I’m delighted to welcome fellow Accent Press author, Jane Jackson, to my blog today. Jane tells us about an unusual and fascinating aspect of her latest novel, Crosscurrents, which is set in beautiful Cornwall. Like many people, I have tried to brew my own beer (and wine) – mostly when I was at university – and was none too successful. Jane’s leading lady is a Brewster and here she shares the secrets of the process.
Bronnen Jewell, one of my main characters, is a brewster – the name given to female brewers. In the C18th and C19th before mechanisation took over, most of the beers and ales drunk on farms and in Cornish country houses were brewed by women. It was considered a vital skill for a countrywoman.
While the quality of a brew relied on quality of ingredients and the brewer’s skill and judgement, the process of brewing is relatively simple.
First, crushed malt (the grist) is steeped in hot water in the mash tun for up to a couple of hours. The colour of malt used will depend on the type of beer being brewed. For a light beer the malt will be mostly pale. Handfuls of other malts, such as roast barley, black, or chocolate malt, might be added for colour and extra flavour.
During the mash, the hot water – known as liquor – extracts sugars from the malt. When mashing is complete, the malt is sprayed with more hot water to wash out any remaining sugars then removed from the mash tun and used as animal feed.
The remaining liquid is known as wort and tastes a little like Ovaltine. This is transferred to the copper where it is boiled for up to 90 minutes with hops added at intervals. Again the brewer’s skill lies in adding the right hops at the right time.
After the boil, the hopped wort is cooled before being pumped or ladled into a fermenting vessel. When it has reached the correct temperature – too cool the yeast won’t work, too hot and the fermentation will run wild and spoil the brew – yeast is added.
Fermentation transforms sugars from the malt into alcohol and carbon dioxide. Now the liquid can be called beer. It is racked off into casks to clear and condition. Small beer brewed for farm workers at harvest time is drunk within three weeks of being brewed so doesn’t have time to clear. But a strong ‘celebration’ ale brewed to be laid down (like wine) and kept in anticipation of a wedding or the birth of a grandchild, will have several years in which to reach the peak of condition.
At the bottom of the steps a flickering lantern was fixed to the wall above a stout wooden door inset with a small barred grill. Bronnen knocked. Behind the grill a panel slid open. As it did so she heard a door inside slam, muffling a pain-filled scream. A child’s voice rising in panic was soothed by motherly tones.
Hinges left un-greased to shriek a warning and a grill that protected those inside while callers were peered at. What was this place?
‘Yes?’ The woman’s tone was cool.
‘I’m Sarah Jewell’s daughter,’ Bronnen said quickly. ‘I’ve come –’
‘You bide there a minute.’ The grill slid shut.
Bronnen waited. A few moments later she heard the scrape of a bolt then the door opened.
‘Bronnen, isn’t it? I’m Mrs Fox. Come in.’ Stepping inside, Bronnen found herself in a short hallway with a closed door to her left, a flight of stairs to her right, and another closed door at the end. The metallic smell of blood hung heavy in the air.
Quickly shutting the door, Mrs Fox pushed the bolt across. Of medium height and lean build, she wore a brown dress with the cuffs turned back and a linen apron streaked with crimson.
‘I’ve come to walk my mother home.’
‘Doesn’t your brother usually collect her?’
‘Yes. But –’ Bronnen thought of her father slumped bruised and bloody in the chair, and her brother delivering hay at night. That was no one else’s business. ‘He’s been called away and Father’s busy. So I came instead. I thought she –’ No need to tell Mrs Fox she hadn’t known this place existed; that she had believed her mother to be at the soup kitchen; that her mother had lied to her. ‘I was afraid I might have missed her. Then I met Mrs Rose.’
Mrs Fox shook her head, and with a weary sigh tucked an escaped strand of hair into her cap. ‘Esther Rose has a good heart but I wish she’d learn to guard her tongue. Anyway, you’re here, and your mother will have company for the walk home. I never allow any of our helpers to leave here alone. The fathers of these girls don’t like us interfering. Only last week two of our ladies were threatened. You need not be anxious, my dear,’ she added quickly seeing alarm on Bronnen’s face. ‘It is unpleasant to be sure, but no violence has been offered. At least they have more sense than that.’
Each revelation was a fresh shock and Bronnen struggled not to let it show.
Santo Innis is developing a revolutionary new engine to counter the lethal effects of high-pressure steam. His backer is Richard Vaughan, heir to Frederick Tregarron, owner of Gillyvean estate. Following the tragic deaths of his wife and baby son, Richard immersed himself in work. But his world is turned upside down by the unexpected arrival at Gillyvean of Melanie Tregarron, a talented artist and Frederick’s illegitimate youngest daughter.
Desperate to prove the viability of his invention, Santo persuades Richard to let him fit one at Gillyvean’s brewhouse.
But when Bronnen Jewell – worried about her mother’s suffering at her father’s hands – arrives to brew the harvest beer she’s horrified, fearing loss of the income on which she depends.
As the lives of these four become entwined, a shocking revelation shatters Bronnen’s world; desperate for money Santo makes a choice that costs him everything; Melanie fears she will never be free of her past; and Richard has to face his deepest fear.
Happily married to a Cornishman, with children and grandchildren, she has lived in Cornwall most of her life, finding inspiration for her books in the county’s magnificent scenery and fascinating history.
She enjoys reading, research, long walks, baking, and visiting Cornish agricultural shows where her husband displays his collection of 28 (and counting) restored vintage rotavators.
Many thanks for coming over, Jane, and best of luck with the book.