Probably the best known historical mead recipes is a medieval recipe for ‘bochet’ from ‘Le Menagier de Paris’, a 1393 book of advice from a gentleman to his young wife. The original recipe contains an evocative description of carmelizing the honey to achieve “small globules which burst, and in bursting throw a little black smoke”. This recipe has captured the modern mead making mind and is widely made.
Modern mead makers have made many variations based on the degree of carmelization of the honey, use of carmelization for a portion or all of the honey, and addition of other flavorings.
Carmelizing the honey leads to a world of new flavors, and the inherently risky process of working with boiling sugar probably adds to its appeal. The spiced version uses ginger and cloves as well as long pepper and grains of paradise, two now obscure but wonderful spices.
Given the interest in this recipe, I became interested in seeing what could be found out about bochet in its historical context. The process has been difficult, and interesting, and somewhat inconclusive.
I have not found any other historical mead recipes that rely on carmelized honey. One recipe from 1593 (re-published in 1605) does use a few teaspoons of what is almost certainly carmelized honey to color another mead. This recipe notes an effect on the color of the drink but not one on the flavor. The conclusion that carmelized honey was not a common mead ingredient seems logical. The Menagier recipe is in a section of the text on treating sickness. Based on this it makes sense to broaden the investigation to see whether carmelized honey had specific medical use, and how (if at all) carmelized honey featured in early cuisine.
I spent some time investigating the use of the word bochet (bouchet, boschet).
It seems likely that historically ‘bochet’ is a general term, much like ‘mead’, rather than a term specific to ‘mead made with carmelized honey’. The references that lead to this conclusion:
- The Menagier de Paris contains a second mead recipe, immediately following the bochet. The second recipe is called “Another bochet of four years to keep”, and mixes honey with water before boiling the mix. The sequence of events and lack of action taken with the honey suggest it is not boiled as in the prior recipe.
- A 1611 French-English dictionary gives a translation of ‘bochet’ as either hydromel (mead) or a drink from water sweetened with cinnamon and sugar (repeated in several Contemporaneous 17th century French books).
- A 1552 French text uses the word boschet speaking of an inferior quality of honey from woodlands.
- A modern French book on bees states (without further references) that bochet was a 13th and 14th century drink made by boiling a crushed bee skep in water and fermenting.
- Several sources link bochet to meissaude, another drink of opaque historical definition.
All that said, bochet is commonly accepted as a term for mead made with carmelized honey, and that seems a perfectly good use for this otherwise obsolete word.
I expect to continue to investigate this.
Da Brescia, Albertano, Jean Bruyant. 1846. Le Menagier de Paris: Traite de morale et d’economie domestique compose vers 1393. Volume 2. Paris
Le Menagier Volume 1, Volume 2 https://archive.org/stream/lemnagierdepari03renagoog#page/n252/mode/1up
In French. Contains le Menagier de Pairs as well as Jean Bruyant’s 1342 Chemin de Povrete et de Richesse an allegorical dream vision. Menus for dinners, many mention hippocras as part of a dessert course. Recipes for bochet on p.238 of volume 2.
Power, Eileen. 1928. The Goodman of Paris (Le Menagier de Paris): A Treatise on Moral and domestic economy by a Citizen of Paris. Routledge.
Out of print.
English translation of the French. Recipe for mead (bochet) made with carmelized honey (spices as an option) and for a second mead in section on dealing with sickness.
Last updated June 19, 2018