Lemon Rosemary Mead c.1660

The University of Pennsylvania holds a manuscript recipe book attributed to Martyn Hill. The manuscript is given a date range of 1600-c.1710. This book contains both medical and culinary recipes and includes multiple recipes for beverages including meads, fruit wines, medicinal distilled alcoholic waters, fruit brandies, distilled waters for drinking, and instructions for beer making. It also contains a recipe for “Puppy Water” (yes, as unpleasant as it sounds).

One of the mead recipes reads as follows:

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.


Upon reviewing the recipe, I made the following notes:

  • Boil the water. Probably not necessary with a clean water source.
  • Add enough honey to bear an egg. See comments below.
  • Boil it till the scum rises very well. I chose about 20 minutes boiling. (For those of a more modern bent who do not wish to boil honey, the honey can be added later, in the cooling stage).
  • Base recipe volume not stated to scale addition of lemons and rosemary. Typical recipes from this period often make 3-5 gallons, so I chose 2 lemons and a sprig of Rosemary for a 1 gallon batch (thinking 3 sprigs would fit nicely into a small handful and I’m making 1/3 of a 3 gallon batch). This is purposefully intended to make a more intensely flavored mead.
  • Pour boiling wort over lemons and rosemary, let cool, add yeast when cool.
  • Rack after 2 weeks. Drink after 1 month.

The big question here is proportions. Enough honey to bear an egg.  My research indicates an average egg is neutrally buoyant at about 1.065-1.07 SG, and will float with some amount showing at 1.065-1.085 SG. My 20 minutes boiling (followed by evaporation during the cooling off period) reduces the total volume by 10-20%. The end SG of the finished wort can therefore legitimately be anywhere in the range of 1.075-1.11, which provides a broad range for the modern mead maker to choose from.

Note we have three pieces in this recipe where your interpretation is likely to fulfill your own expectations.

  • FIRST, if I presume the egg floats with some above the surface, and that it takes 1 hour boiling for the scum to rise, I will start with more honey and boil more water away maybe as high as 1.11-1.12 OG. If the egg barely floats and I boil for 10 min, I might have 1.070 OG. Since it is meant to drink in a couple weeks the 1.12 is probably too much, but the mead maker does have a lot of room to adjust to taste … (Note: the first time I made this it had an OG of 1.11 and ended at 1.032, it had a nice body and the sweetness brought out the flavors. The second trial I went for a lower OG of 1.088, and it fermented less well, but also had a more watery mouth feel and less intense flavors.)
  • SECOND, 6 lemons and a half handful of rosemary-big or small lemons, rosemary sprigs or leaves separately, big hands?, to how much wort ???? My choices reflect my liking of stronger flavors – you could easily argue for less or much less lemon/rosemary (but probably not for much more)
  • THIRD, yeast choice. A very complex topic, where information is rapidly evolving. I chose an English ale yeast, as representative of a readily available yeast to add in 17th century England, you can argue other choices. In all, there is currently no particular reason to believe that any particular modern yeast, after hundreds of years of evolution is any more ‘authentic’ in operation to 17th century yeasts than any other yeast.


For 1 gallon:

  1. Take 2-3 pounds of honey and add water to make 5 quarts. If not boiling honey bring 4 quarts water to a boil and add lemons and rosemary immediately upon taking off boil.
  2. Bring to a boil and wait until scum rises noticeably.
  3. Slice 2 lemons into rounds, and take 1 smallish sprig of fresh rosemary; add to wort immediately when you stop heat.
  4. Allow it to cool to blood warm. If not boiling honey add honey when still warm enough to dissolve completely.
  5. Decant to fermenter.
  6. Pitch desired yeast. (I used Lallemand Nottingham). Use nutrient, degassing or temperature protocols as desired.
  7. After 2 weeks rack.
  8. Bottle when stable, can be drunk after 4 weeks.

The resulting drink is fairly strongly flavored. While the recipe says it can be drunk after 4 weeks it ages quite well.

Picture Credits: Laura Angotti, Wellcome Collection

Updated June 18, 2019