To make white Hippocras

This post is adapted from an article that I published in a special issue of the Early Modern Studies Journal on Mary Baumfylde’s recipe book (Folger Shakespeare Library, call number V.a.456). Take a look at the whole issue here – Early Modern Recipes in a Digital World: The Baumfylde Manuscript !

In December 2018, I made a lot of hippocras. I shared this recipe for the spiced wine drink immediately. I also prepared a recipe for white hippocras as part of my ongoing research on Mary Baumfylde’s manuscript (Folger Shakespeare Library, call number V.a.456).

Baumfylde’s recipe for white hippocras reaches back to medieval culinary traditions and also uses straining methods that bartenders today employ when they prepare twenty-first-century craft cocktails. Consumed for medicinal benefit and pleasurable taste, spiced wines were strained before drinking through cloth or a “hippocras bag.” Both the beverage and the “bag” are named for the ancient physician Hippocrates who advocated for the consumption of medicinal spiced wines and wore garments with flowing sleeves that could, in a pinch, be used to strain drinks. In Inventing Wine Paul Lukacs writes that hippocras recipes enhance the flavors of unstable, imported wines and aligned with other aspects of medieval and early modern culinary culture. Recipes for hippocras commonly called for cloves, cinnamon, and honey which were also used to flavor other sweet and savory dishes on the table. Adding spices to wine fit into this overarching culinary practice of using expensive spices to elevate eating and promote health.

Hippocras recipes vary widely (I survey a bunch of them in this post). They serve a range of tastes and convey different medicinal properties depending on how they are spiced, infused, and strained. Mary Baumfylde’s recipe uses a “milk punch” method to clarify and strain the hippocras. After the initial infusion of spice and white wine, milk is added. It curdles and the curdled milk solids are strained out along with the spices. (I’ve written more about this curdling method here.) Dairy and alcohol might not seem like an auspicious combination, but it was widely used in the early modern period for hippocras, ramboose, and posset – a category of drinks that combine hot or warm alcohol with milk and sometimes eggs.

The Recipe

To make white Hippocras
Take a quart of white wine and put
into it iiij ounces of Synamon
brused and halfe an ounce of mace
iij nuttmeggs and halfe a pound of
fine sugar, and let it steepe 24
howers, then take a Jelly bagg, and
put a little fresh Synamon in the
bottome of it, and 2 or 3 slices of
ginger, then take a pynt of new
milke, and power a little of the
milke and a little of the wine
and soe power it often through
the bagg vntill it be cleare

This recipe requires both advance planning and immediate serving. The spices – nutmeg, mace, and cinnamon – slowly infuse the sweet wine with their flavors during a twenty-four hour rest. The next day, or just before serving, the recipe calls for adding more spices – ginger and more cinnamon – and adding milk to clarify the drink. As promised, the milk curdles. When solids form they can be strained from the drink .

The Recipe

1 quart white wine (I used a Grünerveltliner)
8 cinnamon sticks
2-4 slices of a whole nutmeg or ½ t ground nutmeg
½ t mace
1 c sugar
1 pint milk
Additional cinnamon stick and 2-3 slices of fresh ginger for straining.

Combine the wine, sugar, and spices in a jug, jar, or decanter. Leave to infuse for 24 hours.

Prepare a straining setup. I used a wire strainer to support a few layers of cheese cloth. A clean, thin kitchen-towel would also work. Put a cinnamon stick and fresh ginger slices in the cloth-layered strainer.

Stir the infused wine. Add the milk. Then pour the milk-wine mixture through the strainer. Stir the mixture in the strainer with a spoon to encourage movement. Squeeze the cloth to make sure all the liquid has passed through. The spices and milk solids will be left in the cloth. You may need to do this twice. Discard the spices and milk solids and rinse the cloth thoroughly before repeating.

Serve immediately.

white hippocras

The Results

The first thing I tasted was nutmeg, then sweetness and the rest of the spices. The nutmeg scent outpaced the other flavors and there was only the slightest hint of the fresh ginger that I added during straining as instructed. One friend found it so fruity that she was surprised it contained no fruit. Another friend likened it to a lighter eggnog and proposed “nog lite” as a possible name for the drink. Spiced, curdled, and strained, Baumfylde’s White Hippocras could accompany a range of sweet and savory dishes.

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