Putting “History on Tap” with recipes from the VHS collections
Three Virginia Historical Society employees walk into a bar. . . . No this isn’t a joke. This is the true story of how (in a short period of time) the VHS tapped into the craft beer and cider scene.
Three VHS employees: L. Paige Newman, Associate Archivist for Collections Processing; Jamie Davis, Visual Resources Manager and Exhibits Preparator; and Greg Hansard, Manager of Web and Digital Resources, met to enjoy some brews (after work hours, of course); little did we know that by the end of the evening, “History on Tap” would be born.
Richmond, like the rest of the nation, has been swept by the craft beer scene. The region is alive with more than a dozen breweries, and Virginia itself has more than one hundred! How could the VHS tap into (pardon the pun) this scene? There were many different ideas floating around on how to do this, but what would we use to connect the people with their history? Then it hit us. The VHS’s massive collection contains several cookbooks and ledgers that have recipes for alcoholic beverages (mead, wine, cider, beer, etc.). Why not team up with a local brewery and have them brew a batch of beer based on one of our historic recipes? Can’t get more craft beer than that, and it just so happened that Jamie had a contact at Ardent Craft Ales.
“The ‘History on Tap’ program is a great way to show that we have diverse collections and that they are accessible to the public. Instead of a scholar researching an 18th-century manuscript to cite in a book, a brewer or cider-maker is researching an 18th-century recipe to recreate a tasty beverage.” Greg Hansard, Manager of Web and Digital Services
We met with Ardent’s owners, Tom Sullivan and Kevin O’Leary, to discuss the collaboration and a few of the more interesting colonial beer recipes. They chose to work with a persimmon beer recipe, found in the cookbook kept by Jane (Randolph) Walke (1729–1756) and her mother, Jane (Bolling) Randolph (1703–1766). After researching native persimmons and picking approximately sixteen pounds worth from a farm near Charlottesville, Ardent scheduled a brew date for November 1, and the rest is history.
On December 9, 100 beer enthusiasts met at Ardent Craft Ales to taste and hear about this persimmon beer that was based on a ten- or eleven-year-old girl’s recipe. The sold-out event (“History on Tap: Jane’s Percimon beer) and the collaboration was a hit. Tom and Kevin spoke about the process of brewing the persimmon beer, Paul Levengood, VHS President and CEO, talked about the VHS’s collections, and Lee Graves discussed the history of beer in Richmond. News coverage reached as far away as New Zealand. Greg had friends in Brighton, England, who read about it in the British tabloids. There were people in San Diego, California, who wanted to buy a ticket for the event and were ready to book a flight until they learned it was sold out. The program was so popular that we decided to have another History on Tap event with Blue Bee Cider.
Soon after the success of the first History on Tap event, VHS staff members met with Blue Bee owner Courtney Mailey and her team to discuss cider recipes. After looking at several options, Courtney selected a recipe from The Compleat Housewife that contained pippin apples and raisins. As part of the VHS’s rare book collections, the 1742 edition of The Compleat Housewife is unique because it is known to be the first cookbook published in America. It contains recipes for preparing and preserving food, brewing, and medicine, along with housekeeping advice. In December, Courtney and her staff began recreating the “Compleat Cyder” by pressing pippin apples. Then they fermented juice along with three pounds of raisins in a fifty-gallon barrel.
On April 21 at 6 p.m. at Blue Bee Cider ticketholders for “History on Tap: The Compleat Cyder” will get the first taste of this unique beverage. Along with a taste of the “Compleat Cyder,” there will be a lecture about cider and cider-making in colonial Virginia, featuring Dr. Sarah Meacham, author of Every Home A Distillery: Alcohol, Gender, and Technology in the Colonial Chesapeake, and Courtney Mailey, owner of Blue Bee Cider. Dr. Paul Levengood, VHS President and CEO, will speak about the importance of the society’s collections. It should be a fun night of history, cider, and conversation.
Let us know what you think should be next on tap for the VHS’s recipe collection?
Greg Hansard is the Manager of Web and Digital Services at the Virginia Historical Society. Read other posts by Greg.