UPenn Manuscript Mead III

The fourth recipe from UPenn Ms. Codex 252, known as the Maddison Family Receipt Book, is for ‘meade’.

Transcription of manuscripts requires some practice. While printing typefaces for English language books of the 17th century are relatively easy for the modern eye to read, the main tripping points being the long s, and variable spelling (try reading aloud), manuscripts present a more significant challenge.

When reading manuscripts, just like the modern day, some hands are much easier to read than others. Multiple forms could be used for each letter, and spelling was more variable in manuscript than in print.

Even with significant experience, some words remain guesswork. I am still struggling with a detailed mead recipe from a 1620’s manuscript with a very cramped hand and significant fading of the ink. I also just finished transcribing three early recipes from another manuscript, with a hand that is quite consistent but uses a number of letter forms that are very different from the modern day – see the scans (courtesy of the Wellcome Library).

Paleography is the study of historical handwriting. There are a number of online resources that can help to learn the letter forms and practice transcription. These sites also introduce difference approaches to transcription, from a technical one that tries to preserve every stroke and abbreviation of the original, to a content-focused approach that is more a modern ’translation’ of the original. The person looking to transcribe manuscripts would be well advised to look up examples of handwriting from the period and geography of interest.

Hill (17th c.) on p.143[=136] gives a simple recipe for mead from honeycombs.

to make meade

Take ye hony Combs & all the next day after thay are taken & put ym into spring watter & make it strong a noufe to beare an Egg 6 penny broad, ye let it stand all night, ym straine it through a sive & washe ye Combs a gaine ye trye ye Egg if it be strong a noufe, after ye straine it let it stand a while to settell, leve the settlins behind, boyle it too howers ym take it of & let it stand till it be Could ye put it in a vessel it will be a yeare before it be fit to drink, stope it Close as soune as it is put up.

The deceptively simple recipe could imply a significant variety of outcomes. The general cleanliness of the combs, how much water is used relative to the combs (which appear to be used with all the honey left in), and how much water is wasted in the boil all will affect the outcome. Not to mention the variability of the honey itself.

Making mead from the entire comb will invariable lead to a lot more ‘stuff’ being included in the wort. A very clean comb could be similar to mead made with pure honey, but starting with more marginal combs will affect the character of the resulting drink.

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