Wednesday 30 December 2015

Tinkling clay and tinkling glass

In 2013 I wrote on a curious 15th century French clay beaker with rings that made a tinkling sound. Supposedly this was to draw the attention of a barmaid to refill the beaker with whatever beverage that was in it. Some weeks ago I discovered some glass equivalents of the clay beaker. They date from the 17th century and now reside in the collection of the Corning Museum of Glass. Apparently this type of drinking vessel kept some popularity over the centuries.

An octagonal beaker made of colourless soda-lime glass with a thin trail wrapped around entire bowl; three loops are applied to alternating facets of the cup, from which movable rings are suspended. Origin Germany. Height: 8.8 cm, Width: 9.3 cm, Diameter: 8.5 cm.

(Left) A goblet made from heavily crizzled clear glass, producing a pale pink tinge. There are six loops applied around bowl of which three hold crimped rings. Height: 12.8 cm; Rim Diameter: 5.9 cm; Foot Diameter: 7.8 cm. (Right)  A goblet probably originating from the Netherlands dating between 1650 and 1700. The goblet is  made from colourless non-lead glass with six applied loop handles, four of them holding loose milled glass rings. Height: 17.6 cm; Diameter (rim): 8.4 cm, Diameter (foot): 9.1 cm.

Goblet made of clear glass with many minute bubbles with applied and tooled decoration. Three small loop handles arching over the rigaree band, three more loop handles holding rigaree rings applied to the top of the glass. Height: 16.7 cm; Diameter (rim): 7.9 cm, Diameter (foot): 8.9 cm.

Sunday 27 December 2015


 Two medieval woodworkers having a meal with bread and (perhaps a spiced) wine in the Tacuinum sanitatis (ca. 1390, Codex Vindobonen­sis Series Nova 2644, folio 64r, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Vienna, Austria).

During this time of year the modern spiced wine - Glühwine or bishopswine - can be ubiquitously found at Christmas markets. I personally do not like these mulled wines. That was also the case with the medieval version of it: Hypocras (the red wine version, named after the Greek Hippocrates) and Claré (for white wine). However, since our visit to Castle Loevestein in late November were we did some cooking demonstration this has changed. I decided to make some hypocras because it is an interesting process to show to the visitors and tell something on the spices in the wine. I used the recipe from the book 'Herrenspeis und Bauernspeis' by Peter Lutz. In his commentary he mentioned that everyone [visitors and re-enactors] was very enthusiastic about the taste. So perhaps his was a better recipe, and indeed it was...

Galangal (Alpinia officinarum) in the Tacuinum sanitatis (ca. 1390, Codex Vindobonen­sis Series Nova 2644, folio 32v, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Vienna, Austria).


There is a great variation in spices used for hypocras, some (e.g. the one in the Forme of Cury) use cloves, mace, nutmeg, caraway seed and/or white pepper. Most of them contain sugar, cinnamon and ginger. The recipe from Peter Lutz, which is likely the same as the one given in 'the medieval kitchen - recipes from France and Italy' which originates from Le Ménagier de Paris (1393):

To make a lot of good hypocras, take an once of cinnamonde, known as long tube cinnamon, a knob of ginger, and an equal amount of galangal, pounded well together, and then take a livre of good sugar; pound this all together and moisten it with the best Beaune wine you can get, and let it steep for an hour or two. Then strain it through a cloth bag several times so it will be very clear.

(Left) A cinnamon merchant from the Tractatus de Herbis by Dioscorides (Ms Lat 993 L.9.28, Folio 36v  15th century,  Biblioteca Estense, Modena, Italy). (Right) Red wine merchant in the Tacuinum sanitatis. Note the alternative manner of wearing the hood of the man on the right (14th century, Codex 4182, Biblioteca Casanatense, Rome, Italy).

The German recipe uses a lot of wine, so you should adjust the amounts accordingly to what you want to make (and drink).
  • 6 litre good red wine (cheap wine makes cheap tasting hypocras)
  • 900 gram sugar
  • 2 tablespoons powdered cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons powdered ginger
  • 1 tablespoon powdered galangal

Grind the spices with a mortar and pestle (when using unpowdered spices). Chop bits of sugar from the sugar cone (see below) and hammer and grind it to powder (or use commercial crystallised sugar). Mix the sugar and the spices well in a bowl (large enough for the wine as well). Add the red wine and stir well. The spices will first float on top of the wine but after more careful stirring, they will mix with fully the wine. Peter Lutz recommends leaving the wine stay for a day, but we left it for a few hours as in the recipe of Le Ménagier de Paris. Filter the wine several times though a filtering (cheese) cloth until it is clear. Also here Peter Lutz deviates from the recipe by storing the hypocras in bottles for another 2 weeks before drinking; he also mentions that the hypocras can be stored for half a year in wine bottles. We did consume the hypocras directly after filtering, but also (like the glühwine) after heating (not boiling) the wine. The difference was remarkable: while the filtered hypocras tasted good, however, the warm hypocras was very much better as it intensified the harmonious taste of the spice mixture with that of the wine.

Careful mixing of the spices with the wine in the bowl. At the start the spices float on top of the wine.

Medieval sugar cones

Sugar, made from sugar-cane, was an available sweetener in the middle ages. In the 14th century sugar-cane plantations and factories existed in Sicily and later they also appeared elsewhere in the Mediterranean. Sugar syrup from the sugar cane was refined and crystallized into sugar loafs, which could easily be transported across Europe. Although the method to make sugar has changed since then, similar looking sugar cones can still be bought today. In Germany, small ones are known as Zuckerhut and used for a traditional (mulled wine!) drink; in Moroccan shops larger ones can be found which are used as a present during a visit and the sugar chunks are used to sweeten the mint tea. 


(Left)  A 14th century sugar funnel found in Kouklia, Cyprus. (Right) Cana melle (sugarcane) in the Tacuinum sanitatis (ca. 1390, Codex Vindobonen­sis Series Nova 2644, folio 92v, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Vienna, Austria).

It is also possible to make these sugar cones yourself. A very instructive film by Richard Signell can be found on YouTube. This prompted me to try it as well. I found that just water was not enough to stick the sugar crystals together and a some fine powdered sugar was needed as an extra 'glue'. 

The large white Moroccan sugar cone (the top already used for the hypocras) 
and two smaller homemade sugar cane cones.

(Left) Sugar cones from the Tractatus de Herbis by Dioscorides (Ms Lat 993 L.9.28, 15th century,  Biblioteca Estense, Modena, Italy). and (right) A merchant selling a sugar cone (Gilles de Rome, Livre du gouvernement des princes, early 16th century. Bibliotheque National de France, Paris, France, Arsenal, Ms. 5062, detail from fol. 149v.)
Having a medieval dinner (with hypocras) together with the archaeological team of castle Loevestein.