Palladius’ Pomegranate c.1420

Last week I presented the recipe for Palladius’ Pomegranate mead, dated to about 400 CE.

This week presents the same recipe, from a Middle English manuscript of about 1420. But this version has been intentionally or unintentionally changed.

A reminder, Palladius’ recipe, from a 1548 text instructs “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”

In about 1420 a manuscript containing a Middle English prose translation of Palladius’ work was created (Lodge, 1873). The section corresponding to the above, with the modern interpretation by the 19th century editor, is as follows:

The greynes ripe ypurged fresshe and clene
Putte in a poche of palme and with the wrynge
Let presse hem, boile hem half awaie bydene.
Whenne thai beth colde in pitched vessellinge
And cleyed close hem up. But that boilynge
Of sum is leeft. Six sexter with a pounde
Of honey meddel thai, and save it sounde.

To make pomegranate wine, press the ripe grains in a basket of palm, and after boiling, mix six pints with a pound of honey.

The first thing to note is that “to each sextari of juice add a libra of honey” has become “six sexter with a pounde of honey”. The second is that “some do not cook the juice” has been changed to “but that boilynge of sum is leeft”.

I see three main questions related to this recipe:

  1. Is this an intentional changing of the recipe, or is it a mis-translation?
    Although this does not affect the redaction, it is an interesting question. If sextarius was broken across a line in the source manuscript it could have been read as sex (six) then sextari on the next line leading to an inadvertent text change. Or it could be intentional.
  2. Is the juice with honey boiled or not?
    “Of sum is left” could equally easily be leftovers from the pressing that did not fit in the vessel for boiling, or boiled liquid that did not fit in the containers for fermentation. If the pomegranate juice is not boiled, the resulting wort has about 2 lb/gal total sugar (2.5 lb/gal honey equivalent, OG 1.095-1.1), with about half from the pomegranate juice and half from the honey. Using boiled juice would give about 3 lb/gal total sugars (3.72 lb/gal honey equivalent, OG about 1.14).
  3. What yeast is supported for use here, given that this is for an English audience?
    Palladius’ original recipe (400 CE Roman world) probably ended up being fermented with a different yeast than a 1420 version made in England.

My intent here is not to present the details of the redaction choices – I’ll write it up eventually.

Palladius c.1420 Pomegranate Mead

I’ve made this three times. Each time I chose to use unboiled juice (if nothing else using boiled juice reduces the honey sugars to well under 50% of the total sugars, which is not me preference. In a nod to the prevalence of ale in 1420’s Britain, I used 2 different ale yeasts, and bread yeast. Two fermented completely out, the third to FG 1.01.

Without the residual sugar of the original recipe, the acid and tannins of the pomegranate come to the front, the fruit flavor is present, but relatively little honey character comes through. Technically they are fine. I have not tasted them in some time to see how they have aged.

The recipe remains very interesting for a number of reasons. And as with many recipes, there remain many avenues of interest to investigate.

Lodge, B. Rev. (Ed.). (1873). Palladius on husbondrie. From the unique Ms. of about 1420 A.D. in Colchester Castle. London: N. Trubner & Co. for Early English Text Society. Retrieved from Internet Archive:

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