 ¼ cups sugar, 2 eggs, separated.
Turn beer over raisins. (If cold, and carefully poured, it will not foam and will be easy to measure.)  Let stand 15 minutes. Mix and sift together three times flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and raisins. Add cinnamon. Cream shortening, until soft. Add sugar gradually, beating until light and fluffy after each addition. Add egg yolks. Blend well. Add flour alternately with beer, a small amount at a time, beating until smooth after each addition. Fold in stiffly beaten egg whites. Turn into 2 greased loaf tines (6 x 10 x 2 in.) and bake in a moderate oven (275 degrees F) thirty minutes or until done.
Beer in the American Home (1937) by Eloise Davison, for the
United Brewers Industrial Foundation.


Anonymous said...

All very interesting. My Morris and sword-dancing friends still have occasions called (Sword) Ales. My detail-radar was struck first by the sizes of the loaf pans and then more forcefully by the temperature suggested in the recipe. 275F, really?

The Old Foodie said...

HI bklynharuspex. I am sometimes (often?) guilty of a rapid or no proof read of my own transcriptions, but you are right - they do sound odd. I will check the original source as soon as I get time and let you know if there are any changes! Keep that radar switched on!