A Small Pomegranate (Credit Tomomarusan)
Today’s recipe is for the first batch of mead I made as part of my current efforts to research and re-create historical meads was started November of 2016. This was after I had already spent most of that year researching sources and gathering recipes.
While my husband and I had started this research many years ago, before marriage, life, and kids, it had been some time since we had made mead in any quantity. Since batch 1, I have, as of this writing, started 107 more batches. In all, the results have been surprisingly good, with only a handful of batches producing undrinkable results, and most of those were expected to not be palatable. A few more batches have not fermented as desired or expected. Controlling fermentation is much easier with modern methods, methods I do not use in initial test in order to better understand the expected variable results of the original recipes.
Recipe #1, Palladius’ Pomegranate Mead has been one of the most universally appreciated batches to date.
The recipes is from a 1548 edition of Palladius’ De Re Rustica. Rutilius Taurus Aemilianus Palladius’ Opus Agricultura, was probably written in the later 4th or first half of the 5th century. This treatise on farming in 14 books gives monthly instructions in books 2 through 13. A recipe for pomegranate juice mixed with honey, resulting in a pomegranate mead, is presented in the March entry.
Fitch (2013) indicates that about 100 Latin manuscripts of Palladius survive, the earliest from the 9th century; all of these appear to come from the same source. Printed Latin versions of the text were published starting in 1472. Fitch indicates about 20 editions were published up to 1543; when more locally-focused texts, often in native languages began to increase.
Palladius (1548) In Latin p.92 of text instructs:
Vinum de malis granatis consicies hoc modo. Grana matura purgata diligenter in palmea fiscella mittis, & in coclea exprimis, & lente coques usque ad medietatem: cum refrixerit, picatis, & gypsatis vasculis claudes. Aliqui succum non excoquunt, sed singulis sextarijs libras mellis singulas miscent, & in praedictis vasculis ponunt, & custodiunt.
TRANSLATION (Laura Angotti): Wine of pomegranates is made thus. Take the ripe fruit and clean it in a palm basket and wring it out. Then cook it slowly until half is gone. When it is cooled, bottle it, and plaster the bottles shut. Some do not cook the juice, but to each sextari of juice add a libra of honey, and mix it, and put it in containers, and keep it.
The mixed use of sextari and libra suggests a volume measure for the pomegranate juice, and a weight measure for the honey. This is atypical; volume:volume or weight:weight measures are much more common.
I have made this mead twice. The starting gravity of about 1.17 is very high. The first time, in keeping with historical practices I used no nutrients. The final 1.08 gravity seemed exceedingly high, but with the extremely acidic pomegranate juice it does not taste overly sweet and has a luscious mouth feel. The second time I made this I used a modern staggered nutrient addition, but did not get a more complete fermentation. I suspect that during fermentation the pH decreased to a level that was outside the tolerance of the yeast, and so, despite the nutrient schedule, fermentation was cut short. Some more detailed attention could provide the groundwork to see if the flavor can be further improved.
This simple recipe makes a wonderful mead. It is rich with pomegranate flavor. The bitterness of the juice is offset by the high residual sugar. With a source date of about 400 CE. It is a great pleasure to tell people they are drinking mead from a 1600 year-old recipe.
Fitch, J. G. (2013). The Work of Farming (Opus Agricultruae) and Poem on Grafting. Prospect Books.
Palladius, R. T. A. (1549). Palladii rutilii TauriAemiliani, Viri Illustris, De Re Rustica libri XIIII. Lyon: Seb Gryphium.
Pomegranate Picture Credit Tomomarusan https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Granatum.JPG