Today, August 2nd, is National Mead Day. Yes, you heard right. There is a National Mead Day.
But what exactly is mead? When you hear that word, it may conjure up images of wenches serving goblets of the sweet stuff to King Henry VIII, with Greensleeves tinkling in the background.
As delightful an experience that may have been, mead has modernized and is slowly taking its place with the current times. In February, the fifth annual Mead Festival took place in Denver, Colorado with exhibitors coming in from as far and wide as South Africa and Poland. There are now more than one hundred mead producing companies in the USA, with annual sales of $20 million. There were less than half of these meaderies five years ago. So what’s going on, and why the sudden interest in mead?
When I say sudden interest, that’s not strictly true -- the Ancient Greeks were drinking mead and calling it methe. The Romans were quite partial to it as well, and it’s even mentioned in old Hindu scriptures. Ethiopians can’t get enough of it--since 4 AD, their households have been making a home brewed version which they call t’ej.
But what is the technique for making mead? Basically, it’s just three parts water to one part honey, throw in a bit of yeast, boil it up and wait a few months. But nothing is ever as simple as that. You can have it carbonated, flat, fruit flavoured, sweet, semi sweet, dry. It's even been given special names for these varieties: melomel for instance is mead with fruit, metheglin means spices have been added. Cyser has apple juice included and braggot is like a mead beer with malt put in.
With the current trend for farmer’s markets and all things artisan, there has been a revival. But why did it fall out of favor in the middle ages after being so ubiquitous? Some say that French wine was being imported across Europe so cheaply that it became too expensive to make and by the seventeen century sugar coming in from the West Indies just about killed it. Then there was Henry VIII himself who dissolved all the monasteries and with the monks being the major bee keepers of the time, there goes the honey.
So how can we use mead in our modern lives? It goes particularly well with salmon, chicken and turkey. It also works as a marinade for pork chops, or a drizzle over fruit salad. Mix it with oil and vinegar for a syrupy salad dressing. Pears poached in mead sounds particularly scrummy.
The word honeymoon is said to derive from the Scandinavian tradition of using honey for creating a fertile and fulfilled marriage--every day for the whole month after a marriage one enjoyed a cup of mead.
Not a bad habit, married or otherwise.