Friday, April 23, 2010

Al Capone & The Long Cool Woman with the Bean Pan

I ran into a beer blog yesterday, and it got me to thinkin' . . .

Prohibition, part I.
My crazy Great-Grandfather ran away from home to be a cabin boy on a ship. He eventually went all over the world and ended up in Chicago. This was I believe in the Twenties.

He got a job in a grocery store and fell in love with Cinderella. She was the adopted child of a prospering grocer's family, and her lot was to scrape and clean for the besom (look it up, she was a you know what) and her Two Daughters. There was also a Son and a Boss-Daddy, so this doesn't Completely follow the usual cast. Plus, you know, Great-Grandpa was not really a prince.

Eventually they had their own grocery. Sometimes Capone's men would come by and say when they needed the truck. They got it when 'requested'.  Capone's people were, in all historical accounts, bloody and terrible men. But when Grandpa got the truck back, it was clean, full of gas, and ready to go.

Another time he was unloading crates of eggs and found liquor in the bottom. When I heard this story, I was very young. I thought The Outfit shipped whiskey in egg trays, which didn't seem very efficient. However, it was romantic, and I also mentally invented several different funnels which might make it work. What a help I could have been to Al Capone.

I've lately come to suspect that Great-Grandpa's grocery was mostly funded by truck rental. For one thing, he didn't keep it long after Prohibition. He retired, built a boat, and sailed it down the Mississippi and into the Gulf of Mexico. Did he go to Cuba to run rum and cigars? No, but I assure you he went on to other colorful pursuits.

He was never arrested.
That I know of.

Prohibition, Part II:
My reprobate great-grandfather and Cinderella had one daughter, and she was a young married woman during Prohibition. You could actually brew beer in limited amounts during that era. You just couldn't sell it or give it away.  I think it also had to be in certain percentages, a kind of 'near-beer'.

Well, Pa-Pa and Ma-Ma brewed beer the way some farm women do canning all year.  They rented a duplex, and they kept the beer all racked and hidden in the basement. One day Pa-Pa was at work, and Ma-Ma was hanging wash on the line and talking to the other ladies over the back fence? She heard this 'pop' sound. And then another. And then a sort of pop-gun fire. And then the odor of beer washed over the back yard. The basement was a-swim in beer. I am sure that was a cleaning job for the ages.

I don't know what my Ma-Ma told the neighbor ladies. That was in Chicago too. Maybe they had basements full themselves. And, as far as I know, they were never cited for this. But in that amount? It does make me wonder, again, about my illustrious ancestry. And Blood Will Tell.

Around and About the Still
Before my husband and I were married, we were broke. I personally do not care for beer, but my husband always enjoyed it. He did not like Bud though, or 'Circle G' or 'Brand X'. So one day, he invested an inordinate amount of money on brewery equipment.

A life filled with Projects is full of expectation and promise. It also requires Storage.

That was a small apartment. We had plastic bags of unused orange crush and Fanta root beer bottle caps in the kitchen. We had a bottling 'lever' (I guess that's what you call it) that would put those orange crush tops on recycled beer bottles. Oh, did I mention we had a bottle-washing operation also in that kitchen? It never looked sterile to me. Anyway, the stock pot would only boil eight bottles at once. I can assure you that you do not brew beer only eight bottles at a time. So there were used bottles, used clean bottles, and used sterile bottles. Sometimes the sterile bottles were not used in a timely fashion.

I only needed the stock pot back so we could eat beans on a regular basis. Those are cheap, and did I say we were poor? I can make the best pinto beans you ever ate, but only when I have a pan to do it in. Eventually we bought a second stockpot at some Army-Navy warehouse. And some more funnels and tongs. A bottle rack for drying. And some Pilsners. I'm pretty sure he could have been drinking Dos Equis by then. But there's no ambition in that.

We had racks of unfilled and filled bottles of beer awaiting 'tasting'. Those were in the dining room. And last of all, we had the actual brewing operation. This was much smaller than the bottling operation. It consisted of a couple of five-gallon water jugs (as I remember) with clear rubber pipes running back and forth between them. That was in the bedroom.

The yeast ferments the grain and malt and barley or whatever in a solution in the large jug. This rises. I would awaken every morning to the alarm clock, roll over, and see brown curd bloop through a tube first thing in the morning. After awhile, it got to me. We rearranged the bedroom so that the wort blooped on his side of the bed.

It was good practice in sharing, ah, resources. Since I had a drawing and a sewing project space, there was no reason for me to cut up stiff. I haven't mentioned my boxes of fabric or my dresser full of art and sewing supplies. So except for the wort-blooping and the bean pan, it worked just fine.

Now, perhaps you are thinking we had an explosion . . . that never happened. Perhaps you are thinking we got beer out of this . . . that never happened either. The beer was grainy-textured with undissolved yeast. Ick! Every time my husband opened a bottle, it smelled just like a Wonder Bread Factory. Brave woman that I am, I actually drank a sip out of his glass. Once.

Eventually, he redoubled his efforts in the sale of used kimono . . .


Bob G. said...

Wow...I had a Jack London moment there w/ the cabin boy gig...

ANd regarding the BEER...all I could do was LOL because of the old 3 Stooges short where they attempt to make their OWN beer...

("We ALL put the yeast in")

Made me smile it.

have a great weekend.

Momma Fargo said...

Big smiles reading your post! Loved it!

The Bug said...

My daddy (the teetotaler) made wine from his grapes one year. My mom was in the basement ironing late one night (she used ironing to wind down from the day - strange woman) & she heard a gunshot! It was really the cork flying out of one of the wine bottles & going through the thin wood paneling that separated the finished & unfinished portions of the basement. Fortunately she was not in the line of fire. Thus ended my dad's career as a vintner.

Raindog said...

@ Bug.

Great story!.

Ann T. said...

Dear Bob,
My Great Granddad could have been a story for Jack London all right!

Maybe my family has the jinx gene for beer . . .
Ann T.

Dear Momma Fargo,
It is funny to me too!
Ann T.

Dear The Bug, and Raindog,
Raindog is right. That is a great story. A miss is as good as a mile,
no wine for you all!

Ann T.

The Observer said...

Ann T:
What a great story. I've heard tales of exploding caps and corks from folks who have tried their hand at beer or wine making. None in my immediate family tho, as far as I know. My father was a wine enthusiast and developed an extensive wine cellar as part of my parents' business. That's as close as I get.
The Observer

BobKat said...

Great story! I enjoyed that.

I used to brew wine... "balloon wine", it was called as you put a balloon with a pin-hole on top of the brew-jug, which inflated during fermentation, then deflated after it was done. I brewed many kinds of wine, but my best brew ever was pumpkin wine. Problem is, unlike other wines I'd made, all which are suppose to be racked for a year or more after bottling, I never had the patience to wait. But this pumpkin wine was horrible after the balloon deflated. Smelled like, pardone, "piss". Really bad. But if that's true, how did it become the best wine ever?

For some odd reason i couldn't dump it... maybe I had a sub-conscious concern for the environment... regardless, it sat in my closest for a year, I tried a sip suicidally one day, very bad. Back in the closet. Two years, a sip, bad. Three years, a sip... another sip... wow... what a rush ... best wine I've ever tasted!!! Age does wonders to some things...

Ann T. said...

Dear BobKat,
Oh, LOL, in this case your concern for the environment had an immediate dividend!


Ann T.

Christopher said...

For my family, it was wine that they made. But my great-grandfather on my paternal grandmother's side- he died on a train ride to San Quentin, a trip her earned for forgery. I wonder what he would think to know his grandson and great-grandsons would be on the other side of the law.

Ann T. said...

Dear Christopher,
Well, he'd either say you were damned smart not to be headed for San Quentin, or he'd wonder about your puny sense of adventure.

Since your sense of adventure is not puny, he'd only be right with number 1!

Thanks for writing in,
Ann T.