Episode 27: Drinks


Welcome to season 2! Grab your favorite potation and join Em and Jesse for a tour of the history of alcohol, from monkeys getting drunk on fermented apples, to the earliest written recipe for beer, to rules surrounding the making and serving of drinks in the Middle Ages. With some fun digressions on the domestication of watermelons and the importance of grain/flour in Gilgamesh.


1/ Narrator:
By ‘drink,’ Ford Prefect meant alcohol. . .

To be clear, the cans of old fashioned the Dane is offering have like four servings in them (obligatory “or one serving if you try hard enough”). Having been pregnant for most of 2020, I have not yet tried them. Anyway, per Wisconsin rules a brandy old fashioned consists of: a cherry + orange slice muddled in the bottom of the glass with sugar and bitters, a shot of brandy (probably usually Korbel), ice, and top it off with some type of lemon-lime soda (Em uses ginger beer). Garnish with additional cherries and an orange slice. I’ve had bartenders in not-Wisconsin give it to me without the soda, which is–not good. I’ve heard that Wisconsin consumes the most brandy per capita in the US. Actually, in 2019, Wisconsinites consumed over half of the Korbel brandy sold worldwide. So. That’s a claim to fame for sure.

Our recommended nonalcoholic drink to go with this episode is ginger beer and lime.

2/ In contrast to the aquatic ape theory, I’m calling Dr. Jesse’s theory about the fermented apple-eating monkeys the drunken monkey theory, and no one can stop me. [Awesome!–JN]

Jesse: Here is a a great beginning article on the history of alcohol from National Geographic, “A 9,000-Year Love Affair,” by Andrew Curry, Feb 2017, vol. 231, no. 2: link. Many of the specific dates, recipes, and general info discussed in this episode are at least briefly mentioned in this article. (May require a subscription.) Here is what Wikipedia has to say about the history of alcoholic drinks.

3/ [8:32] “I know enough that if you want to have a city, which means that…people have specializations in things…” This insight and many others brought to you by Ryan North’s How to Invent Everything: A Survival Guide for the Stranded Time Traveler.

I am having a hard time finding anything on Google that isn’t about c-rations eaten by soldiers during the Vietnam War–most of what I know about post-war rationing I learned from museums I visited in the country. I remember one exhibit that talked about how people had coupon books for rice, meat, vegetables, and tofu, and how people who traveled abroad often brought back items like electric fans, and I think sneakers and radios. I feel like one guy mentioned trading a pair of sneakers for a plane ticket.

4/ [15:27] The Harappan or Indus script. I’m guessing they’d have to find a longer text using the script to really decipher it, but you can read about all the arguments on that page. And here’s more on cuneiform, including a nice view of the evolution from pictograms (which I believe count as proto-writing) to the actual script.

5/ [18:05] Bai jiu (白酒) is actually usually made from sorghum, although some regions do use rice or other grains. It’s a pretty ubiquitous spirit in China. Wikipedia has a pretty good rundown of all the varieties beyond the cheap to extremely cheap stuff you can buy in the supermarket in China.

6/ [22:50] The domestication of the watermelon in ancient Egypt. And here is the recent discovery via DNA that Egyptians had domesticated a sweet (probably red) watermelon.

7/ [24:45] Gobekli Tepe in Turkey.

8/ [29:30] Sumerian beer: the recipe is here if you want to try it yourself. Google turns up a number of people/groups that have done it. Here is more on the goddess Ninkasi.

9/ [33:35] Gilgamesh is my favorite epic–we’ve talked about it in several previous episodes, notably 3 (note 27) and 23 (note 5). Not only does bread figure into a major plot point, but flour is used in conjuring when Gilgamesh has a series of prophetic dreams when Gilgamesh and Enkidu walk to the cedar forest in tablet 4.

A song about the Mesopotamians. Possibly not very explanatory.

Nineveh, for those not raised in the Jewish tradition (Abrahamic tradition?), is the city the prophet Jonah is sent to with orders to tell them to repent.

Ashurbanipal and his library.

10/ [38:35] Unfortunately, the Wikipedia entry for Tall Bazi, Syria is in German. Here is a beer recipe based on the archeological evidence from Tall Bazi.

11/ [41:45] We talked about the building of the pyramids in our episodes on Passover and Easter (see episode 3 notes 3 and 5). Here is a website about the village, and here is the site’s article on feeding the workers (with a particular emphasis on the bakeries). For more on the history of beer, see Richard Unger Beer in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Chapter 2 opens with a section called “Beer before the Middle Ages: Mesopotamia and Egypt.”

12/ [46:43] The copper ingot complaint is called the complaint tablet to Ea-nasir. The British Museum has a much more high-res photo here (because of course it does). And you can read a translation here.

13/ Cacao wine: technically cacao is the fruit of the cocoa plant, so I guess making wine with it shouldn’t be that much of a surprise (we did start the episode talking about fermenting apples). My understanding is that a lot of the chocolate flavor we think of develops during the roasting stage, so I’m not sure how much the wine would taste like chocolate as we think of it. Here’s a recipe I found that uses cacao nibs, but I’m not sure how authentic it is. Honestly, I’ve never been sure of what a cacao nib is except a form of chocolate for people who think they’re too sophisticated for normal chocolate.

14/ [49:35] Mayan drink–balché.

15/ [50:20] Sorghum beer is still very popular (like every other type of beer!).

Palm wine.

16/ [55:15] Here’s Wikipedia’s rundown of the Judean Date Palm, and here’s a 2020 article from The Atlantic about the effort to bring it back.

17/ [57:00] Here you can hear the Clancy Brothers’ discussion of uisce beatha (and also sing “Finnegan’s Wake”).

18/ [1:02:03] The Chester harrowing was discussed in episode 8–see note 26.

For more on the additives and mixings, see Richard Unger, Beer in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

19/ [1:07:20] Ibn Daniyel has been in episode 1 (note 16) and episode 16 (note 8).

20/ [1:10:50] Sacramental wine is a big part of a lot of Jewish holidays, including Purim (which happens to be happening as this is posted).

Episode 16: Much Ado About Puppets


Puppets are actually a pretty medieval art form–and not just for kids. These puppets do and say things that would have been politically risky for the humans controlling them to say, and also they are real works of art. Join us as we look puppetry traditions of Japan, Indonesia, Vietnam, Turkey, and Egypt. With some digressions about the fun of buying random pastries at Chinese bakeries, and also Shakespeare.

Annotations, Notes, Corrections

1/ Em: I have made vegan mooncakes (mooncakes, or 月餅 / yue bing, are the pastry with egg yolks inside–typically salted duck eggs, I think–there might be other pastries like this too). My Taiwanese friends were, hmm, gracious. Also, I have made my own red bean paste, and it is basically all sugar (well, a lot of recipes have a 1:1 ratio of adzuki beans to sugar; some note that if you’re using the bean paste in pastry, as opposed to serving it on its own, you should use more).

Also, the mushrooms I got hung up on: cat ear mushroom/nam meo is actually, I think, the Vietnamese name for it. The Chinese name is black wood ear/黑木耳, so the word “mushroom” was actually not on the menu, hence my confusion. BUT also it turns out that in the Middle Ages (at least, according to Wikipedia), they were called Jew’s Ear mushrooms! And in fact the Latin name is Auricuularia auricula-judae. Why? The mushrooms themselves are vaguely ear-shaped, and tradition holds that Judas Iscariot hanged himself on an elder tree, which is where the mushrooms grow (in some places).

Jesse: Food is amazing!!! We should have a food episode!!

2/ Cesar: Gaul is full of barbarians.
France, 1500 years later: We are the resurgence of classical civilization, of which Greece and Rome were the primary lights.
Cesar: My, how the turntables have… turned.

3/ Concerning Titus Andronicus: the villain, Aaron the Moor, has the best evil monologue in all of Shakespeare. You can read it here. That is the only thing I really have to say about that play, which in other respects is…really bloody.

Jesse: 3 Henry VI, I.iv–Queen Margaret has (Richard Duke of) York stand on a molehill (which parallels the hill at Calvary) and crowns him with a paper crown (which parallels Jesus’s crown of thorns). Margaret also gives York a handkerchief to dry his tears, and the handkerchief is stained in the blood of his son (Edmund Earl of) Rutland. In this moment, Rutland is symbolic of the Christ child, while his blood on the handkerchief is reminiscent of the collecting of Christ’s blood in the chalice (aka the holy grail) at the crucifixion. We get some good father/son symbolism as well, before York is stabbed to death by Margaret and Clifford. Shakespeare is clearly using the symbolism from Passion plays to great advantage.

Margaret also gets some truly extraordinary lines (it IS Shakespeare): “Brave warriors, Clifford and Northumberland,/ Come, make him stand upon this molehill here,/ That raught at mountains with outstretched arms,/ Yet parted but the shadow with his hand.” (I love this line so much.)

Also of interest, the 1592 pamphlet written by playwright Robert Green (probably, and published by Henry Chettle), titled Greenes, Groats-worth of Witte, bought with a million of Repentance, includes the famous lines “there is an upstart crow, beautified with our feathers, that, with his Tygers heart wrapt in a Players hide, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blanke verse as the best of you; and being an absolute Johannes Factotum, is in his owne conceit the onely Shake-scene in a countrie.” The quote refers to a jack-of-all-trades (Johannes Factotum) who thinks a lot of himself as a an actor (player) even though his ability is really due to the playwrights who write his lines (beautified with our–playwrights’–feathers), and now he thinks he can do anything (Johannes Factotum) including write his own plays as well as the “real” playwrights (bombast out a blanke verse as the best of you)!!! The line “Tygers heart wrapt in a Players hide” comes from this scene in 3 Henry VI, where York memorably calls Margaret “O tiger’s heart wrapt in a woman’s hide!” The pun on “Shake-scene” and “Shake-spear” is presumably to identify Shakespeare to any reader who didn’t see or hear about the line in 3 Henry VI (and, of course, to make fun of him again). Anyhow, this pamphlet is the earliest extant external reference to Shakespeare that we’ve got, and it’s one of the ways we know he started out as an actor before he started writing plays. It’s also how we know he’d already written the Henry VI plays by/in 1592. Interestingly, Greene died before the pamphlet was published, and his publisher later seems to have apologized to Shakespeare “The other, whom at that time I did not so much spare as since I wish I had, for that, as I have moderated the heat of living writers and might have used my own discretion (especially in such a case, the author being dead), that I did not I am as sorry as if the original fault had been my fault, because myself have seen his demeanor no less civil than he excellent in the quality he professes. Besides, divers of worship have reported his uprightness of dealing, which argues his honesty, and his facetious grace in writing that approves his art.” See the Groat’s-Worth of Wit section here and here.

3 Henry VI I.iv is a phenomenal scene, and I recommend it!

4/ Moll Cutpurse showed up in episode 6 (see note 20).

5/ Bunraku.
Some great videos here and here.
UNESCO Heritage video.

Here’s the full CBS 60 minutes video on Kabuki (you need to be a subscriber to watch it, I think–sorry!).

6/ [34:10] The Rogue One character I was thinking of was probably Chirrut Imwe, possibly because he fights with a jo (ish) and is played by Donnie Yen, who typically makes his living playing various badasses like Ip Man.

I don’t know if he was specifically the character Jesse was referring to, but there are certainly a lot of articles online about the connection between Star Wars and Kurosawa’s film The Hidden Fortress.

7/ Here’s a guy covering “Master of Puppets” on a shamisen.

Basil Twist’s website. Here’s Basil Twist on Dogugaeshi (also with his shamisen player, who is a woman who is a master).

Here are the western Baroque theatres (we talk about these in a future episode):
Drottningholms Slottsteater (Sweden). And a video.

Cesky Krumlov Castle Baroque Theatre (scenery changes at 3:17).

Cesky Krumlov Castle.

8/ Ibn Daniyal came up back in episode 1 (see note 16). I feel like he maybe came up somewhere else too, but if he did he wasn’t footnoted. Maybe I just think he came up more because he was one of the names that came up when Jesse and I started discussing making the podcast. (This site gives his birth as 1238 not 1248–needless to say, there’s some uncertainty here.)

Jesse: Apparently the translation of the plays is out of print, but I’m sure the library (or ILL) will have it!

9/ Wayang:  The Wikipedia site is quite good and includes a lot of great history and images.

Wayang kulit videos: UNESCO Heritage video.
Complete performance from visiting artist-scholar Madé Sidia at the University of Richmond.
Wayang Kulit Star Wars.

Wayang Golek (rod puppets).

Wayang klitik or krucil (images): The British Museum’s information on them (click on “related objectes”). And specific puppets: a king, and the hero Sapulaga. Videos here and here.

Wayang wong: video and mask.

10/ Tholu bommalata.
Videos here (notice that the color shines through, which can be true in wayang kulit as well) and here.

[50:48] Jesse: Ooops, another moment of messy sound on my end. Sorry all!

11/ Múa rối nước: Water puppets. Not a ton of places on the web have background info, but a guy named Derek Gaboriault wrote his senior honors thesis at Western Kentucky University on them back in 2009. Check out p. 20 and on. Also, apologies for my accent, which is…confused.

Here’s a shorter video with some fun puppets in it.

Fun fact: rice is grown in flooded paddies because the water prevents the weeds from growing, but the rice plants do fine. The technique dates from the neolithic era.

The lake in Hanoi is Hoan Kiem Lake, aka the Lake of the Returned Sword.

12/ Karagoz and Hacivat. This website has some great info.

UNESCO Heritage video (not in English).
More videos here and here.

13/ Bread and Puppet Theater.

14/ Bardcore is a genre where musicians reset modern pop songs for period (or period-esque) instruments, and occasionally rewriting the songs in Old or Middle English or Latin. Check out some examples (and just Google Bardcore!):

Jolene” (covered by Hildegard von Blingin’).
Summertime Sadness” (covered by Hildegard von Blingin’).