Mead: A bit of History
In our investigation into the history of Mead (honey-wine), we have to go where time predates written history; to early man bent on survival. Wild honey would have been a dangerous but profitable undertaking. We have cave drawings showing man-raiding beehives from the earliest times and we know “primitive” tribes of today still collect honey this way.
Although we may never have archaeological evidence to point to a single time in any civilization where man first mixed honey with water, forgot it and came back to find honey-wine, we do know it happened and we are still enjoying the Mead made by this happy accident today.
Cave drawings from Paleolithic times show hunters gathering honey. These “honey hunters” had to store the honey in something to transport it and it may well be that they used skins or pouches made from animal hides or stomachs. We know they would have carried water, and we also know they wouldn’t have pass up gathering wild honey either to bring home or to eat along the way.
The water in these pouches could have been dumped but probably not since the group would have been away from their home for long periods and would have needed this water to survive. More likely these hunting parties would mix all or part of the honey with their water. The honey probably carried some of it’s own wild yeast brought in to the hive by the bees or by being exposed to the air itself. Honey laden with wild yeast in water-it’s all you need plus a little time and you have what to man must have seemed like food of the Gods, Mead. In reading The Compleat MeadMaker by Ken Schramm, I see he had a similar thought on the subject. Certainly this method would have come before or at least at the simultaneously with the gathering of wild gains for food.
The process needed to make grains ready for eating, baking or drinking for that matter required heating of some sort. Honey had an advantage for primitive man; it could be used as is.
There is no doubt that the gathering of honey-predated agriculture and ultimately it is agriculture with the abundant cereal grains it produces that make both bread and beer not only possible but also more available than Mead. This in turn elevated Mead to a wine of the few rather than beer, which was to become the drink of choice everyone rich and poor alike. In fact it could very well have been the making of honey into honey-wine that lead to the making of beer.
More to come…
By Joanna Linsley-Poe