• PATRONS: Did you know we've a chat function for you now? Look to the bottom of the screen, you can chat, set up rooms, talk to each other individually or in groups! Click 'Chat' at the right side of the chat window to open the chat up.
  • Love Gotmead and want to see it grow? Then consider supporting the site and becoming a Patron! If you're logged in, click on your username to the right of the menu to see how as little as $30/year can get you access to the patron areas and the patron Facebook group and to support Gotmead!
  • We now have a Patron-exclusive Facebook group! Patrons my join at The Gotmead Patron Group. You MUST answer the questions, providing your Patron membership, when you request to join so I can verify your Patron membership. If the questions aren't answered, the request will be turned down.

The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby Knight Opened on Project Gutenberg

Launcelot

NewBee
Registered Member
Dec 9, 2007
157
1
0
49
Ok, I have to ask, Oskaar... Do you have a true traditional?

I am getting that mondo honey thing going on here in the next week or so, and I have a few Central Cali types coming through for it. I would love to get some of you older hats to donate a bottle to the party, I have some stuff bulk aging but nothing ready yet. So my offer will be a "I will mail order some stuff and hit rabbits foot" Would love to organise a norcal Gotmead party though.

--L
 

pain

GotMead Owner
Staff member
Administrator
Moderator
Apr 5, 1996
1,631
3
38
North Carolina
gotmead.com
Hey Gwir, give Brent and Marc hugs (and several for you!!) from me.

Medsen, you fall prey to the 'must have done' syndrome, that of figuring a process 'must have been' what they used. Don't feel bad, most do (including myself before I started researching). Gwir, Cindy's recipes are actual recipes redacted from written source documentation, though most of them post-date SCA period, they are nevertheless actual historical recipes.

Mead made 'historically' was what tasted good *to them*. Keep in mind that tastes have changed *immensely* over the course of history, and a mead that was considered excellent 600 years ago might taste like gack to us, no matter how carefully you make it. Try a woodruff mead sometime. Ick. I'm in a re-enactment group that specializes in re-creating food and drink from recipes gleaned from primary sources of the Elizabethan era, and I can tell you from personal experience that they ate some pretty weirdly cooked and spiced food.

If you look at the Elizabethan-era recipes in 'A Sip Through Time' you'll see combinations of sharp spices that will pretty much guarantee a very sharp and sour mead for that style. Others are aged in madiera barrels, or made using ingredients that may create a very tasty mead. But the various mixtures are very often combinations that don't often occur to modern meadmakers.

Some of the older recipes call for something like 'Boil honey and water for an hour, then setting up in a tun for a fortnight then skimming off the skum, then tap and serve'. A lot of meads were pitched with honey, water and spices, allowed to catch wild yeasts, fermented for a short period, then poured and served, yeast and all. Many of the recipes are what is now known as a 'small mead'. They were designed to be created and drunk in the same vessel, no racking or straining, and would spoil quickly if not drunk up.

Others call for long aging processes in wine barrels (what I wouldn't give for a Spanish madiera barrel!!!), so the variances are all over the map.

Look in the main site to see a couple examples of period meads that Cindy let me post. Here are 2 recipes. I have some more and will get them up on the site and post a link here.

Just as an example though, here is a translation of a 1730's mead recipe (just the process):

"Take 90 stoop (1 stoop equals about half an imperial galon) rainwater
and 10 stoop clean and white honey. If you could not get any white
honey take good red honey instead. Put that together in a kettle over
the fire and let it boil down 20 stoop. When (or if, I'm not quite sure)
it's foaming a lot add one ounce crushed Yrias (dunno really what that
is) and a few handsfull of hops that you put in a little bag with 4 pounds
of cut long raisins and hang in the kettle. Test with an egg, if it floats
it is enough (else you should boil longer). Let it get almost cold. Put
it in a barrel that had spanish wine in it before, or at least add a pint
of spanish wine. Let the bag with raisins cook in the wine as well untill
it is enough and squize the last liquid from the bag. Like this the
mead will get a taste as if it was a good spanish wine.
Then add yeast to the barrel and let it stand in a warm place untill it
has stopped working: this should lie at least half a year."

This one is one of the 'normal' meads.....
 

wayneb

Lifetime Patron
Lifetime GotMead Patron
Medsen Fey said:
I'm okay with the idea of chicha. When Wayneb wants to start using natural yeast harvested from infant feces to inoculate his musts (as described in Charlie Papazian's book), I think I'll go modern. :tongue3:
Remember now, Charlie's a Beer Brewer. He's even been known to say that mead doesn't agree with him! :laughing7:
 

Medsen Fey

Fuselier since 2007
Premium Patron
Hello Vicky,

Medsen, you fall prey to the 'must have done' syndrome ...
I am not sure that I made myself clear. I recognize that I have neither made nor tasted any period meads (a problem I hope to correct). The basic meads that I made were just that -basic - using only things found in the hive, water and yeast (modern) and they taste pretty good. My point was that if a mediocre mead maker such as myself can produce good results with such simple ingredients, I believe that gifted mead maker throughout history have been able to produce far superior results using whatever techniques they had available.

Gwir's question was
ive heard period mead will never be as good as modern techniques-- true or false?
I don't see how that can be true. However, if you tell me that meads made from period recipes taste like gack, I cannot argue as you have tasted them and I have not. What I can say with certainty is that human taste buds have not evolved in the last few hundred years. I think, based on this, if the old recipes cannot produce outstanding meads currently, then we probably don't have the really good recipes - perhaps they were too valuable to commit to paper (or parchment) or maybe they are still hidden in someone else's closet.

How do you respond to Gwir's question?

Many thanks,
Medsen
 

doctajones

NewBee
Registered Member
Sep 14, 2006
60
0
0
38
Boston, MA
Hi Medsen,

I don't think Vicky is talking about an evolution of the actual taste buds here, but of the palate. I spend a lot of time researching drinks and food of colonial New England and I can tell you, their palate was different. For one thing, as far as their palates go, they were used to (and enjoyed) unrefined sugar. Molasses was the sweeetner of choice for instance and was often used as a main fermentable sugar in their brews. I realize that that's just one element, but think of the effects that has.

To give an different example, one of the more ubiquitous brews of the colonial army was Spruce beer. Everyone made it and they all liked it (or at least they drank it). The stuff is utterly disgusting. And that's not just me. All the reenactors I've talked to who have brewed or tasted the recreation share that opinion. That, to me, is proof that our taste for certain flavors has shifted, even in just the last 250 years.
 

pain

GotMead Owner
Staff member
Administrator
Moderator
Apr 5, 1996
1,631
3
38
North Carolina
gotmead.com
Medsen Fey said:
I am not sure that I made myself clear. I recognize that I have neither made nor tasted any period meads (a problem I hope to correct). The basic meads that I made were just that -basic - using only things found in the hive, water and yeast (modern) and they taste pretty good. My point was that if a mediocre mead maker such as myself can produce good results with such simple ingredients, I believe that gifted mead maker throughout history have been able to produce far superior results using whatever techniques they had available.
Good luck, many of the 'period' meads I've tasted were not so good. But then, some were pretty nice. Oh, excellent meads were indeed made throughout history. Talent is talent, no matter what the age, and the art of brewing has been developing for thousands of years, so I'm very sure that many very tasty meads were created.

Gwir's question was
ive heard period mead will never be as good as modern techniques-- true or false?

I don't see how that can be true. However, if you tell me that meads made from period recipes taste like gack, I cannot argue as you have tasted them and I have not. What I can say with certainty is that human taste buds have not evolved in the last few hundred years. I think, based on this, if the old recipes cannot produce outstanding meads currently, then we probably don't have the really good recipes - perhaps they were too valuable to commit to paper (or parchment) or maybe they are still hidden in someone else's closet.

How do you respond to Gwir's question?
::grin:: I did say *some* of the meads made from the period recipes that have been found taste like gack. There are also good ones. I do dispute, however, the certainty that human tastes (not their taste buds, but taste) have not evolved. You only have to taste some of the drinks and foods they ate in older times to see that tastes have changed *immensely*. Having eaten food and had drinks made from recipes written in the 1600's-1800's, I can assure you that there are foods and drinks they found good would gag most modern people. Case in point Doctajones' spruce beer. Ick. There is a meat roll whose name escapes me at the moment that had a combination of spices that while edible, didn't sit well at all, and as you ate it made you vaguely ill. All who tried it mentioned this, and it was made from a recipe from Hampton Court, from a document from Henry VIII's kitchen receipts.

Here is an example from Digby of what they considered good in the time:
===
WHITE METHEGLIN OF MY LADY HUNGERFORD: WHICH IS EXCEEDINGLY PRAISED

Take your Honey, and mix it with fair water, until the Honey be quite
dissolved. If it will bear an Egge to be above the liquor, the breadth of a
groat, it is strong enough; if not, put more Honey to it, till it be so
strong; Then boil it, till it be clearly and well skimmed; Then put in one
good handful of Strawberry-leaves, and half a handful of Violet leaves; and
half as much Sorrel: a Douzen tops of Rosemary; four or five tops of
Baulme-leaves: a handful of Harts-tongue, and a handful of Liver-worth; a
little Thyme, and a little Red-sage; Let it boil about an hour; then put it
into a Woodden Vessel, where let it stand, till it be quite cold; Then put
it into the Barrel; Then take half an Ounce of Cloves, as much Nutmeg; four
or five Races of Ginger; bruise it, and put it into a fine bag, with a
stone to make it sink, that it may hang below the middle: Then stop it very
close.
===

Strawberry leaves, rosemary, red-sage, an *ounce* of cloves and nutmegs, liver-worth. I can't speak for all modern people of course, but I'm pretty sure that this mixture wouldn't appeal to the average modern person in the U.S. So this is a recipe that probably wouldn't turn out to be something most people would like. But then, there are others like this:

===
TO MAKE EXCELLENT MEATHE

To every quart of Honey, take four quarts of water. Put your water in a
clean Kettle over the fire, and with a stick take the just measure, how
high the water cometh, making a notch, where the superficies toucheth the
stick. As soon as the water is warm, put in your Honey, and let it boil,
skiming it always, till it be very clean; Then put to every Gallon of
water, one pound of the best Blew-raisins of the Sun, first clean picked
from the stalks, and clean washed. Let them remain in the boiling Liquor,
till they be throughly swollen and soft; Then take them out, and put them
into a Hair-bag, and strain all the juice and pulp and substance from them
in an Apothecaries Press; which put back into your liquor, and let it boil,
till it be consumed just to the notch you took at first, for the measure of
your water alone. Then let your Liquor run through a Hair-strainer into an
empty Woodden-fat, which must stand endwise, with the head of the upper-end
out; and there let it remain till the next day, that the liquor be quite
cold. Then Tun it up into a good Barrel, not filled quite full, but within
three or four fingers breadth; (where Sack hath been, is the best) and let
the bung remain open for six weeks with a double bolter-cloth lying upon
it, to keep out any foulness from falling in. Then stop it up close, and
drink not of it till after nine months.
===

With the exception of using a Hair-bag, this would likely make a pretty good mead. It is a basic mead with raisins added, and the techniques used are not dissimilar with those often used today.

The recipes we have found are the result of people like Sir Kenelm Digby, Martha Washington and others who wanted to write things down, and were both able to write and had the means and time to do so. Keep in mind that mead (or beer, for that matter) was a drink often popular to the common folk in a society, and in many civilizations the common folk could not read or write, so their recipes would have been passed down in families or groups verbally, but lost to us because they became lost over time. And I'm sure that a lot that *was* written down has never come to light (what was lost in the destruction of Pompeii that we will never find?) because it was destroyed or lost, or those who discovered them felt them not to be important enough to preserve and let the public see. For example, what more would we know about mead if the recipes popular during King Midas' time were preserved in writing? We had only the funerary drink placed in his tomb to work from, but possibly there were many kinds of drinks, inferring from the one we have to work with. What others were lost to time because people took it for granted that their descendants would care for the guild or family traditions?

So back to Gwirs question of whether you can make a good period mead: Yeah, it can be done, but I think that the excellence of the mead, good recipe or no, is just like it is today. You can take a great mead recipe and make a bad mead if you don't pay attention to it, follow good mead-making principles or use inferior ingredients. Case in point is the many, *many* bad JAO's that get made and brought to us to look over. I've made this, and can attest that following the directions does indeed produce a very drinkable mead that most of the people I've tried it on like. It is the closest thing we have to a fool-proof recipe that anyone of any skill level can make. Yet we still get folks here telling us that their batch is horrible. We know the recipe is sound, so that leaves the meadmakers, the ingredients they used, and their attention to the details of the recipe and to the mead itself.

Think on it, how many times have you seen in here, "I made it just like you said, but I added ::insert random ingredient here:: to it, and now I can't understand why it tastes horrible!!!".

The best recipe will become gack in the hands of a careless meadmaker. A single mistake, such as not stirring when it is called for, can take a mead from a promising future and take it from a stellar mead to just an ordinary one, or even cause it to taste bad. That being said, making good mead is not hard. All it takes is patience, attention to detail, and a willingness to learn. A knack for seeing how ingredients and honeys will blend doesn't hurt either. I've tasted Gwirs' cordials, she has that knack.

If you want to taste some good period meads, the brewing competition at Pennsic always yields up some good ones, as do the other SCA brewing competitions.

Here are some good reference points for learning about brewing in period:

Medieval/Renaissance Brewing
Aethelmearc's Brewing Guild
List of SCA Brewers Guilds
Notes on brewing Elizabethan-era beer and how to make it period using modern equipment

Sources for Historical Brewing
 

doctajones

NewBee
Registered Member
Sep 14, 2006
60
0
0
38
Boston, MA
Was it an actual historic reproduction or a brewery repro? The ones the breweries do are all "based on" historic recipes. Which is to say that they're changed not just to fit modern brewing practice, but also to fit modern taste profiles.

If you had a homebrewed repro following an actual historic recipe and liked it . . . you must have been :drunken_smilie: already!
 

skunkboy

NewBee
Registered Member
May 30, 2005
2,003
7
0
Between Jackson and Detroit
They were all made by local homebrewers, and all include fresh spruce tips, either in the boil or they were used to filter after the boil. Me? :drunken_smilie: At a home brewing club meeting? Maybe a little. But they were nice beers.
 

Medsen Fey

Fuselier since 2007
Premium Patron
I'll certainly accept that tastes preferences do wax and wane, but honey tastes sweet and delicious now, and I'm sure it tasted sweet and delicious to cave men who painted pictures of bee hives on the wall. What's more, being a country boy, I still like molasses.

Our early American (English) countrymen would probably make do with whatever was readily available to ferment, just as I am quite happy to drink a cheap-ass, watery beer on a hot day if that is all that happens to be around. If they had their preference though, they seemed partial to sweet Madeira wine (the mother's milk of the American Revolution). Thomas Jefferson also happened to love Chateau d'Yquem (talk about sweet nectar), as well as other Sauternes (both sweet and dry). He also liked Champagne (particulalry still ones), and Chateau Haut Brion. Jefferson also loved Virginia cider and felt that it could be produced of a high enough quality to rival Champagne. While I will grant you that he was a connoiseur with a well developed palate, the others who dined with him seemed to have enjoyed these as well. Perhaps my taste buds are old fashioned, but I think any of these would suit me just fine.

So, do we have any great early American Mead Recipes? I don't think my tastes have shifted that far from those of 250 years ago, and I think I might want to try one.
 

doctajones

NewBee
Registered Member
Sep 14, 2006
60
0
0
38
Boston, MA
Digby was actually hugely popular among the wealthier colonials. So any of those recipes would be fine.

Here's a recipe pulled at random (as I haven't tried any of them, so can't vouch for their greatness) from The Country Housewife, which was published in 1762. There were also several other cookbooks published in the colonial period, most of which contain at least one or two recipes for mead.

Take eight Gallons of Water, and as much Honey as will make it bear an Egg;
add to this the Rind of six Lemmons, and boil it well, scumming it
carefully as it rises. When 'tis off the Fire, put to it the Juice of the
six Lemmons, and pour it into a clean Tub, or open earthen Vessel, if you
have one large enough, to work three Days; then scum it well, and pour off
the clear into the Cask, and let it stand open till it has done making a
hissing Noise; after which, stop it up close, and in three Months time it
will be fine, and fit for bottling.
 

Launcelot

NewBee
Registered Member
Dec 9, 2007
157
1
0
49
A still champagne is grapes from the champagne valley in a non-carbonated beverage...

Not all sparkling wine is champagne, but all champagne is sparkling wine (as long as it's not still)

--L
 

GntlKnigt1

Got Mead? Patron
GotMead Patron
Mar 17, 2004
2,484
6
38
Chicago area formerly Netherlands
Digby is great, but a hard read. I've got a printed version that I plan to put up that will allow searching through it....

If you want a good reference for historical meads, that also details the weirdly-named herbs, check out 'A Sip Through Time'. This is arguably one of the best printed references out there on making historical brews (it has beer, mead, cordials, punches, possets, etc.)

Cindy Renfrow, the author, is a long-time SCA member, and probably one of the most well-read people I know on brewing through history. My copy is dog-eared and mead-stained, but still one of my favorite references when I'm constructing mead recipes for my re-enacting demos at the Roanoke Island Festival Park in Manteo, NC.
This whole Digby discussion is fascinating.... but one has to ask if you got lost going to the Roanoke Island Festival....????