Looking for My Past

I need some help from old friends and colleagues. When I retired from my position at VCU, it was necessary for me to simply walk away without looking back, without my files, and without my library–for a variety of reasons that don’t matter now. However, that means that I no longer have copies of most of the professional materials I wrote during my 28 years working in archaeology.

I am now trying to track down a large number of publications, conference papers, and project reports because I would like to make my contributions more widely available to current and future generations of archaeologists and historians. I am especially interested in copies of old conference papers, because I know I can usually find published pieces in libraries or online.

The following is a list of my professional works taken from my last C-V, dated 1999. Those marked with an asterisk are ones that I do have. All the rest I am looking for. If you have or know where I might find any of these, please let me know. I’d love to borrow hardcopies or pay for photocopies, etc. I will certainly appreciate your help!


Dan (danmouerATverizonDOTnet)

*Unpublished manuscript : Digging Sites and Telling Stories: Essays in Interpretive Historical Archaeology.

*Unpublished, unfinished manuscript: “In despight of the enemie”: The material culture of Jordan’s Journey. Editor of a collection of 12 papers on a major research project I directed.


*1999 “Colono” Pottery, Chesapeake Pipes, and “Uncritical Assumptions.” In I, Too, Am America: Recent Studies in African American Archaeology, edited by Theresa Singleton. University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville. Senior author with Mary Ellen N. Hodges, Stephen Potter, Susan L. Henry, Ivor Noël Hume, Dennis Pogue, Martha McCartney and Thomas Davidson.

*1998a “The ‘Mansions’ of Curles Plantation, ca. 1630-1860.” Henrico Country Historical Society Journal, Spring.

1998b “The Archaeology of Slavery.” Encyclopedia of Slavery, New York: MacMillan Reference.

*1998c “Archaeology Through Narrative: Captaine Thomas Harris, Gent.” Historical Archaeology, Volume 32, Spring 1998. Tucson: Society for Historical Archaeology.

1995 A Pocahontas for Every Season: Review of the 400th Anniversary Exhibit at the Virginia Historical Society. William and Mary Quarterly, Institute of Early American History, Williamsburg. Winter 1995

1995 “…the place where the pale ran”: Making history in the New Bermudas. Journal of the Chesterfield County Historical Society, Spring-Summer 1995.

1993 “A Parcel of Lumber,” “UFOs,” and “a Lot of Iron, Stone and Earthen”: Archaeology and Kitchen Interpretation. Food History News, Winter 1993.

1993 “Root Cellars” Revisited. African-American Archaeology, Spring 1993.

*1993: Chesapeake Creoles: An Approach to Colonial Folk Culture. In The Archaeology of Seventeenth- Century Virginia. Edited by Dennis J. Pogue and Carter Hudgins. Special Publication of the Archaeological Society of Virginia.

1992 The Confederate Navy Yard on Richmond’s Waterfront. In The Bulletin of the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, Volume XI (1), Spring 1992.

1991 Digging a Rebel’s Homestead: Nathaniel Bacon’s fortified plantation called “Curles,” In Archaeology magazine.

1991 New discoveries at Jordan’s Point. In Notes on Virginia, Virginia Department of Historic Resources, Richmond.

*1990 The Formative Transition in Virginia. In The Late Archaic and Early Woodland Periods in Virginia Prehistory, edited by J. Mark Wittkofski and Michael Barber. Special Publication of the Archaeological Society of Virginia.

1990 A Review of Prehistoric Cultures of the Delmarva Peninsula by Jay F. Custer. For the Journal of Middle Atlantic Archaeology.

1989 The Excavation of Nathaniel Bacon’s Curles Plantation. In The Henrico County Historical Society Magazine.

1989 Beyond Fluted Points: Prospects for Paleoindian Studies in Virginia in the 1990’s. In Paleoindian Research in Virginia, edited by J. Mark Wittkofski and Theodore R. Reinhart. Special Publication 19, Archaeological Society of Virginia.

1986 The Thunderjar in the Museum and Related Tales. Quarterly Bulletin of the Archaeological Society of Virginia.

1985 Life on the Swamp: Cultural ecology and exploitation of the Chickahominy in history and prehistory. In Research in Action, Virginia Commonwealth University.

1985 An Excavation of the Point of Fork Site (44Fv19), Fluvanna County, Virginia. Bulletin of the Fluvanna County Virginia Historical Society.

1984 A Review of VCU Archaeology. Quarterly Bulletin of the Archaeological Society of Virginia.

1984 A Review of Monacan ethnohistory and archaeology. In Piedmont Archaeology, ed. by Mark Wittkofski, VHLC, Richmond.

1983 Social models: information, organization and exchange in regional research designs. In Upland Archaeology in the East, Barber and Tolley, eds., U.S. Forest Service.

1982 Region, ecosystem and world system: a role for archaeology in development anthropology. Proceedings of the International Symposium on the Problems of Development of the Underprivileged Communities in the Third World Countries. Indian Anthropological Association, New Delhi.

1981 The Elk Island Tradition: an Early Woodland regional society in the James River piedmont. Quarterly Bulletin of the Archaeological Society of Virginia (senior author with R.L.Ryder and E.G.Johnson).

1981 Powhatan and Monacan settlement hierarchies. Quarterly Bulletin of the Archaeological Society of Virginia.

1981 Down to the river in boats: the Late Archaic/Transitional in the Middle James River Valley. Quarterly Bulletin of the Archaeological Society of Virginia (senior author with R.L. Ryder and E.G.Johnson).

1977 Fission tracks: invisible clocks for the archaeologist. Artifacts, Vol.3. American Indian Archaeological Institute.

1976 The direct dating of cultural lithic material. Debitage, the Student Archaeological Society Newsletter, Vancouver.

Selected Monographs and technical reports

1996 An Excavation at the Cary Peyton Armistead House Site, Duke of Gloucester Street, Williamsburg, Va. Report prepared for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

1996 The Archaeology of Court End, A Neighborhood in the City of Richmond, Virginia. Virginia Commonwealth University Archaeological Research Center.

1995 Jacobs House: Archaeological Evaluations of an Underground Railroad Site. Report prepared for the Office of Planning and Development, Virginia Commonwealth University.

1994 Bermuda Hundred. Nomination report for the National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Historic Landmarks Register. Presently under review by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.

1994 African Americans in Petersburg, Virginia: Historic Contexts and Resources for Preservation Planning, Research, and Interpretation. Report prepared for The City of Petersburg Department of Planning and Community Development. Project Director and senior author with Mary Ellen Bushey, Ann Creighton-Zollar, Lucious Edwards, Jr. and Robin L. Ryder.

*1994 Jordan’s Journey, Volume III: Preliminary Report on the 1992-1993 Excavations at Archaeological Site 44PG307. Report prepared for The Virginia Department of Historic Resources and The National Geographic Society. VCU Archaeological Research Center. Senior author with Douglas C. McLearen.

1994 Duncan Road: An Evaluation of Archaeological Sites along Route 670 in Dinwiddie County, Virginia. Report prepared for the Virginia Department of Transportation. VCU Archaeological Research Center. Senior author with Douglas C. McLearen. R. Taft Kiser, Christopher P. Egghart, and Beverly J. Binns.

*1993 Falls Plantation and the Confederate Navy Yard: An Archaeological Assessment of Richmond’s Eastern Waterfront. Report prepared for the William Byrd Branch, Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities. Senior author with R. Taft Kiser. VCU Archaeological Research Center.

*1993 Jordan’s Journey, Volume II: A Preliminary Report on the 1992 Excavations at Archaeological Sites 44PG302, 44PG303, and 44PG307. Report prepared for The Virginia Department of Historic Resources and The National Geographic Society. VCU Archaeological Research Center. Co-author with Douglas C. McLearen.

1993 An Archaeological Evaluation of the Hanover County Poor Farm Site. Report prepared for the Virginia Department of Transportation. VCU Archaeological Research Center. Senior author with Christopher P. Egghart.

*1992 Rocketts: The Archaeology of the Rocketts #1 Site, Technical Report. Report in 3 volumes prepared for the Virginia Department of Transportation. Senior author and editor, with contributions by Frederick T. Barker, Beverly Binns, R. Taft Kiser, Leslie Cohen and Duane Carter. VCU Archaeological Research Center.

1992 Jordan’s Journey: A Preliminary Report on Archaeology at Site 44Pg302, Prince GeorgeCounty, Virginia, 1990-1991. Report prepared for The Virginia Department of Historic Resources and The National Geographic Society. VCU Archaeological Research Center. Senior author with Douglas C. McLearen, R. Taft Kiser, Christopher P. Egghart, Beverly J. Binns, and Dane T. Magoon.

*1992 Magnolia Grange: Archaeology of the Courthouse Plantation. Final Report on a Volunteer Archaeological Project, 1988-1990. Chesterfield County Historical Society, Chesterfield, Va.

1991 The Reverend Samuel Davies and the Archaeology of Polegreen Church, Hanover County, Virginia. Nomination report for the National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Historic Landmarks Register.

1991 “Jordan’s Journey”: an Interim Report on the Excavation of a Protohistoric Indian and Early 17th Century Colonial Occupation in Prince George County, Virginia. Report presented to the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. Co-author with Douglas C. McLearen.

1991 A Cultural Resource Survey for a Proposed Electric Power Generating Facility in Cumberland County, Virginia (2 volumes). Report prepared for Virginia Power, Inc. by Virginia Commonwealth University Archaeological Research Center.

1989 Archaeology in Henrico, Volume VI: Archaeology and History at Deep Bottom. Special publication of Virginia Commonwealth University.

1986 Prehistoric Cultural Occupations at City Point, Hopewell, Virginia. Report prepared for National Park Service Middle Atlantic Region, Philadelphia.

*1986 Archaeology in Henrico, Volume III: Phase 2 and Phase 3 investigations in the Upper Chickahominy and Upham Brook basins. Special publication of Virginia Commonwealth University.

*1986 Archaeology in Henrico, Volume II: An introduction to Phase 2 and Phase 3 archaeological investigations of the Henrico Regional Wastewater Treatment System. Special publication of Virginia Commonwealth University.

1986 (Editor and senior author) Archaeology in Henrico, Volume IV: Phase 2 and Phase 3 investigations on the Chickahominy Swamp and Fourmile Creek. Special publication of Virginia Commonwealth University.

1985 Archaeological Resources of the Richmond Metropolitan Area: Richmond Metropolitan Area Archaeological Survey (Volumes 1 and 2). Senior author with W. Johnson and F. Gleach. Special publication of the Virginia Division of Historic Landmarks and Virginia Commonwealth University.

*1980 Archaeology in Henrico: Investigations by the Dept. of Sociology and Anthropology,Virginia Commonwealth University, Vol. 1. Senior author with R.R. Hunter, E. G.Johnson, L.W. Lindberg, and J.R. Saunders; special publication of Virginia Commonwealth University.


Papers delivered at professional meetings, and selected public addresses

*1999 Revisiting Mapps Cave: Amerindian and Probable Slave Occupations of a Sinkhole and Cavern, St. Philip Parish, Barbados. Paper to be presented to the International Congress for Caribbean Archaeology, Grenada, July 1999. Senior author with Frederick H. Smith

*1998 A Conversation in One Act, Three Scenes and Two Centuries. Paper presented in the symposium “Archaeologists and Storytellers II,” at the annual meeting of the Society for Historical Archaeology, Atlanta. Co-author with Ywone Edwards-Ingram

*1997 The True Story of an Ancient Planter, Captaine Thomas Harris, as Related by his Sonne. Paper presented in the symposium “Archaeologists as Storytellers,” at the annual meeting of the Society for Historical Archaeology, Corpus Christi

1996 Urban Arrowheads: Virginia Commonwealth University’s Quest for the Prehistory of Central Virginia. Paper presented to the annual meeting of the Archaeological Society of Virginia.

*1995 Digging Sites and Telling Stories: History, Narrative, and the Culture Problem. Plenary Lecture, Conference on Historical and Underwater Archaeology, Washington, D. C.

*1994 Rebecca’s Children: Myths and the Indian in Virginia’s History. Banner Lecture Series, Virginia Historical Society.

*1994 Pink, Beige and Shades of Grey: Categories, Cultures, and the Problem of the Common. Invited keynote lecture for the conference on “Common Culture,” Historic Petersburg Foundation, June 1994.

1994 “…we are not the veriest beggars in the world:” The People of Jordan’s Journey. Presented at the Annual Conference on Historical and Underwater Archaeology, Vancouver, B.C., January 1994.

1993 An Update on the Curles Plantation and Jordan’s Journey Projects. Jamestown Archaeology Conference, Jamestown.

1993 Rocketts: Community and Diversity on Richmond’s Early Waterfront. Paper presented to the Conference on Historical and Underwater Archaeology, Kansas City.

1993 “A Parcel of Lumber,” “UFOs,” and “a Lot of Iron, Stone and Earthen”: Archaeology and Kitchen Interpretation. Paper presented in the colloquium To Have or Have Not: Interpreting Historic Kitchens, sponsored by the Culinary Historians of Virginia, Richmond.

*1993 Bermuda Hundred: Preserving a National Treasure. Oral presentation made to the Chesterfield County Historical Society at Bermuda Hundred.

1993 George Washington’s Indian Clothes: Native Americans and Colonists in 18th-Century Virginia. Presented at the annual meeting of the National Board of Regents, Kenmore Association, Fredericksburg.

1992 Chesapeake Creoles: An Approach to Colonial Folk Culture. Paper presented at the 1992 Conference on Historical and Underwater Archaeology, Columbian Quincentennial, Kingston, Jamaica.

1992 Jordan’s Journey: An Early Seventeenth-Century Fortified Plantation Village and Weyanoke Indian Settlement on the James River, Prince George County, Virginia. Paper presented to the Middle Atlantic Archaeology Conference, Ocean City, Md.

1992 Curles, Rocketts, and Jordan’s Journey: A progress report on three major excavations. Paper presented to the Jamestown Archaeology Conference, Fredericksburg.

1991 The “Upper Parts” of James River in the Virginia Company Period, 1607-1624: Archaeology at Jordan’s Journey and Bermuda Hundred. Paper presented to the Henries Foundation Conference, Richmond.

1991 Three Centuries on the James: Archaeology at Rocketts, Curles, and Jordan’s Journey. Paper presented to the Annual Meeting of the Archaeological Society of Virginia, Roanoke.

*1991 Rebecca’s children: a critique of old and new myths concerning Indians in Virginia’s history and archaeology. Paper presented in the symposium “Is Historical Archaeology White?,” at the Annual Conference on Historical and Underwater Archaeology, Richmond.

*1991 Postmodern archaeology: Tacking along a paradigmatic sea change. Plenary Introduction, 1991 Conference on Historical and Underwater Archaeology, Richmond.

1991 “My Father Told Me. I Tell My Son”: Native American ethnicity and education in Virginia since 1607. Invited lecture presented in the series “To Lead and to Serve,” sponsored by the Virginia Foundation for Humanities and Public Policy and the Jamestown Settlement Museum, Williamsburg.

1991 Jordan’s Journey and Curles: the 1991 season’s finds. Paper presented at the Jamestown Archaeology Conference, Washington’s Birthplace National Landmark.

1991 Historical Archaeology in Hopewell and Prince George. Presented to the Hopewell – Prince George Branch of the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities.

*1991 Chesapeake Creoles: approaches to Colonial folk culture. Paper presented at the Council of Virginia Archaeologists symposium on the Archaeology of 17th Century Virginia (May 1991).

1990 Progress reports: Jordan’s Journey, Rocketts Port, and Curles Plantation excavations. paper presented at the Jamestown Archaeology Fall Conference.

1990 “Jordan’s Journey”: a Progress Report on the Excavation of a Protohistoric and Early 17th Century Colonial Occupation in Prince George County, Virginia. (Co-author with Douglas C. McLearen). Presented at the Annual Conference of the Archaeological Society of Virginia.

1990 Chesapeake Pipes: another perspective? Paper presented to the Jamestown Archaeology Conference.

1990 “An Ancient Seat Called Curles”: The Archaeology of a James River Plantation:

1984-1989. Paper presented to the Conference on Historical and Underwater Archaeology, Tucson.

1990 Two centuries of Late Woodland Archaeology in the Virginia Piedmont. Overview paper: Virginia Prehistoric Archaeology Symposium No. 4, Roanoke, Va.

*1989 The Rebel and the Renaissance: Nathaniel Bacon at Curles Plantation. Paper delivered to the Middle Atlantic Archaeology Conference, Rehobeth Beach, Delaware.

1989 The Curles Plantation Project at the Five Year Mark: Retrospect and Prospect. Paper delivered to the Jamestown Archaeology Conference, Jamestown.

1989 Middle Woodland II Typology and Chronology in the Lower James River Valley of Virginia. Paper presented to the Middle Atlantic Archaeology Conference, Rehobeth Beach, Del. (co-author with Douglas C. McLearen).

1988 Nathaniel Bacon’s brick house and associated structures, Curles Plantation, Henrico County, Va.; Presented in the symposium “Varieties of the Virginia House: New Archaeological Perspectives on Domestic Architecture in Late 17th Century Chesapeake.” Annual Meeting of the Archaeological Society of Virginia, Hampton.

1988 From ‘house’ to ‘home’ in concept and context; opening remarks for the symposium: “Varieties of the Virginia House: New Archaeological Perspectives on Domestic Architecture in Late 17th Century Chesapeake” (symposium organizer). Annual Meeting of the Archaeological Society of Virginia, Hampton.

1987 The Lullabye of Broadspears: the Archaic-Woodland transition in the James River Valley. Paper presented to the annual meeting of the Eastern States Archaeological Federation.

1987 Farming, Foraging and Feasting: Powhatan Foodways and their influences on English Virginia. Presented to the Foodways Research Planning Conference Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, April 1987.

*1987 Everything in its place: Locational models and distributions of elites in colonial Virginia. Paper delivered to the annual meeting of the Society for Historical Archaeology, Savannah, Ga.

1986 Town and country in the Curles of the James: geographic and social place in the evolution of James River society. (Senior author with Jill C. Wooley and Frederic W. Gleach) Paper

presented at the annual meeting of the Middle Atlantic Archaeological Conference, Rehoboth Beach, Del.

1985 What are you looking for? What have you found? What will you do with it now? Invited address delivered to the Jamestown Archaeological Conference, sponsored by the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, Jamestown.

1985 The Occaneechee Connection: social networks and ethnic complexity at the Fall Line in the 16th and 17th centuries. Presented to the annual meeting of the Middle Atlantic Archaeological Conference, Rehobeth Beach, Del.

1985 Beyond exchange: ceramics and the analysis of political and social systems. Delivered in the symposium “Pottery Technology: New Ideas and Approaches,” Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association.

1984 Trading for a newer model. Invited discussion paper for the Symposium “Trade and Exchange in Middle Atlantic Prehistory,” Mid-Atlantic Archaeology Conference, Rehoboth Beach, Del.

1984 Excavations at Bermuda Hundred: the 1984 season. Presented to the annual meeting of the Eastern States Archaeological Federation, Annapolis, Md.

1984 Bermuda Hundred: from frontier fort to planters port (senior author with F.W. Bleach). Presented to the Mid-Atlantic Archaeology Conference, Rehobeth Beach, Del.

1983 The Henrico Project: 10,000 years in the swamp. Opening remarks and overview presentation for afternoon symposium on “The Henrico Project” (symposium organizer). Annual meeting of the Archaeological Society of Virginia.

1983 Floral remains, land-use and subsistence at the Reynolds-Alvis Site (co-author with F. Gleach). Annual meeting of the Archaeological Society of Virginia.

1983 Camps on Four Mile Creek: Late Archaic through Late Woodland land-use in a small stream valley (co-author with R.L. Ryder). Annual meeting of the Archaeological Society of Virginia.

1982 Region, ecosystem and world system: a role for archaeology in development anthropology. Delivered to the International Symposium on the Problems of Development of the Underprivileged Communities in the Third World Countries, New Delhi.

1982 Patches and plains: optimal foraging and the adoption of sedentism in the Middle Atlantic. Delivered to the Middle Atlantic Archaeology Conference, Rehobeth Beach, Del.

1982 Discussion and opening remarks: symposium on “The Early Woodland and the Adoption of Sedentism in the Middle Atlantic” (symposium organizer). Middle Atlantic Archaeological Conference, Rehobeth Beach, Del.

1981 The Elk Island Tradition: an Early Woodland regional society in the James River piedmont. Delivered to the annual meeting of the Middle Atlantic Archaeological Conference, Ocean City, Md. (senior author with R.L.Ryder and E.G.Johnson).

1981 Temper! Temper!: Prospects for compositional and materials science approaches to ceramics analysis in the Henrico Project. Delivered to the annual meeting of the Archaeological Society of Virginia, Roanoke. (co-author with Gordon J. Bronitsky).

1981 Social models: information, organization and exchange in regional research designs. An invited discussion paper presented to the Conference on Upland Archaeology in the East, sponsored by the U.S. Forest Service, Council of Virginia Archaeologists, and James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Va.

1981 Site and society: a polite assault on the “Gardner Method.” Delivered to the annual meeting of the Middle Atlantic Archaeological Conference, Ocean City, Md. (co-author with R.L.Ryder).

1980 Regional research designs: a social approach. Invited position paper for the “Regional Research Design” symposium, annual meeting of the Archaeological Society of Virginia, Abingdon, Va.

1980 Down to the river in boats: the Late Archaic/Transitional in the middle James River valley. Delivered to the annual meeting of the Middle Atlantic Archaeological Conference, Dover, Del.

1980 Barbarians and hillbillies: social perceptions and regional boundaries in the Late Woodland societies of eastern and central Virginia. Delivered to the annual meeting of the Eastern States Archaeological Federation, Albany, N.Y.

1979 The James River Survey: research methods and preliminary findings. Delivered to the annual meeting of the Archaeological Society of Virginia, Virginia Beach, Va.

1979 The evolution of historic settlement patterns in Henrico County, Virginia. Delivered to the annual meeting of the Middle Atlantic Archaeological Conference, Rehobeth Beach, Del. (coauthor with L.W. Lindberg).

1979 Regional ecology and settlement near the falls of the James River, Virginia. Delivered to the annual meeting of the Middle Atlantic Archaeological Conference, Rehobeth Beach, Del.

1978 Up Stony Creek without a cord-wrapped paddle: ceramic variation in the James River piedmont and coastal plain. Delivered to the annual meeting of the Archaeological Society of Virginia, Arlington, Va.

1977 Temporal, functional and social interpretations of Paleoindian point variation in eastern North America. Delivered to the annual meeting of the Eastern States Archaeological Federation, Richmond, Va.

1975 The application of system theory to models of cultural evolution. Presented to the annual meeting of the AKD Sociological Honor Society, Richmond, Va.

1975 Early man in Eastern North America: a regional approach. Delivered in a colloquium, Simon Fraser University Department of Archaeology, Burnaby, B.C.

Reading “Jane Randolph Her Book.”


To make Alamode Beef

Take a Bullocks heart cut of ye Strings

Skinns & Deaf ears & fat then Stick it

with a Scewer in many Places, then take

an Ounce of Salt petre, with a little Salt

& rub it well in, then Cast on two handful

of Salt then lett it Stand 4 Days, then

Bake it in a Slow oven, then take it

out of the Liquor, then put it up with ye

Same weight of butter & Sewett as the

meat is, with a Nuttmeg & Little Cloves

& mace & half an ounce of Pepper; then

put it into a pot & put it into ye Oven

for half an hour

Jane Randolph Her Book, p.28

Sixty feet down at the southern end of the colonnade from the ice house and the eastern gable of the Curles mansion stood the kitchen. It was 54 feet in length, 22 feet in breadth, a single story with a garret, built of brick and roofed with wood. Though it had been destroyed a century and a quarter earlier, it’s outline was easy to see from the air, from the window of the small Cessna hanging at stall speed with its wings nearly perpendicular to the ground, no more than a hundred feet up. A stain of clay and brick-red dust lying at the edge of the terrace, in front of the site of the 95-foot long mansion, facing the James River. That’s how it appeared in the spring of 1985.

A decade of archaeology at Curles Plantation has taught us that the kitchen began life as a house built by William Randolph sometime after he acquired the tract in 1699 and before his death in 1711. By the time he reached his majority in 1715, Richard Randolph, William’s son, had come to possess Curles Plantation and it was here a few years later that he brought his bride, Jane Bolling Randolph. The house they first lived in is what we have come to call the kitchen, and it became a kitchen shortly after Richard and Jane settled in, for they soon built one of the grandest Georgian plantation houses to stand along the banks of the James.

There are no photographs or paintings of Curles; just a rough plan of some of the main buildings drawn for an insurance policy in 1806. We have identified traces of at least 45 buildings which once stood here. There were many more. All were gone before the Civil War ended. Nearly half a century before Richard and Jane Randolph arrived Curles had already been referred to as “an ancient seat.” The remains of an earlier mansion on the site, built by Thomas Harris about 1635, lay directly beneath the Randolph’s brick kitchen, and Nathaniel Bacon’s brick manor house, built in 1674, had stood just a few feet in front of the spot the kitchen occupied. The Harris house had lasted perhaps 25 years, and Bacon’s no more than 10. But the brick kitchen stood at Curles a century and a half until it was taken apart, brick by brick, by Union soldiers probably during the Peninsula Campaign of 1862.


Historical archaeology, we are often reminded, promises an opportunity to give voice to history’s unheard. Before the 19th century very few women were literate. Those who were came mainly from elite or gentry households, and, even so, they have left us very little in the way of diaries, letters or literature. Among the very few written works by women of the Colonial period are a handful of “receipt” books. These contain recipes for culinary and medicinal preparations, and they were frequently passed from mother to daughter over several generations. We are fortunate to have a manuscript–or, rather, a facsimile of a manuscript, for I have had no luck locating the original–of a receipt book from Curles Plantation. It is called Jane Randolph Her Book and it was begun by Jane Bolling Randolph and passed down, apparently, to her daughter, Jane, who married Anthony Walke in 1750. The book then apparently passed to Jane Bolling Randolph’s granddaughter then living at Curles: another Jane who added a few additional entries beginning in 1796. While the earliest entries are those of Jane Bolling Randolph, and date to as early as 1739, the majority of entries appear to be her daughter’s.i

My field school students have excavated the Curles kitchen and much of its environs over the past ten years, and throughout that time I have read and re-read Jane Randolph’s book. I have prepared dishes from some of the recipes. I have tried to identify people who are mentioned in the book–often as sources for recipes–and to determine their relationship with the women who kept the book. I have also combed other cookery manuscripts which were kept in 18th-century Virginia as well as published cookbooks available in Virginia at the time. I was convinced that, somehow, the kitchen and the book belonged together so naturally that the reading of one would interpret the reading of the other. At the bottom of this effort was my hope to say something more of women’s lives at Curles Plantation. Not just those of the plantation mistresses and their daughters, but also the enslaved cooks and their daughters who, after all, actually prepared most of the foods and medicines, dug and tended the gardens, gathered the roots and herbs, and ministered to the sick.ii

The cross reading of site and document, site as text, document as artifact, seems to be one of the most powerful and elegant methods of historical archaeology. At times we find text and material telling much the same story, one virtually illustrating and underscoring the other. Other times we find a friction or dissonance between documents and sites or artifacts, and here, too, lies grist for the interpretive mill. What I found reading cookbooks and digging bricks, bones and rusted lumps of kitchen equipage was two parallel stories: one of the architectural changes to a building and its setting, of emerging patterns of marketing, husbandry, butchering, ceramics preferences, bottle usage, gardening methods, of evolving technologies and aesthetics. The other is a story of continuity through networks, kinship, and traditions which seemed untouched by history. A woman’s world was described in some particular and limited ways through the receipt book, and it seemed that Jane Randolph’s followed a track already well-worn by the late Medieval period. Bringing parallel texts to convergence was the problem.

The first regional cookbook in America was Mary Randolph’s The Virginia Housewife. Published in 1824, the book is an absolute marvel and a monument to one of history’s great cooks. Mrs. Randolph was married to David Meade Randolph, Jane Bolling Randolph’s grandson. David, or Davies as he was called, grew up at Curles, and I have no doubt he was nourished on foods and medicines prepared in the Curles kitchen from receipts like those in Jane Randolph’s book. But Mary’s and David’s lives were very, very different from those of their grandparent’s generation, and Mary’s book is not merely a 19th-century published version of a Colonial receipt book. It was here, then, I found a larger context that goes beyond Jane Randolph’s book kept through three generations to the end of the 18th century and the Curles kitchen and its associated trash pits, middens, drains, garden beds, wells, cisterns, etc. For the Early Republic world of David and Mary Randolph lay cleanly on the other side of Revolution and Enlightenment. Here was a focus, a point of convergence for the collocating or juxtaposing of separate texts which, if we accept Richard Rorty’s view of the matter, is one of the key paths to interpretation.iii


Remedy For the Chollick & Stone 

Take a pint of white wine & make thereoff

a possett then take off the Curd & seeth it

again to Clarifye it then take of Mallow

seeds an ozce Alkalingey berrys an ounce

Philopendula roots an ounce Gallingall roots Do.

beat & Seeth these altogether in a posset

Drink then Strain it & Lett the Patient

Drink it as warme as he can & Lay him

Down to Sweat & within two hourse the

Stone will break & void & he shall be


Jane Randolph Her Book, p. 39

The kitchen was built with foundations two-and-a-half bricks thick laid in English bond buried nearly three feet into the packed clay of the artificially constructed terrace. The foundation sat on a broad spread footing. Just above grade the brickwork changed to Flemish bond, as revealed by mortar patterns from the salvaged brick work. Hundreds of fragments of bricks with glazed headers indicate that the building had the familiar checkerboard look of early 18th-century brick buildings in Virginia. Perhaps the endwalls had been decorated with diaperwork like that which once adorned the chimney of this building’s near-neighbor and contemporary, Malvern Hill Plantation house. The building had been constructed originally with two rooms and a central chimney with small fireboxes facing each room. Sometime later, in the 1720s or 30s, another room had been added to the building, and the central wall had been demolished and rebuilt with an enlarged cooking hearth and bread oven facing the center room. A new firebox was constructed behind the main hearth, on the other side of the crosswall, in order to warm the eastern room. The large western room had been floored in small cobblestones. A perfect rectangle with no paving indicated the location of a boxed-in stair against the south wall leading to the garret quarters above. The eastern room contained a root cellar lying in front of the hearth. In it we found the remains of a large stoneware jar that had once held beer, or vinegar, or meat pickled in brine.

The partially robbed foundation trenches and adjacent middens contained fragmentary remains of kitchen hardware: a bit from a butcher-block plane, chain and dogs from a spit jack, iron hooks, cutlery, trivets, pots, and other pieces still unidentified. Outside the eastern door lay a rich midden with food remains, ceramics, and scattered arms and weights of one or more stillyard balances. Just south of the building we found the filled excavation of an underground cooler or meat house, abandoned in the late 18th century and filled with huge amounts of kitchen refuse. Likewise we found a kitchen well. It too was filled with trash at the same time as the meat house. A barrel cistern had stood at the southeast corner of the building and its overflow was carried by a deep drain to a “stew pond” which had watered and fertilized the kitchen garden beds lying at the foot of the terrace. The beds themselves were square and rectangular excavations paved, or “crocked” in the mid-18th century with broken pottery and bottles to provide drainage. Another drain ran from the laundry and brew-house to the stew pond and garden beds

From the door in the south facade of the building a brick wall ran out across the middle garden terrace towards the river. From the opposing door in the north facade ran the colonnade back to the mansion. This axis formed by the colonnade and brick wall divided the manor house complex into its east working half and its west formal half. The colonnade ran to a bulkhead entrance into the basement in the east gable end of the mansion, and there, in the basement, had been a warming kitchen and storage rooms paved with broken glass beneath a rammed clay floor to prevent vermin from getting to the food supply and wine cellar. Lying just below the kitchen at the foot of the terrace, alongside the brick garden wall, stood one of the small frame buildings which probably housed enslaved servants assigned to duties in the kitchen, garden, and elsewhere in the manor house compound. The stair in the kitchen led to garret quarters where the chief cook and her family lived.

We can conceive of the Curles manor house complex in the 18th century as having been divided axially into quadrants. Crossing the north-south axis formed by the colonnade and garden wall, passing through the kitchen, was an east-west line which ran parallel to the 95-foot-long mansion, continuing across the tract to the laundry, and on to the barn, then along a road and fenceline to one of several field quarters. South of this line lay the river face of the plantation, stretching out on three broad terraces fringed with yet another cluster of quarters for the enslaved workers and artisans that made the plantation work. The northern face of the complex faced towards the Curles Church, built by Richard Randolph, toward the Quaker’s Road, the guest quarters and overseer’s compounds. Lying immediately in front of the mansion was a parterre and a family burial plot. Later in the century the master stable, ice house, and store house were constructed here as well, and the northern end of the parterre was fringed with a lane lined with shops and more quarters.

The prime division was along the axis dividing east and west halves of the compound. The western border was yet another line of shops and quarters, and the steep rolling road to the vast Curles wharf and landing. The western rooms of the mansion, I believe, served as the dining room and parlor. East of the center passage were, I suspect, offices for the master and mistress to manage their respective domains.

Perhaps it isn’t too much of a structural stretch to see the west half of the plantation complex as male, oriented to public interaction, church and state. The eastern half seems to include the domains of work, of production, of activity. The east yard and eastern rooms were lighted and warmed by the morning sun. As day passed, the western yards and rooms gained the advantage of the late sun. The northern face was towards the neighborhood, the church, the Henrico community. The southern face was to the river, the colonial networks, commerce, the world accessed by water. The mistress’s charge included the eastern quarters of the manor house compound with the kitchen, the laundry, the vegetable and herb gardens, the stockyard, barns, and the houses of the servants who worked in the manor house compound.

The kitchen stood firmly in the southeastern yard, but walled off from the river entrance path, excluded from the broader colonial domain. It dominated and defined the eastern yard with its numerous quarters, shops, work spaces, pens, barns, and kitchen gardens. Leading east out of the compound was the principal road to the main field quarters. Tucked far to the south on the terrace edge, the kitchen, too was excluded from the neighborhood interaction, the social life centered around the church and courthouse, the primary world of three generations of Richard Randolphs. While the east yard, and especially the southeast or kitchen quadrant could be viewed as a female-gendered space, it would be a big mistake to see the domestic and managerial domain of the plantation as the sole sphere of the Randolph women.


Shugar Cakes the

best way

Take 1 lb 3qrs. of good butter

Well washd in rose water

A pound of flower a pound

of D.R. Shugar Beat &

Sifted 10 Egs Leave out

1/2 the whites a whole

Nutmeg grated mix the

Butter & Shugar together

first then half the flower

then the Egs and Nutmeg

then the rest of the flower

put currants in some

Carriways in Some, &

Some plain Bake y’m in

Little Pans-

Pr. Mrs Herbert

Jane Randolph Her Book, p. 145

Like other receipt books of the period, Jane Randolph Her Book contains recipes for food and medicine preparations which were gathered from various sources. Many of these came from kinswomen and neighbors, others from chemists and physicians, and many were adapted from published sources and widespread oral traditions. The sources credited by the book’s authors are sometimes given in the receipt titles, such as “Mr Chowns receipt for fitts in children,” or, to give an example of a particularly descriptive title: “Mrs Barretts approv’d Oyntment For the Irruptilis or St Anthony fire or a blast or any Swelling in ye Breast or in any other part or to Anoynt a woman after hard Labour or for the Piles outward or inwardly given in a Glister useing it Instead of Oil for the Same or any other sort of Burn or Scald.”

Some other examples are:

–To make a Cake Madam Orlis’s way

–Dr Butlers Oyl

–The Lady Allens water

–Thomas Edwards Receipt for Sturgeon

— Mrs Chiswel’s Receipt for a Cake, very good

— Mrs Lanhorns way to Bottle Cherrys

— Mr Hinters Receipt, to harden Fat

— The old Talors Receit for a Purging.

— Barans Receipt for a Rumatism

— Eye Water, by Mrs Farquer.

— Doctor Jemmisons Diet Drink

— Mrs Dudlys Cake

–A Very Good Plumb Cake, Not too Rich Thise Reecipt is in the Book Mr Rees gave to Jenny Walke, and is exceeding good

This last receipt was probably entered by Jane Randolph Walke and may have come from her sister-in-law. One of my favorite receipts, and one which I have tried to duplicate with my amateurish brewing skills, is for “Good Ale.” This receipt is noted as “P[er] Mrs. Cary.” Mrs. Cary was a kinswoman of Jane Randolph.

Take 3 Bushels malt 1/2 high & 1/2 Pail

dry’d let your water boil them & put into your

Mashing tubb, When the Steem is gone

off, so as you may see your face; then put

your malt, & after mashing it well then

cover it with a blanket, Let it stand 2

hours, then draw it of Slow, then boil it

three or four hours, till the hops curdles

when boiled Enough, cool a little, & work

that with your yest, & so put the rest

of your wort in as it cools, which must

be let in small Tubs, let it work till

your yest begins to curdle then turn it

& stop your Barrel when it has done

working; Note to Every Bushels malt

a Quarter of pound of hops

The resulting beer is a dark sweetish brew and, in its 18th-century incarnation, it was probably embroidered with the “house flavors” of the wild yeasts and bacteria endemic to the Curles cellar, as well as the distinctive blending of lactic acid, acetic acid, tannic acid and complex esters and oxidation products one expects from open ferments in wooden tubs and storage in barrels. The very foreigness of my approximation to Mrs. Cary’s Good Ale serves well enough to remind me of the distance between history and present experience and expectation, but when I realize that I cannot imagine if the hops available to 18th-century Virginians were fresh, floral, spicy, cheesy or just bitter, then I am forced to admit the impossibility of knowing the past in those nuances which make all the difference.iv

Besides “Good Ale,” Mrs. Cary also contributed one of several plum cake recipes in the manuscript. There is a recipe for cookies titled “Mrs. Byrd’s Jumbels.” Mrs. Byrd was the mistress of neighboring Westover plantation. Other neighbors and kinswomen who contributed to the manuscript include Sally and Elizabeth Pleasants, who lived at the head of Curles Neck beside the Church, and Jane Randolph Walke’s sister, Elizabeth Randolph. A receipt credited to “AW” probably came from her husband, Anthony. There is also a recipe for metheglen credited to “Mrs. Mary Randolph,” probably Mrs. Cary’s grand-daughter. I will return to her shortly.


The trash pits and middens contained the bones of beef and hogs, sheep, deer and rabbit, tortoise and turtle, frogs, raccoons, catfish, sturgeon, and gar. Chickens, of course, and quail, and ducks, geese, and passenger pigeons and a bald eagle. And the leg of a bear.


For a broken Cancer 

this Receipt Cost

the old Lady Rundell 200 L in germany

The Caustick powder

Take yellow Arsenick an Ounce Bole

Armoniack half an ounce make ym to

fine powder & mix them well together

Jane Randolph Her Book, p. 35

The manor house complex is covered with broken wine bottle fragments. The garden beds were paved with them. The trash pits are full of them. Hundreds, probably thousands, of smashed wine bottles aerate the earth of the archaeological site of Curles Plantation. The first firm confirmation that we had, indeed, found the Curles site came from a wine bottle seal marked “R. Randolph, 1735.” Most of the few dozen seals we have recovered are marked with the initials of one of the Richard Randolphs, but other names occur as well, including the Randolph’s neighbors, the Pleasants, and the mens’ more distant colonial-elite cronies, such as Carter Braxton. But we don’t need archaeological artifacts to trace the networks of the Richard Randolphs of Curles, for these are inscribed in dozens of documents, through court proceedings, land transfers, marriages, etc.

No networks were more important to the 18th-century elite men of Virginia than those mapped out in kinship relations, and the cookery manuscript reveals that the women of Curles maintained equally extensive kin-based networks as well as neighborly relations. Some of the contributions to the book come from well beyond the neighborhood and the family, however. There is a “Philadelphia Receipt. for a Fever, & Ague.” Another is annotated: “Mr. Sylvanus Bevin Apothecary, Plow Court Lombard Street, London,” and there is one “Prescrib’d by Mr. John Watson of Suffolk.” And one can’t help but wonder what led “the old Lady Rundull (Randolph?) to spend 200 pounds on a receipt for “a broken cancer”–probably a cancor–in Germany.

Even more revealing insight into the nature of Jane Randolph’s domain at Curles comes from a precious few leaves from her plantation stores accounts which appear in the cookery manuscript. These records are for debits to accounts for disbursements from the plantation stores during the fall of 1739, along with credits tendered towards those accounts as late as 1743. The first account is that of “Mrs Margery,” who, on 19 October 1939 obtained various dry goods which, along with her debit of 1 shilling on “George’s acct.,” indebted her to Mrs. Randolph to the tune of 1 pound sterling. Nothing in the credit column suggests this debt was ever paid.

The next account is that of “Cate,” whose purchase if dry goods on the 21st and 22nd of October, 1739, cost 12 s, 4p., of which she immediately paid 1 shilling, but no other credit is noted. Also on the 21st, “Joan” received cotton valued at 7s 7p, but only after paying 1s 7p on an older debt. The following day “Sam” bought stockings and a worsted cap worth 5s. He paid half the bill only. And so it goes. In fact, there is little evidence that anyone every paid off their entire debt to Mrs. Randolph. One exception is “Joan,” who was finally credited with the 7s 7p she owed for cotton. She paid her debt on June 2nd, 1743. There are notes that some other accounts were settled. A relatively large debt of Mr. Peter Randolph, Mrs. Randolph’s brother-in-law, for dry goods, clothing and other goods was listed as having been settled by private account with “R R,” Jane’s husband, Richard.

From these account entries it seems that Mrs. Randolph’s world had three sorts of people in it. The first group comprises persons known primarily by their functional relation to Curles, such as “the gardener,” and a large number of persons of both genders known to Mrs. Randolph primarily by their given names: Cate, Joan, Sam, Ned, etc. There were also people she referred to by both given and family names, such as Mrs. Sackville Brewer, Mrs. Baugh, and Mrs. Joseph Hobson. Anyone familiar with local history will recognize most of this second group as middling and yeoman planters living in the neighborhood. The third group were gentry, many of whom were her or her husband’s relatives, such as “Beverly Randolph, Esqr.,” “Mr. Peter Randolph,” “Major John Bolling,” and “Madm. Carey.”

Jane Randolph handled the accounts of these three sorts of people differently. The singly named persons, like Joan, were expected to pay something on their debt immediately, even though the amount collected was often a small percentage of what was owed. Of the middling or small planters, most seem never to have repaid their debts even in part. For the great planters, there was some special treatment. Either a large debt was simply crossed out, as in the case of that of “Madm. Carey,” or, as with Peter Randolph, settled in private by Mrs. Randolph’s husband.

Rhys Isaacs has done an especially good job of describing the relations of debt which seem to have knit together Virginia society in the 18th century. The planters remained hugely indebted to their merchant factors in England and Scotland, while local middling and small planters remained perpetually indebted to the great planters like the Randolphs. There does appear to be one group from whom repayment was expected, and those were the folks with single names: mostly likely Curles servants, indentured or enslaved. One can only wonder, of course, what benefit accrued to Joan for settling her debt of seven shilling seven pence four years after she incurred it.

While Jane Randolph’s plantation store accounts speak of her relationships to a broader community of household, neighbors and kin, and of her responsibilities for managing at least a part of the commercial enterprise of the plantation, they also show the boundaries of her world. She was not, for instance, privy to the debt arrangements of her husband’s relations and peers. That was simply none of her business. On the other hand, she kept close track of the withdrawals from stores by her husband himself.

Those credits which do occur are for payments in cash. In fact, the accounting is all in sterling rather than in pounds of tobacco, which was the more common currency of the country. I suspect that her husband kept track of, and produced the bills and receipts for, exchanges valued in tobacco. These were the larger and, in many ways, more visible transactions of the plantation. But Mrs. Randolph’s handling of the stores accounts shows that she had access to an extremely scarce and highly valued resource. The culture of debt was a system of perpetual IOUs and bills for tobacco put up in cask in public warehouses. The ultimate reckoning lay in factors’ account books in London, Bristol, and Glasgow. Cash, many often complained, was practically unseen. William Byrd wrote of going for long periods of time without two coins to rub together in his pocket. But Mrs. Randolph had the keys to the storehouse, and she had cash in an economy of honor and promise among men.


A Receipt for a Purging

Take half an oz: of Kipscacuanna, decant it in one

equal quantity of Clarit, & Water. let it boil from a qut

to less than a pint. Strain it, & add one Spoonful of Oil

give it in a Glister. If the Patient be very weak, or

a Chid, you must infuse less, of the Root. a Dram

being a full Quanty for a Man–J Coupland

Jane Randolph Her Book, p. 97

The recipes in Jane Randolph Her Book are notable for their almost complete lack of American ingredients and techniques. The recipe above is an exception. It is based on the American Indian purgative, Ipecac (Kipscacuanna), a member of the holly family. The rarity of American influence isn’t unusual, for most of the Colonial receipt books contain recipes which vary but little from their Renaissance and Medieval counterparts. Many of the recipes have almost exact parallels in other manuscripts and, indeed, in the most popular published cookery books of the era, such as those of Richard Bradley and Eliza Smith. The manuscript gives us no recipes using maize, or “Indian meal,” although we know from sources such as William Byrd and Phillip Fithian that corn and corn meal were regularly used in the elite plantation households of 18th-century Virginia. There are no recipes using beans (other than European-bred “French beans”), or squash, or pumpkins, or black-eyed peas, or watermelons, or rice. One of the few food recipes using New World Ingredients is for a pickle. It calls for the use of “long pepper” and “Jamaico” (sic) pepper, The first of these may refer to capsicum, while Jamaica pepper is allspice (pimento). Both of these ingredients appear in European recipes at least by the late 16th century, so while they are of New World origin, they are not Virginian, and they don’t reflect a local creole cuisine.

Like the purge receipt given above, another of the very few recipes in the Curles receipt book which is centered around an American ingredient is also medicinal. This receipt is unique in some other ways. It is one of the longest in the book, and while many of the medicinal preparations include a description lauding them for their efficacy in various cures, none approaches “The Oyntment of Tobacco” for its praise of nearly miraculous properties spoken in nearly liturgical tones.

The Oyntment of Tobacco

Take of Tobacco Leaves 6 pounds

hogs Lard Clarifyed 3 pounds Lett ye

Herb being bruised be infused in a pint

or read Sed wine a whole night in

the morning put the Lard to the

herbs & Lett it boyle Over a Slow

Fire to the Consuming of the wine

Then strain it of the Juice of Tobacco

a pint Rosin 12 ounces sett it on the

Fire again & Lett it boyle to ye consum

ption of the Juice then take it off

& Lett it stand a whole week then

Sett it on a Slow fire & when it boyls

Putt in a Little by Little of a time of

the Powder of round beachworck roots

6 ounces then Lett it Stand boyling

for half an hour Stirring it all the

Time with a wooden Stick then add

it half a pound of bee’s wax & when its

Melted take it off & Lett it Stand to

Settle then pour it off gently from ye

Dregs you must Stir it first nor Losse

it till its Cold

The Virtues of this Oyntment

It Cures humorous Apposthumus wounds

Ulcers Gun Shots blotches & Scabs Itch

Stinging with Bees or Wasps hornetts

Venemous Beasts wound made with

Poysned Arrows it helps Sealing with

burneing Oil or Lightning & that with

out a Scar it helps nasty Rotten

Intryfied Ulcers though in the Lungs

In Fistulaes though the bone be

Afflicted it Shall Seale it without an

Instrument & bring up ye flesh from

ye very bottom a wound Dresst with

This will never Putryfie a wound made

with a Weapon that [illeg.] Can follow

Oint with this & you need not fear any

Danger of your head Aches anoint ye

Temples & you Shall have Ease the

Stomach being Anointed with it no

Infirmety harbours there no not

Asthmas’s nor Consumptions of ye Lungs

the belly being Anointed with it

Helps the Chollick & Passion

it helps the Hermoroids & piles &

is the best for the Gout of all sorts

Jane Randolph Her Book pp78-80

Clearly tobacco held a very special place in the culture of Colonial Virginia. Its virtues for that period are more typically seen as economic ones, but here we can see that the magical properties which the Indians themselves once credited it with were appreciated by women charged with the responsibility for curing. I wonder from what source comes the testament of this ointment’s effectiveness against poisoned arrows! While many of Virginia’s young gentry, including several Randolph men, fought in the Indian wars on the frontier at mid-century, there surely was little call for such a cure in the precincts of Tidewater.

There seems to be little or no Indian or African influence in the culinary receipts, even though we know that African and Native American crops were widely grown and African- and Indian-influenced dishes were completely entrenched in the cuisine of the period. Certainly the fact that African and African-American women did nearly all of the gardening and food preparation helps to explain the widespread influence of African foodways on Southern cuisine to this day. So why is it so blatantly absent in the cookbooks of the 18th century? An answer suggests itself in reading Mary Randolph’s The Virginia Housewife written in the following century.


The difficulties I encountered when I first entered on the duties of a House-Keeping life, from the want of books sufficiently clear and concise, to impart knowledge to a Tyro, compelled me to study the subject, and by actual experiment, to reduce every thing, in the culinary line, to proper weights and measures…The government of a family bears a Liliputian resemblance to the government of a nation. The contents of the treasury must be known…A regular system must be introduced into each department…The grand arcanum of management lies in three simple rules: “Let every thing be done at the proper time, keep every thing in its proper place, and put every thing to its proper use.”

Mary Randoph, from the preface of The Virginia Housewife (Hess 1984).

On the title page of her fine cook book, Mary Randolph had the publisher print an aphorism: “Method is the Soul of Management.” Mrs. Randolph’s preface stresses the notion that method and management are the sole of housewifery, a surprisingly modern concept expressed in language that almost presages the “scientific” cooking school which came to dominate American cookery at the end of the 19th century. But Mrs. Randolph’s rationalism is not a product of late modernity, of industrialism, but of its dawning: the Enlightenment. Enlightenment values permeate Mary Randolph’s Virginia Housewife in the subtleties of careful measurements which, the author assures us, she has refined through continual experimentation. Whether as the result of such rationality, or of pure talent and intelligent intuition, we cannot doubt the quality of the results. Mary Randolph was hailed as the finest cook of her day in Richmond. Apparently, people vied for invitations to her dinner parties, and when she opened a boarding house, it became the dining spot of the state’s capital city.

Her cook book differs from its predecessors in many other, more important, ways, however. Here we find many recipes that are purely American, based on American ingredients and prepared in ways that indicate centuries of creolized cultural practices. Her ingredients include corn, hominy, rice, squashes, chile peppers, and other staples of southern cooking. Recipes for johnny cakes, buckwheat cakes, cornbread and other commonplaces of our culture stand alongside the most sumptuously spiced creations tinged with European, East Indian, and Caribbean flavors and techniques. The Virginia Housewife reveals the unique touches of a talented and creative cook. This individual genius comes through loud and clear and proclaims a very different era in cookery books. No longer are ancient “receipts” — were they called that because they were “received” rather than created?–faithfully copied for the transmission of a cultural model that stretches back to the Medieval period. Here, instead, is a combination of brand-new creations with the old, tried-and-true ways transformed through an individual vision. And the old includes not only the academic, accepted “English” heritage, but the folk or country creole recipes passed through oral, living tradition rather than through meticulously copied canonical texts.

Mary Randolph, whose nick-name was Molly, was a great-granddaughter of Jane Bolling Randolph. She was born in August of 1762 and raised at Tuckahoe Plantation just west of Richmond. She married her second cousin, David Meade Randolph, a grandson of Jane Bolling Randolph. He grew up at Curles, just east of Richmond. David’s father, Col. Richard Randolph (II), had established a plantation for Davies and Molly just across the river from Curles, and it was here they lived through much of the 1780s and 90s. They were visited in 1796 by the Duc de la Rouchefoucault Liancourt at their farm, which they called “Presquile.” He wrote that “Mr. Davies Randolph is fully entitled to the reputation he enjoys of being the best farmer in the whole country.” The Randolphs, along with six adult and two child slaves farmed a plantation of 750 acres, most of which was forest or swamp. They produced primarily highly profitable harvests of wheat. From the James River they harvested sturgeon, shad, and herrings which, once salted, added an additional 800-900 dollars annually to their income.v


Thomas Edwardses Receipt to keep Sturgeon

You must wash & Scrap it very clean,

then take out the bones, and grisle,

then boile it in Salt and water, scum it

all the while tis boiling

when tis Colld enoug, lay it on clean straw to

drain, then take some vinegar, and the

liquor it was boild in, an equal guan-

tyt boil it together with pepper and

Salt, let it cool and settle, when cold,

wipe the sturgeon, and put it into the

Souce, put the oil on it and cover it close

Jane Randolph Her Book, p. 161

To Boil Sturgeon

Leave the skin on, which must be nicely scraped, take out the gristle, rub it with salt, and let it lie an hour, then put it on cold water with some salt and few cloves of garlic; it must be dredged with flour before it is put into the water, skim it carefully, and when dished, pour over it melted butter with chopped parsley, a large spoon of mushroom catsup, one of lemon pickle, and one of pepper vinegar; send some of it to table in a sauce boat; the sturgeon being a dry fish, rich sauce is necessary.

Mary Randolph, The Virginia Housewife (Hess 1984: p. 69)

Among the faunal remains recovered from late 18th-century trash deposits adjacent to the kitchen at Curles were the bones of sturgeon, catfish, and gar. Oddly, there were no white bass, striped bass, yellow perch, pickerels, shad, alewives, porgeys, or any of the other dozens of food fish species which are common to this stretch of the James River, and which play so important a part in the cuisine of the Chesapeake region. The Curles receipt manuscript contains only two recipes for fish, and neither are for preparing them for the table. Both are for preserving fish: the sturgeon recipe, above, and another for pickling herrings.

In contrast to the kitchen trash pit assemblages, remains from the root cellar of an 18th-century slave quarter at Curles contains a richly varied assemblage of fish remains. One possible reason for the paucity of fish at the manor house compound is that this class of food was perceived by the Randolphs primarily as either food for slaves, or as a product to be prepared for sale in local markets, or more likely, for export. The testimony of Liancourt from his visit to Presquile shows that some fish proved a valuable commodity.


Due, in part, to Davies’ poor health and to the burden of tremendous debt left him by his father, Davies and Molly sold Presquile before the turn of the century and moved to Richmond where they bought a large house which soon acquired an amalgam of their nicknames and became widely known as “Moldavia.” Davies had held an appointment as federal marshal of Virginia under Washington and Adams, but his federalist politics caused him to have a bitter falling out with his cousin, Jefferson, who fired him in 1802. While Davies proved to be a capable entrepreneur, and is credited with a number of inventions, the primary support of the Randolphs soon became the responsibility of Mary. One important bit of fall-out from the American Revolution was the end of the system of perpetual debt. The Treaty of Paris provided that Virginia’s planters would repay all their debts British factors, and those markers were called in. Richard Randolph’s debts had been no greater than those of most of his peers, but they were great enough to lead to the loss of numerous plantations. David Meade Randolph, his brothers, and their sons would fight much of their lives to avoid financial ruin from the debts of Richard of Curles. Mary Randolph’s boarding house and her extraordinary cooking skills kept her and her husband not only solvent, but centered in Richmond society, although they eventually had to sell their big town house.

I have little doubt that Mary urged the sale of the plantation and the move to Richmond. For reasons history doesn’t tell us, she eventually moved to Washington D.C. where she lived for a while apart from her husband, although he soon joined her. In Washington, Mary Randolph again became known for her cookery and hospitality. Here she worked to complete and publish her masterpiece, The Virginia Housewife. Four years after its first edition was issued, Mary Randolph died. She is buried at Arlington, then the home of some of her kin. Her epitaph tells us that “her intrinsic worth needs no eulogium.”


Mary Randolph was no housewife. Certainly not in the traditional sense conveyed, for instance, in Richard Bradley’s The Country Housewife published a century before Mary Randolph’s book. Mary did not raise a family, and despite her plantation upbringing and the bucolic beginnings of her married life to Virginia’s “best farmer” –and I have little doubt that her management skills and creative efforts lent much to the success of that farm–she eschewed the role of home-maker. While working within the realm of the “domestic,” it is clear that Mary Randolph’s activities, like those of her husband, were primarily entrepreneurial. There is no hint in the meager documents of her life that she simply wielded her skills at cookery and hospitality to hold onto the fading glories of elite society; rather, she seems a person engaged, like a great many others of her age in the New Republic, in finding a way to turn her individual skills and efforts into a comfortable living. No longer content with the pre-ordained quarter of life carved out in the semiotics of a Georgian plantation landscape, Mary Randolph embraced both the Enlightenment and the Revolution and promises of individual accomplishment. And along with others in the urban society of post-Revolutionary Richmond, she embraced the liberty and pride of her American, creole heritage, and the place her new country’s status made for her in a world order of nations tied by diplomacy, trade, and cultural exchange. Born a colonial, Mary Randolph lived to help create, and enjoy, her own liberty.


About the time that Mary and David Meade Randolph moved to Richmond, just as the 18th century drew to a close, David’s older brother, the third Richard Randolph of Curles, was also forced by their father’s debts to sell Curles Plantation. Throughout most of the Antebellum years the estate was owned by absentee owners. Even the overseer lived elsewhere. The mansion house and kitchen became quarters for slaves and tenants. Curles became a kind of industrial farm, a vast 2500-acre tract worked by a hundred or more slaves. The old axial symmetry of the manor house compound remained partially intact, due to some remaining fences, but the kitchen gardens appear to have been abandoned. The stew pond dried up. The ditches which had fed it were filled in. A huge hog butchering shed and rendering hearth were erected right in front of the north facade of the mansion, bringing a dirty activity out of the kitchen yard and into the former parterre, defacing the ornamented house with an edifice of practical purpose. A storage shed was built across the southern facade of the kitchen, covering its century-old checkerboard brickwork. In 1812 the plantation was leased to the militia who trashed the mansion and yards. In 1814, John Randolph of Roanoke visited the old estate, probably on the occasion of his grandmother’s death, and complained of its dilapidated condition.

Federal soldiers camped at Curles through the Peninsula Campaign, and probably continually thereafter until the fall of Richmond. They tore down the kitchen, brick by brick, leaving behind their own trash. The hardware of fallen soldiers and horses were buried on the site to keep them from enemy hands. Soldiers hauled bricks, boards, nails and other useful things off to wherever they were needed to build their winter huts.


Structuralism is seductive. James Deetz’s brilliant book, In Small Things Forgotten, has influenced a generation of the brightest historical archaeologists in many good ways and, like most who teach the subject, I make my students read it carefully. But I worry about finding some essential structural property–a Georgian mind set, or whatever–an adequate summary of a people, a culture, a time. Reducing the contingencies of history and the vagaries of individual actions and motivations to an elegant corporate intuition, a frame described by a few limited axes of variation, to use Mary Douglas’s model, seems no different to me than attempting to describe all human life by a small set of simultaneous differential equations. The model may be real, but I’m not sure it tells us much.

It is not difficult to see Deetz’s “re-Angicization” model, originally proposed for 18th-century New England, reflected in the “Georgian” world of Virginia. But New England and Virginia were nonetheless very different places, and life for Jane Randolph followed a very different model than it did for Cate or Joan or Mrs. Margery, or Richard Randolph, for that matter. But the imposing of different frames upon the same scene can help animate the scenario. Jane Randolph Her Book is an example of an ancient model for women’s place in English culture, one which far pre-dates the Georgian formal division of space and action found in the structure of Curles Plantation. These two very different worlds are like a cross-polarized crystal specimen in a petrographic microscope. Illuminate them with the light of the Enlightened world of Mary Randolph, and the colors begin to dance. There is something to be said for seeking difference, rather than commonality, the playing of atoms in the interstices and at the margins of structure.

As a text for revealing “real life,” Jane Randolph’s manuscript is severely limited, because it is a document of culture transmission, not of cultural creation. It, too, is a frame, a structure into which the Randolph girls were to grow, and the enslaved cooks were to become enculturated. But history tells us that it didn’t work out that way. The kitchen and plantation provide us insights into the imposed spatial zonation of activity, but they give us little insight into individual actions within, across, in spite of those prescribed boundaries. Jane Randolph’s life was not lived by a cook book. She probably cooked very little, and the recipes in her manuscript probably reflect very poorly the nature of meals actually consumed in any given day at Curles Plantation.

Mary Randolph broke the frames, and while her time period permitted a more public display of initiative and performance by some women, we should not imagine that her female ancestors were somehow less innovative, less effective, less important in creating, testing, and re-creating their own cultural matrices. Nor should we believe that 18th-century Curles was somehow English and that only after the Revolution did culture take on American flavors. While The Virginia Housewife is surely the product of individual genius, it, too, is a cultural document, the product of those Georgian mind-sets and ancient traditions and treatises on housewifery. But also of a lived world that no longer had to be described in prescriptive, mythological terms.

For the Bite of a Dog

Take of grey ground Liverwort; in Powder, one

dram; of Elicampane Powder one dram; of black

Hellebore Root, in fine Powder, twenty grains;

of native or factitious Cinnabar, well levigated, ten

grains. mix them together for one Dose, to be taken

on an empty Stomach the first Morning, if possible,

after the Bite (fasting a few Hours after it) in a glass

of Wine; or Wine and Water.

This Medicine is such a powerful Alterative, that,

if taken in fortyeight Hours after the Bite (Temperance

strictly observed) it will not only resist and correct, but

soon expel the Poison. Innumerable Experiments have

been tried with the greatest Success, not only upon the

Human Species, but upon Dogs and other Animals;

when those that took it did well, and those who

took it not in a short time died raving mad.

Tho’ it may appear to some a Remedy of no consequence,

as most things do when once made public, it is,

notwithstanding found by Experience (if given in

due time) to be as infallible a Preservative in the

above mention’d case, as Mercury is in raising a

Salivation, or the peruvian Bark in curing a

regular Intermittion

Jane Randolph Her Book, p. 94

Like Mary Randolph, historical archaeology is partly a product of the Enlightenment: in its faith in method, and its quest for management; in its notion that a recipe is a repeatable experiment rather than an instantiation of history; in the belief that the human world can be adequately described as patterns and processes. But God, the devil, and the truth, are in the details, and I worry about the taste of Mrs. Cary’s “Good Ale,” and I am astonished at how little I can know about the world described in Jane Randolph’s book.


i . Jane Randolph Cook Book, Mss 5:5 W1507:1, Virginia Historical Society, Richmond. My attribution of the majority of the receipts to Jane Randolph Walke follows that by historian Jane Carson, in a letter dated February 1, 1970 which accompanies the facsimile. As the 1796 and later entries include names of the Curles Randolphs of that era and their neighbors, I assume that this third Jane was the daughter of Richard Randolph (II) and Ann Meade. That makes her both a sister-in-law and a first cousin of Mrs. Mary Randolph, about whom I will write shortly. If my attribution is correct, then the receipt book may have remained at Curles throughout the 18th century, or else returned there after a sojourn with the Walkes in Princess Ann County.

ii . Some important published works include Rennaissance Lady’s Companion ***; Richard Bradley, The Country Housewife and Ladyís Director, Prospect Books, London, 1980 [originally published in 1727, 1732 and 1736]; Eliza Smith, The Complete Housewife, Studio Editions, 1994 [This is a facsimile of the 16th edition of 1758, but the recipes are most from the 17th and very early 18th century period]. A much earlier, but very useful source is The English Hus-wife by G. Markham. A facsimile of the 1615 edition is published by Walter J. Johnson, Norwood, 1973. For a classic Virginia manuscript that has been published in a very authoritative edition, see Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery and Booke of Sweetmeats, edited by Karen Hess, Columbia University Press, 1981. Below I will discuss in greater length The Virginia Housewife by Mary Randolph. A facsimile of the original 1824 edition, along with additions from 1825 and 1828, is available with excellent scholarly comment and criticism by Karen Hess, University of South Carolina Press, 1984. For those interested in colonial cookery in general, two very good secondary sources are Jane Carsonís Colonial Virginia Cookery, Williamsburg Research Studies, 1968; and Nancy Carter Crumpís Hearthside Cooking, EPM Publications, McLean, Virginia, 1986. Crump’s book is the place to look for those who want to try their hand at hearthside cooking, or to prepare recipes based on colonial originals adapted for modern equipment.

iii . Rorty, Interprepation as Re-Contextualization.

iv . The Mrs. Cary referred to here and elsewere in the book was probably Mary Randolph Cary, Jane Randolph Walkeís sister, or, perhaps, it was her sisterís mother-in-law. The Cary’s lived at Ampthill, just a few miles away across the river from Curles.

v . Hess, Liancourt, and Odell

Making Mrs. Cary’s “Good Ale.” Brewing Beer in Colonial Virginia


A version of this article appeared in Brew Your Own magazine in January 2003. See that edited version here: http://byo.com/stories/issue/item/479-colonial-ale

Have you ever dreamed about digging in the ground and suddenly have your shovel strike a rare ancient treasure? A chest of gold coins, perhaps? Or maybe, even better, a tightly-sealed, well-preserved bottle of beer from the Colonial period? Occasionally archaeologists do recover old bottles of wine or brandy, but beer? I doubt such a find would tell us much about what beer really tasted like two or three hundred years ago.

I am an archaeologist and anthropologist with a primary research interest in the 17th- and 18th-century plantation cultures of the British New World colonies, and with a particular interest in the foodways of these colonial cultures. As a homebrewer and winemaker, I am also, naturally, interested in the nature and role of these beverages in historical societies. Among my various research projects has been the 15-year archaeological study of Curles Plantation, at Curles Neck on the James River in eastern Henrico County, Virginia. The first colonists may have settled Curles as early as 1614, but they were certainly there by 1630. Curles was the home of Nathaniel Bacon, whose revolt against Virginia’s colonial government in 1676 presaged the American Revolution by a century. From 1699 to about 1840, Curles Plantation was owned by four generations of the Randolph family.

Between 1986 and 1988 I excavated remains of a 54’ x 22’ brick plantation kitchen at the Curles site. This building had been constructed (originally as a house) about 1700. The building was razed and its bricks salvaged by Union soldiers during the Peninsula campaign of the Civil War in 1863. The kitchen excavation provided a wealth of architectural details about the building as well as archaeological evidence related to food preparation and service over a century and a half. My earlier excavation of the remains of the 18th-century Randolph mansion house had uncovered a huge colonial basement that had included a warming kitchen and wine-and-beer cellar.

Material-culture evidence of the sort recovered by archaeological digging can be extremely useful in understanding early lifeways, but when we combine these findings with the analysis of historical documents, we have a true treasure-trove of insights into the cultures of the past. And so I was quite excited to find, lurking in the Virginia Historical Society’s manuscript collections, a copy of a an old plantation kitchen cookery manuscript from Curles. Women used to write down recipes passed on by relatives and neighbors and collect these in “receipt” manuscripts. These cookery books were one of the tools of the day for socializing young gentlewomen. There are only a handful of plantation cookbooks extant from early Virginia. The one in question is titled “Jane Randolph her Book,” and it appears to have been begun about 1715 by the mistress of Curles Plantation, and then was passed on to her daughter and, eventually, her granddaughter—all named Jane. The last entries are from the 1790s, so the book covers three generations and most of the 18th century.

As a homebrewer, I could not help but note recipes for “Good Ale,” Small Beer” and “Metheglein” (sic). I also could not help but want to attempt to duplicate these recipes. Here let me talk specifically about the recipe for “Good Ale,” provided to the second of the Jane Randolphs by “Mrs. Cary,” who was her older sister, her aunt, or her sister’s mother-in-law living just across the James River at the Cary’s Ampthill Plantation.*

The “beerology” of Colonial Virginia

Before we get to the recipe and the beer it makes, lets examine for a moment what we know about beer in Colonial Virginia. The terms “beer” and “ale” are commonly found in Virginia records from the earliest colonial period. Beer was brewed in Jamestown from the beginning of the Virginia enterprise. We can assume that the British settlers brought with them the traditions of brewing and drinking that they had known in England, Scotland, and Ireland. Early settlers also included Germans and French, and they, no doubt, brought their own traditions. Of course, enslaved African women, who had their own brewing traditions, would have done most of the brewing at Curles, especially after 1700. Foodways on the plantation, however, were controlled primarily by the senior woman of the household, and we can assume her understandings of beer were descended, through cultural tradition and recipe manuscripts, from the earlier “alewives” of Britain. Cookery manuscripts typically contained very traditional recipes. When we compare them with printed and published English works of earlier years, we often find that identical or very similar recipes—often with the same words and phrases—were repeated over hundreds of years. For instance, the “Good Ale” recipe in Jane Randolph’s book is clearly related to one published in The English Huswife by G. Markham in 1615.

Modifications from tradition came, we can expect, mainly from differences in access to materials, and so it is important to understand what was available to Mrs. Randolph and Mrs. Cary in 18th-century Virginia. We have a notion that early plantations were self-sustaining entities, but nothing could be further from reality. The colonies existed to provide commodities for consumption in the British marketplace (or export from Britain to other European countries), and to serve as markets for goods produced in Britain. The Navigation Acts of the mid 1600s strictly limited the colonies’ ability to trade with other nations, and corollary statutes made it illegal for colonists to produce most goods for themselves. In short, plantations were tied to the world-system economy, especially the trade based in London and Bristol.

So, we might well wonder, was the beer produced in Colonial Virginia made from locally available produce? Numerous records indicate that a small amount of barley was produced on plantations in the 1600s and 1700s, but was this for consumption as a cereal grain or as beer? Early in the history of the colony, barley was probably malted and brewed in Virginia for local consumption. At least one archaeological site—the Walter Aston Site in Charles City County–contained remains of what I believe was a malting kiln. This was probably in use in the decades of the 1640s and 50s.

By the 18th century, the much shorter, much cheaper, North Atlantic passage between Britain and America had been developed. It was now much easier for the colonies to be kept dependent on British commodities—and so they were. Virginia’s plantation wharves and stores were outlets for the commodities of the burgeoning Industrial Revolution of 18th-century England. In the 1700s the vast majority of malt was imported from England rather than produced in Virginia. Hops were grown on Virginia plantations at least as early as the 1680s—probably earlier. They continued to be a minor product throughout the 1700s, but the majority of hops were also imported from England.

What was ale like in 18th-century Virginia?

We need to keep in mind that commercial beers today owe quite a bit to the industrial and scientific revolutions. In the mid-1700s the brewers of Burton began to make “pale ale” for the first time, and this clear, relatively light-colored beverage spread in popularity thanks to technological breakthroughs in malting, mass-production of glass bottles, and in shipping and marketing of the product via newly constructed canals, etc. But these pale beers were extremely expensive. The vast majority of English, Scots and Irish drank ales called “mild,” “brown” or “porter.” All of these were somewhat dark, though not as dark as modern black beers made with roast malts. The very dark malts we know so well were developed primarily in the 19th century, and the crystal and caramel malts came later still. This means that 18th-century British beers were generally lighter in color and in body than the darkest, heaviest beers of the later Industrial Age, but they were darker than the “pale ales” that were to become so popular in Burton, London, and Glasgow.

Hops had been used in German beers since mediaeval times, but hopped ale was a new-fangled notion in England at the time Virginia was settled. By the 18th century, however, hops were universally included in British ales—often at a pretty high rate. Hops, however, were expensive, and they did not ship well. Hoppy beers originated in hop-growing districts of England, just as they did near the hop fields of Germany, Bohemia, and, more recently, Washington and Oregon. Traditional beers from areas without their own hop crops tended to be malty rather than hoppy. The best example I can think of is to compare English ales and Scottish ales—the latter emphasizing malt and using very low hopping rates. It was even more risky and more expensive to ship hops to Virginia than to Scotland, and so we might expect a malt emphasis in indigenous beer.

It wasn’t until well into the 19th century that Pasteur isolated and identified beer yeast, but today nearly all commercial brews are made from carefully cultured selected yeast strains. Even our homebrews have benefited enormously from the recent development of single-strain liquid yeast cultures. While I didn’t happen to excavate a nice sample of yeast at Curles that I could culture for this re-creation, I feel that use of a generic, long-established, dry ale yeast was likely to produce a better approximation to the historical beer than would a modern liquid single-culture strain. Yeast was routinely “made” in the plantation kitchen by harvesting “barm” from ale fermentation, mixing it with flour and hops into cakes, and drying it by the hearth. While the Randolph women and their enslaved cooks/brewers did not understand the biology of yeast as we do, they clearly knew how to select what they called “good” yeasts, and to make potent starters. They also differentiated between “ale yeast” and “bread yeast.” For fermenting my version of this historic brew, I used two packets of Danstar’s Manchester yeast, a variety favored by many brewers for traditional ales.

While these women were without a modern understanding of “germ theory,” they did know that good ale required cleanliness. We should assume they were good at their task of brewing, even though they didn’t have modern sanitizers, stainless steel containers, etc. Boiling-hot water is a potent sanitizer, and we must assume it was used liberally in colonial brewing. Just the same, the use of open wooden fermenters, and storage of ale in barrels probably led to more complex flavor profiles than we tend to get using closed fermentation in glass and steel. Likewise, the advent of refrigeration and air conditioning mean that stored beer can age more gracefully than it did in the cellar of a central Virginia farmhouse.

So now we come to the crux of the matter. What did colonial beer taste like? Did it resemble any beers we now know? Well let’s see if we can figure that out by analyzing, and then brewing, “Good Ale,” as recorded by Jane Randolph of Curles Plantation sometime in the mof-1700s. Here is a transcription of the handwritten “receipt” as it appears in the Curles manuscript:

Good Ale

Take 3 Bushels malt 1/2 high & 1/2 Pail

dry’d let your water boil then & put into your

Mashing tubb, When the Steem is gone

off, so as you may see your face; then put

your malt, & after mashing it well then

cover it with a blanket, Let it stand 2

hours, then draw it off Slow, then boil it

three or four hours, till the hops curdles

when boiled Enough, cool a little, & work

that with your yest, & so put the rest

of your wort in as it cools, which must

be let in small Tubs, let it work till

your yest begins to curdle then turn it up

& stop your Barrel when it has done

working; Note to Every Bushels malt

a Quarter of pound of hops

Let me transcribe this into contemporary English, with comments.

Take 3 bushels dried malt, ½ high and ½ pale, and put it into your mashing tub (or tun).

British malt of the period was all “floor” malted, with direct heat from wood or coal fires, which led to uneven modification and kilning levels in any batch of malt. Presumably the malt was then divided into relatively pale- and relatively high-colored fractions. How pale was pale and how high was high? For the high malt we can rule out anything like chocolate and black malts. Many 18th-century British brewing books and recipes refer to the practice of blending pale and brown malts. To Mrs. Randolph and Mrs. Cary, the “high” was undoubtedly what London brewers meant by “brown.” The high malt could not have been as dark as some modern “brown” malt, however, because this is well roasted and, consequently, has little or no diastatic action due to the high roasting temperatures. Some modern brown malts are as high as 70-100 degrees Lovibond. However, one English maltings produces a brown malt that they claim is meant to approach the darker malt of the 17th and 18th centuries (SRM near 60). This is Crisps, and it so happens that Crisps’ Brown malt is stocked by my local homebrew dealer, The Weekend Brewer in Chester, Virginia.

I chose Maris Otter for my pale malt; it seems to be the malt of choice by those of England’s commercial brewers who produce more traditional beers. While Maris Otter is thought of today as”traditional” English pale malt, even it is made by methods (and with a barley strain) that didn’t exist before the modern era. It is, nonetheless, I think, as close as I can get to traditional malt made by a cottage-industry craftman-maltster of the period.

The recipe calls specifically for “dry” malt. Today’s standard bushel weight for dry malt ranges from 32 to 38 pounds. I found one source claiming that 34 is a good target, and that’s the number I used. So a barrel of Mrs. Cary’s Good Ale required 3 bushels, or 102 pounds, of malt. Mrs. Cary’s recipe is to make a barrel of beer. So what, exactly, is a barrel? That question sent me on a quest! I consulted numerous historical sources, the writings of some other brewers of historical beers and living-history interpreters who work at historical sites in Virginia. In the mid-18th century, there were wine barrels, beer barrels and ale barrels, and these were based on capacities defined in terms of “beer gallons,” versus “wine gallons.” This dichotomy reflected the marketplace in which English citizens enjoyed domestic products (called by the Anglo-Saxon term “ale”) as well as imports from the Netherlands (using the Germanic word “beer”), and these nations measured their brews with different sorts of gallons. In fact, these distinct gallons were the antecedents to our current distinction between U.S. and British Imperial volume measurements.

That said, almost everyone I spoke with agreed that, while the urban taverns of the day would have used statute ale barrels, the most likely containers to be found on plantations were wine barrels that had once held sherry, port, or Madeira. These held the equivalent of 31 ½ English (roughly similar to Imperial) gallons, or about 36 U.S. gallons. Therefore, if I wanted to make a five-gallon batch, I needed a little over 14 pounds of malt, divided equally between pale and brown.

Wood- or coal-fired kilns tended to lend a slight smokiness to the malt. London brewers of the day disagreed with the desirability of smokiness in their malts, but I assume some amount of it was inevitable. I, therefore, added a touch (2 ounces) of smoked malt, choosing to use wood-smoked rauchbier malt rather than peat-smoked malt.

Bring your water to a boil and put it into the mash tun. When it has cooled such that the steam has cleared and you can see your reflection in the water, add your malt to the tun. Mix it up well and let it mash for two hours.

The water I chose for this brew was Richmond, Virginia city tap water, after passing it through a consumer household filter to remove metals, chlorine, and chloramines. This water is not substantially different from the shallow well water used at Curles and Ampthill plantations. As can be seen from a later statement in the recipe, only part of the water is used in the mash; presumably enough to make a proper mash thickness—whatever that was! I would have preferred to have used a moderately thin mash to de-emphasize dextrin, as is typical of British common ales; however, my mash tun is a 5-gallon cooler, and with the quantity of grain called for, a thin mash was not possible. I could get about 3 gallons of mash water in my tun, a bit under 0.9 quarts per pound of grains.

Jane Randolph and her cooks had no thermometers, so they waited until the water stopped steaming enough to see their faces in it as an indication that they should now add the malt. In re-creating this mash, I followed these instructions. I waited until the steam had died down substantially on my boiling pot and then I took a temperature reading. It was about 165 degrees F, about 5 degrees cooler than my normal strike temperature. Jane’s tun was a wooden tub covered with a woolen blanked. I used a cooler. After mixing liquor and grains my thermometer told me we would begin the mash at 148 degrees. Not a bad temperature for maximizing extraction and attenuation, but I boosted it to about 152.

At the end of the mash, draw your wort slowly from the tun into the boiler.

The cooler’s spigot provided the means to accomplish this feat. My boiler is an 8.5-gallon enameled canning pot, rather than a really romantic humongous, ancient, copper or black iron kettle. My fire comes from a propane crab-boil burner that is probably as good at producing BTUs as was a roaring colonial kitchen hearth or large outdoor open fire pit, as was often used for tasks such as laundry and brewing.

Boil the wort three or four hours until your hops “curdle.” Then take some of it aside and cool it to make your yeast starter. Add the rest of the “wort” (liquor) needed to make up your final quantity of ale.

Presumably, the coagulation and settling of the hot break is what “curdling” meant. Setting aside wort for a starter is straightforward, but the instruction to “put the rest of your wort in as it cools” is ambiguous at best. Were the grains sparged? I think not. Instead I believe that they were “re-mashed.”  Several sources suggest that additional hot liquor (brewing water) was added to the grains and allowed to “mash”—actually, to steep—for a while in order to extract more sugars. That is the approach I took in recreating the brew. This procedure tends to extract a bit more tannins from the grain husks than does sparging, but, as far as I have been able to learn, sparging, as we know it, was simply not practiced—at least not by small-scale brewers.

I decided to ignore the recipe in one minor way by adding all the water at the beginning of the boil, rather than adding “the rest of the wort” at the end of the boil. While boiling 36 gallons of wort in an open kettle would be a serious headache, boiling 7 or so gallons in my cooker was a cinch. Adding the water afterward may have helped to affect a “cold break,” but the chance of introducing unwanted microbes unnecessarily bothered me a bit. Throughout the boil I had to replenish the water several times.

Hops? Did she say hops? Well, notice that, at the end of the recipe, she prescribes a quarter pound of hops per bushel. My recipe required 2 ounces of hops, and I chose East Kent Goldings at 6% alpha acid. Goldings were already a favorite hop for British ales in the mid-18th century, and they were undoubtedly among the most popular imports from England in the colonies. The recipe makes no mention of staged additions of the hops, and so I simply added them at the beginning of the boil. There is no doubt that a 3-4 hour boil will extract the maximum bitterness from hops, while leaving behind only minimal hop flavors and, most likely, no detectable hop aromas.

Place your wort into one or more small tubs or other open fermentation vessels.

Why small tubs? The 18th century kitchen was not equipped with pumps or siphons or hoses. The women brewers of the day were no doubt physically strong individuals, but they couldn’t expect to empty 36 gallons of beer into a barrel when the time came. So a series of small wooden tubs was used for the ferment. I decided against my usual closed blow-out system using a carboy and decided instead to ferment in a plastic bucket fermenter. I did cover it with its lid and inserted a lock, so I may have sacrificed some opportunities to introduce a nice component of “house flavors” to the final brew.

When the primary fermentation is over and the yeast falls back into the brew, pick up your tubs and turn them over to pour the beer into your barrel. When it’s full, hammer in a tight bung.

As is still typical of some cask-conditioned ales, the carbonation comes from the last couple days of fermentation in the barrel. In taverns and breweries, we also know that kegs were sometimes conditioned by adding some new ale at high kraeusen; however, the average family would not always have a ready source of kraeusen beer. Some historical documents suggest that they could increase the priming condition of the ale by adding some molasses. Keep in mind, there was no dried malt extract, and sugar was extremely expensive. It would not have been feasible to prime with sugar, while molasses was readily available and inexpensive. My approach was to use the traditional method of waiting until yeast cap fell back into the beer, then racking to a stainless Cornelius keg without any priming sugar. The completion of fermentation provided all the necessary spritz for the beer. I wouldn’t attempt this method if I intended to bottle the beer!

So what’s the recipe in plain English

Grain bill: Seven pounds Maris Otter pale, seven pounds Crisps Maltings Brown, 2 ounces Bamberg-style smoked malt.

Infusion mash with approximately 3 gallons water at 150-152 degrees F for two hours.

No mash out

Drain sweet wort to boiler and replenish mash tun with another 3 gallons of water at 152 degrees. Allow to rest 15-20 minutes, then drain. Add water to boiler to make approximately 7 gallons of sweet liquor.

At boil add two ounces East Kent Goldings hops. Boil 3-4 hours, replenishing water as needed to result in five gallons, or less, of bitter wort. If less, add cold water to make five gallons.

Rehydrate and pitch two packets Danstar Manchester dry yeast. Ferment in 7-gallon food-grade bucket at 70–75 degrees F. until yeast head falls (S.G. approximately 1.025-30), then rack to stainless steel keg. Condition in cool (55-65 degrees F.) temperatures for 2-3 weeks before tapping keg.

Original gravity: 1.066. Final gravity: 1.014

Note: If you don’t want to mash for two hours, feel free to shorten the time to 90 minutes. This may reduce the phenolics and astringency a bit in the final brew, although I found those flavors a nice balance to the sweet malt. If you don’t want to boil for four hours, then try mimicking the flavors of caramelized wort by adding about ½ cup of molasses at the beginning of the boil. Many modern British breweries use molasses (or treacle or dark refiner’s syrup) to provide the slightly sweet caramel notes formed by burning wort in a copper kettle heated over an open flame. It’s a good approximation.


I presented Mrs. Cary’s Good Ale with a talk about its creation to the James River Homebrewers this past April. The beer was a real success. Here is how I described it in my tasting notes:

This beer is fairly clear, deep brown in color, with good condition and head retention. The aroma and flavor are clearly malt-accented, with strong dark-coffee-like tones from the brown malt, and subtle smoky notes. Hops are present solely as a balance to the malt, but they contribute little to flavor or aroma. If this were sweeter, it would most resemble a strong Scottish ale. Instead, it has the dry finish and mouthfeel of an English ale, probably due to the attenuation properties of the yeast, and the lack of a mash-out. This is a fascinating, and somewhat foreign brew. I’ll certainly have to make it again. It is probably best classified as “old ale,” though some Scottish wee heavies come close in style.

Mrs. Cary’s Good Ale is a smoky-dark, coffee-and-toffee-flavored brew and, in its 18th-century incarnation, it was probably embroidered with the “house flavors” of the wild yeasts and bacteria endemic to the Curles Plantation cellar, as well as the distinctive blending of lactic acid, acetic acid, tannic acid and complex esters and oxidation products one expects from open ferments in wooden tubs and storage in barrels. The very foreignness of my approximation to Mrs. Cary’s Good Ale serves well enough to remind me of the distance between history and present experience and expectation, but when I realize that I cannot imagine if the hops available to 18th-century Virginians were fresh, floral, spicy, cheesy or just bitter, then I am forced to admit the impossibility of knowing the past in those nuances which make all the difference.

* I hope to have the opportunity to bring you Jane Randolph’s recipes for Small Beer and Metheglyn (spiced mead) in the near future.


ArchaeoBeer: Digging up Ancestral Brews

copyright L. Daniel Mouer 2007


L. Daniel Mouer, PhD (archaeologist) 

and his alter-ego, Dan Mouer (home brewer)

Archaeology and beer just seem to go together, and it’s not just because a cold brew helps wash the dust from your teeth after a long day on the digs. I’m an archaeologist by profession, and a home brewer by avocation. Lots of archaeologists brew their own, and those who don’t often have a passion for the finer, more exotic commercial brews. A few years ago I helped to organize a conference that would bring over 1000 archaeologists to my home town. When my colleagues and I spoke with the staff of the hotel where the conference was to be held, we repeatedly stressed that they should be certain to have LOTS of beer on hand in the restaurants and bars. And not just any beer, but the “good stuff:” microbrews and specialty imports. Despite our warnings, the beer ran out very early on the first night of the conference. The conferees were thirsty and surly; the organizers were angry; and the hotel staff members were chagrined. The next day the beer trucks were lined up around the block from the loading dock, and everyone was happy.

It is fortunate that more than a few brewers and scientists with skills allied to the brewer’s profession seem to like archaeology as well. The resulting interplay between the science of discovering the past and the art of making better brew has produced a handful of novel beers from home brewers and commercial breweries alike.. Now a creative interpretation of the oldest fermented beverage ever discovered is available in bottles, and awaiting the cloning skills of home brewers everywhere. But why the love between archaeologists and brewers? Well, let’s dig into a little history—or, rather, prehistory—to get to the heart of the matter.

The Neolithic Revolution: Daily Bread or “Party Time?”

Long before radiocarbon dating similar techniques, the first serious archaeologists divided Old World prehistory into the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, and the Iron Age. The Stone Age was further divided into the Paleolithic (Old Stone Age), Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age) and Neolithic (New Stone Age). The Neolithic period was characterized by newer forms of stone tool technology; specifically, by the presence of ground, rather than chipped, stone tools. However, by the middle of the twentieth century, archaeologists understood that the Neolithic was about a whole lot more than tool-making technology. It was about a thorough revolution in the way human beings lived on this earth. After millions of years of depending on wild plants and animals, people settled down into permanent villages, and they supported themselves with herds of domestic animals and fields of cultivated crops.  This process led, over a relatively short time in archaeological terms, to the rise of cities and all the complex trappings of civilization.

Of course, there was not just a single Neolithic Revolution; we now know that this process of domesticating plants and animals happened repeatedly, often independently, throughout the Old and New Worlds. The process continues today in some areas. The key ingredient that seems to anchor the switch from hunting and gathering to gardening, herding and farming, is the domestication of starchy staple foods. The first of these were the grains—particularly wheat and barley—domesticated in the Near East and Asia Minor beginning around 12,000-10,000 years ago. Wheat and rice were largely responsible for fueling similar cultural evolution in Asia. Likewise, sorghum and yams were domesticated in Africa; as were maize, potatoes and cassava in the Americas.

Domesticated starchy staples revolutionized life because they provided huge amounts of energy and, especially, because they could be stored to feed folks even through lean seasons. As I noted, wheat and barley were among the very first domesticated plant foods. And what do we do with wheat and barley? Well, we make beer, of course, and for that reason some archaeologists have argued that beer was the reason that people settled down and began to farm in the first place. In this view, beer itself might have led to civilization. Certainly, no reader of BYO would doubt that life without beer could scarcely be called civilized!

Others have argued, using archaeological evidence in the form of pictures on pottery and the like, that bread was the primary product of early grain domestication. Back in the 1950s and 60s there was a Great Debate in archaeology over whether it was beer or bread that most likely fueled the Neolithic Revolution. Of course, these earliest domesticated grains—wheat and barley–can also be used to make gruel or porridge. Over the years, archaeologists have posited that beer was brewed by soaking bread in water, or by diluting porridge, to make a mash. But the big question was whether or not it was specifically the quest for beer that led to the enormous social, technological and economic changes we call The Neolithic Revolution.

In 1994, anthropologist Thomas W. Kavenaugh again took up the debate. Was his in-depth academic study published in some august anthropology journal? Nope, it appeared in Brewing Techniques, that beloved but now-defunct craft brewing magazine. After a thorough review of the arguments that had been laid out by archaeologists, Kavenaugh concluded that one key bit of technology was probably essential to the development of brewing. That technology was ceramic pottery, and as all archaeologists know, pottery was a product of The Neolithic Revolution. In other words, the Revolution had arrived before beer brewing became widely established. For those who are interested in the details of the Great Debate, you can read Dr. Kavenaugh’s entire article online at http://www.brewingtechniques.com/library/backissues/issue2.5/kavanagh.html.

Of Microbes and Molecules

Any attempt to store starchy staple foods has to deal with microbes. The world is filled with little buggers that are looking for a free meal, and nothing turns dried starch into food quicker than a little water and a little warmth. Warm water interacts with enzymes to convert starch to sugar and the microbes come to lunch. What happens next depends upon the microbes. If they are friendly yeasts, they will either make dough rise or they will turn grains—now converted to malt by the water and warmth—into beer. If they are other sorts of yeasts, or bacteria or molds, they may do something less useful. That’s called spoiling the food! Most successful forms of early storable foods rely to some degree on controlling the work of microbes to make useful, pleasant, and non-toxic products. Think about sauerkraut, cheese, yogurt, bread, wine, mead, and, of course, beer.

We archaeologists could learn a lot about the dawn of brewing if we could track down and identify the work of these microbes. Fortunately, chemistry has found ways to identify specific molecules that relate to byproducts of distinctive fermentations: good stable molecules that can sometimes be found under exceptional archaeological conditions. It has been the curiosity of archaeologists and the chemists who work with them that has led to the discovery and recreation of historic and prehistoric beers.

The Ninkasi Experiment

Ninkasi…You are the one who handles the dough,

[and] with a big shovel, Mixing in a pit, the bappir with sweet aromatics…

You are the one who bakes the bappir

in the big oven…

Puts in order the piles of hulled grains…

You are the one who waters the malt

set on the ground…

You are the one who soaks the malt in a jar

The waves rise, the waves fall…

You are the one who spreads the cooked

mash on large reed mats,

Coolness overcomes…

You are the one who holds with both hands

the great sweet wort,

Brewing [it] with honey and wine…

The filtering vat, which makes

a pleasant sound,

You place appropriately on [top of]

a large collector vat…

Ninkasi, you are the one who pours out the

filtered beer of the collector vat,

It is [like] the onrush of

Tigris and Euphrates.

Excerpts from The Hymn to Ninkasi, translated by Miguel Civil

Ninkasi was the Sumerian Goddess of Beer, and the Hymn to Ninkasi has come down to us on cuneiform tablets from the Sumerians of 4,000 years ago. Home brewers should have little trouble recognizing the brewing steps described here. While the hymn was written at least 4-5,000 years after beer brewing had become well established in the Near East and elsewhere, there is at least one line here that might tell us something unexpected about those earlier brews. That is: “You are the one who holds with both hands the great sweet wort, Brewing [it] with honey and wine.” We’ll return to that idea a little later in this article.

In 1989, Fritz Maytag, who salvaged the archetype of California Common Beer when he purchased Anchor Steam Brewing Company, became fascinated by archaeology’s focus on early brewing after reading an article on the bread-beer debate written by Dr. Solomon Katz of the University of Pennsylvania. Katz had mentioned the existence of Sumerian tablets with pictures of brewing and beer-drinking, as well as cuneiform texts related to brewing. Maytag contacted Katz and got him to visit Anchor. Maytag also managed to get Professor Miguel Civil, who had translated Ninkasi’s Hymn, to help work out some of the details of the recipe it contained. The result was a multi-disciplinary attempt to reconstruct an early beer from archaeological evidence.

Anchor produced Ninkasi Beer just one time. Barley was the only grain used in Ninkasi, although honey was also added. Ninkasi didn’t make a huge splash except as a novel idea. Perhaps Anchor’s interpretation of the ancient recipe was too realistic? Or, more likely, the beer-drinking public was not yet ready for a sweet-sour brew flavored with dates and no hops.

King Midas’s Funeral was a Beer Blast!

Sometime in the 8th century BCE, a Phrygian King was buried under a suitably grand mound. With him in the tomb were hundreds of drinking vessels and dishes from the king’s funerary feast. This leader is thought to have been the inspiration for the legend of King Midas, whose gifted touch turned anything to gold. About ten years ago, chemical residues in the drinking vessels were analyzed by Dr. Patrick McGovern, an archeological chemist on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania’s famed Museum Applied Science Center for Archaeology (MASCA). Among the ancient residues was clear evidence for a fermented beverage comprised of barley, wine grapes, and honey. What isn’t completely clear from just the chemical evidence is whether the beverage was a mixture of wine, beer and mead, or a single beverage with all of these ingredients fermented together.

Greg Glaser, writing in Modern Brewery Age, wrote that shortly after completing his analysis, McGovern attended a dinner at U. Penn at which the honored guest/speaker was none other than beer wonk, Michael Jackson. The next morning, Jackson visited McGovern’s archaeochemistry lab, along with Tess and Mark Szamatulski, homebrewers and authors of Clone Brews and Beer Captured. (Did I mention that archaeologists and beer go together?) Even though direct evidence hadn’t been discovered among the vessel residues, all the beer people agreed that some sort of spice had probably been added to help balance the sweet brew. The Szamatulskis produced homebrew versions of King Midas’s beer using thyme honey, varying three sub-batches by flavoring with Turkish figs, anise or saffron.

At the Michael Jackson dinner, McGovern had also spoken with “extreme brewer,” Sam Caglione of Dogfish Head in Milton, Deleware. According to Glaser,

Caligione made a 93-gallon experimental batch using malted barley, Italian thyme honey and white Muscat grapes, seasoning the brew with Indian saffron and fermenting it with mead yeast..

Unlike Anchor’s experiment a decade earlier, Dogfish Head’s Midas Touch Golden Elixir became a regular offering. In the November 2002 edition, BYO’s own Replicator, Steve Bader, produced a recipe for home brewers. Like the commercial version, it includes saffron and just a light touch of Willamette hops. I asked Sam Caglione if he had tried the Replicator’s version. He said that he had been given a bottle that he had not yet opened, but that his brewer friends claimed it’s very close to the bottled version. Michael Jackson described Midas Touch as “A wonderfully complex beer, a wonderfully delicate beer, a dangerous thing…”

The World’s Oldest Beer

The headline for the National Geographic News for July 18, 2005 read: 9,000-Year-Old Beer Re-Created From Chinese Recipe. The Neolithic village site known as Jiahu, in Henan Province, China, produced numerous ceramic jars. Once again, MASCA’s McGovern plied his analytical magic and reported finding evidence for rice, wildflower honey, Muscat grapes, barley malt, hawthorn fruit and chrysanthemum flowers. He was convinced that this, too, was the oldest evidence yet of an ancient fermented beverage. Having found the earlier collaboration a success, McGovern called, once again, on Sam Caglione.

To make his brew, which he calls Chateau Jiahu, Caglione and the Dogfish Head brew staff mash rice flakes with barley malt. Then the sweet wort is augmented by the honey, grapes, hawthorn fruit, and chrysanthemums and boiled. The wort is fermented with shoji sake yeast, yielding a brew of 8% alcohol by weight. The commercial release of Chateau Jiahu was imminent as I was writing up this article, but there was not yet a drop for me to try! So I had to whet my imagination by tracking down Sam Caglione, who kindly agreed to talk with me about his archaeobeers.

DM: In creating Midas Touch and Chateau Jiahu, were you aiming at historical accuracy, or at producing exciting, marketable brews inspired by history?

SC: I’d say both. My intention was to stay accurate to the archaeological findings while appealing to modern, sophisticated tastes in beer. Fritz Maytag’s Ninkasa was faithful to the historical information, but it was awkward. I wanted to make beverages that were both romantic and historical. Of course there’s a lot of room for interpretation—things we really don’t know, or some liberties we can take. Those early beers probably lost their carbonation quickly, while ours are fully carbonated. We don’t know what the colors were of the ancient brews. We filter our beers; theirs were probably cloudy and maybe even chunky. We don’t know what alcohol levels they attained, and while we know what the main ingredients were, we don’t know what proportions they used. We don’t even know for sure if grains, honey and grapes were fermented together, or these were blends of beer, wine and mead.

DM: Why did you choose to ferment Jiahu with shoji sake yeast? Is that due to associations of shoji with the Far East in general? Or were you trying to capture particular flavor characteristics?

SC: This was basically a nod to tradition, and Patrick McGovern thought it a better match with the yeasts that would have been available to ancient brewers. The Jiahu is the more exotic of the two brews, with characteristics of sake and cider.

DM: One thing the Midas Touch and Chateau Jiahu have in common is that, despite the separation of their archaeological contexts by thousands of miles and even more thousands of years, they each contain fermentables from grains, honey, and wine grapes. Do you believe such combo brews were common in the ancient world? Or is this really a new kind of product springing from your creative brewing imagination?

SC: I think the evidence is starting to suggest this was a common thing.

DM: Do you want to give homebrewers any hints about how to come close to replicating Chateau Jiahu?

S.M. I’ll get together with the brewery staff and we’ll work up a recipe for homebrewers. Promise! Please tell homebrewers how much we appreciate their support. They’re the real beer champions. I still think of Dogfish Head as a 100-barrel home brew kit!

So what was ancient beer really like?

Using a detailed handwritten and archaeological evidence from the kitchen/brewhouse of the housewife/alewife who penned it, I found many challenges in trying to recreate beer just 300 years ago. (See Colonial Beer in the January 2003 BYO). I concluded that we can not avoid the need for interpreting, for reading between the lines of history. Nonetheless, by paying attention to details, from inscriptions on clay tablets to molecules recovered from inside clay jars, we can learn things we otherwise wouldn’t know about the past.

The hymn to Ninkasi reveals that Sumerians, living in Iraq 4000 years ago, made a sweet wort from loaves of bread and malted grains, and this, in turn, was brewed with honey and wine. The Phrygians, living 2800 years ago in the Anatolian Highlands of Turkey, buried a king with drinking vessels containing evidence of a beverage made of grain malt, wine grapes and honey. Early Neolithic stone-age farmers living in the cradle of Chinese civilization 9000 years ago used rice, honey, and wine grapes for their daily brew. Could it be that the ancient brewers simply used anything an everything they could find to provide sugars for those hungry beer-making microbes? 


When Fritz Maytag experimented with Ninkasi, the North American microbrewery and homebrew renaissance was still in its youth. Today, devoted brewers and tipplers are familiar with, and hungry for, wine-like beers flavored with fruits or spices, even modified by “bad” microbes that might have been very common in ancient brews (e.g., Brettanomyces and Lactobacilli). And who doesn’t like a little honey in the brewpot? Perhaps what is old is new again. Perhaps our Homebrew Revolution is just the Neolithic Revolution, version 2.0.