Manuscripts and Spiced Small Mead

I spent last week in Syracuse, NY looking about 200 years in the past (ahh, modern history), helping the family genealogist (hi, Mom). While searching for a scrapbook mentioning my 3x great-grandfather, we found ledgers and other books containing household recipes, including wines and beer (nothing using honey).

Such household manuscripts are found in many locations. The Onondaga Historical Association Research Center is similar to thousands of others in the US, and thousands more in Europe and other locations. The manuscripts I saw there were from the 19th century, but this type of document is common back into the 16th century.

National Library of Scotland

Upon returning and diving back into my research, I found a reference to manuscripts on cooking at the National Library of Scotland (see picture). Digging through their web-site led to a page titled ‘Manuscripts collections’ including ‘Food History’; a few pages later I was at “Manuscript culinary recipe books at the National Library” listing 27 documents, including 9 from the 18th century, and 6 back into the 17th (the earliest defined date being 1683). None of these are on line, and the data on each manuscript was only 1-2 lines.

But all is not lost.

In 2015 the library featured a recipe each month from these books. March was brewing and distilling, ( ) and featured a mead recipe from a “anonymous recipe book from the late 17th century”; this is likely either MS.10231, or Adv.MS.23.6.5. And so here we get our recipe for today.

To make small mead

Take 24 quarts of water set it over the fire put into it 2 quarts of honie boyle them together till there bee a quarter consumed, be sure you skym it very well, for therein consists the clearness add to it one nutmeg 3 Races of Ginger, half a dozen of Coves, and a blade or two of mace, when it is cold take two or three quarts of it and put it in a paile and put to it 3 or 4 spoonfulls of yeast and stirr it well together, and let it work as you doe beer, puting in now and then a little till it bee all gone then put it into a runlet let it stand a weeke, then bottle it put into your bottles 2 raysins of the sun, and some lemon peill.

This 1:12 honey:water ratio will end up as about 1:9 once it has boiled, which would end up at about 1.25 pounds honey per gallon, an OG of about 1.055-1.06, and a potential alcohol of 7-8% if fermented dry.

The recipe shows some interesting echoes of modern practices including use of a smaller volume of wort to start the yeast culture, and priming sugar (raisins) in the bottle.

Back to manuscripts …

In my research to date I have reviewed at least 250 manuscripts looking for mead and other drink recipes (about half contain one or more). I have at least 100 more for which I have access to scans but have not yet done a review. Finally I have identified probably another 100 manuscripts where in-person review will be required. Manuscripts rather than printed books are currently the source of 20-25% of my recipes. In the future, I expect that a larger proportion of new recipes will come from manuscripts.

Many recipe manuscripts from 3-400 years old are extant and scattered through archives (small and large; public, association, subject, and religious), library and university collections, museum archives, or in private hands (like the 17th century Washington manuscript published by K. Hess). And more recipes are certainly hidden in manuscripts with no obvious food or brewing connection, like the 14th century Tractatus recipes.

The household manuscripts are at once an incredibly fertile and frustrating source for drink recipes.

Fertile because about half of the manuscripts I have reviewed to date contain recipes for mead; perhaps ¾ or more have recipes for other fermented beverages. Fertile because the universe of manuscripts is much less well defined and explored than that of printed books.

Frustrating, because finding them is difficult on many levels, many are only available in person, dealing with manuscripts that are not in English has multiple challenges, and the complexities of dating manuscripts makes placing recipes in a timeline difficult.

Photo of National Library of Scotland courtesy of Kim Traynor / National Library of Scotland, Causewayside / CC BY-SA 2.0

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Occo Hydromel Compositum 1575

The last post was a plain mead or hydromel (honey and water only). Roughly 20% of the recipes I have cataloged to date are for plain mead. That does not mean they are devoid of interest, the proportions of honey, fermentation containers (such as wood casks used for wine), sources of honey (honet, combs, a combination), and different yeast still mean that plain meads are a complex topic.

The source for the hydromel recipe also contains a second mead recipe, this one more complex.

The recipe uses, among other things, licorice and coriander. Licorice, shown attached in an illustration from Gerard’s 1633 herbal (courtesy of the Wellcome Collection) was used, among other things, to clear the chest and lungs. Coriander, was used, among other things, to bring on childbirth, as shown in this 13th century manuscript Apollodorus de Herbis (also courtesy of the Wellcome Collection).

Occo, 1575 provides a recipe for Hydromel Compositum:

R. Aquae fontis lib. viginti.
Mellis despumati lib. unam.
Origani ana pugillum semis.
Coriandri ana drach. unam.
Glycyrrhizae drach. duas.
Cinamomi drach. unam semis.
Bulliant ad consumptionem quartae partis, & colentur.

This is relatively easy to translate. My translation is:

Recipe: Spring water 20 libra.
Scummed honey 1 libra.
oregano of each half a handful.
coriander, of each one dram.
Licorice 2 dram.
Cinnamon, 1 ½ dram.
Boil to the consumption of a quarter part and strain.

Using a libra of 330 grams, the total volume here is about 1 ¾ gallon to start, a bit under 1 ½ gallon after boiling. The drink will not be very strong, asthere is less than a pound of honey in that 1 ½ gallons of liquid. While I have not done a solid analysis, I think this lesser sugar concentration may be reasonably typical for recipes that are medicinal in nature, and a plausible argument could be made that these are potentially made and dispensed by the pharmacist fairly immediately after concocting and without much fermentation.

A dram is close to 4 grams, we have ¾ of an ounce of the spices (anise, coriander, licorice and cinnamon), which boiled for the approximately hour and a half to two hours required to reduce the volume by 25% would probably impart a lot of flavor.

That said, the recipe is an interesting one. The anise and licorice seem like an interesting combination.

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Occo’s Hydromel

Our recipe this week goes back to basic hydromel. The recipe comes from this text. Occo, Adolf. (1575). Pharmacopoeia seu Medicamentarium pro Republica Augustana. Willerus: Johann Georg Werdenstein. Retrieved from Google Books .See p.282 of the book for our recipe.

Adolf (Adolph, Adolphus) Occo (Occone, Occonius, Occonus) (1524-1606) was a physician and numismatist (coin collector). The portrait attached to this post was made some time after his death, and is from the collection of the Wellcome Library. He wrote both on coins and medicine. (see for some bibliographic information)

Adolf Occo

His Pharmacopia was typical of the times, a list of medical recipes. Often these medicines would be in a fermented base. This text contains a recipe for plain hydromel and one for hydromel compositum containing spices and herbs (next time).

The recipe for hydromel is fairly standard. This 1:8 ratio of honey to water is seen in a great many recipes, and may originate with the Greek writer Oribasius (4th century). In later texts, the 1:8 ratio is strongly associated with the physician known as Mesue. He is more properly Yuhanna ibn-Masawayah, a 7th-8th century Persian Christian Physician, who was parts of the flourishing medical establishment in that part of the world. He wrote several texts that were widely published, translated, and incorporated into other texts in the 15th and 16th century in western Europe. While this recipe is not attributed to him by Occo, it seems likely to be derived from Mesue’s writings.

1575 Occo Pharmacopoeia p.281 recipe for hydromel under section for decoctions.


Mellis libram unam.
Aquae pluviae vel fontis lib. octo.
Decoquantur donec Mel non amplius spumet.

TRANSLATION (Laura Angotti): Simple Hydromel

Recipe One libra honey, Rain water or spring 8 libra. Cook until the honey does not scum anymore.

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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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The fifth and final recipe from UPenn Ms. Codex 252, known as the Maddison Family Receipt Book, is for something I do not consider mead, but which is called mead in the text, and which serves as a good mechanism for a final conversation about this manuscript cookbook; like the other conversations, it has an undercurrent of change.

Hill (17th c.) on p.214[=208] gives the following recipe for mead:

Mrs E Hescot ressett for mead

To a pound of hony, take two pound of sugar, 2 gallons of watter well boyled mix them boyle and scum it very well. And clean then pour it into ye vessill you will worke it in. Put a good hand full of baum when it is cold enough put in littill spoonful of east let it work a littill stope it close in 10 dayes you may draw it into bottles.

Here we see sugar being used to bolster the fermentable sugars in the drink. Over 2/3 of the fermentable sugars are from sugar rather than honey. This practice of replacing some of the honey in mead with sugar appears to have started in the latter half of the 17th century, and is reflected in multiple recipes from manuscript cookbooks. Typically a smaller portion of the honey is replaced by sugar than in this recipe. A few manuscripts go so far as to provide recipes for ‘mead’ or ‘braggot’ where sugar has entirely replaced the traditional honey.

The 17th century was a time of great change. Significant changes in the religious, military, economic, and scientific worlds brought about changes in all aspects of life. All of these are relevant to fermented drinks in general and mead in specific.

The core question is what has driven the replacement of some (but not all) of the honey with sugar. While we cannot presume that our palates are the same as someone form the 17th century, we can state with certainty that sugar instead of honey will not lead to a more full-flavored drink. In my opinion the most likely reason for the use of sugar is economic, with a potential secondary factor being the novelty and residual perceived status of using a former luxury item (sugar) in your drink.

Sugar Cane

The third quarter of the 17th century saw a 70% drop in the price of sugar. Added to this, the sugar refining center of Europe was in London, and contemporary commentaries note the ‘sweet tooth’ of the English. (see ).

In addition to aspects of cultural and socio-economic preference, alcohol production and consumption has always had a primary driving force of availability and economics. Where grapes grow well, wine is preferred, where apples grow well, cider, and so on. Where economically advantageous, wine producers drink beer/ale in their own homes to reap the greater economic benefit of selling their wine rather than consuming it. The status conferred by drinking rare and expensive drinks perhaps from distant lands is higher than that from drinking the local brew. These factors have always played a significant factor in brewing and drinking.

Placed in that cultural and economic frame, the newly cheap sugar becomes an obvious replacement for honey.

This recipe is one I’m unlikely to make. I suspect most mead makers would agree with me. But as a piece of history it is quite interesting.

Photo of Sugar cane courtesy of Wellcome Collection.

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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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UPenn Mead from Digby

The third recipe from UPenn Ms. Codex 252, known as the Maddison Family Receipt Book, is for ‘white metheglin’. Among its 17 named flavor additions is musk, which is derived from a gland of the male musk deer (by killing the deer, which is now endangered).

Musk Deer

This recipe can be used to demonstrate some of the many difficulties with dating manuscripts. Even if dates are given within the text, they may be contemporary, refer to an event in the past for the writer, or be added later with notes.

As mentioned last week, dates in the manuscript include 1663, 1668, and 1673; ownership inscriptions inside the front cover are dated 1675 and 1710.

C.M. appears throughout text as a notation. If a Maddison family member with initial C. could be identified within the time frame known for the creation of this manuscript, it could help solidify the dating.

This recipe in particular references Sir Kenelm Digby, and indeed this recipe can be found on page 104 of Digby’s 1669 book. The version in Digby’s book, is longer than the one in the manuscript, and includes the two phrases marked with <<   >> in the transcription below; these greatly enhance the recipe’s clarity. The latter part of the recipe is also more detailed in Digby. The two sections omitted are each an appropriate length to mark a line accidentally skipped during transcription (particularly considering the partial word), but do not match the line breaks in Digby, suggesting there may be an intermediary version that itself was copied from Digby (changing the line breaks in the process).

Another approach to dating is in the name of the recipe. I found a Sir Edward Bainton who appears in court documents in 1643, when he appears to have been challenged by a Colonel Fettiplace, regarding which Sir Bainton was instructed by a committee on disputes not to fight and Fettiplace was taken into custody. (House of Commons, 1803, p.808)

Finally, for those with significant expertise, the handwriting itself, particularly the form of the letters, can be used to help date manuscripts.

Again, a partial story for the time being, but the data taken in aggregate would suggest a date between the 1640’s and 1660’s for the original recipe. And the connection to Digby’s text implies the manuscript version was written after 1669 and perhaps 1710 (the later dates in the manuscript).

Hill (17th c.) recipe book on p.131[=124] tells us:

Sir Edward Bainton’s Receipt to make white Metheglin, which my Lord of Portland (who gave it to Sr Kenelm Digby) said was ye best he ever drank.

Take sweet marjoram, sweet bryar buds, Violet leaves, Strawberry leaves, of each one handful, and a good handfull of Violet flowers (ye double ones are ye best) broad Time, Borage Agrimony, of each half a hand full, & two or three branches of Rosemary, ye seeds of Caroway, Coriander, and fennel, of each two spoonfuls; and three <<or four blades of large-mace. Boil all these>> in eight gallons of running water, three quarters of an hour, then strain it, & and when it is but bloud-warm, put in <<as much of the best honey, as will make the Li>>quor bear an Egg ye breath of six pence above scum will rise Then boyle it again as long as any & when it is almost cold, put in half a pint of good Ale-barm; and when it hath wrought, til you perceive ye barm to fall, then Tun it and let it work in ye Barrel till ye barm leaveth rising, filling it up every day with some of ye same liquor. when you stop it up, put in a bag with one Nutmeg sliced, a little whole Cloves and Mace, a stick of Cinnamon broken in pieces, and a grain of Good Musk.

You may make this a little before Michaelmas, and it will be fit to drink at Lent.


This recipe is very typical of 17th century metheglin recipes. It contains 12 flavors added to the boil, and another 5 added later into the secondary fermentation. Balancing the flavors to produce a tasty result could be a challenge.


Musk Deer Credit Wellcome Collection

Digby, K. (1669/1967). The closet of the eminently learned Sir Kenelme Digbie Kt. opened. St. Louis: Mallinckrodt Chemical Works. Retrieved from Scan of 1669 edition

Great Britain House of Commons. 1803. Journals of the House of Commons. HMSO. Retrieved from Google Books

Hill, Martyn. 17th c. Recipe Book. MS Codex 252. Retrieved from University of Pennsylvania

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Lemon Rosemary Mead UPenn MS

The second recipe from UPenn Ms. Codex 252, known as the Maddison Family Receipt Book, is for lemon rosemary mead.

This manuscript is typical in containing both medical and culinary recipes. While some manuscripts are almost completely medical, or almost completely culinary, it is much more typical for them to contain both types of recipes, and sometimes also household instructions (making ink, cleaning clothes) or veterinary prescriptions (most often for horses, but not other farm animals, implying an interesting break in scope for such manuscripts). Also relatively common is for culinary recipes to be written from one side of the manuscript, and medical from the other end, with the book reversed.

Recipes for mead are often found in English language manuscripts near those for wines. Wines made from fruits (raspberries, gooseberries, currants, raisins, cherries, elderberries, mulberries, etc.) or flowers (cowslip, elder, clove gilliflowers, etc.) with sugar added to provide additional fermentables, become commonplace in the 17th century. Recipes for fruit wines or with sugar added for additional fermentables are not generally seen prior to the 17th century.

Lemon Rosemary Mead in the Fermenter

While rosemary is a common mead addition from the earliest flavored meads, I have not seen citrus (lemon and orange) in recipes dated prior to 1600, but they become relatively common in the 17th century. This recipe contains an uncommon method to extract flavor from the additions of pouring the boiling wort over the lemons and rosemary.

Hill (17th c.) (1660) on page 115[=108] instructs:

To make mead

Tak such a quantity of water as you intend to make and boyle it over night for an houer next morning put in so much honey as will bear an egge then boyle it till the scum rises very well then take it of the fire and take six lemons Cutt them round Rhines an all an tak it of the fire and halfe a handfull of Rosmary an put the Lemons an Rosemary into the vessell when you work the drincke then put some yest the hot Liquer upon them and let it stand while its cold then put some yest to it and work it upp then putt it into a burill and let it stand in it for a fortnight and then bottell it and will be fit to drinck in a month or lesse.

This recipe is similar to last week’s, when I made it it had an OG of 1.11. The flavor is very refreshing with lemon, rosemary, and honey all present. The drink was indeed ready to drink quite quickly (I first drank it at about two months). It also appears to have some legs, I had some a few weeks ago after it had been in the bottle for about a year, and it remained bright and fresh, and nicely carbonated. I think of this as a summer drink. This is definitely on my list of recipes I want to make again.


Photo credit Laura Angotti

Hill, Martyn. 17th c. Recipe Book. MS Codex 252. Retrieved from University of Pennsylvania

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Maddison Family Receipt Book 1

The recipes for the next five weeks all come from a single source, a manuscript held by the University of Pennsylvania Libraries. UPenn Ms. Codex 252 Is also known as the Maddison Family Receipt Book.

According to the catalog entry, the earliest entries in the manuscript are attributed to Martyn Hill. Dates within the manuscript itself include 1663, 1668, and 1673. Ownership inscriptions inside the front cover are dated 1675 and 1710. While this manuscript is later than I often focus, manuscripts like this have become a specific interest of mine.

Manuscript recipe books are a notable source for mead recipes in the 17th and 18th centuries. Fewer such manuscripts exist from the 16th century. Later manuscripts also exist, and persist to the current day; this is demonstrated in most modern kitchens, where pages or cards with hand written recipes from relatives and friends remain a staple. It is very typical for wine and mead recipes to be part of these culinary texts, less frequently they are part of medical sections.

A growing number of such manuscripts are available online, having been scanned by their owners and posted. Many can be found one or a few at a time at historical societies, and academic or public libraries. Other collections are far more significant. Very few of these manuscripts have transcripsions available. Thus, unless a manuscript contains an index (and even then the index may be incomplete), it requires a page by page review to find information of interest.

The first recipe in the UPenn manuscript is mead flavored with ginger and rosemary.

Rosemary from Fuch’s 1542 Herbal, Ginger


This recipe is on the opposite page to a marginal note dated 1688 (but not in the same hand). It seems logical that the recipe in the main text would predate the marginal note.

Hill (17th c.) on p.93[=86] states:

To make Mead

Take eight gallons of water and boyle an houre then let it stand till it be cold, then take your honey and dissolve it in the water, until it be so strong that it will bear an egg: then take 10 egs and beat them shells and alle very well and put to them a handful of the topps of rosemary and when the liquor has boyle a little while very fast, then put your eggs and rosemary into it, and as it boyles scum it very cleane, and when all the scums off let it boyle a pretty while, then slice a pretty deale of ginger and put the liquor to it boyling hot and let it stand till it be cold, then put to it a spoonful of good new yest and let it cool, and when it has stood 4 or 5 dayes bottle it you must straine the ginger from it before you sett it a working.

The recipe is quite particular about the order and method for adding the flavors. The direction to float an egg before it boils “a pretty while” ensures a relative high initial gravity. My first effort at this had an OG of 1.106. It finished with a stronger ginger than rosemary flavor.


Hill, Martyn. 17th c. Recipe Book. MS Codex 252. Retrieved from University of Pennsylvania

Ginger Credit: Susan Slater,_old.jpg

Rosemary Credit: Wellcome Collection L. Fuchs, De historia stirpium commentarii 1542.

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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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