Hidden in The Huntington’s burdened shelves of rare books are many tiny treasures. One small and precious volume, dating to 1580, translates experience and advice of farmer Thomas Tusser into couplets and proverbs. Tusser takes us through his year of toil, speaking to the crops he knows, corn (wheat), barley, peas, and hops. He talks a lot of hops – Humulus lupulus.
Though hops were cultivated and used for brewing beer in Germany centuries before the Renaissance, the crop was not common in England until after 1500. It must have caught on quickly though, because Tusser turns his thoughts to hops throughout “Five Hundred Good Pointes of Husbandrie” – his book of rhymed advice. In one verse:
"The hop for his profit I thus do exalt,
It strengtheneth drink and it flavoureth malt;
And being well-brewed long kept it will last,
And drawing abide, if ye draw not too fast."
Hops might have come late to the party in England, but became a mainstay both there, and eventually, in North America (today, America is the world’s largest producer). Gerard included it in his 1597 Herball; Miller (1722) tells us that “The young Shoots, or the Hop-tops, are eaten by many in the Spring, and are accounted good to cleanse the Blood, loosen the Belly, and provoke Urine. The Hops, besides their great Use in making Beer, are good to open Obstructions of the Liver and Spleen, to cure the Jaundice, and bring down the Menses, and are serviceable in hypochondriac Affections…”
But few English writers gave hops such particular early attention as Tusser. To tell his tales, we find Tusser is amused by his double initials, TT, such that the book of rhymes terminates tongue-twistingly in Chapter XLIX with a poem explained as “A brief Conclusion, where you may see, Each word in the Verse to begin with a T.”
"The thrifty that teacheth the thriving to thrive, Teach timely to traverse, the thing that thou ‘trive* Transferring thy toiling, to timeliness taught, This teacheth thee temperance, to temper thy thought. Take Trusty (to trust to) that thinkest to thee, ** That trustily thriftiness trowleth to thee. Then temper thy travell, to tarry the tide, This teacheth thee thriftiness, twenty times try’d Take thankful thy talent, thank thankfully those, That thriftily teacheth thy time to transpose. Troth twice to be teached, teach twenty times ten, This trade thou that takes, take thrift to the then." * (i.e. contrive) **(Thee, for thrive)