hist-brewing: Recipe and Soul

Dan McFeeley mcfeeley at keynet.net
Mon Apr 2 11:32:33 PDT 2001

In a way of speaking, more or less, recipes rule on this list.  The 
archaeology of historical brewing, vinting and meadmaking hinges largely
on unearthing old recipes and accounts.  Nancy Vineyard had some
interesting words on this subject, however, in the latest _Beverage 
People_ newsletter.  She writes:

   For Christmas, my daughter gave me _The French Laundry Cookbook_
   by chef Thomas Keller, and I will quote from his preface:

      . . . for me, the idea of cooking and the idea of writing
      a cookbook are in conflict . . . an evolving soul, the
      chef, has a soul, the recipe, written by the cookbook
      author, has no soul.  You . . . must bring soul to the

   So how do you get soul into your brewing?  Think about becoming a
   connoisseur, work at your hobby, not to make it your job, but to 
   make it your joy.

I passed this on to Chuck Wettergreen and he commented that he would 
substitute passion for joy.  Interesting statement!  To add to Chuck's
insights, drive in passion can border on obsession but there is a dividing
line between the two.  Obsession is what you're left with when passion is
emptied of joy, spontaneity, and creativity.  

Soul in cooking, brewing, vinting, and meadmaking, comes to life through 
creativity and play.  I heard this arresting statement on creativity from
a speaker at a workshop: "Creativity is directed activity but not necessarily
with a goal in mind."  This is a different take on creativity, the lefthanded
route of spontaneity and intuition versus the righthanded way of logic and 
rationality.  It's serendipity at work, not aimless action, the kind of thing
that comes about when folk try a little of this, a litle of that, and the
result is unexpectedly ambrosia.

Spontaneity is also a dynamic in play and playfulness.  My all time favorite
quote on play is in Erik Erikson's _Toys and Reasons_:

   Of all the formulations of play, the briefest and the best is
   to be found in Plato's _Laws_.  He sees the model of true 
   playfulness in the need of all young creatures, animal and
   human, to leap.  To truly leap, you must learn how to use the
   ground as a springboard, and how to land resiliently and safely.
   It means to test the leeway allowed by given limits; to outdo
   and yet not escape gravity.  Thus, wherever playfulness prevails,
   there is always a surprising element, surpassing mere repetition
   or habituation, and at its best suggesting some virgin chance 
   conquered, some divine leeway shared.  Where this 'happens,' it
   is easily perceived and acknowledged.

In other words, all work and no play leads to no soulfulness in old time
brewing, vinting and meadmaking.  :-)

The U.S. is a relatively young country, only about 200 years or so compared
to other countries whose history stretches into milenia.  In my home state
of New Jersey it was an everyday event to drive pass old stone walls from
the Revolutionary War period, but it still remains that any sense of 
historical connection is little more than two centuries.  In contrast, 
look at the stories about old time farmers in Ireland who are wont to cross
themselves should they discover they had just walked across a "fairy rath," 
i.e., one of the ancient remnants of Irish neolithic settlements.  To 
historically youthful U.S. ears, the story is quaint and smacks of simple 
superstition but to folk in Ireland the melding of Celtic past with
Christian habit makes perfect sense.  

Another story -- Chuck had mentioned to me that on his mead and cider 
exploring tour of Brittany France with Wout Klingens, he had seen red
dragons along with other instances of ancient Celtic artwork.  Red 
dragons?  In my ignorance I balked at the idea of dragons being a Celtic
motiff until my wife pointed out that the red dragon is part of the Welsh
flag.  And of course, the red dragon was a symbol used by Uther Pendragon,
father of King Arthur in legend.  This got even more fascinating when I
looked at the Celtic languages -- there are two major groups, the Goidelic
group made up of the Irish, Manx and Scotts, and the Brythonic group made
up of the Welsh, Cornish and Bretons.  Somehow, during the migration of
5th and 6th century British Celts to what was to become Brittany France,
they carried this motiff with them.  Athough Goidelic insular Celts have
used the dragon in the past, the red dragon seems to be absent in their

One more story -- the beloved Irish harpist Turlough O'Carolin whose music
is still heard today at folk music festivals, the music of the Chieftains,
and more.  One of the last of the wandering Irish harpers, the story goes
that he fell asleep on a fairy rath one night and woke with the tunes which
he would enthrall Ireland running through his head.  Living from 1670 to 
1738, he was a genius at combining odd snatches here and there, even
working with styles derived from the Italian Baroque composers.  He was
also inspired by the oral tradition of the bardic Irish harpists, now
lost to us.  Listening to renditions of his music, one can imagine the
ghosts of the ancient harpists speaking to us through the strains of
O'Carolin's music.

For our purposes on this list, we can think of the soul that Nancy Vineyard
refers to as more than drinking a toast to history, we are drinking history.

Dan McFeeley
mcfeeley at keynet.net

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