Yes . . . I’m still alive. 😀
Things have been so busy this year – more so than usual. It’s getting harder to find time to sit and write, but I’m going to try to block out an hour or so at least once a week – hopefully. Anyway . . .
About 18 months ago, I picked up a copy of The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby Opened (1669), edited by Jane Stevenson and Peter Davidson (Devon, UK: Prospect Books, 1997; ISBN: 9781903018705). I grabbed it while at a conference about 18 months ago, but have only now been able to give it any attention. For the record, Kenelm Digby (1603-65) was what you’d call a 17th century renaissance man: He’d had interests in a variety of areas, from soldiering and being a diplomat during the English Civil War (1642-49), to becoming a sailor, then a pirate. He was a diplomat, a scientist, and a fan of books. He was also known for his intellectual pursuits, as well as being an avid collector and for being a first-rate chef.
It’s this last part that concerns this book because after Digby’s death in 1665, his extensive private collection of recipes (or “receipts,” as they were known), were published (“by his Son’s Consent”). This book is an excellent resource for anyone looking for Jacobean/Stuart era cooking recipes. While there won’t be any Jacobean style banquets at my home anytime soon, the book does offer some interesting ideas. Given my current penchant for wines and meads, it is no surprise that this is where Digby caught my attention.
Most vintage mead recipes – or at least the ones I’ve encountered – are similar: “Boil water, add honey, then spices.” This one is not much different. The second recipe attributed to Lady Windebanke, Digby’s concoction seems strangely simple:
“To four gallons of water put one Gallon of honey; warm the water Luke-warm before you put in your honey; when it is dissolved, set it over the fire, and let it boil half an hour with these Spices grosly beaten and put in a Canvass-bag: namely, half an Ounce of Ginger, two Nutmegs, a few Cloves and a little Mace; and in the boiling put in a quart of cold water to raise the scum, which you must clean off in the boiling. If you love herbs, put in a little bundle of Rosemary, Bays, Sweet-majoram and Eglantine. Let it stand till it is cold, then put into it half a pint of Ale-barm [yeast], and let it work twelve hours; then Tun it, but take out the bundle of herbs first.” (p. 120-21)
I need to start another mead like the Earth needs another Moon, yet I’m fascinated by this. If I do it, I’m going to cut it by half or by quarters. As-is, this will clearly make at least 5.5 gallons of mead, and I don’t need or want that much. One gallon will be just fine, I think. Well . . . maybe two gallons. But seriously – this is probably one of the easiest recipes I’ve ever seen. It’d be great to have access to the correct kind of “Ale-barm,” but I’m willing to guess that any brewing yeast will suffice – I’ll have to check into that. He doesn’t mention the type of honey, though, and that can affect the overall taste. To be safe (and cheap), I just may just get a half-gallon of standard clover honey. Ideally, I’d love to get some high-grade wildflower honey, but I’ll pass this time. I’m just surprised that everything is cooked first and then the yeast is added. Hmmm . . . This sounds like a “Saturday” project, which is cool by me, since that’ll give me enough time to locate some of the more odd ingredients.