Local Passions

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And now for something completely Colonial.  As a belated celebration for Penny’s birthday, we went to the Pardee-Morris House, for a taste of Colonial history…and beer.

The house dates back to 1750, when the Amos Morris family was making its fortune in flax and with their salt works.  Its location was auspicious, on LIghthouse Road on Long Island Sound, convenient for shipping goods.  This house was no rough-and-tumble shack.

Look at the size of this fireplace.  2015-08-02 15.35.24Don’t get me wrong, I don’t lust after such a thing, because, after all, to cook here, you’d have to walk around the fire.  Fireplace cooking was the second leading cause of Colonial women’s deaths, after childbirth.  Cooking was a dangerous activity!

The house didn’t have just one cooking fireplace, but three.

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Here’s a later iteration that’s a tidge safer.  Narrower and with a separate, high bake oven, technology was definitely improving.

This room also features the extra-wide “coffin door,” for bringing your dead in and out.  Cooking and death.  They just seem to be linked, as prevalent companions in Colonial life.

2015-08-02 15.39.28You can tell how spartan the house is now, but in its day, this was one fancy place.  It featured a central hall, creating a larger house and a show-off place for wealth.  And then there’s that third kitchen on the other side of the house.  It was used in the summer, to keep the cooking heat away from the rest of the living space, separated by a breezeway.

In between was the staircase to the ballroom.  Not a fancy staircase, but still besting what anyone else had at the time, I’m sure.  Upstairs, in that big open room we couldn’t access, we could still peek up and see the chandeliers.  Again not elegant, but a step up from oil lamps.

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Our guide was in love with the tea-brick, the way tea was shipped from China.  One brick?  About 200 cups.  Densely packed tea leaves, pressed 2015-08-02 15.37.07in a mold to achieve pretty patterns, and the black tea aroma lingers.

As a tea fan, I loved the brick, but also this lemon press.  I’d like to have that right now to make some lemonade, contemporary or Colonial.

So that’s your well-equipped kitchen in a wealthy New Haven house.  That wealth, and the ability to provide supplies, is what got both Amos Morris Senior and Junior in trouble.

Here comes the Revolutionary War.  The Morris father and son provide the rebel soldiers with supplies.  The British are not going to take this

Prosperous Amos Morris II

Prosperous Amos Morris II

too lightly.  They capture the Morris’ and throw them in jail and burn this house to the ground.

The year–1779.

By 1780, the son had apparently escaped and the father was released, to rebuild the house as we see it today.  The 1750 fireplaces survived, as did some beams.  The rest you can think of as a Colonial renovation.

Remarkably, the Morris family lived in the house until 1915, even doing the late 19th century thing of running a boarding house to make ends meet.  Pardee bought the house with the intention of creating a Colonial museum, but died before pulling it off.  He left it to the New Haven Museum, which has had it for over 100 years.  A caretaker stayed in the house until 15 years ago, and now, it is in the shape as you see it.

First up, save the roof.  I hope they can manage the money to do more with this house that tells such an interesting story.

2015-08-02 15.54.35After the hard work of touring the house, it was time for Penny and me to learn about Connecticut beer, from the Morris period to today.

Author and beer-columnist Will Siss told us all.  New Haven was part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony initially, and the English settlers loved their ale.  Of the two kinds of beer, ale and lager, ale was easier to make, faster to ferment, and successfully brewed at warmer temperatures.  Colonial women were the typical brewers, making ale at home.  Ale was necessary at a time when water wasn’t safe to drink.  Boiling the water to brew beer also killed off the bacteria.

In 1659, New Haven had its first “Ordinary” or tavern, a social place to meet, drink the local brew, and exchange news.  By 1885, New Haven had 8 breweries, each with its own personality and neighborhood following.  German immigrants were contributors to the growth of the brewing world here, and they became known for the lagers, which required refrigeration and were crisp, cold, and clear.  Of course, some breweries became huge, like Budweiser.  But others held that local sway.

With drink comes the inevitable backlash.  Lack of responsible drinking fueled the mid- 19th century Temperance movement, of which the Hartford Beechers were key advocates.  Connecticut attempted a state-wide ban on drinking in 1854 (when the Morris house was 100 years old).  Well, that didn’t work.  By 1872, the state tried the “local option” law, where each town could vote ‘wet’ or ‘dry.’  This approach was received pretty well in the country, with one town, Bridgewater, holding out until last year.  But the city dwellers wouldn’t have that law either.

With Prohibition and the rise of speakeasies, crime and public drunkenness actually increased.  Repeal in 1933 brought the slow resurgence of breweries.  Jimmy Carter helped the cause (and Billy Beer brewed by his brother) by passing a law that increased the allowed amount of production that could still be labeled ‘home brewing.’

And so we go full circle.  Back to highly localized, boutique breweries, that can be enjoyed in local restaurants and bars, just like the Colonials did.  We got to taste several samples from two new breweries.  Erector Brewing Collective is just getting started, with an IPA (India Pale Ale) and a lager, both strong and bitter.  Penny called the lager chocolatety.  Now that’s a civilized taste bud for you.

I preferred the four beers by Black Hog Brewing Company from Oxford, CT.  Before you ask, black hogs are a kind of pig you will find in the Berkshires.  There’s this link to your barbecue (of the pig) and beer…  Okay.  Now that we’re past that, Penny and I shared tastes of four kinds of Black Hog beer: one made with rye, another with oatmeal, the third with ginger, and their new beer, with a grapefruit peel finish (not pictured).

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The lesson from this day?  Stick to your passion, whether it’s letting your house be burned down for a cause or blending your brew with fruit.  Do it!

2 thoughts on “Local Passions

  1. I would have survived a bit better back then since I don’t want kids and hate to cook. But, then, I would probably starve. What fun you and Penny seem to have had — with a nice treat of the beer tastings. (Who was the designated driver?!)

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