In Kent and Herefordshire, Shropshire and parts of Worcestershire, hops were a vital crop and picking was done by seasonal workers, generally people who worked in other industries during the rest of the year and made a kind of family holiday of it. Though the work was extremely hard, many remembered the experience fondly. As with other harvests, there were peculiar customs related to hop picking, such as ‘cribbing’ when male strangers were seized by the women and thrown into the cribs, the wooden frames which contained the picked hops. In order to be released he would have to kiss all the women present. Unmarried female pickers were also cribbed at the end of the season. A King and Queen of the pickers were chosen, with the man wearing women’s clothing and the woman male clothing. They were led in procession by the head pole-puller, gaily bedecked with ribbons and sprays of hops, in front of the last load. In 1956 the Worcester Journal reported:
“On some farms, the last day of picking had its age-old ceremony of hoisting the last and best pole of hops, saved specially for the occasion. The pullers’ caps and hats were decorated with rosettes, dahlias, asters and sprays of hops. Then a procession was formed, making its way to the farmhouse, headed by the busheller beading his metal measure to a drum, and followed by the pole-pullers, sack-holders and the pickers. At the farmhouse a feast was prepared and the farmer and his wife were toasted.”
Unfortunately the growing of hops in the UK has declined as a consequence of cheaper imports and the cost of harvesting, and the traditional customs have passed away into history. However there are still several festivals that celebrate the hop harvest. On the first Saturday of September at Canterbury Cathedral there is a procession around and into the Cathedral led by the Hop Queen in a hop bower, followed by country dancers and morris men with two hooden horses.
2 pints of hops
1 lb. sugar
1 lb. malt
2 gallons water
Activate the yeast. Put the hops in a large pan and cover with water. Boil for 15 minutes, then strain the liquid into a brewing bin. Add the sugar and malt and stir to dissolve. Add the rest of the water, when cooled to 20o C add the yeast, cover and stand for 5 days. Bottle in screw topped bottles and leave for 7 days before drinking.