Mede of Poles, Muscovites, and Englishmen

Charles Estienne, also known as Carolus Stephanus was born in 1504 and died in 1564. As a physician, he is credited with discovering the spinal canal and wrote about human anatomy. He was involved in printing in Paris. Relative to mead he wrote a number of works on agriculture, most notably ‘L’agriculture, et maison rustique’, first published in 1564 edited and rewritten by son-in-law Jean Liebault from Estienne’s previous works. The book was re-worked and expanded several times, with mead recipes first appearing in the 1576 edition. The book was translated to multiple languages and went through many editions.

The cover page pictured is from the third printing and second edition of the English translation, in 1616.


One of the mead recipes in the 1576 edition reads:

“Les Polonnois, Moscovites, & Anglois, sont un brevuage ayant forme d’hydromel, lequel est beaucoup plus plaisant & plus sain, que plusieurs vins genereux qu’ils appellent Mede: Ils prennent une partie de miel, & six parties d’eau de pluye, ou de riviere, ou de fontaine, font le tout bouillir ensemble, & en bouillant l’escument, soigneusement quasi a la consumption de la moitie du tout: estant refroid y le mettent dedans un vaisseau a vin, puis adioustent six onces de levain, ou de biere, ou d’ale, pour le faire ebouillir & depurer, & pendent dans le vaisseau un nouet plein de canelle, poivre, zingembre, graine de paradis, & cloux de girofle, mesmement jettent dedans le vaisseau une poignee de fleurs de suceau: exposent le vaisseau au Soleil d’Este l’espace de quarante jours, ou en Hyver le mettent dans la cave. Ceste facon d’hydromel est forte souveraine pour les fiebures quartes, mauvaises habitudes du corps, maladies du cerveau, comme epilepsie, apoplexie, paralysie esquelles le vin est defendu.”

Translation by Laura Angotti: “The Polish, Moscovites and English, have a beverage having the form of hydromel which they call Mede; this is much more pleasant and healthier than many good wines. They take one part of honey and six parts of rainwater, river water, or fountain water. They let it all boil together, and while it boils they scum it carefully, almost to the consumption of half of it. They let it stand to cool and then place it in a wine vessel, then adding six ounces of yeast, or beer, or ale, to make it boil and purify. And they hang in the vessel a little linen bag full of cinnamon, pepper, ginger, grains of paradise, and cloves. The same they throw into the vessel a handful of elder flowers. Expose the vessel to the summer sun for forty days, or in winter put it in the cellar. This type of hydromel is very good medicine against quartain fevers, bad habits of the body, brain diseases such as epilepsy, stroke, paralysis and those illnesses where wine is forbidden.”

This recipe is notable for a number of reasons. The proportions of spices is open to interpretation, the use of elderflowers new. The 40 days fermentation period harkens back to the earliest recipes in Classical writings. The use of a wine vessel for fermentation has important implications for flavor. Finally, the note of medicinal benefits of the brew highlights the deep and enduring connections between mead and medicine.

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