Metheglin: the king's brew

Courtier, privateer, diplomat, swordsman, theologian, alchemist and incurable romantic, Sir Kenelm Digby was the sort of character you simply couldn’t make up. Oddly enough though, these days Digby is most revered among home brewers... 

  Image by Jesse Wild

Image by Jesse Wild

Sir Kenelm Digby  (1603-1665) was a noted foodie, and he kept extensive notebooks of recipes encountered both in London and on his travels. These were published after his death by an enterprising steward under the title The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby Knight Opened (1669).

Among dishes with fantastic names like “a good quaking bag pudding” or “pease of the seedy buds of tulips”, there are no less than 115 different booze recipes, mainly for metheglin – or flavoured mead.  Kenelm got this brew from “Master Webbe, who maketh the King’s Meathe”. I’ve scaled it down considerably (Webbe’s recipe makes 300 bottles, but eight is probably enough to start with), and switched most of the fresh ingredients for dry ones. It’s strong and sweet, with a rather medicinal flavour.

1. Bring 10 litres of water to the boil. Add 5g of dried hops (I used East Kent Goldings) and boil for half an hour. Putting your ingredients in muslin bags will save you straining them off later.

2. Remove the hops, and stir in 1.6kg of honey. Boil for an hour, skimming occasionally.

3. Add 5g dried rose petals; 2 teaspoons each of dried rosemary, thyme and marjoram; 1 teaspoon of mint; 5g fresh ginger ; a stick of cinnamon and 4 tablespoons of oloroso (sweet) sherry. Webbe liked it with cloves and mace too, but “the King did not care for them”.

4. Boil for half an hour, then strain off the liquid into a sterilised fermenter and let it cool. If you want to check the specific gravity with a hydrometer (or an egg), it should be around 1075.

5. Whisk vigorously, then pitch half a teaspoon of yeast nutrient and 2 teaspoons of wine yeast. By the next day it should be fizzing nicely.

6. Leave it to ferment out and clear (mine took a few weeks), then siphon it off into sterilised wine bottles (corks rather than screw tops). Kenelm reckoned it would be ready to drink in a month or two, but it will keep much longer. 

Joly-Braime-profile-pic.jpg

Joly Braime is a writer and home brewer. He spends his leisure time tramping the moors or filling his coal shed with homemade alcohol.
 

jolybraime.co.uk

 

 

 

 


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On Wild Swimming and Anxiety

When anxiety took hold of his life, writer Joe Minihane found that cold water swimming provided an unexpected antidote.

Aside from a solitary dog walker, Brighton’s Kemptown beach is mine alone. Stripped down to my bright orange swimming shorts, the wind whipping my hair across my forehead, I take long strides into the searing cold water. It’s March, the month when the sea is at its most frigid, an entire winter pulled into the depths, ready to slide itself over my skin, into my bones. The breath is punched from my chest as I give myself up to the English Channel’s icy embrace. I count my strokes and slow my breathing, my eyes on the horizon. Herring gulls bob in the swell, oblivious to this human interloper. I drop my head beneath the surface and feel the rush as I emerge cleansed, gasping, eyes throbbing. I turn and swim for shore.

I’ve been indulging in this ritual for seven years. More recently here, in my adopted home town on the south coast, but originally in the bathing ponds on London’s Hampstead Heath. And then across the UK on a two-and-ahalf-year journey to retrace Roger Deakin’s seminal Waterlog. I suffer from anxiety. On those first excursions to Hampstead, initially on summer afternoons to escape the heat and then wet autumn mornings as my love for the water bloomed, I found the fix for an issue that at the time I didn’t understand and didn’t want to. I’ve always been an anxious person. I’m adept at placing myself under enormous pressure to live up to standards that can’t be attained. To be perfect. To control and be responsible for everything around me. I compare myself relentlessly with others and always find myself coming up short. My mind works at an exhausting pace and, at the time of my first outdoor swims, was moving so rapidly that it sent me to a crashing standstill.

I didn’t believe I was good enough in my role as a freelance writer, as a partner, as a friend. I had let the speed of my mind dictate the pace of my life until I could not keep up and found myself anxious, depressed and unable to carry on. In the water, though, I found emotional stillness. There is a simplicity in the act of swimming, especially wild swimming. At its core it is the act of survival. Your limbs need to move in order for you to stay alive. There is nothing else. I would place my feet on the cold steel steps of the pond and drop into the flotsam, the unknowable green beneath me, and feel a sense of calm I didn’t know on dry land.Worries about my professional life, my perceived failure as a journalist and as a person, were cleansed by the head waters of the old River Fleet. The coldness of the water would shock the anxiety from my system and I would walk across the Heath as if in a daze, the world feeling less overwhelming. And so I found a new obsession, one which brought me to Waterlog, Roger Deakin’s 1999 classic about his “swimmer’s journey through Britain” and an idea that would help see me through to a life less frantic.

Deakin’s book is essentially a homage to the subversive. Imbued with an anti-authoritarian spirit, Deakin stole swims in private rivers, swam across estuaries at great personal risk and delved into potholes to see how the water worked its way into the Earth. All to get a “frog’s eye view of Britain”. For him, the water held curative properties. “Water has always held the magical power to cure… I can dive in with what feels like a terminal case of depression, and come out a whistling idiot,” he writes in Waterlog’s introduction. I was gripped by this line. It was the catalyst for me to follow in Deakin’s breast strokes. To see the rivers, bays, lidos and lakes he had swum in. To immerse myself into something impossibly grand and try to find a way out of the anxiety that had become utterly debilitating. The journey became all consuming.

It began life as a blog, Waterlog Reswum, then became a book, Floating: A Return to Waterlog. It reignited old friendships with people who had a shared passion for cold water, fixing the loneliness I hadn’t realised I felt so keenly as a freelancer in London. It allowed me to become steeped in nature, too. I swam alongside great crested grebes at Highgate Pond. I watched reed warblers feed their young as I nosed along the River Lark in the Cambridgeshire Fens. I sat beneath a hovering kestrel, joyful tears pricking my eyes following a cold swim in an isolated pond near the Isle of Ely. The journey taught me to face dangers and fears as a way of conquering my anxiety. On a base level, this meant entering extremely cold bodies of water with little more than shorts and a strong dose of gumption for protection. For me, the cold is a key part of wild swimming’s restorative power. It resets my mind in a way that a heated pool cannot. The dopamine and endorphin rush is the purest high. An initial spike followed by a slow burn that ensures I cannot rush, cannot allow my mind to work at the dangerously fast pace it often wants to. Deakin’s anti-authoritarianism seeped into me, too. At a millhouse on the Avon, I jumped from a firstfloor window into the brown murk and emerged delirious. In a private stretch of the Itchen, kept for the sole use of fishermen, I bathed in the purest water I’d ever seen.

Feeling the power of rebellion match the rush of a cold swim helped me let go of the inhibitions that often made me anxious. I swam in over 70 places retracing Waterlog. The adventure gave me the courage to tell others about my anxiety, and seek professional help to help me stay level when I couldn’t get into the water. Within months of journey’s end, I found myself living by the sea in Brighton. I began swimming almost every day, as high summer slipped into grimy winter. In summer, the path to the water is short. As the nights draw in, that path feels longer, strewn with obstacles: the wind, the bitter cold, the galumphing waves. The list of rituals grow, as a way of assuaging my anxiety about getting into the water, but also to force me in and make me feel less anxious in the first place. Pebbles are kicked to procrastinate. Clothes are folded methodically for speedy redressing. Entrance to the water is swift, less luxuriant than in the summer months. But the buzz, the release, is harder won and therefore sweeter. Swimming in Brighton feels different compared with exploring Roger’s world, but this intimacy brings with it its own charms. It is my own space and yet it is so beyond me, so vast, that I can only surrender to it. I have no control. I must simply respect it and give myself over to its power. To find joy in my insignificance. To float. I don’t stay in for long. There is not a lot of me and the cold works its magic quickly. Perspective returns. Balanced, cleansed, it leaves me ready to take on the world.

Words: Joe Minihane

A skin read

It’s widely said that everyone has a book inside them, less common is the knowledge that some people have actually had books made from the outsides of them. Duncan Haskell enters the dark world of anthropodermic bibliopegy

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Anthropodermic bibliopegy, the process of binding books in human skin, reached its macabre peak in the 19th century and was of particular interest to medical professionals who had access to cadavers. Some examples include the infamous Edinburgh murderer William Burke (of Burke and Hare fame) who was turned into a small pocket book after his execution in 1829, and John Horwood, the first man to be hanged at Bristol Gaol in 1821, whose skin now envelopes an account of his crime. The Historical Medical Library in Philadelphia houses the largest collection, with five such grisly tomes.

A twist to this tale is provided by The Anthropodermic Book Project. Suspecting that some of these alleged skin-bound volumes were nothing more than a tall story, they’ve begun testing specimens using a process known as peptide mass fingerprinting (PMF). Of the 31 tested, only 18 have been confirmed as human.

It remains uncertain whether the practice was sheer vanity, a deterrent to criminals or an unusual reminder of our own morality. What is clear though is that it’s definitely okay to judge these books by their covers. 

Words: Duncan Haskell

Delve into the findings at anthropodermicbooks.org

Anthropodermic bibliopegy features in issue 7 of Ernest Journal, on sale now.

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The Mail Train

Not so long ago, any letter or parcel landing on a doormat in London would have just disembarked from a surprising journey... underground.

  Images courtesy of the Postal Museum

Images courtesy of the Postal Museum

Stretching for 6.5 miles in a tunnel deeper than the Tube, the Mail Rail transported post between Whitechapel and Paddington for 75 years until its closure in 2003. Since then, the stalactite-filled
tunnels and abandoned platforms have lain dark and empty. Until now.

The Postal Museum in Clerkenwell has opened part of the Mail Rail to the public; running battery-powered passenger trains on a 20-minute subterranean tour. While the Mail Rail is undoubtedly the star attraction, the museum is a thigh-rubbing joy to wander itself, for its interactive displays (you get to sort post and put your face on a stamp) and fascinating insights into what has kept this great British institution ticking for so long. 

Open everyday (except 24-26 December) from 10am to 5pm. Last train departs at 4.30pm. Journey lasts 15 minutes. For more info, visit postalmuseum.org

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Timeline of the far future

Impending asteroids, interchangeable North Stars and rings around Mars, what do future astronomical events have in store for the universe (and for planet earth)?

  Image courtesy of NASA

Image courtesy of NASA

The north star swap

When undertaking peregrinations into the wild, we often seek guidance from the celestial arbiter Polaris, commonly known as the North Star. However, due to the effects of ‘precession’ (like when you nudge a spinning top) the earth’s ‘spin axis’ changes and with it, our North Star. In 3000 B.C.Alpha Draconis was the North Star and 13,000 years from now it will be Vega.  

Impending asteroid

For centuries, soothsayers have predicted our cosmic extinction. But your 26 times great-grandchildren (in about 800 years) may have genuine cause for concern. In 2880, there’ll be a 1-in-300 chance of Asteroid (29075) 1950 DA colliding with earth, the only asteroid considered to have a PalermoTechnical Impact Hazard Scale above the background level. 

The longest eclipse

On 16 July 2186, earth will be plunged into darkness for seven minutes and 29 seconds. This will be the longest eclipse in a span of over 12,000 years (4000 BCE to 8000 CE). Astronomers speculate this might be, or is at least close to, the theoretical maximum duration of a solar eclipse based on current astronomic conditions. 

Harvest moon

The Florida based Moon Express has already raised $45 million to launch three expeditions to the Moon, with the final mission ending in an exploratory mining excursion, aptly named Harvest Moon. With the maiden flight of their Lunar Scout shuttle set for this year, we might all have our own lunar artefact as early as 2020. 

Mars gets rings (or explodes)

The red planet has two satellites: Phobos and Deimos. Phobos has a shorter lunar orbit than any other in our solar system. This close proximity to the surface, together with tidal interactions, means that in eight million years, one of two things will happen. Either it will break apart and form rings or it will crash into the surface like a giant nuclear bomb. 

Words: Matt Iredale

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