This is really better suited to be titled “teaching my first class”, however I’ve not taught the class yet, that’s going to happen in a couple of days time.  Really, this is about my first foray into properly documenting my methods to put together a leaflet for my class.

As I’ve said before, I do all of my research online.  That doesn’t necessarily make for the best research in the world, but if you look thoroughly enough, you can find some real gems on the internet, including primary sources.  I was lucky enough to stumble upon a couple of other people’s research on ypocras, and tracing their research back allowed me to work on information from four primary sources, and two secondary sources citing verbatim three primary sources I couldn’t find access to.

The following documentation is only designed for a hands on class, and is not designed to be an in depth expose of everything related to ypocras.  That’s research that’s going to wait for another day.  But I think this is a good, if brief, run-down of how to make it, and what its purpose was.

Enjoy.

On the Making of Ypocras

(also known as hipocras, hippocras, hippocrass, ypocrasse, ypocras, hypocras, hyppocras, ipocras, ippocras)

by Pelagia Aldinoch

Ypocras is a drink that appears over a number of existing cook books. It is wine, either white or red, which is mulled with spices and sugar or honey, then stored. It was generally served cold, as an after-dinner drink, with accompanying sweets, and was promoted as a digestive aid.

Ypocras derives its name from Hippocrates, who, at the turn of the 5th century BC, developed a theory of medicine which placed human behaviours into four groups: blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm. This theory was later expanded upon by Galen, who mapped them to a matrix of hot/cold and dry/wet. The four temperaments: Sanguine, Choleric, Phlegmatic, and Melancholy, are expressions of an excess of any one particular humour. Much of the medicine conducted within medieval times was greatly concerned with keeping the humours in balance.

Unlike most recipes found within period, recipes for ypocras often have very precise measurements. This is because ypocras was considered to be medicinal. Personally, I am more concerned with taste than with how hot and wet each of the spices is. My own measurements are far less precise, as I’m still experimenting.

Additives used?

In the recipes I’ve seen, there have been numerous varieties of additives used. Ginger, white pepper, long pepper, graines (grains of paradise), canell (cassia), cinnamon, tornsole or tumsole (which I gather is a red colour agent, but I could be wrong about that one), spikenard, galangal, cloves, nutmeg, saffron, cardamom, musk mallow seed, mace, coriander, marjoram, musk, ambergris, almonds, lemon, beetroot, and milk all number amongst them. Not all of them are readily available in current times, though.

A Note on Bottling and Labelling

Bottling should always be done into sterilised bottles. There are plenty of sterilisation methods easily available, try taking a walk either down the baby aisle or in the brewing section of your supermarket to find cheap sterilisation liquids or tablets. There is no excuse for having something growing in your bottle that you didn’t plan for.

Labelling your product is important, and should be done the same day as you bottle. There are some basics which need to be on every bottle you produce, whether it’s ypocras, beer, or something as simple as lemon syrup.

  • Name of drink. A bottle without a label could be anything. It could be delicious and deserving of drinking, or it could be engine oil waiting to be discarded. So you need to state what it is.
  • Ingredients, in case you inadvertently try feeding your product to someone who has a deathly allergy to something you’ve included in your mix.
  • Bottling date, as you may have several batches on the go at one time. It tells you how much time it’s been resting, and it acts as a product recall code if you later find there’s something horrendously wrong with that batch.
  • Your name, because you never know where your bottle will travel. Wherever it goes, I know I would like them to be able to say “That Pelagia chick sure does brew a good drop! I should nominate her for an award…”

My recipe

Red wine I choose red wine over white mainly because I prefer the flavour. I’m currently using Golden Oak’s 4L casks of medium red. That’s because they’re the cheapest I have access to at the time of writing this. Don’t worry that you don’t like the taste of the wine, don’t waste a good wine on ypocras. The flavour is going to get modified heavily.
Honey Again, generic honeys are best. Flavoured honeys may taste great on toast, but do you really want your medieval drinks to taste like eucalyptus? Also, cost is very much a factor here. Honey is expensive. And the sweeter you want your ypocras to turn out, the more honey you’re going to need to use. Sugar is an acceptable substitute, as it is listed in a number of recipes, but it does affect the flavour of the end product.
Spices My current list of spices is as follows: ginger, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, caraway seeds, nutmeg, and green peppercorns. Within period sources, these are most often described as powders. I tend to try not to use powders, however, as they tend to form a lot of sediment which takes a long time to settle out.

I use fresh ginger root, carefully peeled, and cut so that there is a large amount of surface area for the aromatics to pass into the wine.

I use cinnamon sticks, broken into a few large bits.

Of the other ingredients, the only one I use in powder form is nutmeg. The rest I gather together in a mortar and break open slightly.

Add wine to pot. It’s important to make sure your pot is big enough before you do this. Seriously.
Then add your honey.

 

My current recipe uses roughly 1 cup of honey, but this is subject to individual tastes. I’ve found that more is better than less.
Heat the wine/honey mix Using 4L at a time means that I can generally put the heat on high and not have to worry about it too much, but if you’re heating smaller amounts, be careful with the heat setting you use. You don’t want to boil your wine, it will lose its alcohol content, and you may get bitter notes through the wine that weren’t there previously.
Skim the liquid You will begin to see a white froth forming on the liquid as the impurities in the honey float to the surface. This needs to be skimmed off. I’ve found the best way to skim the liquid is with a sieve. Each time you skim the liquid, the sieve must be washed out with fresh water, otherwise you end up re-introducing the impurities back into the mix.
Take the liquid off the heat, then add the spices.

 

Stir the spices in, then cover the mix and leave it to cool overnight.
Strain and bottle The source I found for my original recipe suggested straining the liquid through 3 layers of muslin, which I did for my first few batches. Unfortunately, it led to a lot of sediment and long-term cloudiness. I have now taken to using coffee filters in many instances.

Ypocras benefits from long term storage, and will gain in flavour over time.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

John Russell’s Boke of Nurture (1460)
http://www.gutenberg.org/files/24790/24790-h/nurture.html

The Booke of Kervinge and Sewing (London: 1508) http://prognosticationsandpouting.blogspot.com/2010/12/at-last-most-glorious-cover.html

John French The Art of Distillation (London: 1653) http://www.levity.com/alchemy/jfren_ar.html

John Nott, The Cooks and Confectioners Dictionary, (London: 1723) http://books.google.com/books/about/The_cooks_and_confectioners_dictionary_o.html?id=P38EAAAAYAAJ

The Forme Of Cury (1390)
http://www.pbm.com/~lindahl/foc/

Mss. Sloane 3690, ff 26b.
Massiolot’s ‘Le Confiturier Royal’ Paris (1791)
http://www.historicfood.com/Hippocras%20Recipes.htm

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