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Mulled wine was known in Antiquity and continued to be a favourite during the Middle Ages. Here are some recipes
In Antiquity mulled wine was known as “conditum paradoxum”. According to Apicius, a Roman gourmet from the 1st century AD, it was prepared by first mixing wine and honey in order to boil, skim and reduce it ever so slowly. To this mixture should be added ground pepper, some mastic from your wine-stock, a bay leaf, safran, roasted date stones and the flesh of the dates softened in wine and squashed to a smooth pure. Finally it should all be mixed with wine and served cool and strained. Apicius lists the measures, but frankly the measure between honey and wine seems improbable. Another Greek recipe seems more reasonable. In the classical cookbook  the following tried and tested recipe is given:
- ¾ litre of medium-dry white wine
- 170 gr clear honey
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 bay leaf
- a pinch of saffron
- a pinch of mastic (difficult to get unless you have a wine stock or a birch tree in your garden). A dollop of maple syrup may do the trick.
- 1 fresh date, the stone roasted for 10 min and the flesh soaked in a little wine.
Mix the honey with the same amount of wine (1 ½ dl) and bring to boil. Skim and repeat. Add the spices to the mixture while hot and let it steep until cold. Add the rest of the wine and allow to stand overnight. To serve, strain through a fine sieve or muslin and serve cold. The best way to explain the taste is to think ‘Martini’ (shaken, not stirred).
Curiously enough Apicius and his De coquinara has always been associated with Roman Antiquity. The fact remains however that the earliest manuscripts date from the 8th and 9th centuries. One of these manuscripts was written at the monastery of Fulda and the other at Tours, while the origin of the third is unknown. In a recent PhD Wanessa Asfora has explored the possibility that this collection of recipes was in fact copied in the early Middle Ages for dietetic reasons and that it should rather be considered a medieval collection of recipes. A key to decipher this text as medicinal is the widespread use of the verb tempero and its cognates fundo and condio, all designating mixing. According to Asfora the verbs designate the practice of blend, temper and flavour in order to create a ‘balance’. This is obviously important in the concoction of the 200 or more sauces and condiments, but also – as here – for the forerunner of what we later knows of as a hypocras or mulled wine. The origin of the name comes from the invention of a cloth sieve by the 5th century BC Greek physician Hippocrates.
It is nice to imagine a gout-ridden Charlemagne drinking hot mulled wine when spending christmas in Aachen in the beginning of the 9th century.
In the later middle ages the hippocras, hypocras (ipocras) or mulled wine became an important part of the last course, the desserte. This consisted of cheese, candied fruits and light cakes, which were often served together with a sweet wine like malvasia (malmsey) and other such wines, which originally came from South-Eastern Europe. Except, of course, these wines were highly prized and more often than not simply substituted by an artificially sweetened concoction, the hypocras
The first recipe for making hypocras is from the 13th century and can be found in the Tractatus de Modo. At that point the drink was called a piment or pimen. However from the 14th and 15th centuries several recipes are known. Here is a recipe from the Menagiér de Paris from the late 14th century  on how to make “hippocras”.
To make hippocras powder pound together (app)
- 100 gr cinnamon
- 50 gr cassia buds (flowers from the cinnamon tree)
- 30 gr Mecca ginger (darker and more expensive)
- 30 gr grains of paradise
- 50 gr of mixed nutmeg and galingale (a kind of ginger) (probably the nutmeg could be left out, expensive as it was)
For 1.8 litre of wine the Good Wife was ordered to mix it with 15 – 20 gr of this mixture plus 250 gr of sugar.
But if she was preparing a hippocras as served in Bésiers, Carcasonne or Montpelier she was recommended to pulverize 20 gr cinnamon with 12 gr white ginger and all together 5 gr of clove, grains of Paradise, mace, galingale, nutmeg and spikenard “more of the first and then less and less of the others as you go”. This should be mixed with 500 gr of sugar. Put some of the sugar and some wine to boil and mix it with the spices. Then strain it as many times as is necessary until it comes out clear and red. “Nota that the tastes of sugar and cinnamon should dominate”.
This sound as a rather sweet mixture, but we all know that the further south in Europe you travel the sweeter cakes seem to be.
However, from later cook books we know of a plenitude of recipes for different types of hippocras very much like the one, which the “Good Wife” was ordered to serve to her elderly husband. Apparently, any good housekeeper knew how to make her own mixture. Here is one with cardamom added :
- 8 gr of cardamom
- 6 gr of cinnamon
- 1 gr of ginger
- 1 gr of nutmeg
- 1,5 gr of grain of Paradise
Mix it with 2 dl wine and 100 gr of sugar and set it to boil for five minutes. When cold, strain it and mix the rest of the bottle of wine into the strained liquid. Together this mixture is then poured through the cloth with the spices.
Another recipe describes a mixture consisting of
- 25 gr of cinnamon
15 gr of ginger
8 gr of Galingale
50 – 100 gr of sugar and a bottle of red wine.
Here the spices are supposed to be mixed with some of the wine and just set aside for a day, when the rest of the wine should be added. This should be left standing for yet another day, after having been strained, the wine should be carefully warmed up with sugar.
The recipes do not say whether they should be served hot or cold. Probably it depended on the weather and the doctor’s order.
- 1 l apple juice or cider
- 1 chopped apple
- 4 tbsp sugar
- 1 star anis
- 3 whole black pepper corns
- 1 pod of cardamom
- 1 slice of fresh ginger
- 1 stick of cinnamon
- 2 cloves
As soon as it boils the mixture should be taken off the stove and set aside for 1 – 1 ½ hour. Strain the mixture and heat it. Can be mixed with a finely chopped apple, chopped almonds and/or chopped dried apricots or plums. Nice for children (non-alcoholic). And Really nice laced with Calvados (apple brandy)…
Tip: If you are preparing a large batch for a party with friends and family, it might make sense to make a spicy syrup by placing the spices in a teabag and cook them with half and half of honey (sugar) and juice (wine). This is what we do…
 The Good Wife’s Guide. Le Ménagier de Paris. A Medieval Household Book.
Translated by Gina L. Greco and Christine M. Rose
Cornell University Press 2009
The recipes can be found on pp. 329 -30
 The recipes are from: Renæssancemad. Opskrifter og køkkenhistorie fra Christian 4’s tid. Gyldendal 2006, p. 144 – 145.
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