Last week I shared an anise mead from Valleriola’s 1554 ‘Enarrationum medicinalium libri sex item’.
The passage calling for addition of anise to mead is immediately followed by another mead addition: cinnamon.
Ego cinnamomi decoctum ex Hydromelle per hyemem: per aestatem, simplicem ex zaccaro potionem valde probo, si vis morbi urgeat.
TRANSLATION (Laura Angotti): I cook cinnamon with hydromel in the winter. During the summer I strongly approve the drink which is made with only sugar, if the illness is pressing.
I believe this recipe to call for boiling cinnamon into the must. It is worth noting that other recipes call for addition of more flavor into winter meads than into summer meads. Cooking cinnamon with hydromel could also be construed to mean putting cinnamon into an already fermented drink. That would be an atypical process, recipes calling for boiling of already fermented drinks are fairly uncommon.
Adding cinnamon to mead is not novel or surprising, and therefore this recipe may seem a bit hum-drum. But it gives me a chance to talk about cinnamon, which is far from boring.
Cinnamon was a part of the spice trade since Egyptian and biblical times. Its history includes the tale that cinnamon was collected by the cinnamologus bird to make its nest. The spice was then collected by throwing stones at the nest to dislodge the precious spice. Other equally colorful stories exist mostly involving far more risk to life and limb than the real harvesting method of removing bark from trees.
Cinamologus Bird in Nest (c.1250)
Cinnamon is the single most common flavor addition to mead in all of the recipes I have cataloged, narrowly beating out cloves and ginger. This is the earliest recipe calling specifically for cinnamon as a sole addition to mead; although some earlier recipes do instruct the brewer to add spices as they please, which could be used to support a cinnamon mead. This recipe is a bit unusual in calling for a single spice, spices are most commonly added 3-6 together rather than one or two alone (saffron and pepper are more commonly added solo than others).
Cinnamon is the inner layer of bark from tress of the genus Cinnamomum, which is in the Laurel family. There are several hundred species in the genus, under a dozen are identified as producing the spice known as cinnamon. Cinnamomum cassia (Chinese origin) provides most of the cinnamon seen commercially, and is characterized by a relatively thick bark. Cinnmamomum verum (Cinnamomum zeylanicam, of Sri Lankan origin) also called Ceylon cinnamon, produces a curl with a more papery, flakier character, and has a somewhat different odor and taste. The Cinnamomum genus also includes cinnamomum camphora – camphor laurel and Cinnamomum tamala – malabathrum (tajpat, Indian bay leaf).
Cinnamomum verum and Cinnamomum cassia
historical recipes do not specify cassia versus Caylon cinnamon, leaving the brewer a choice in which flavor profile to use. A 1540 recipe calls for ’thin cinnamon’ Cinnamomum verum. A 1615 recipe in Dutch, in a list of spices, calls for “Caneel oder Zimmetrinden”, apparently distinguishing the two types, and suggesting that heightened attention to terminology and translation may allow better specificity for type of cinnamon in some recipes. More investigation of the relative availability of the cinnamons from the two locations China and Sri Lanka across the time period of our recipes may also lead to a better basis for choosing one type over the other.
Cinomologus courtesy of the Getty Institute open content program.
Ceylon and Cassia Cinnamon Copyright Antii Vaha-Sipila Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 1.0 Finland