Cordial Documentation On behalf of the Gwyntarian Tunners Guild, the research I've done for Cordial making regarding sugar, fruit, and aqua vitae...

A maker's Comment on Arwenna's Chamomile Cordial:
There is a site that probably will give you all you need for cordial
What I do: (This is the maceration style)
1:Steep (in this case)16 chamomile teabags in 300 ml of brandy (we prefer the Christian Bros. Frost white for fruit) or (Gordon's, obviously) vodka for four days, or other herbs or fruit up to 2 weeks. This means enough to COVER what you're steeping (air is bad, and changes colors and tastes). You may want to freize (sic) any fruit, and possibly blanch it, as fermentation is not really desirable with this technique.
2:Remove tea bags (or whatever you've got in there) and add 250 ml of sugar syrup (1 c. sugar to 1 c. water), or more to taste.
3:Add enough honey to make it palatable (I added 50 ml of honey to lessen the afterbite, since this was a bitter herb) Your taste may vary.
4:Set it aside to blend for a week turning it once or twice to help blend it, then filter it through fine muslin or coffee filters.
5:Store with minimum air. Some plants/fruit need a few months of storage. We tried cantalope once; that needed two years. Taste it once in a while. You'll notice it mellowing.
Note: there are other ways to do this, but it's the modern/legal one, as you've already paid the alchol tax. The more ancient ones generally involved using wine, and then distilling after, though some of the Medieval recipes for this just make variant mulled wines, or ales.
-- Ian Gourdon of Glen Awe

 A CORDIALL WATER - c. 1550 to 1625
 Take burrage & buglos flowers, as many as will [gap in MS] a still, & put
 thereto as much sack & clare[t] as will wet them well.  & to every pinte of
 [cordial] water, you must put 2 ounces of white sugar candie & one grayne
 of ambergreece, finely beaten.  ye sugar candy must be put into ye glass
 bottles & let ye water distill upon it very gently. # 281

TO MAKE CINNAMON WATER - c. 1550 to 1625
Take a gallon of muskadine, malmsey, or sack & put it in A vessill yt may be close covered, & put to it into ye vessell a pound of bruised cinnamon.
Let it stand 3 dayes, & every day stir 2 or 3 times.  then put it in a limbeck of glass, stoped fast.  set it in a brass pot full of water,1 & put hay in ye bottome & about ye sydes.  then make ye pot seeth, & let it distill in to a glass kept as close as may be.  shift ye glass every houre after ye first time, for ye first will be ye strongest, & ye last will be very weak. # 289
 (From Martha Washington's Booke of Cookery, ed. by Karen Hess.)

In a public offering to a few sites,
Lord Mikal Isernfocar called Ironhawk wrote:
"...First, the basic ingredient of most home made cordials today is commercially available distillates, usually brandy, vodka or gin (according to your personal tastes) or possibly pure grain alcohol.  Any of these is acceptable as a period substitute since most of our period recipes refer to using double or triple distilled brandy." Then he goes on to say, "The recipes offered here are based on 80 proof vodka."

G'day Mike, et al,
If I may make a comment to this 'I documented Brandy - used Vodka' syndrome which is very common in the SCA, in A&S and in general:
it DOES taste somewhat similar; but it's generally only close, no cigar. If you have made the 'recreation of a Period cordial' your intent, it falls short of the mark, in that it is wrong, and/or undocumented. As an A&S judge, I have had to point that out, from time to time, especially when they use that old TI article as documentation. Not that Vodka isn't in the general definition of distilled spirits, but Brandy is the spirit specified in period documents. Perhaps there is some cultural bias that keeps suggesting that substituting relatively modern, undocumented distillates in recipes calling for Brandy is desirable, but the research and making/testing of Cordials by Mistress Arwenna and the Gwyntarian Tunners Guild suggests otherwise. The main point is that philosophically, you're pulling a 'bait and switch' of sorts, every time you substitute a modern equivalent (and Vodka IS, if only in name) for that called for in the Period recipes, when the Period ingredient is easily obtained. Also, in the opinion of the Guild, Brandy does a better job. (and tastes as 'neutral', especially if you use the Christian Bros crystal) Those who have spent their lives drinking Vodka will of course swear that it tastes the more neutral, at worst the same, maybe better. For me, though, it's the equivalent of making a Rum cake, and throwing in Scotch instead, on the above theory. It may very well make a lovely cake, (I like Scotch), but it is no longer a Rum cake. (aside from the fact that Scotch is documentably Period, and Rum isn't).
A little off topic, perhaps, but I just hate to see the SCA populace think it's All-The-Same. It's not.  Ian Gourdon July 4, 99

<<  how early is the word Vodka? >>
vod*ka (noun)
[Russian, from voda water; akin to Old English waeter water]
First appeared circa 1803

                            ANTECEDENTS AND BEGINNINGS
 Medieval/Renaissance Brewing Homepage
Alcoholic Drinks of the Middle Ages
 Go to these two pages. Go there first. Read the sub-pages.

First, a little something slightly... 'late': (only 250 yrs. old)

"To Make Shrub"
"Take two quarts of brandy, and put it in a large bottle, adding to it the
juice of five lemons, the peels of two, and half a nutmeg; stop it up and
let it stand three days, and add to it three pints of white wine, a pound
and a half of sugar; mix it, strain it twice through a flannel, and bottle
it up; it is a pretty wine, and a cordial."
- Eliza Smith's  "The Compleat Housewife", published in 1748
(p. 240, Studio Editions facsimile edition).

The Sugar Making Process Described; Period Equivalent Sugar: HERE

The Sugar:
    The sugarcane plant, indigenous to southern Asia, was first used for the production of sugar between the 7th and 4th century B.C. in northern India. Cane cultivation eventually spread westward to the Near East and was introduced to the Mediterranean region by the Arabs, giving rise to a cane sugar industry that flourished there until the late 1500's. Columbus introduced sugarcane to the New World on his second voyage in 1493, when it was first planted on the
island of Hispaniola. Soon, it seems, Isabel and her children became very fond of cane sugar and ate it seemingly at every meal.
Within the first ten years of the 16th century, (1509) a sugar cane processing factory was established in the New World.
    During the 16th and 17th centuries, the Spanish, English, and French all established sugar production in their Caribbean island colonies.
      -1996 Louisiana State University Libraries, etc.

The word "sugar" first appears in English in 1299. It is referred to only in inventories (e.g., "7 loaves of sugar") until 1425. There is a recipe for a cinnamon-sugar dish (probably a dessert) from that date. Sugar was first referred to as "white" in 1430, so purification techniques were in use by then. (In the Middle East) In general, sugars were referred to as being "of" a particular place: Cyprus, Alexandria, Babylon, Barbary, Crete, and Morocco. The OED says that sugarcane originated in China, but will grow in any tropical climate, and was grown in warmer areas nearer Europe later on. The first literary reference to sugar is in Chaucer's Squire's Tale, and is mentioned in conjunction with honey, bread and milk.
    Period foods using sugar: sugar water(1450), sugarcakes (1587, made from sugar, butter, and cream), gingerbread (also 1587),
sugared almonds (Marlowe mentioned them in 1594), sugar meats (a confection of some sort, 1587) sugar pellets (1591), which seem to have been sugar paste; (they were served in bowls at feasts, probably like our after-dinner mints.)
The first mention of sugarcane in English is 1568.
Alison MacDermot 
 From: Food in England Since 1066 -- A Vegetarian Evolution?

Compiled by John Davis
"Honey was frequently employed for sweetening and for the making of gingerbread; but sugar, expensive though it was at up to 2 shillings a pound, was as familiar to cooks as honey in all large households. The Countess of Leicester's household was getting through about eight pounds of sugar a month in 1265."

Hobhouse also says:
"The sugar industry survived the gradual expulsion of the Moors from the Mediterranean littoral, and was carried on by both Moslems and Christians as a profitable, expanding concern for two hundred years from about 1300.
Production was centered in Syria, Palestine, the Dodecanese, Egypt, Cyprus, Crete, Sicily, North Africa, and Southern Spain. The trade (as opposed to production) was under the dominance of the merchant bankers of Italy, with Venice ultimately controlling distribution throughout the then known world. The first sugar reached England in 1319, Denmark in 1374, and Sweden in 1390.
It was an expensive novelty and useful in medicine, being unsurpassed for making palatable the odious mixtures of therapeutic herbs, entrails, and other substances of the medieval

Subject: Re: SC - Sugars for medicinal use

Rawcliffe, Carole.  Medicine & Society in Later Medieval England. Alan
Sutton Publishing       Ltd., United Kingdom, 1995.  ISBN 0 86299 598
1.  Contains humoural theory.

Chapter: The Apothecary, p. 150.  "The use of sugar in pharmacy had been
pioneered by the Arabs, who were thus able to extend the Greek
pharmacopoeia by mixing different combinations of herbs, spices and
animal products with a sweet-tasting powder or syrup base." 5

5.  M. Levey, _Early Arab Pharmacoloogy_, Leiden, 1973, pp. 52-3.  G. E.
Trease, 'The Spicers and Apothecaries of the Royal Household in the
Reigns of Henry III, Edward I and Edward II', Notingham Medieval Studies,
III, 1959, p. 22.

In Period (where/when/as):]
China / probably throughout period / grown as condiment
Spain / Moorish Conquest (eighth century) / grown as condiment
Italy / ca. 1200 / regularly imported and widely used as condiment, medicine
France, England, Portugal / fourteenth century / regularly imported and widely used as condiment, medicine
New World / sixteenth century / grown and exported to Europe by the Spanish in the Caribbean and Mexico; the Portuguese in Brazil; the Dutch in the Caribbean and on the South American mainland.
[Comments:] Imported from India as a rare spice during the Dark Ages; grown in the Near East by the Arabs, as early as the eighth century; imported to Europe from Egypt during the Middle Ages; Marco Polo remarked on its abundance in China; (if you can believe he went there...)
Venice acquired a near-monopoly during the Italian Renaissance, even importing the raw materials and refining it in Italy.
by Marian Greenleaf, C.M., O.P.
1.Dawson, Thomas; The Good Hus-wives Jewell, E. Allde,
London, 1596 (transcribed by Susan J. Evans, Falconwood
Press, 1988.)
2.Dawson, Thomas; The Second Part of the Good
Hus-wives Jewell, E. Allde, London, 1597 (transcribed by
Master John the Artificer.)
3.Encyclopedia Brittanica, Fifteenth Edition,
Chicago/London, 1977.
4.Hieatt, Constance B. and Butler, Sharon: Pleyn Delit,
University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 1976.
5.Hieatt, Constance B.: An Ordinance of Pottage, Prospect
Books, London, 1988.
6.Murrell, John; A New Booke of Cookerie, John Brown,
London, 1615 (transcribed by Susan J. Evans, Falconwood
Press, 1988.)
7.Root, Waverly; Food, Simon and Schuster, New York,
8.Root, Waverly (ed.); Herbs and Spices, Alfred van der
Marck Editions, New York, 1985.

"Berlin was the scene of the most important events in the history of beet sugar: it was
here, in 1747, that Andreas Sigismund Marggraf, the best known chemist of his time in
the German-speaking area, discovered sugar in the mangelwurzel. His student and
successor in office, Franz Carl Achard, continued his work and produced, in 1798, in
what is today Berlin-Kaulsdorf, the first beet sugar. With the financial support of
Friedrich Wilhelm III. the world's first beet sugar factory was set up in Cunern/Silesia in
1801 and , in March 1802, the first beet sugar was produced there. In 1806, Napoleon I.
issued the famous edict in the imperial army camp in Berlin which became known as the
Continental blockade which favoured the beginnings of beet sugar farming because it
cut Europe off from colonial sugar."   source: Sugar Museum Berlin (

Sugar in Cooking:
In particular, out of 447 recipes from the 13th and 14th C in England, sugar appears in 155 (31%), while honey appears in only 31 (7%). Likewise, out of 205 recipes from the 15th C, sugar appears in 86 (42%), whereas honey appears in 14 (7%). (The sample from the 13th and 14th C is very nearly all the recipes available; the sample from the 15th is much smaller relative to its population, as well as in absolute numbers, but seems to be reasonably representative.) In other words, sugar appears to be one of the most common ingredients in the cookbook corpus, while honey is relatively rare. Given the extreme frequency of saffron in English cuisine despite its cost (it is the second most common
ingredient in the 13th and 14th C, after only salt; sugar, BTW, is third)
-- Angharad/Terry

The Fruit:
From: Food in England Since 1066 -- A Vegetarian Evolution?
Compiled by John Davis
    Beyond the walls of most manor houses were orchards, sheltered by the walls from the winds, there grew not only the herbs which were such essential ingredients of medieval cookery, but also flowers. Ideally, so Alexander Neckham wrote in his "De Naturis Rerum" towards the beginning of the thirteenth century...(a break)...
"Recent archaeological work, has shown that a large variety of plants and fruits were, indeed grown in gardens. In addition to those already named, goosefoot and sorrel were grown, penny-cress and whortleberry, borage, black mustard and, for use as a laxative, corncockle, as well as strawberries and blackberries, sloes, plums and raspberries. In the nearby orchard grew apples, plums and
pears, cherries and quinces."
[Thomas Wright, The Homes of Other Days, 1871]
I have gathered together over 400 documented recipes for mead, wines, cider, beer, etc., in my book, "A Sip Through Time", & have identified the over 200 herbs & fruits called for in the recipes.  (This information appears in the appendix.)

Here is a short list of available fruits: apple, currants, date, fig,
gooseberry, grape, lemon, medlar, mulberry, orange, pear, plum,
pomegranate, quince, raspberry, sloe, strawberry, and sweetbrier hips.

HTH, Cindy Renfrow  -
Author of  "A Sip Through Time, A Collection of Old Brewing Recipes"

A quick trip through Digby (1669) produced this list:


and gooseberries and plums, I assume, although I didn't see them in there.
The list shouldn't change for the early middle ages, either.

- -- Joyce
- --- Joyce Miller,  - 6-98 

The Aqua Vitae:
"Originally Whisky was very different to the refined spitits we have today. It had almost a soupy consistency with a strong smoky flavour from the peat used in the fires to dry the malt."
The earliest documented record of distilling in Scotland occurs as long ago as 1494, when an entry in the Exchequer Rolls listed "Eight bolls of malt to Friar John Cor wherewith to make aqua vitae" (water of life). This was sufficient to produce almost 1500 bottles. Thus, it is clear that distilling was already a well-established practice.
-Edited from and ©: "The Original Scotch". Michael Brander
[Hutchinson, 1974: ISBN 0
09 120720 7] plus additional entries...

 Brandy is distilled from wine, any wine.  What we normally call brandy is distilled from grape wine.  Other fruit brandies are distilled from fruit wine or fermented juices, peach brandy, black berry brandy, kirchwasser, etc. Distillation has long been used to separate liquids and a simple distillation will produce about a 40 proof alcohol. The distillation process was improved around 800 C.E. by Jabir ibn Hayyan.
The first modern brandy was distilled in approximately 1300 C.E. at the Montpellier medical school by Arnaldus de Villa Nova, a French medical professor.
Dates are courtesy of The Food Chronology and the MS
Encyclopedia, which have exactly the same text.

 ... in Curye on Inglysch, which Hieatt calls 'Goud Kokery', there is a 14th century recipe for distilling aqua vite from strong wine, which seems to produce something that would fairly obviously be a brandy.

Distilled beverages may date as far back as 800 BC in China with a distillate of Sake. In Europe, distillation was known by at least the eleventh or twelfth century.
-Simon, Wines of the World. p351.

The Norman English found distillation from grain firmly established in the form of a drink called uisge beatha (whisky) when they invaded Ireland in the twelfth century.
-Ray, The Complete Bool of Spirits and Liqueurs. p 11.

The Romans found apples in abundance as they made their conquests through Gaul, and as early as the nineth century had laws regulating the production of cider. The first written mention of an eau-de-vie made of 'Syder', however, was not until 1553 when it was mentioned in the journal of a Norman farmer. Arnold de Vila Nova, a 13th Century alchemist, wrote of aqua vitae and its
restorative properties, also of the medicinal properties of various flavored alcohols. Legal documents dating to 1411 mention the distillation of wine into brandy in the Armagnac region of France.
-Hannum, Brandies and Liqueurs of the World. p 5.

 Das Buch zu Destilliern by Hieronymus Braunsweig was printed in 1519. This book, as its title explains, is a book on distillation. In addition to the text, there are pictures inthe book which show the operations, including one of a still with 4 alembics (retorts).
- "Alcohol," and "Alcoholic Beverages," Encyclopaedia

"Rum means spirits distilled from sugar products such as molasses.  It apparently was not made until sugar became cheap, which means during the 17th c. when sugar plantations were established in the West Indies by Europeans. Both Anne Wilson (Food and Drink in Britain) and the Oxford English Dictionary have as their earliest mentions of rum mid-17th c. references to the West Indies. So as far as I can tell, rum, though not all distilled spirits, is out of our period."
- Elizabeth/Betty Cook 

384 B.C. - Aristotle born; wrote of distilling in his "Meteorology"
432 A.D. - St. Patrick, a native of Scotland, sent to Wicklow to spread Christianity and also reputed to have introduced distilling
560 A.D. (circa) - Taliessin the Welsh bard composed his "Song to Ale"
1494 - Entry in Exchequer Rolls regarding Friar Cor making aqua vitae by order of the King
1498 - Lord High Treasurer's Account 'To the barbour that brocht aqua vitae to the King in Dundee'
1505 - Barber surgeons in Edinburgh granted right of making aqua vitae
1506 - Treasurer's Accounts in Inverness mention 'aqua vite to the King'
1527 - The vertuose boke of Dstyllacyon by Hieronymous
Braunschweig published in English, translated by L. Andrew. First book on the subject, treated aqua vitae as a medicine
1555 - The Scottish Parliament passed an Act forbidding export of victuals in time of famine, except: 'It sal be leifful to the inhabitants of the burrowis of Air, Irvin, Glasgow, Dumbertane and uthers our
Soverane Ladys leigis dwelland at the west setis to have bakin breid, browin aill and aqua vite to the Ilis to bertour with uther merchandice'
1559 - Treasure of Evonymous published by Peter Morwyng, detailing methods of distilling process
1578 - Raphael Holinshed's Chroncles of England, Scotland
and Ireland mention types of aqua vitae found in Scotland
1579 - First Act in Scotland specifically relating to aqua vitae
1605 - Fynes Moryson's Itneraries on Scotland comments on strong ale and lack of inns
1608 - First licence to distill whisky given to the Bushmills distillery, Co., Antrim, Ireland.
1616 - 'Act agens the drinking of Wynes in the Yllis'
1618 - John Taylor in his Pennyless Pilgrimage visits Earl of Mar and drinks aqua vitae
-Earliest reference to 'uisge' being drunk at Highland chief's funeral
1636 - The Worshipful Company of Distillers granted a
Charter in England, the regulations framed by Sir Theodore de Mayerne and Dr. Thomas Cademan
1641 - Tonnage and Poundage Act in England
1644 - Imposed first Excise duty. Following Parliament's example Charles passed an Act of Excyse on 'everie pynt of aquavytie or strong watteris sold within the country'
    800 BC  Rice - millet 
 Mares Milk
 Ttehoo- Sautchoo 
 Arrack   China   Sake - Japan 
 Arrack - India 
 Kefir - Caucasas
    500 AD   Honey  Mead  Distilled Mead   G. Brittain .
  1000 AD  Grape  Wine  Brandy    Italy .
  1100 AD   Oats -Barley   Beer   Usqubaugh   Ireland  'Whisky'
  1200 AD   Grape  Wine    Aqua Vini    Spain .
  1300 AD   Grape   Wine   Cognac    France  .
  1500 AD   Barley   Beer   Whisky- 
 Aqua Vitae 
  Scotland  .
Of course, dating beer to a place and time on this list is fairly silly...

Updated March 21,'98  Ian Gourdon of Glen Awe