Rhodomel from Dioscorides

This week’s recipe is the last from our exploration of one edition of Dioscorides’ De Materia Medica. Further exploration of various editions of Dioscorides will show additional recipes. Some of these are variants of the recipes we have been looking at, changed ether intentionally or by translation or transcription error. Other recipes will be additions, as the authors attempt to add material to the core Dioscorides text. Most of these are based on the writing of other classical authors; some introduce newer material.

Apropos of the uncertainty inherent in many aspects of historical drinks, I remain uncertain that this version of our final recipe is intended to make mead. The title “Rhodomel” translates rose honey. Some recipes titled rhodomel are exactly that, honey flavored with rose petals, and contain insufficient added water to allow significant fermentation (or a product that would be typically be considered drinkable). Other rhodomel recipes provide quantities that will produce a liquid with appropriate sugar levels for fermentation of a mead-strength drink.

Rosa Gallica, a very early rose species

The recipe from the 1516 Dioscorides text is as follows:

1516 Baptista/Barolo Book V Rhodomeli DCCCLXVIII

Liqui de succo rosarum & melle conficiunt: quod Rhodomeli appellant: Arteriae asperitatibus utile.

TRANSLATION(Laura Angotti) : Clear juice of roses and honey together is called Rhodomel. It is useful for hardships of the arteries.

Rhodomel remains on my list of topics for further investigation. Once again the challenge is one of materials. It turns out that obtaining sufficient rose petals of culinary grade (pesticides being an undesirable mead additive) to produce juice from roses. Dried rose petals are much more readily available (yes, food safe), but it is unclear to me if the reconstituted juice has similar flavor profile. Rose water, is produced by distillation which will undoubtedly change the characteristics.

None of these issues are particularly difficult, but require some time, effort, and investment to answer more definitively. It is on the list.

I have made a couple of meads using dried rose petals. The rose petals add a beautiful color, and a somewhat bitter taste. I have also used rose water, which provides a somewhat different character.

Next week and the week after, I move briefly to another classical author – Palladius – and then expect to spend some time looking at manuscripts.

Plus, watch this space. I am proofing copies of Cider and Perry in Britain to 1700, and absent unexpected complications will be publishing shortly.

Photo credit Kurt Stuber, CC-BY-SA-3.0

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