Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Mead Mystery

Speaking of history . . .

Back when the Internet was something really new to us, my wife, Karen, and I discovered eBay. This meant, also, that we discovered the giddy joy of bidding on items we absolutely did not need. We won a few things, too, among them a leather-wrapped telescope (which, later, met its demise as a pirate prop for two little boys); a signed copy of Peter S. Beagle's The Folk of the Air; a first edition of Ray Bradbury's only mystery novel (which, though I love Bradbury's work, I couldn't finish reading); a few baubles to decorate the tops of shelves; a reproduction of a Roman sword (which looked swell in the picture but, in person, is just silly); a real, live copy of Harper's Weekly from the post Civil War era and (drum roll, please) my favorite find, ever: a 1764 copy of The London Magazine.

The oldest thing I own:
The London Magazine from May of 1764

But the story of this aquisition is a complex one, after all. I was prompted to bid on it not only because I love historical objects, but because the table of contents boasts a recipe for mead. And, as a lover of the idea of shaking hands with the past, I could think of no better way of doing so than by drinking a drink cherished by my predecessors.

I remember my heart rate increasing as I opened the package and saw this old, legendary publication -- a magazine in which Wordsworth and Keats and (one of my obscure favorites from the old grad-school Romanticism days) Thomas deQuincy had published. I remember my mind travelling the tunnel of years, imagining the fire-lit, sketchy figures of the many who might have perused those pages before me.

Smiling, I leafed gently through, knowing that the mead recipe would reveal itself, in time, on page 248. I browsed through vehement political rants; accounts from court and various other reviewings, reportings and lambastings. But, upon turning to page 246, I was amazed to see 249 as the next in line. The mead recipe was not there. That had been my main motivation for buying this . . .

"Method of of making excellent mead"
is said to be on page 248.
For a moment, I was angry, and, like the typical American consumer, I started trying to find someone to pin this on -- I'd write a letter to the seller. I'd contact the Society for the Ethical Online Selling of Antiquities (I made that up)!

Soon, however, my anger gave way to wonder and bared teeth went from a snarl to a smile. My face must have transformed the way a tree does when a cloud-shadow passes.

It occurred to me that history could not have been more alive than at that moment: Someone had ripped that recipe out of the magazine, the way people will, even  in the living rooms of today. Of course they had! How valid would the magazine have been if it had remained completely intact? How much of a human record could that magazine have held if that recipe had not been torn out?

Hard to read, but it shows p. 246 in the left
and 249 on the right. But 249 does
contain a recipe for making "Peas for Hog Meat"
Somewhere, in the mist of the past, a wife; a Madam; an impish Oxford student; a tavern keeper; a parish priest; the cook of a wealthy family . . . a living, breathing person had put his hands on that magazine, torn out that recipe and tacked it up on the wall of  kitchen or over a desk . . . or had slipped it into the pages of a book, where it might still remain, waiting to be discovered.


  1. Great post, though I know for a fact you can get mead recipes online. Just do some googling. I discovered this after reading beowulf junior year. It's out there I promise.
    On a side note, whats the name of the Ray Bradbury mystery? I did not know this existed, and I'd love to read it.
    Have you gone to old book sales at the libraries? My mom found a woman's resume from 1943 in an old bible. It was really cool to see. Just a tip for someone who enjoys the past.


  2. For the love of Pwets, Papi -- it's not about the blasted recipe! It's about making mead from thatrecipe on from that page... [weeps]

    I have to check on the Bradbury title . . . but it wass awful. I thought.

    That rseume is exactly the find I was talking about . . . really cool.

  3. "For the love of Pwets" was a typo, but I like it and will continue to use it.