Wines, Beers, and all those Berries

The cookbooks mentioned in the previous post consist of plethora of recipes for wines and beers, too. It seems that European settlers really liked to share a cup of cold one, and had an exquisite skills on making drinks out of pants we rarely use today. It is unfortunate that North America went on ‘dry’ adventure at the turn of the century; the prohibition managed to push the craft brewing out of the ‘cookbooks.’

In her book The Backwoods of Canada, Catherine Parr Trail mentions that many settlers were skilled in the “manufacture of homemade wines and beer” and that “an excellent maple-wine and beer might be produced at a very thrifting expense.”1 She states that every settler grew hops in their gardern, which was one of the “principal components of maple-beer when added to the sap.”Unfortunately, the wine and beer recipes made with maple syrup are non existent in the cookbooks I have researched. Also, in southern Ontario, the hops plant was weeded out but the 20th century, probably as a result of prohibitions, as people found no use for it. Luckily, with the reemergence of the craft beer, hops came back too. Some craft brewers import their hops from UK, for example, but some grow their own, like Ramblin’ Road Brewery , from the Norfolk County.

HOPSHumulus Lupulus, Linn.

Let’s look at a few of the recipes from the 18h and 19th century. You’ll notice they include various other ingredients that might arrest one’s attention.

Mrs. Coal, 1700s., Canadian Cookbook Collection, University of Guelph


  • Raisin Wine

Take ten gallons of water, and fifty pounds of malaga raisins, pick out the large stalks and boil them in your water, when your water is boiled put it into a Tub; take the raisins & chop them very well; when your water is blood warm, put in your raisins and rub them very well with your hand, when you put them into the water let them work for ten days, stirring them twice a day, then strain out the raisins in a Hair sieve, and put them into a clean harden bag, and squeeze it in the press take out the liquor, so put it into your Barrel; dont [sic] let it over full bung it up close, and let it stand whilst it is [fine? unintelligible] when you tap your wine you must not tap it two near the bottom; for fear of the grounds; when it is drawn of take the grounds out of the barrel, and wash it out with a little of your wine; then put your wine into the Barrel again, dran [sic] your grounds thro [sic] a flannel bag, and put them into the Barrel to the rest; add to it two Pounds of loafsugar [sic], then bung it up, and let it stand a week or ten days; it if be very sweat to your taste, let it stand some time Longer and  bottle it. ———- “

  • White Currant Wine

Take the largest white Currants you can get, strip and break them in your hand, whilst you break all the Berries; to every  quart of pulp take a quart of water, let the water be boiled and cold again, mix them well together, let them stand all night in your Tub, then strain them thro [sic] a hair sieve, and to every gallon put two pounds and a half of sixpenny sugar; when your sugar is disolved [sic], put it into your barrel, disolve [sic] little Isinglass,* Whisk it with whites of Eggs and put it in; to every four gallons put in a quart of mountain wine, so bung up your Barrel, when it is fine draw it off, and take out the grounds; but dont [sic] tap the barrel over low at the bottom’ wash out the barrel with a  little of your wine, & drop the grounds thro [sic] a Bag. then [sic] put it to the rest of your wine, and put it all into your barrel again, to every gallon ass half a pound more sugar, and let it stay another week or two if it be [unintelligible] sweet let it stay longer.————

*isinglass : a pure, transparent or translucent form of gelatin, obtained from theair bladders of certain fish, especially the sturgeon: used in glue andjellies and as a clarifying agent. dictionary
  • Gooseberry Wine of ripe Goosberrys [sic]

Pick clean and beat your Gooseberrys [sic] in a marble mortar or wooden bowl, measure then in quarts upheap’d [sic], add two quarts of spring water, and let them stand all night or twelve Hours [sic], then rub or press out the Husks [sic] very well, strain them through a wide strainer, and to every gallon put three Pounds of sugar. and [sic] a Jill of Brandy,* then put all into a sweet Vessel, not very full, and keep it very close for four months; then decant it of till it comes clean, pour out the grounds, and mash the Vessel [sic] clean with a little of the wine; add to every gallon a pound more sugar, let it stand a month in the Vessle [sic] again, drop the grounds thro [sic] a flannel bag & put it to the other in the Vessle [sic]; the tap hole must not be over near the bottom of the Cask, for fear of letting out the Grounds, This receipt will serve for red Currants [sic] the same way.”


Ribes uva-crispa printed as Ribes Grossularia
  • To make Elder Wine

“Take twenty Pounds [sic] of Malaga Raisons* [sic], pick and chop them then put them into a tub with twenty quarts of water, let the  water be boiled and cold again before you put in your Raisons [sic] let them rain together ten days, stiring [sic] it twice a day, then  strain the liquor very well from the rasions [sic], through a [unintelligible]     strainer or hair sieve; add to it six quarts of Elder Juice, five pounds of Loaf sugar, and little Juice of Sloes* to make it acidic [unintelligible] as you please, put it into a Vessel [sic], and let it stand in a pretty warm place three Months [sic], then bottle it; the vessel must not be stopp’d up till it had done working, if your [unintelligible] be very good, you may leave out the sugar.” 

Blackthorn or Sloe is a plant found in Europe, and not native to North America, meaning that thing cookbook probably belong to settlers from Scotland or Northern England. Also, I found the spelling variations of “raisons” instead of  “raisins” more common in the cookbooks from 1700s, UK, than later cookbooks found in Ontario.


Hannah Jarvis,  journal-cookbook “Every Comfort in the Wilderness,  Upper Canada 1792-1845″

  • Alder Wine

AlderTo every quart of berries put two quarts of water – boil half an hour. Pun the liquor and break the fruit through a hair sieve. Then to every quart of juice put three quarters of a pound of Lisbon sugar – coarse – but not the coarsest. Boil the whole for a quarter of an hour. With some Jamaica pepper, ginger, and a few cloves. Pour it into a tub and when of proper warmth into a barrel with a piece of toast and [yest] to work – which then is more [difficulty] to make it do than most other liquors. When it ceases to hiss put a quart of brandy to eight gallons and stop it. Bottle in the Spring or at Christmas. Keep it warm while fermenting.”

Alnus glutinosa

  • Ginger Wine

A gallon of water, nine pounds of sugar, two ounces of ginger boiled together for some time. On becoming milk warm it is put into a keg with a crust of bread about two inches square rubbed over with [yest] along with it where it is let to nine days. [Tis] then bunged up in ten to twelve days or as soon as clear [tis] fir to bottle, and affords a small pleasant cooling beverage.”


Melora Myle, c.1854., Myle Family Recipe Book, UW Special Collections

  • Currant Wine 

Put 5 quarts of currants and a pint of Raspberries to every two gallons of water, let them soak a night, then squeeze and break them well. Next day rub them well on a fine wire leave, till all the juice is obtained, washing the skins again with some of the water – then to every gallon put 4 pounds of sugar. Put it into the cask and lay the {bung} lightly on. In two or three days put a bottle of brandy to every three or four gallons – [bung] it close, but leave the peg out at the top for a few days.”

  • Dandelion Wine

1 quart of early Flowers, 2 l Boiling Water
3 lemons 1 lb sugar, Boil 3 hours. Pour boiling water on the flowers,
“stand” 24 hours, then strain taking the water, adding lemons and sugar. 
Bottle, but not cork tight until after it works.”


  • Elder Wine 

To every quart of berries put 2 quarts of water. Boil half an hour, run the liquor, and ELDERbreak the fruit through a [haus] sieve; then to every quart of juice, put three quarts of a pound of Lisbon sugar, coarse, but not the coarsest. Boil the whole a quarter of an hour with some Jamaica peppers, ginger, and a few cloves. Pour it into a tub, and when of a proper warmth, into the barrel, with toast and yeast to work, which these is more difficult to make if do than most other liquors. When it ceases to hiss, put a quart of brandy to eight gallons, and stop up. Bottle in the spring or at Xmas. The liquor must be on a warm place to make it work.

          Sambucus nigra

  • Ginger Wine (recipe from Grandfather)

To 4 gallons of water put 16lbs of loaf sugar and 3/4 lb of best white ginger bruised. Boil them half an hour and [unintelligible] the liquor well, when cold add the juice if three Lemons an the rind pared thin. Put all together into a cask with three table spoonfuls of good yeast, let it stand 6 months, then bottle it adding two tablespoonful of brandy to every bottle of wine.

  • Rhubarb Wine

Ingredients——. To every 5 lbs of rhubarb pulps, allow1 gallon of cold spring water; to every gallon of liquor allow 3 lbs of loaf sugar, 1/2 oz. of isinglass, the rind of one lemon. 

Mode. Gather the rhubarb about the middle of May; wipe it with a wet cloth, and, with a mallet, bruise it in a large wooden tub or other convenient means. When reduced to a pulp, weigh it, and to every 5 lbs. add 1 gallon of cold spring water; let these remain for 3 days, staring 3 or 4 times a day; and, on the fourth day, press the pulp through a hair sieve*; put the liquor into a tub, and to every gallon put 3 lbs of loaf sugar; stir in the sugar until it is quite dissolved, and add the lemon rind; let the liquor remain, and in 4, 5, or 6 days, the fermentation will began to subside, and a crust or head will be formed, which should be skimmed* off, or the liquor drawn from it, when the crust begins to crash or separate. Put the wine into a cask, and if, after that, it ferments, rack it off into another cask, and in a fortnight stop it down. If the wine should…


… have lost any of its original sweetness, add a little more loaf sugar, taking care that the cask is full. Bottle it off in February or March, and in the summer it should be set to drink. It will improve greatly by keeping; and should a very brilliant colour be desired, add a little currant juice.”

  • Rhubarb Wine from Paper (a.k.a. news paper clipping)

” Prepare and stew the large juicy stalks of the Rhubarb. Plant the same as for sauce, using just water enough to cover the Rhubarb. When cold strain out the juice, and to every 3 pints of juice add 3 lbs of sugar and a sufficient amount of water to make a gallon of liquor. Place in corked jugs or a sweet clean keg, with bung out for ten to twelve days. Remove any scum that may rise to the surface. Add a bottle of wine. Replace cork or bung* for a day or two or until all signs of fermentation have ceased. The wine may now be racked off into bottles and sealed up.”

  • Tomato Wine

Express the juice from clean ripe tomatoes and to each gallon of it without water put four pounds of brown sugar. Put in the sugar immediately or before fermentation begins, Squeeze out the juice of the tomato through a cheese cloth. Let the wine stand un a barrel for two or three months; then draw off in bottles, carefully avoiding the sediment. It makes a most delightful wine.”

It is interesting that dandelion wine is mentioned in 1850s. Dandelion, along with Labrador tea were local plants to the region, and European settlers combined them with the wild rice, which was cultivated by Anishnaabeg (First Nations), as a substitute to tea and coffee.

In Canadian cuisine, as in many northern regions (Scandinavia, Finland, Russia, etc.), berries were used in many ways, so it is not unusual that wine making will incorporate most of them. Saskatoon berry, for example is also used for wine making. Saskatoon Berry Institute

FullSizeRender 8

From the PEH MITCHISOOK- COME AND EAT  exhibit, Allen Sapp Gallery


Now how about beers? Spruce beer is indigenous to the northern regions as well,and it is likely that European settlers learned how to make it from First Nations (Hannah Jarvis’ recipes included remedies obtained from the First Nations as well).  The other beer recipes, they probably brought from Europe, based on the ingredients.

Let’s have a look, shall we?

Hannah Jarvis,  journal-cookbook “Every Comfort in the Wilderness,  Upper Canada 1792-1845″

  • Molasses Beer

Take five pounds of molasses, half pint of yeast, a spoonful of ginger. Put them into a vessel ans pour onto them two gallons of scalding hot soft water. Shake the whole till a fermentation is produced – then add of the same kind of water sufficient to fill up the barrel. If the cask be greater or smaller than the component parts must be in proportion. Let the liquor ferment twelve hours. Bottle with a raisin or two to each bottle.

  • Ginger Beer

Two ounces of bruised ginger, one ounce cream of tartar , 1 1/2 lb. of lump sugar, lemon peeled and squeezed, Put two gallons of boiling water on the above, ingredients and, when nearly cold, strain off the liquor. Add four spoonfuls of yest [sic]. Mix well and bottle.”

  • Spruce Beer

” Boil some spruce boughs with whiteout bran till the water tastes sufficiently strong of the spruce. Strain the water and stir in two quarts of molasses to half a barrel. Work it with [yest]. When sufficiently worked bung it up or bottle the contents.”

  • Spruce Beer nr.2

8 gallons of water, 1 do molasses, 1 gill of spruce, 3 pints of good rest, A small quantity of pot ash when bottled.”

Hannah 1

source: courtesy of Special Collections and Archives, University of Waterloo

Melora Myle, c.1854., Myle Family Recipe Book, UW Special Collections

  • Ginger Beer

Put one and one half pounds of granulated sugar in a large crock as bowl, and 2 ounces of pure ground ginger, and one lemon sliced thin. Pour over these eight quarts of boiling water and occasionally stir until the liquid becomes luke [sic]warm; then add one quarter of a yeast cake that has been dissolved, mix well, and when perfectly cold strain into bottles and fasten the corks securely. Keep the bottles in a moderate temperature twelve hours and then put them in a cold place. This beer will be ready to use in four or five days.

For comparison, here are just a few recipes from the cookbook of American contemporary Miss Eliza Leslie. Directions for Cookery ; Being a System of the Art, in Its Various Branches. Philadelphia: E.L. Carey & A. Hart, 1837.

SPRUCE BEER. “Put into a large kettle, ten gallons of water, a quarter of a pound of hops, and a tea-cupful of ginger. Boil them together till all the hops sink to the bottom. Then dip out a bucket full of the liquor, and stir into it six quarts of molasses, and three ounces and a half of the essence of spruce. When all is dissolved, mix it with the liquor in the kettle ; strain it through a hair sieve into a cask ; and stir well into it half a pint of good strong yeast. Let it ferment a day or two ; then bung up the cask, and you may bottle the beer the next day. It will be fit for use in a week. For the essence of spruce, you may substitute two pounds of the outer sprigs of the spruce fir, boiled ten minutes in the liquor. To make spruce beer for present use, and in a smaller quantity, boil a handful of hops in two gallons and a half of water, till they fall to the bottom. Then strain the water, and when it is lukewarm, stir into it a table-spoonful of ground white ginger ; a pint of molasses ; a table-spoonful of essence of spruce ; and half a pint of yeast. Mix the whole well- together in a stone jug, and let it ferment for a day and a half, or two days. Then put it into bottles, with three or four raisins in the bottom of each, to prevent any further fermentation. It will then be fit for immediate use.”
GINGER BEER. “Break up a pound and a half of loafsugar [sic], and mix with it three ounces of strong white ginger, and the grated peel of two lemons. Put these ingredients into a large stone jar, and pour over them two gallons of boiling water. When it becomes milkwarm strain it, and add the juice of the lemons and two large table-spoonfuls of strong yeast. Make this beer in the evening and let it stand all night. Next morning bottle it in little half pint stone bottles, tying down the corks with twine.”

MOLASSES BEER. “To six quarts of water, add two quarts of West India molasses ; half a pint of the best brewer’s yeast ; two table-spoonfuls of ground ginger ; and one tablespoonful of cream of tartar. Stir all together. Let it stand twelve hours, and then bottle it, putting three or four raisins into each bottle. It will be much improved by substituting the juice and grated peel of a large lemon, for one of the spoonfuls of ginger. Molasses beer keeps good but two or three days.

SASSAFRAS* BEER. “Have ready two gallons of soft water ; one quart of wrheat bran; a large handful of dried apples ; half a pint of molasses ; a small handful of hops ; half a pint of strong fresh yeast, and a piece of sassafras root the size of an egg. Put all the ingredients (except the molasses and yeast) at once into a large kettle. Boil it till the apples are quite soft. Put the molasses into a small clean tub or a large pan. Set a hair sieve over the vessel, and strain the mixture through it. Let it stand till it becomes only milk warm, and then stir in the yeast. Put the liquor immediately into the keg or jugs, and let it stand uncorked to ferment. Fill the jugs quite full, that the liquor in fermenting may run over. Set them in a large tub. When you see that the fermentation or working has subsided, cork it, and it will be fit for use next day. Two large table-spoonfuls of ginger stirred into the molasses will be found an improvement. If the yeast is stirred in while the liquor is too warm, it will be likely to turn sour. If the liquor is not put immediately into the jugs, it will not ferment well. Keep it in a cold place. It will not in warm weather be good more than two days. It is only made for present use.

*post about Sassafras plant will follow shortly.

EEEEEEEELDER FLOWER WINE. Take the flowers or blossoms of the elder tree, and strip them from the stalks. To every quart of flowers allow one gallon of water, and three pounds of white sugar. Boil and skim the sugar and water, and then pour it hot on the flowers. When cool, mix in with it some lemon juice and some yeast; allowing to six gallons of the liquor the juice of six lemons, and four or five tablespoonfuls of good yeast stirred in very hard. Let it ferment for three days in a tub covered with a double blanket. Then strain the wine through a sieve, (add six whites of eggs beaten to a stiff froth, or an ounce of melted isinglass,) and put it into a cask, in the bottom of which you have laid four or five pounds of the best raisins, stoned. Stop the cask closely, and in six months the wine \vill be fit to bottle. It will much resemble Frontiniac, the elder flowers imparting to it a very pleasant taste.”

The recipes are very similar, and show that craft wine and beer were popular drinks in North America before the Prohibition. They also show that making wine and beer from ingredients other than the standard grape and rye belonged to the women’s sphere of cookery. I’ll probably come back to this topic.

Hopefully, a modern taste buds will pick up on the old recipes. Craft brewing and wineries might take a peek for inspiration.


End Notes:

  1.  Catherine Parr Traill, The Backwoods of Canada; Being Letters from the Wife of an Emigrant Officer, Illustrative of the Domestic Economy of British America. (Original Ed. Issued in Series: The Library of Entertaining Knowledge. Toronto: Coles Pub., 1971.), 256.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Iacovetta, Franca, Marlene Epp, and Valerie J. Korinek. Edible Histories, Cultural Politics towards a Canadian Food History. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2012.), 227.
  4. Larsen, Esther. “PEHR KALM’S DESCRIPTION OF SPRUCE BEER.” Agricultural History 22, no. 3 (1948): 142. and Scandinavian spruce Beer


Bibliography and further reading:

Traill, Catherine Parr, and Traill, Catherine Parr Strickland. The Backwoods of Canada; Being Letters from the Wife of an Emigrant Officer, Illustrative of the Domestic Economy of British America. Original Ed. Issued in Series: The Library of Entertaining Knowledge. Toronto: Coles Pub., 1971.

Jarvis, Hannah, Gloria. Troyer, Pat Staton, Green Dragon Press, Private Press, and University of Waterloo. Library. Women’s Studies Collection. Every Comfort in the Wilderness : A Personal Journal, with Excerpts from the Housewifery Book, Diaries and Letters of Hannah Jarvis, Upper Canada 1792-1845. Toronto, Ont.: Green Dragon Press, 1994.

Martin, Scott C. The Sage Encyclopedia of Alcohol : Social, Cultural, and Historical Perspectives. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage, 2015.

“How to Make Spruce Beer.” Michigan Farmer (1843-1908) 1, no. 21 (1859): 175.

Larsen, Esther. “PEHR KALM’S DESCRIPTION OF SPRUCE BEER.” Agricultural History 22, no. 3 (1948): 142.

Leslie, Eliza. Directions for Cookery ; Being a System of the Art, in Its Various Branches. Philadelphia: E.L. Carey & A. Hart, 1837.

Eberts, Derrek. “Manitoba History: To Brew or Not to Brew: A Brief History of Beer in Canada” in Manitoba History, No. 54 (2007).


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