Thursday, April 14, 2011

Alehoof, Ivy, and Hops

I have a desk calendar called "Forgotten English" by Jeffrey Kacirk, and there was an interesting entry for April 11th.  It was a word called "alehoof", which is apparently a botanical word.  Kacirk quotes Daniel Fennig's "Royal English Dictionary" (1775) which defines alehoof as "the ground-ivy [Glechoma hederacea], so called by the Saxons because a chief ingredient in their malt-liquor instead of hops".  Kacirk then talks about an interesting event called the Kent Hop Stringing Championship (see photo below).  He says:

"At this time of year, English hop plants begin to awaken from their fall and winter dormancy and need to be strung, allowing them to twine upward to heights of more than fifteen feet.
"Until the 1960s, a contest was held in Staplehurst, Kent, in which contestants secured the delicate hop shoots to poles for the title of Britain's Champion Hop Stringer.  Judges awarded points for speed and neatness based on the principles of the time-tested 'umbrella method,' in which string was run up to overhead wires and bound by a 'bander-in' worker forming a 'hill.'  Stilts were once employed by hopyard workers, but now most of the elevated work is handled with ten-foot-long poles tipped with piping, through which the string is fed.  Silver trophy cups were awarded to the winners, and pints of ale were distributed among all participants.
"Before the 1520s, which is when hops came to England from Holland, various bittering and flavoring herbs were used for beer, including dandelions, hay, pine needles, balsam, mint, tansey, wormwood, coriander, and even ivy."

Who knew??

Hop Stringing Competition
(Photo Courtesy of )

A Hop-Stringer Named Johnny Hook (Pseudonym Anyone?)
(Photo Courtesy of

Hop Stringing on Stilts
(Photo Courtesy of

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