Jane Austen, Home Brewer

Hulton Archive/Getty
Hulton Archive/Getty

When she wasn’t penning beloved novels, Jane Austen brewed her own beer. And she wasn’t the only Regency-era woman to try her hand at craft brewing, either. In fact, brewing beer was part of women’s lives for centuries, long before beer was branded as a beverage for dudes.

According to Jane Austen expert Laura Boyle, the Austen family was filled with “enthusiastic home brewers” who made their own mead, wine, and beer. Though technically part of the gentry, Austen grew up on a farm where her family produced everything except luxury goods. As an adult, she was intimately involved with housekeeping and food prep, a world that was seen as entirely feminine.

That world involved plenty of beer. Elizabeth Ham, a contemporary of Austen’s, wrote that “No one in these days ever dreamt of drinking water.” At the time, water supplies were fraught with health dangers, and brewing beer was seen as a way to create a safe drink that wouldn’t spread disease. Long before the epidemiology of diseases like cholera was understood, people realized that something about the boiling and fermenting process of beer made those who drank it less sick than those who sampled the often-tainted drinking water. Light or "small" beer with a low alcohol content thus became a staple for children and adults, who drank it with all meals and who often made it at home.

One of Austen's specialties was spruce beer, a kind of cousin of root beer that contained hops and molasses. In letters to her sister Cassandra, she told of making spruce beer: “It is you … who have the little Children,” she wrote, “and I that have the great cask, for we are brewing spruce beer again.” Sadly, Austen’s beer recipes are lost to time, though her family mead recipe still exists.

The Jane Austen Centre in Bath, England, where Austen lived part of her life, has created a special Austen-themed brew along with the Bath Brew House in honor of the famed writer's 200th birthday. It’s called Jane Austen 200, and it’s being called “light, hoppy, and refreshing with added Earl Grey flavouring.”

The Center also offers a spruce beer recipe for those wishing to try their own Austen-inspired homebrewing projects:

Spruce Beer

5 gallons of water
1/8 pound of hops
1/2 cup of dried, bruised ginger root
1 pound of the outer twigs of spruce fir
3 quarts of molasses
1/2 yeast cake dissolved in 1/2 cup of warm water

1. In a large kettle combine the water, hops, ginger root, and spruce fir twigs.
2. Boil together until all the hops sink to the bottom of the kettle.
3. Strain into a large crock and stir in the molasses.
4. After this has cooled add the yeast.
5. Cover and leave to set for 48 hours.
6. Then bottle, cap and leave in a warm place (70-75 °F) for five days. It will now be ready to drink.
7. Store upright in a cool place.

Austen didn’t just make beer—she wrote about it. You may think of her novels as portraits of a more proper age, but they’re full of drinking, as when hunky Mr. Knightley offers spruce beer brewing tips in the novel Emma or when Elinor drinks wine to heal her broken heart in Sense and Sensibility.

Unfortunately, women were eventually shut out of brewing as the practice moved from the home and into factories. Today, the beer industry—and even homebrewing—is often thought of as being male-dominated. Which would probably make Jane shake her head and grab for a bottle of booze.

On This Day in 1953, Jonas Salk Announced His Polio Vaccine

Getty Images
Getty Images

On March 26, 1953, Dr. Jonas Salk went on CBS radio to announce his vaccine for poliomyelitis. He had worked for three years to develop the polio vaccine, attacking a disease that killed 3000 Americans in 1952 alone, along with 58,000 newly reported cases. Polio was a scourge, and had been infecting humans around the world for millennia. Salk's vaccine was the first practical way to fight it, and it worked—polio was officially eliminated in the U.S. in 1979.

Salk's method was to kill various strains of the polio virus, then inject them into a patient. The patient's own immune system would then develop antibodies to the dead virus, preventing future infection by live viruses. Salk's first test subjects were patients who had already had polio ... and then himself and his family. His research was funded by grants, which prompted him to give away the vaccine after it was fully tested.

Clinical trials of Salk's vaccine began in 1954. By 1955 the trials proved it was both safe and effective, and mass vaccinations of American schoolchildren followed. The result was an immediate reduction in new cases. Salk became a celebrity because his vaccine saved so many lives so quickly.

Salk's vaccine required a shot. In 1962, Dr. Albert Sabin unveiled an oral vaccine using attenuated (weakened but not killed) polio virus. Sabin's vaccine was hard to test in America in the late 1950s, because so many people had been inoculated using the Salk vaccine. (Sabin did much of his testing in the Soviet Union.) Oral polio vaccine, whether with attenuated or dead virus, is still the preferred method of vaccination today. Polio isn't entirely eradicated around the world, though we're very close.

Here's a vintage newsreel from the mid 1950s telling the story:

For more information on Dr. Jonas Salk and his work, click here.

Drunken Thieves Tried Stealing Stones From Notre-Dame

Notre-Dame.
Notre-Dame.
Athanasio Gioumpasis, Getty Images

With Paris, France, joining a long list of locales shutting down due to coronavirus, two thieves decided the time was right to attempt a clumsy heist—stealing stones from the Notre-Dame cathedral.

The crime occurred last Tuesday, March 17, and appeared from the start to be ill-conceived. The two intruders entered the cathedral and were immediately spotted by guards, who phoned police. When authorities found them, the trespassers were apparently drunk and attempting to hide under a tarpaulin with a collection of stones they had taken from the premises. Both men were arrested.

It’s believed the offenders intended to sell the material for a profit. Stones from the property sometimes come up for sale on the black market, though most are fake.

The crime comes as Paris is not only dealing with the coronavirus pandemic but a massive effort to restore Notre-Dame after the cathedral was ravaged by a fire in 2019. That work has come to a halt in the wake of the health crisis, though would-be looters should take note that guards still patrol the property.

[h/t The Art Newspaper]

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