While recently looking for a birthday card for our son-in-law, Roy, a rather interesting one was spotted bearing the message, “Beer is constant proof that God loves us and loves to see us happy.” This quote was attributed to Benjamin Franklin, one of our country’s Founding Fathers. In actuality, his quote is referring to wine, but the same sentiments could be applied to the ancient beverage of beer. First produced about 7,000 years ago in the country today known as Iran, beer’s popularity has not wained.

An Internet search on the history of beer found that chemical tests on pottery and a 6,000 year old Sumerian tablet depicting people drinking a beverage from reed straws bears out these dates. The popularity of beer has lived on to the present day.

Beer, the name thought to be of Latin origin from the word “bibere”, meaning to drink, has been prepared in many ways, and with many different ingredients through the ages. During the Middle Ages, mixtures of herbs were used for bittering, preservation, and aroma and during the 14th and 15th centuries the beverage was moved from homes to pubs and monasteries for mass consumption. The Industrial Revolution in 1765 saw the invention of the steam engine which allowed beer making to become an industry.

Prior to the Prohibition years in this country, from 1920 to 1933, there were thousands of breweries in the United States. After 1920, though, most went out of business, but bootleggers who continued selling their beer started adding water to increase profits. This trend continues today in the form of light beers.

Today, the brewing industry has become a worldwide industry with beer varieties produced by local, regional and foreign breweries. Home brewing of beer has become a popular hobby in this country with national associations, such as the American Home Brewers Association, boasting 47,000 members.

While the process of brewing and ingredients used has undergone many changes, the required chemical reaction remains the same. The basic ingredient of a fermentable starch such as a cereal or grain is steeped in water. The resulting sweet liquid is fermented by the addition of yeast. Malted barley is a commonly used source of starch in this process. Hops, which come from plants, can be used to provide citrus and floral flavors to the beer. They are also used as a preservative and to offset the sweetness of the malted barley. Many seasonal beers from local breweries can be found in stores today bearing the creative tastes of oranges, strawberries, or pumpkins.

Being widely used in cooking, my first introduction to this use of beer came one summer many years ago while on a fishing trip to Grand Isle when the speckled trout catches were booming. After the fish were filleted, the delicious meat was dipped in a batter of beer mixed with prepared mustard and then into the dry seasoned flour or cornmeal mixture and fried.

Other uses of beer in cooking can be to flavor sauces, soups, stews and deserts, while lighter or darker beers impart a different flavor to the dish. There is no worry about too much alcohol consumption when cooking with beer as nearly all alcohol evaporates out during the cooking process, leaving only a rich, earthy taste behind.

Here in Cajun country the preferred method of beer consumption is no doubt that of enjoying an ice cold can or bottle at a crawfish boil surrounded by family and friends. Since those summer days are behind us now, with fall and cooler days ahead, the following recipe of chili with the addition of beer will keep us warm until the speckled trout and crawfish make their appearance in our fry pans and boiling pots again.

Beef, Bean And Beer Chili

1 Tablespoon vegetable oil

2 pounds lean ground meat

2 15.5-ounce cans red kidney beans in chili gravy, may add more powdered chili to taste

1 12-ounce can of beer of preference

1 onion, chopped

1/2 green or red pepper, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup salsa

1 8-ounce can tomato sauce

1 teaspoon cumin

2 teaspoon salt or to taste

Pepper to taste

In large pot over high heat, sauté chopped onion, bell pepper and ground meat in vegetable oil, stirring until meat is browned. Drain excess oil from meat. Reduce heat to medium and add garlic, cumin, salt and pepper to taste. Cook and stir until mixture is incorporated. Stir in beans, salsa, tomato sauce and beer. Bring down to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, for approximately 30 minutes. May add water or vegetable, chicken or beef low-sodium broth if too thick.

Catherine Wattigny, New Iberia

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