Recipes for (historical) medicinal mead / liqueurs?
June 4, 2021 11:39 AM   Subscribe

I've recently taken an interest in the intersection between brewing/fermenting and historical medicinals (such as Bald's Leechbook or traditional bitters). Are there English-language texts or academic papers that review and compile some of these old recipes?
posted by Silvery Fish to Science & Nature (9 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
One possible source - people who are/were into the Society for Creative Anachronism. I found someone's page on Medieval and Renaissance brewing here, and yes there is a section with recipes.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:00 PM on June 4, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: @EmpressCallipygos - thank you. There are a number of dead links in those really, really interesting articles - but there is also

I’m bummed that the libraries at our local university are still closed to the public. Rogue research librarians are still the best resource for all things knowledge.
posted by Silvery Fish at 12:09 PM on June 4, 2021

An old friend wrote a book, Forgotten Drinks of Colonial New England, which may address, in part, this topic. It's been some time since I read it so I don't remember, but she's a good researcher so you could at least plunder her bibliography.
posted by Dr. Wu at 1:55 PM on June 4, 2021 [1 favorite]

Some of the standard works on the history of brewing in (mostly) Europe, up to the Renaissance:

Judith M. Bennett, Ale, Beer, and Brewsters in England: Women's Work in a Changing World 1300-1600. This is the seminal work on ale and beer in medieval England. It properly situates medieval brewing in England as a localized industry dominated by women, which was only later overtaken by men following the introduction of hops from the continent.

Richard W. Unger, Beer in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Somewhat more recent than Bennett, with a broader geographical scope.

Max Nelson, The Barbarian's Beverage: A History of Beer in Ancient Europe. Going even further back to prehistory, antiquity, and ending with the early medieval period.

Patrick E. McGovern, Uncorking the Past: The Quest for Wine, Beer, and Other Alcoholic Beverages. This takes a much wider view of the development of alcoholic beverages around the world, including in Asia, Africa, and the Americas.

Susan Rose, The Wine Trade in Medieval Europe 1000-1500. Focused on wine, as you might gather, this includes chapters on the culinary and medicinal use of wine in medieval Europe.

As far as ancient or medieval recipes: prepare for disappointment. There are not a lot of them, especially in the modern sense of having measured ingredients and specific steps (e.g. what's the grain bill? what is the fermentation schedule?). Much of what we know is speculative, based on evidence such as business records (e.g. so much grain bought and so much ale sold tells you roughly how much grain goes into each unit of ale) or analysis of trace materials.

Sources from the early modern period (e.g. Digby) tend to be much more detailed, but I don't know as much about that era.
posted by jedicus at 2:06 PM on June 4, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Pharmako Dynamis might be up your alley.
posted by furnace.heart at 2:30 PM on June 4, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Not to abuse the edit window, but Pendell has three books covering such topics, to which I was unaware.
posted by furnace.heart at 2:33 PM on June 4, 2021 [1 favorite]

The SCA publishes a series of pamphlets called The Compleat Anachronist with instructions on various medieval activities. There are several mead pamphlets in the series, but the best combination of research and worked-out recipes is CA120, Making Medieval Mead, or Mead Before Digby. You can buy it by going to the SCA Marketplace and searching for mead.
posted by yarntheory at 4:18 PM on June 4, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The Recipes Project is an amazing resource, and while I can only find one post that is specifically about mead, these other two might also be of interest or take you interesting places:

Medieval Culture
Beer as Medicine
posted by dizziest at 8:07 AM on June 7, 2021

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