Since the topic came up in a conversation. I thought I might talk about Hippocras. I make up batches of my hippocras spice blend and give it to people as holiday gifts. I think it’s a nice warming winter beverage which is is beneficial to the cardiovascular system and the digestive system.
Hippocras is Middle English name for an aromatic wine derived from the Old French word ypocras. This is likely named after the Latin vinum Hippocratum — a spiced wine strained through a Hippocratic sleeve. This was a cloth bag hung and used as a strainer to remove all fine particulates as in the picture below.
The first few times I had this it was made with a sweet desert wine to which they add cupsful of sugar. As I am not a sugar person. I didn’t care about making Hippocras for a very long time after that. One day I was reading through the English Texts Society’s printing of Harleian MS 4011 The Boke of Nurture (1465) in which John Russell shared that when making ypocras you should use a “red wyne” that is “whote [hot] and drye to taste, fele, & see.”
That was a game changer for me. I experimented with several versions before I settled on my favorite. The one I settled on adapting is from a 1559 English translation of Konrad Gesner’s Thesaurus Euonymi Philiatri.
I think it’s worth noting that Gesner wrote about many types of aromatic wines as medicinal preparations which were said to be beneficial to people with cardiac problems, weak stomachs, or “defaultes” of the lungs. The one I chose kind of lets you pick and choose your corrigents as the situation warrants.
“The inner barkes of Cinnamon. vi drammes: halfe an ounce of white Ginger hoole, Nutmegges elect .ii. drammes, Cloues, graines of paradice, of ether a dram: Cardamomum, Pep∣per, Calamus Aromaticus, Coriander prepared, of euery one a scrupull, mixte them and beate them somewhat groose. Eight poundes of wine, clari∣fied honye .xxvi. ounces, mixte all, and strayne [ xxx] them accordinge to Arte. Some clarifye theese spiced wines with Almond milke.”
I generally use galangal instead of ginger. It’s the most common ingredient in the receipts for “Cardiacall” persons. It’s a similar flavor profile to ginger and has similar antioxidant actions in terms of neuroprotection, without being quite so dry which I prefer for elders. You could also use hard cider or cider instead of wine. I also rarely add sugar, even to the wine. So feel free to add the amount of sugar that is to your liking.
The last sentence speaks to the process of clarifying a beverage that was wildly popular in the Early Modern period. It is similar to the way I use egg whites for fining wine. Cooks Illustrated wrote a great article about it several years ago, so I am not going to duplicate efforts on that topic.
Adapted from Thesaurus Euonymi Philiatri
- 12 grams Cinnamon (2.5 tsp)
- 4 grams of dried Galangal or Ginger (1 tsp)
- 4 grams of nutmeg (1 tsp)
- 4 grams of grains of paradise or cloves (1 tsp) (I use both)
- 2 grams of dried coriander, dried calamus, or cardamom (1/2 tsp)
- 3 liters of wine ( Two of the magnum bottles)
- 750 mL sugar or clarified honey ( 3 cups)
- If you are starting out with powders, you just mix the herbs together. I have to grind my herbs into a coarse powder to get started because I don’t keep powdered herbs around. I think that the coarse powder works better, and herbs definitely stay fresh longer if you don’t powder them.
- Once the ingredients have been ground to your liking you stir them into the wine. You could tie the mixture up in a small bit of butter muslin or cheese cloth, or seal it in one of those press and seal teabags. I will say that I think you get better flavor from the first method, but the second method is easier especially if you start with powders.
- The phrase “according to Arte” needs some explanation here. Traditionally this mixture is stirred into the cold wine, the wine is slowly warmed and then strained through a muslin bag. You want to use very low heat so that all your aromatics don’t steam off. Some recipes for Hippocras mentioned setting it near a warm fire in an earthen jug, rather than sitting it on the heat.
- I think the easiest way to do this without cooking the ingredients too much is to put it in a crockpot that has one of the keep warm settings.
- How long you allow the spices to infuse, is a matter of taste. I like to let mine warm for a couple of hours.
- Add the honey or sugar to the mixture, stir until dissolved, and serve.