Yesterday we took some of our friends to Pennsbury Manor, where a program called “Plants to Pints” was being held. We’d been wanting to bring our friends out to the manor for some time, and felt the program was as good an excuse as any to do so.
This historical lesson began, as the name suggests, in the Kitchen Garden. In the current re-creation, the garden is impressive, but not anywhere near the size it would have been back in the 1690’s when Penn was present. Back then it was a full 2 acres and, as our historical interpreter described, it was their “super market.”
Brewing was extremely important back in the Colonial Period, as beer served as a significant portion of the calories consumed. And, in the early days of Pennsylvania, they experimented with any type plant the could get their hands on for the the sugars to make the beer. Persimmons, rose hips, and even acorns were part of the experimentation process. They even hopped beer, but no where near as much as is done today. The English had a semi-strained relationship with the process, as the Dutch discovered the effects of hopping and all things Dutch were considered inferior. As soon as they discovered hops acted as a preservative, however, minds changed! During the presentation I also learned most of the plants in the mint family have square stems, a fact I’d never before heard.
In the brewing room the historian described the sheer amount of alcohol people consumed back then, and it was staggering. There is a surviving letter from Penn’s second wife informing their agent in Philadelphia they were short on rum, being down to only five gallons. Five gallons of rum was an emergency shortage. The beer brewed on the Manor property would have been for those who worked the land (both slave and free, this was before the Quakers found their conscience on Slavery), and one of their fermenting tanks, called a tun, would have lasted several weeks — and held around 250 gallons of beer! These people drank.
One of the most fascinating things I learned during the program was how quickly specialty industries had popped up in Philadelphia. Creating malt for beer was extremely time consuming, and required a huge amount of barely to create enough malt for their brewing needs. So people who had means did much as home brewers do today, they purchased it. In Penn’s time Philadelphia actually had three malters in business, this was a specialized industry which supported multiple operators extremely early in the city’s history. The beer brewed at the manor, however, was being made for the lower classes, so they made their own. There was evidence of a cistern used for creating malt in the kitchen house. All in all it was a fascinating look into everyday life back in the Early Colonial Period.
The image below is perhaps my favorite of those I took during the program. The light hit the wooden keg beautifully, and the glass bottles added to the depth.