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.

Amazon's Under-the-Radar Coupon Page Features Deals on Home Goods, Electronics, and Groceries

Stock Catalog, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Stock Catalog, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Now that Prime Day is over, and with Black Friday and Cyber Monday still a few weeks away, online deals may seem harder to come by. And while it can be a hassle to scour the internet for promo codes, buy-one-get-one deals, and flash sales, Amazon actually has an extensive coupon page you might not know about that features deals to look through every day.

As pointed out by People, the coupon page breaks deals down by categories, like electronics, home & kitchen, and groceries (the coupons even work with SNAP benefits). Since most of the deals revolve around the essentials, it's easy to stock up on items like Cottonelle toilet paper, Tide Pods, Cascade dishwasher detergent, and a 50 pack of surgical masks whenever you're running low.

But the low prices don't just stop at necessities. If you’re looking for the best deal on headphones, all you have to do is go to the electronics coupon page and it will bring up a deal on these COWIN E7 PRO noise-canceling headphones, which are now $80, thanks to a $10 coupon you could have missed.

Alternatively, if you are looking for deals on specific brands, you can search for their coupons from the page. So if you've had your eye on the Homall S-Racer gaming chair, you’ll find there's currently a coupon that saves you 5 percent, thanks to a simple search.

To discover all the deals you have been missing out on, head over to the Amazon Coupons page.

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How Anoka, Minnesota Became the Halloween Capital of the World

A photo of Main Street in downtown Anoka, Minnesota.
A photo of Main Street in downtown Anoka, Minnesota.
123dieinafire, Public Domain // Wikimedia Commons

On November 1, 1919, the residents of Anoka, Minnesota, a suburb about 20 miles north of Minneapolis, woke up to what Smithsonian calls a “prank of epic proportions.” Outhouses were overturned, wagons were parked on roofs, and cows roamed through the streets.

The prank was part of an epidemic of Halloween-related hijinks that seemed to grow more extreme with each passing year. Civic leaders decided that the time had come for the city to do something to dissuade such mischief—or at least to keep would-be pranksters so busy that they couldn’t dream of causing trouble.

So in 1920 a Halloween committee, fronted by local businessman George Green, planned one of the first—and largest—community-wide Halloween celebrations in the United States. The 1920 celebration, featuring a parade, a bonfire, and free candy for children, and was so successful that the police received no reports of pranks.

The celebration only grew in subsequent years, and Anoka leaders wanted people to know it. In 1937, 12-year-old Anoka local Harold Blair was one of 200 Minneapolis Journal newspaper carriers to receive an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C. Members of the Anoka Commercial Club seized on the opportunity, sending Blair off with a request to Congress that Anoka be formally designated as the “Halloween Capital of the World.” A fire in Anoka destroyed many of the city’s earliest documents about the Halloween celebration, so it’s hard to know whether Congress approved the moniker back in the 1930s. But in 2003, Minnesota state representative Mark Kennedy restated the proclamation, officially cementing Anoka’s title.

“It’s like a pebble being dropped into a pond,” Karen George, a member of the board of directors of Halloween, Inc. (the nonprofit organization that plans Anoka’s yearly festivities), told Smithsonian in 2019. “It’s really the people of Anoka who want to enjoy this hometown festival, and then they bring along relatives and friends who tell others about it.”

Today, Anoka’s Halloween festivities have expanded to three parades instead of one, and includes other community activities such as a house decorating competition, bell ringing, and a group pumpkin smashing. In 2020, Anoka’s Halloween festival is celebrating its 100-year anniversary. By most accounts, the holiday has become a part of Anoka’s identity.

“I would say Halloween is in my bone marrow,” Anoka resident John Jost told CBS Minnesota. “Being an Anokoan, the Halloween experience is tied directly to that.”

This story has been updated for 2020.