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A few years ago, Esteban and Scotty Boom Boom experienced a bit of an obstacle to their home brew hobbying: there was a hops shortage. Hops! Why wasn’t this a major headline in the news as the banks were crumbling? Think of the beer, people! The BEER!

They solved it, much in the way of our pioneer ancestors, by deciding to do it themselves. Scotty rigged a bunch of twenty-foot poles in his backyard (why yes, between the garage parties, the potato cannon and this, he’s the delight of the neighborhood) and strung his hops vines upward, taking full advantage of the southern exposure. Our backyard just wasn’t suited for such a solution (Okay, it probably would have been but I didn’t really want giant poles sunk in concrete in my backyard. I’m funny that way.) but I did agree to the idea of stringing up some grow lines along the side of the garage, the highest point on the house that gets the most sunlight. Bonus? If you squint, it’s almost like we live in a vine-covered abbey in the Scottish highlands.

You have to squint really hard.

Last week, I was in a full-on miserable funk. Things at work were stinky and head-against-desk-bangy and my grandmother got her cancer diagnosis (so beyond not good), and these things had conspired to give me a full-on flutter tummy situation where nothing was sitting right.

One night after work, Esteban asked me if I would help him pick him pick hops. The sun is going down earlier, so he only had about an hour window in which to pick before it got too dark and he had already waited too long so they had to come off stat. I grudgingly grumped outside, after finding a few paper grocery bags (a harder prospect than you would think now that we’ve adopted the practice of using reusables) and we got to work.

Hops are a flower, fragrant like a man’s cologne. They aren’t a pretty flower, probably closer to a very tight clover bud and they are harder than you’d think to pick. They grow up vines but hide like raspberries, and because they are the same color as the surrounding leaves and vines, they merge and blend into the foliage until it’s a maddening blur of green. It is one part harvesting and three parts hunting. You can scour a spot on a vine and declare it plundered and then you turn your back and twenty hops flowers come out of hiding.

We spent 90 minutes on two vines before it got too dark and the mosquitoes threatened to suck the dog dry. That night, Esteban dreamed of hops and the next night, I was the one urging us to get out there and pick the final and most abundantly flowered vine. It was oddly placating, this picking of hops. I found myself entertaining notions of tearing up the lawn and planting grains, processing malt extract and doing whatever it is you do to cultivate yeast so that Esteban could brew a batch of 50 Foot Locavore beer.

I don’t even LIKE beer, but it was somehow exactly what I needed. Apparently when your inner hippy child is at peace, the rest of you follows.

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  1. Susan G wrote:

    I completely understand the inner-peace-hippy-child thing. Last week I spent 2 hours picking a bushel of apples in an organic, heirloom apple orchard. I brought them home and cooked apples all day on Labor Day and now have a pantry full of applesauce, apple jam and apple pie filling. Big T came into the kitchen and said, “In all our years together you’ve bought maybe 3 jars of applesauce. What the hell are you doing?” I told him I didn’t know but I was happy. Sending positive thoughts about your Gram. Keep taking that high road, you’ll be glad of it.

    Monday, September 13, 2010 at 7:13 am | Permalink
  2. feliciab wrote:

    I am jealous of your hop growing climate. Much to my husband’s chagrin, we are unable to grow hops here in central Texas.
    Then again, I won’t be so jealous when winter comes.

    Monday, September 13, 2010 at 8:25 am | Permalink
  3. Nimble wrote:

    I was just reading a description of the treasure hunting aspect to potato harvesting. I think foraging is deeply satisfying to the early primate within. Also hops picking reminds me of how appealingly it is described in Of Human Bondage.

    Tuesday, September 14, 2010 at 12:58 pm | Permalink
  4. mel wrote:

    I’m not surprised that picking them made you feel better. Hops are an old herbal remedy for tension, anxiety and insomnia. My grandma had a little pillow filled with dried hops “for sweet dreams”.

    Saturday, September 18, 2010 at 7:21 am | Permalink

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