Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Enjoy History 2015: Year In Review

At the beginning of the year, we made plans to enjoy history more throughout the year. We shared the challenge and invited people to join us in enjoying history more in 2015. Now that the year is coming to a close, let's look back at a few of the highlights from our enjoy history challenge. 

Visit a Museum or Historic Site

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Beer Jellies

By Jeff Burns

There is an old saying:  Beer is liquid bread.  There’s no doubt that beer has been just as important in history as bread, and just as ubiquitous.  Beer was first brewed thousands of years ago by ancient Mesopotamians and Egyptians, and some form of beer or cider has been commonly consumed by people of all ages in cultures around the world ever since, more commonly consumed than water in some places and times. In the United States, there’s been a huge boom in homebrew and craft beer making, and beer lovers have more choices than ever before.  So, when my wife and I first saw jellies made from beer at an event a few years ago, it made sense.  We make jellies from fruit juices, why not beer jellies?   Fortunately, fellow Histocrat Margaret Duncan and her husband David are homebrew hobbyists and graciously offered to supply varieties, including historic recipes like a porter from 1744and a pilsner from the early 20th century, for our experiments.

We experimented and tasted and sold our products at farmers markets.  They taste good and attract a lot of attention because they’re unique.  They’re great on bread, just like fruit jellies and jams, but I’ve also used them extensively in cooking, adding them to sauces and chili and for marinating and grilling vegetables, seafood, and meats.  Whenever we find something different in a beer or cider, our first thought is “what kind of jelly would that make?”

When we started, we read a few blogs and looked at some recipes, and I came up with a basic recipe that seems to work for all types of beer and for hard ciders as well.  (I would also use the same recipe for soft drinks.)  Some beer jelly makers add various ingredients and spices to complement the beers’ flavors, but ours have been pretty simple so far.

How do you do it?  You need two regular bottles or cans or one big bottle, 1 box of pectin, and 3 cups of sugar. As with any canning process, you start by sterilizing and preparing jars and lids.

You need a deep stainless steel pot. The beer will make a fast and furious foam, and the cooking part is very quick. If you don’t give it your full attention, you’ll end up with beer foam all over your stovetop and a great beer-y smell throughout the kitchen.  In the pot, mix the beer and pectin.  Bring to a boil, constantly stirring.  When it’s a rapid boil, add the sugar, bring back to a boil for a minute, and you’re done.  Ladle or pour it into the jars and process for 10 – 15 minutes.  Most of the time, you skim the foam off the top before putting jelly into jars, but I leave the foam on beer jellies.  That means pouring takes a little longer, but the jars look like they have suds on top. After processing, it has to set. The setting time varies. Setting is often the bane of jellymakers.  Some jellies firm up quickly, some don’t, and some have to be re-done.  Generally, I’ve found that ciders work well, and lighter beers might take longer than stouter beers.

As far as taste goes, the jelly is remarkably true to the beer or cider, and of course the alcohol content is cooked off in the process, leaving the flavors behind.  Try making your own or check your local farmers market; I bet you’ll find a vendor.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Making History Relevant

By Jeff Burns

In the fall of 2013, when the four Histocrats got together to form our group and to embark on our journey, our mission was to share our own love of history in all of its forms with the public at large.  Of course we had no idea how large or small our “public” would be, maybe just a few of our friends and family members.  However, that didn’t matter.  We wanted to continue our relationship, cultivated as colleagues sharing great history experiences through participation in Teaching American History grants over the course of a decade.  We’ve been humbled by the response and opportunities we’ve received thus far, and we have discovered that there is both a great audience and a great need for history and history education.

We have just become aware of the History Relevance Campaign (HRC) first informally organized in 2012 by historians and historical organizations with the purpose of engaging in conversations about ways to make history and history education more relevant in Americans’ lives.  Wait, that’s not really stated correctly, is it?  I mean, if you are reading this, chances are that you already believe in the relevance of history.  I guess a better way to say it would be “to make Americans more aware of how incredibly relevant history is to their everyday lives.”

We see the need for more historical awareness every day, in man on the street interviews and polls that expose our fellow citizens’ ignorance and in the blatant misuse and misinterpretation of history by politicians, entertainers, businesses, and the media.  HRC's 7 point statement, Value of History, emphasizes the role history plays in our lives and our communities. History is essential to personal identity and the development our communities. People and places grounded in historic knowledge are better prepared to approach the future.

Are you interested in getting involved in the History Relevance Campaign? Check out their website and toolkit. You can find ways to get involved. The Impact Project is just one of many opportunities. What will you do to promote history?