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Hulton Archive/Getty
Hulton Archive/Getty

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.

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You Can Now Rent the Montgomery, Alabama Home of Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald Through Airbnb
Chris Pruitt, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

The former apartment of Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, perhaps the most famous couple of the Jazz Age, is now available to rent on a nightly basis through Airbnb, The Chicago Tribune reports. While visitors are discouraged from throwing parties in the spirit of Jay Gatsby, they are invited to write, drink, and live there as the authors did.

The early 20th-century house in Montgomery, Alabama was home to the pair from 1931 to 1932. It's where Zelda worked on her only novel Save Me the Waltz and F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote part of Tender Is the Night. The building was also the last home they shared with their daughter Scottie before she moved to boarding school.

In the 1980s, the house was rescued from a planned demolition and turned into a nonprofit. Today, the site is a museum and a spot on the Southern Literary Trail. While the first floor of the Fitzgerald museum, which features first-edition books, letters, original paintings, and other artifacts related to the couple, isn't available to rent, the two-bedroom apartment above it goes for $150 a night. Guests staying there will find a record player and a collection of jazz albums, pillows embroidered with Zelda Fitzgerald quotes, and a balcony with views of the property's magnolia tree. Of the four surviving homes Zelda and F. Scott lived in while traveling the world, this is the only one that's accessible to the public.

Though the Fitzgerald home is the only site on the Southern Literary Trail available to rent through Airbnb, it's just one of the trail's many historic homes. The former residences of Flannery O'Connor, Caroline Miller, and Lillian Smith are all open to the public as museums.

[h/t The Chicago Tribune]

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Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington Library in San Marino, California
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History
The Concept of the American 'Backyard' is Newer Than You Think
A home in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
A home in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington Library in San Marino, California

Backyards are as American as apple pie and baseball. If you live in a suburban or rural area, chances are good that you have a lawn, and maybe a pool, some patio furniture, and a grill to boot.

This wasn’t always the case, though. As Smithsonian Insider reports, it wasn’t until the 1950s that Americans began to consider the backyard an extension of the home, as well as a space for recreation and relaxation. After World War II, Americans started leaving the big cities and moving to suburban homes that came equipped with private backyards. Then, after the 40-hour work week was implemented and wages started to increase, families started spending more money on patios, pools, and well-kept lawns, which became a “symbol of prosperity” in the 1950s, according to a new Smithsonian Institution exhibit.

A man mows his lawn in the 1950s
In this photo from the Smithsonian Institution's exhibit, a man mows his lawn in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington
Library in San Marino, California

Entitled "Patios, Pools, & the Invention of the American Back Yard," the exhibition includes photographs, advertisements, and articles about backyards from the 1950s and 1960s. The traveling display is currently on view at the Temple Railroad & Heritage Museum in Temple, Texas, and from there it will head to Hartford, Connecticut, in December.

Prior to the 1950s, outdoor yards were primarily workspaces, MLive.com reports. Some families may have had a vegetable garden, but most yards were used to store tools, livestock, and other basic necessities.

The rise of the backyard was largely fueled by materials that were already on hand, but hadn’t been accessible to the average American during World War II. As Smithsonian Insider notes, companies that had manufactured aluminum and concrete for wartime efforts later switched to swimming pools, patio furniture, and even grilling utensils.

A family eats at a picnic table in the 1960s
A family in Mendham, New Jersey, in the 1960s
Molly Adams/Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens, Maida Babson Adams American Garden Collection

At the same time, DIY projects started to come into fashion. According to an exhibit caption of a Popular Mechanics article from the 1950s, “‘Doing-it-yourself’ was advertised as an enjoyable and affordable way for families to individualize their suburban homes.” The magazine wrote at the time that “patios, eating areas, places for play and relaxation are transforming back yards throughout the nation.”

The American backyard continues to grow to this day. As Bloomberg notes, data shows that the average backyard grew three years in a row, from 2015 to 2017. The average home last year had 7048 square feet of outdoor space—plenty of room for a sizable Memorial Day cookout.

[h/t Smithsonian Insider]

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