In the mid 1920’s my Dad bought a door-to-door bakery route from Lew Russey. That enterprise consisted of, two horses, a big bakery wagon and the privilege of buying his baked goods from the Quality Bakery, and selling it anyplace in Three Rivers, that he cared to. This he did until about 1930.
I remember that great big pies were thirty five cents each, doughnuts were fifteen cents a dozen and Bismarks, that were full of raspberry jam, were twenty cents a dozen. I also recall hearing people say “just wait, some day you will pay a dollar for a loaf of bread”. Few people, including me, could believe such a thing as that, but look at it now, you can’t even get a loaf of bread for a dollar.
Dad and Lou were both horse traders and home brew makers so the relationship naturally led to frequent visits, by each, to the other one’s home. When I was a kid, I went just about every place that my Dad went, so I observed the horse trading and home brewing process, first hand. This was during the days of prohibition, and I guess that just about everyone made their own brew. Dad was pretty fussy about his brew. He had all of the necessary equipment, a hydrometer that told him when the process had reached the right stage for bottling, a little sugar dispenser that, when inserted in the top of the bottle and manipulated properly, would drop the correct amount of sugar in the bottles. He also had the most efficient capper that the market offered.
Now Lou was not near as fussy as Dad was, he brewed his in a ten gallon crock that sat on a stand, behind the cook stove. This was an ideal location because it was warm, back there, and a little heat would speed up the brewing process. Speed was of the utmost importance, especially if your supply was running low, and it usually was. That area, behind the cook stove, was also an ideal place to dry the baby’s diapers, so Nellie had a line strung, at an angle, over the top of the brewing crock and usually had it filled with, slightly washed, diapers. I will have to admit that I never actually saw a diaper fall into the beer crock, but judging from some of the other things that I saw, I felt sure that if one did fall, it would have been wrung out so as not to waste any of the brew. I am quite sure that Dad never drank any of Lou’s brew, and I wasn’t old enough so we made out all right.
That beer making process was quite an art, in those days. It was very primitive and you never knew, for sure, what the quality or the alcohol content of the finished product was going to be. Later on, when I became old enough to have a beer, in public, Charley Munk and I ran off a batch, at his house. I had studied the process by observing the methods of Lou and my dad, so I was pretty well aware of most of the do’s and don’ts and felt confident to proceed. Charley had no infant brothers or sisters so that took care of one of the problems, that I had observed. We got through the brewing, bottling and storage phases without difficulty and were waiting for the prescribed time to expire so that we could try it out.
Charley’s parents went away for a week-end at about the time that we felt the sampling should begin, so I spent a night with him so that we could get an early start, the next day. During the night we were awakened by a loud crash. Neither of us were brave enough to go investigate, so we just laid there. A short time later we heard another crash and then we went to the basement to see what was going on.
The ceiling was dripping with beer and the floor was littered with broken glass. The bottle caps were holding but the pressure was blowing the bottoms out of the bottles and shooting the remains aloft, like rockets. We didn’t dare to try to move the, yet unbroken bottles so we went back to bed and let those that wanted to, do their thing. We didn’t have all of the sophisticated equipment that my dad used, so I guess that we must have become a little impatient, and bot_tled the batch before the yeast was all done doing what it is that yeast is supposed to do.
Charley’s Dad always made a couple of barrels of cider vinegar each year. I don’t know what he did with all of it, but he kept the barrels in their granary. It apparently takes a considerable length of time for the sweet cider to progress to hard cider and then to vinegar, because Wes had several barrels in various stages of development, all labeled as to the dates that they were stored.
Charley and I once thought that we would like to have a drink of hard cider, so we picked out a barrel that should have been about the right age, but it was winter time and the contents were frozen. That didn’t deter us because we were determined. Thinking that it could not be frozen all of the way through, we got a piece of steel rod and punched a hole through the ice and into the area that was not frozen. Boy! was that good, just as sweet as it could be and with the kick of a mule. When we had consumed as much as we thought that we could handle, we put everything back like it was and told no one. However, it later dawned on us that the reason that the core was not frozen, was because that was the alcohol from the entire barrel. Wes mentioned, several times, afterwards, that he could not understand why one of his barrels of cider never turned to vinegar.
Yeast performs with the same abandon that the human race does. It consumes sugar and creates an alcohol environment, in which it cannot exist. The human race consumes everything that is available, as fast as possible, and creates a contaminated environment, in which we will not be able to exist.