One can talk and smoke as one works,
and on hot days there is no pleasanter place
than the shady lanes of hops,
with their bitter scent—an unutterably refreshing scent,
like a wind blowing
from oceans of cool beer.
The New Statesman and Nation, 17 October 1931
The squalid camp conditions, dishonest measurers, and exploitive owners, however, left Blair realizing that hop picking, as practiced in early 20th century England, was a wretched experience. "What keeps the business going," he wrote,
...is probably the fact that the Cockneys rather enjoy the trip to the country, in spite of the bad pay and in spite of the discomfort. When the season is over the pickers are heartily glad—glad to be back in London, where you do not have to sleep on straw, and you can put a penny in the gas instead of hunting for firewood, and Woolworth’s is round the corner—but still, hop-picking is in the category of things that are great fun when they are over.His full essay is here.
A 1929 silent newsreel from the archives of BFI shows families, including children, harvesting hops from right around the time Blair wrote Hop-Picking.
Goes well with:
- We like Orwell around here. See Do it to Julia! Pink Cloves and Gin at the Chestnut Tree Café, a look at the pink gin and cloves Winston Smith took to drinking once he was a broken man.
- Gooseberries in Hops Syrup, a recipe from Helen S. Wright's 1912 The New England Cook Book.
- William S. Burroughs' Birthday Beer, a recipe using two varieties of hops for the writer's 80th birthday while we were neighbors in Lawrence, Kansas.
- Rock Out with Your Cock Ale. Hops come into play into a number of old English beverages, but for that special kick, why not use poultry? As the anonymous recorder of the 18th century recipe noted, you may sweeten it with sugar candy to your liking.
- More from the BFI archives here.