Hippocras is an infused beverage of wine, sugar, spices and sometimes milk. It was known throughout large areas of Western Europe from the time of Roman Empire to the modern-day. Spiced beverages rose to prominence during the time of the Roman Empire and credit for their name is given to the classical Greek physician Hippocrates. Used for administration of different plants for medicinal purposes, they also found a place as digestive aids and recreational drinks. As with so many things to do with medieval beverages, sometimes the lines between when something is done for medicinal, recreational or preservation reasons are not always clear. It would be worth spending the time looking at the relationship of hippocras as the predecessor of Apéritifs.
The following recipe comes from Le Menagier de Paris or The Parisian Household Book, a treatise on keeping a household that was written at the end of the 14th century. This work contains many useful bits of practical information for a person of the time (and a historical recreationist today) including menus, what to do as a widow and getting remarried, gardening, shopping, choosing a servant, the keeping of animals and almost four hundred recipes. There are two recipes for Hippocras from Le Menagier in A Sip Through Time. This is the first one. I am keen to give the second one a try if I can find a supplier for spikenard.
“To Make powdered hippocras, take a quarter of very fine cinnamon selected by tasting it, and a half quarter of fine flour of cinnamon, an ounce of selected string ginger, fine and white, and an ounce of grain [of Paradise,] a sixth of nutmegs and galingale togeather, and bray them all together. And when you would make your hippocras, take a good half ounce of the powder and two quarter of sugar and mix them with a quart of wine, by paris mesure. And note that the powder and the sugar mixed together is [called] the Dukes powder.”
- Mortar and pestle
- Cutting board
- 5L Demijohn
- Sterilising equipment and chemicals
- 20g Ginger root
- 20g Grains of paradise
- 3g Galingale powder
- 2g cinnamon powder
- 3g nutmeg
- 7g cinnamon sticks
- 100g White sugar
- 4L of Soft fruity white wine
The ingredients for this recipe have been adjusted for 4L of wine and rounded. The reason for this is that wine is very easy to purchases in this quantity. Also a very good set of scales are needed to weigh out such small quantities.
Clean and sanitise demijohn and funnel then set aside. Take the Ginger, Grains of Paradise, Galingale, Nutmeg, Cinnamon Powder and Sticks. Put these into your mortar and pestle and grind them into a fine powder. This makes the Duke’s Powder. Decant wine into the demijohn (clean and keep whatever it comes in if you can), then sugar then the Duke’s Powder. Stopper up the demijohn and let it sit 3 to 5 days, carefully inverting every so often to ensure that the sugar is mixed through. The best way to tell when this is done is to taste it. Do not leave it for too long: you do not want to extract too much of the spice flavour into the beverage and make it undrinkable.
Once the beverage has reached the desired flavour there are two choices on what to do next. The first and easiest is to package the hippocras for consumption. This can be done into number small bottles or into the original packaging. Do not forget to clean and sanitise every piece of equipment.
A slightly more advanced method would be to rack the hippocras from one demijohn to another and let it clear. Then once it is clear put it into your packaging.
The hippocras will be fine for immediate consumption however it will benefit from some time for the flavours to meld together. Allow four to six weeks before the intended time of imbibing, it will however last longer than this. As with all organic products the shelf life is will be affected by how thorough you are in your cleaning and preparation.
If the hippocras contains flavours that are too strong for your liking do not be afraid to mix it with a compatible wine at the time you drink it.
Glossary of Ingredients
Ginger or ginger root is the rhizome of the plant Zingiber officinale, consumed as a delicacy, medicine, or spice. It lends its name to its genus and family (Zingiberaceae).
It is used extensively in Asian cooking and is readily available as an extract, powder and whole root in supermarkets throughout Australia.
Grains of paradise
Aframomum melegueta is a species in the ginger family, Zingiberaceae. This spice, commonly known as grains of paradise, melegueta pepper, alligator pepper, Guinea grains, fom wisa, or Guinea pepper, is obtained from the ground seeds; it gives a pungent, peppery flavour with hints of citrus.
Although it is native to West Africa, it is also an important cash crop in the Basketo district (Basketo special woreda) of southern Ethiopia.
For my recipe I sourced my grains of paradise from my specialty homebrew shop. It is currently available through some tea shops and online at http://www.gourmetshopper.com.au
Galangal (galanga, blue ginger, laos) is a rhizome of plants in the ginger family Zingiberaceae, with culinary and medicinal uses originating in Indonesia. The rhizomes are used in various Asian cuisines (for example in Thai and Lao tom yum and tom kha gai soups, Vietnamese Huế cuisine (tre) and throughout Indonesian cuisine, for example, in soto). Though it is related to and resembles ginger, there is little similarity in taste.
I found Galingale powder & the rhizome readily available at my Asian grocer.
Cinnamon is the name for perhaps a dozen species of trees and the commercial spice products that some of them produce. All are members of the genus Cinnamomum in the family Lauraceae. Only a few of them are grown commercially for spice.
Cinnamon has been known from remote antiquity. It was imported to Egypt as early as 2000 BC, but those who report that it had come from China confuse it with cassia. There are also numerous references to it in the Old Testament.
Cinnamon is readily available at well stocked spice shops. I was able to get it from a Turkish spice house local to me. Be careful though as sometimes what is sold is cinnamon is actually cassia bark.
The nutmeg tree is any of several species of trees in genus Myristica. The most important commercial species is Myristica fragrans, an evergreen tree indigenous to the Banda Islands in the Moluccas (or Spice Islands) of Indonesia. The nutmeg tree is important for two spices derived from the fruit: nutmeg and mace.
It is readily available in super markets throughout Australia.
Sugar is the generalised name for a class of sweet-flavoured substances used as food. They are carbohydrates and as this name implies, are composed of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. There are various types of sugar derived from different sources. Simple sugars are called monosaccharides and include glucose, fructose and galactose. The table or granulated sugar most customarily used as food is sucrose.
Due its abundance I used white table sugar. Sugar of the quality I used in this recipe would have been a high priced commodity in period and for this reason I feel that it would have been highly unlikely that it would have been used in this way. However, I chose to use it due to its availability. It is readily available in supermarkets throughout Australia.
Wine is an alcoholic beverage made from fermented grapes or other fruits. The natural chemical balance of grapes lets them ferment without the addition of sugars, acids, enzymes, water, or other nutrients. Yeast consumes the sugars in the grapes and converts them into alcohol. Different varieties of grapes and strains of yeasts produce different types of wine.
Archaeological evidence suggests that the earliest known production of wine, made by fermenting grapes, took place from the late Neolithic or early Chalcolithic, possibly as early as the sixth millennium BC, between the Caucasus and the Middle East, with clues of winemaking in different sites dated from 6000 BC in Georgia, 5000 BC in Iran, and 4100 BC in Armenia.