Forester Nigel FitzMaurice
Sakanjubins and Oxymels comprise a class of compounds whose most
general characteristics are a heavily sweetened vinegar combined with any
of a wide variety of herbs, spices, or other tonic and/or flavoring agents.
The two terms are synonymous; “oxymel” is Greek and means “acid-honey”.
“Sakanjubin” is an Arabic transcription of a Farsi (Persian) term, “sirka-anjubin”,
and means exactly the same thing; “honeyed vinegar”.
There is no standard sakanjubin, it is more in the nature of a principle, from which a great many variations can be derived. In it’s origins, it was (and remains to certain degree) a medicine, a tonic water mixed for a wide number of usages.
The following are a variety of different recipes.
1. Mint Sakanjubin
Dissolve 4 cups sugar in 2 1/2 cups of water; when it comes to a boil add 1 cup wine vinegar. Simmer 1/2 hour. Add a handful of mint, remove from fire, let cool. Dilute the resulting syrup to taste with ice water (5 to 10 parts water to 1 part syrup). The syrup stores without refrigeration.
Commentary: This is probably the most typical sakanjubin found in the SCA. It is sometimes referred to as Cariadoc’s Sakanjubin, and is to be found in Cariadoc's Miscellany. The Miscellany is copyright (c) by David Friedman and Elizabeth Cook, 1988, 1990, 1992. The recipe is also on the internet, at http://www.pbm.com/~lindahl/cariadoc/drinks.html
2. Syrup of Simple Sikanjabîn (Oxymel)
Take a ratl of strong vinegar and mix it with two ratls of sugar, and cook all this until it takes the form of a syrup. Drink an ûqiya of this with three of hot water when fasting: it is beneficial for fevers of jaundice, and calms jaundice and cuts the thirst, since sikanjabîn syrup is beneficial in phlegmatic fevers: make it with six ûqiyas of sour vinegar for a ratl of honey and it is admirable.
This is another of Cariadoc’s recipes, found in the same sources as #1. It is a period recipe, given in the source as “Andalusian”. The measurements indicated are standard Muslim units: a ratl is about 14.3 ounces, and an ûqiya is about 1/16 of a ratl. This recipe is confirmed by the introductory commentary found in another period source, the Formulary of al-Samarqandi. The author was a physician living in what is now Afghanistan, in the city of Herat, at the beginning of the 13th century.
3. (Basic instructions) “...the kind made from vinegar sharply sour with a double quantity of very white sugar, cooked finely, is good to drink for fevers which are extremely acute and hot. It is good for those who can endure it and do not dislike it. The viscous kind made from strong wine vinegar with three times it of red sugar is for compound fevers...”
Al-Samarqandi then goes on to detail how the basic mix should be prepared...
“The vinegar may also be reduced from that to the ratio of one fifth or less. It is necessary that the sugar be washed a little at first, then thrown into the pot; on it the vinegar is poured. It is placed over a slow burning fire until the sugar dissolves. Then water in the same amount, more or less, is poured on it according to the requirements. It is boiled, and then its froth is removed.”
4. “Seedy” Sakanjubin
This formula is also found in al-Samarqandi. and demonstrates the sorts of things recommended to place within the basic sugar and vinegar mixture. There is no specific commentary by the author as to how the following list of ingredients should be introduced into the mixture, but it is clear from the manuscript that what is intended is to produce a standard oxymel, then add the following materia:
Two kinds of cucumber (seeds), 5 dirhams
Melon (seed), 5 dirhams
Rinds of the root of the endive, 2 dirhams
Endive (seed), 3 dirhams
Commentary: “Two kinds of cucumber” refers to cucumber itself together with musk melon. A “dirham” (drachm) is another standard Middle Eastern unit of measure, and is normally equivalent to 1/144 of a ratl. Note that in modern Iran, sakanjubin is normally served cold, often with grated cucumber.
5. Jujube Rob
One ratl of pure Jurjani jujube, fifteen dirhams of dry coriander,
one hundred dirhams of peeled lentils, and a bunch of endive roots are
all soaked in vinegar for three days and then boiled once vigorously and
filtered. Oxymel is made from it. Every day ten dirhams of it is soaked
in a glass containing a dilution of barberry whose preparation is as follows:
One ratl of Jurjani jujube without seeds, one ratl of fresh barberry without seeds, one ratl of cuscuta, one handful of endive seed, and one handful of genuine rhubarb, altogether three dirhams, are gathered in a vessel. On it is poured enough water to cover it and to exceed it by two fingers in width. It is put in the summer sun for three days or in the winter for four days. Allah is omniscient.
Commentary: A “rob” is a syrup, related to oxymels in many ways.
In a previous section of the manuscript, al-Samarqandi indicates that the
fruit juices of a rob preparation may be used in place of the water indicated
for the preparation of a sakanjubin, in fact. place of water
Finally, a recipe from a different author. Abu Yusuf Ya'qub ibn Ishaq al-Kindi was a philosopher living in Baghdad in the period c. 800-870 CE. He wrote a great many treatises on a broad number of topics, from sorcery and astrology, to medicine and cooking, to mathematics and swordsmithing, to name just a few. Among his works was a medical formulary. He refers to sakanjubin twice in that work: the first reference is as a sub-ingredient in a very complex formula for a dentifrice (specifically, he has it as the liquid measure for a little barley cake which is later crumbled into other elements. No formula for the sakanjubin is given, and I suspect it is merely sweetened vinegar, diluted in standard fashion. The other recipe is the following:
6. Oxymel to ease the Galenic Humor.
It is effective, with Allah’s help, for quartan fever, the fever of every second day, jaundice, and for foul conditions. It is useful for thirst and pain of the stomach and liver, and it corrects the color (of the skin).
Root of licorice, 20 dirhams
Asarabacca, 20 dirhams
Rind of fennel root, 20 dirhams
Hyssop, 20 dirhams
Bindweed, 20 dirhams
Rind of celery root, 20 dirhams
Aquatic mint, 10 dirhams
Agaric, 7 dirhams
Onion, 7 dirhams
Scammony, 10 dirhams
It is well pounded and wine vinegar and costus are poured on. It stands a day and a night. It is cooked over a low fire. Honey is poured into it in an amount to make it more viscous, so that it becomes like honey. Then it is removed and it is good, Allah willing.
Agaric (Agaricus) Any of a great many species of this genus of
fungi. The best known is probably fly agaric, used for centuries as a poison,
medicine, and intoxicant (!!!WARNING: POISONOUS!!!).
Asarabacca (Asarum) Any of a number of species within this genus, especially A. europaeum: (WARNING: a known emetic and purgative).
Barberry (Berberis vulgaris) A deciduous shrub growing in hard, gravelly soil.
Bindweed (Convolvu lus) Any of a number of species within this genus of trailing and twining plants, most notably C. sepium (hedge bindweed: WARNING, a known purgative) and C. scoparius or C. virgarius (rhodium), both sources of rosewood oil.
Celery root, seed (Apium graveolens) A biennial plant native to North Africa and Europe, long used as a salad vegetable and as a flavoring agent.
Coriander (Coriandrum sativum) A small annual plant known as a spice for ages.
Costus (Sausurrea lappa) A Kashmiri plant whose oil has long been used as a perfume.
Cucumber (Cucumis sativus) A fleshy vine bearing the very well-known gourd.
Cuscuta Probably (Vetiveria zizanioides), a tall perreniel grass whose roots have several medicinal properties.
Endive (Cichorium intybus). A leafy garden herb often used in salads. Originating in south Asia and being introduced into Europe via Egypt, it would have been a rarity in the present context, since its cultivation was not common in Britain until the 16th century.
Fennel (Foeniculum officinale). A biennial or perennial native to Asia Minor and the Mediterranean, but cultivated as far north as Britain from an early date. The roots and the seeds are of use.
Honey This natural source of sugar has been known from the very beginning of human experience. I recommend using inexpensive generic grades of honey, not only to control cost but also for the fact that the generics are blends from several different pollen sources, just as Mediaeval honey most likely would have been. Single source honeys, particularly the clovers, have a tendency to overwhelm other flavors with their own distinctive essence.
Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis) A bushy evergreen plant originally from the Mediterranean, and known for a variety of medicinal attributes.
Jujube (Zizyphus) Any of several specied within this genus, all bearing a date-like fruit.
Lentil (Lens esculenta) An annual plant bearing characteristically lens-shaped edible seeds.
Liquorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra). A perennial found in warmer temperate zones, and cultivated elsewhere. The rootstock provides the well-known flavoring agent.
Melon, Musk Melon (Cucumis) Any of a variety of large gourds, well-known for centuries as cantaloupes, musk melons, honeydew melons, etc.
Mint, Aquatic Mint (Mentha) It is not indicated in the recipe whether Peppermint or Spearmint is meant; my feeling is that Spearmint is the reference, since that subspecies (M. spicata) tends to be more southerly in native clime. “Aquatic” mint is a somewhat vague reference, and could concievably refer to any of a number of mint-related herbs.
Onion (Allium cepa) The common annual or biennial bulb used for ages as a flavoring agent and a medicine.
Scammony (Convolvulus scammonia) Another bindweed, with white flowers and medicinal properties in the tuberous root.
Sugar, Red Sugar Ordinary sugar. But note the reference to “red” sugar. Red sugar is a result of impurities derived from a particular type of refining process, in which brass cauldrons are used and thus metallic ions attach to the sugar molecules.
Vinegar, Wine Vinegar (Acetic acid (CH3COOH)) Any of a variety of distilled vinegars.
Friedman, David, and Elizabeth Cook. Cariadoc's Miscellany. Privately published 1992.
Levey, Martin. The Medical Formulary, or Aqrabadhin, of Al-Kindi. Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1966. This version contains, aside from explanatory notes and indices of materia and foreign terms, the complete text of the original. A translation is presented on each page, and the facing page contains a photograph of the original document, showing the Arabic.
Levey, Martin and Noury al-Khaledy. The Medical Formulary of Al-Samarqandi. Philadelphia, Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 1967. A translation of a medical formulary written in the early 13th century CE, which devotes a chapter to sakanjubins, syrups, and the like.
Lust, John. The Herb Book. Bantam Books, New York. 1974. A detailed reference guide to a wide variety of medicinal herbs and botanicals.
Read similar papers:
Mead A focus on the third recipe above (#108), indicating
some of it's implications.
Five Arabic Elixers A short paper on several 9th century Iraqi medicinal preparations which could easily be the basis for basic cordials. This is the same formulary noted in the above paper "An Arab Mead", and contains that recipe, with the original measuring units given.
Precious Waters: A Miscellany of Early Cordials A longer paper detailing a number of 14th century English medicinal recipes that have cordial-like characteristics. Includes one very explicit recipe for Aqua Vite, with directions on how to distill it.
A Recipe for Spiced Wine A brief commentary on a claree recipe found in a late-13th century Anglo-Norman manuscript.
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Here is his SCA Homepage.