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.

Could Possett


Photo by Carley Storm Photography

In the heat of the Philadelphia summer, we’ve been on the lookout for refreshing beverage recipes to prepare alongside hearty, early modern fare. “Could Possett,” a boozy herbaceous lemonade, hit the spot.

This recipe comes from UPenn Ms. Codex 252, an all-purpose household manuscript that was in use between 1600 and 1710. Food recipes are intermixed with medicinal recipes throughout the manuscript.

The Recipe

could posset

To make Could Possett

Take a pint of white wine a quarter of a pint of the Rose water
4 spounefulles of verges the Juice of one greate lemmon put into and halfe
the yellow rind of that Lemmon put into the Liqour with branch of
Rosemary and alitle amber greese and musk put as much sugar
into this as will sweetten it accordinge to your Likinge stire and
brew these together at Lest a quarter of an hower

Just as Ms Codex 252 is a mix of medicinal and culinary recipes, so too does the “Could Possett” straddle the categories between comestible and cure. In William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Lady Macbeth informs the audience that she has incapacitated King Duncan’s guards by contaminating their posset: “The surfeted Groomes doe mock their charge / With Snores. I haue drugg’d their Possets” (1623). Robert Herrick’s poem “To Phillis to love and live with him” promises a beloved posset, among other delicacies: “Thou shall have Possets, Wassails fine, / Not made of Ale, but spiced Wine” (1648). The Oxford English Dictionary defines a “posset” as a “drink made from hot milk curdled with ale, wine, or other liquor, flavoured with sugar, herbs, spices, etc., and often drunk for medicinal purposes.” Recipes for “ordinary plain wholesome posset” and “sack posset” in Ms Codex 252 fit this description well. Our “could possett” recipe does not call for hot, curdled milk, but it does bear a resemblance to some of the other medicinal waters in the volume.

This recipe calls for a few relatively exotic ingredients. “Verges,” or “verjuice,” is a sour beverage made from immature grapes that is still available today, but somewhat difficult to find. We found our posset to be quite tart without adding the verjuice. “Amber greese,” or ambergris, and musk are both more associated with scent and perfumery these days than with beverages, although they were widely used in punches and tinctures in the early modern era. We debated adding angostura bitters instead, but decided that the rosemary and rose water were sufficiently flavorful on their own. Since wine was far sweeter in the seventeenth century than it is today, we used a fairly sweet prosecco that we had on hand as as the base alcohol for the drink. It also added some festive bubbles! For a tasty, alcohol-free version of this recipe, substitute a liter of sparkling water, tonic water, or fine ginger ale for the wine and adjust the sugar accordingly.

Our Recipe

serves 8

1 bottle white wine, on the sweet side (still or sparkling)

1/4 cup rose water

juice of one lemon

peel of half a lemon, cut into long strips

4 sprigs of rosemary

1/2 cup sugar (adjust to taste)

Mix the ingredients in a large serving jug or punch bowl. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Taste to check sugar levels and adjust as needed. Allow to sit for 15 minutes before serving.

The Results

A tart, highly quaffable summer beverage. It looks lovely in the glass and stands up to flavorful food. We sipped it alongside Maccarony Cheese  and a side of bitter greens. The wine and lemon flavors dominated, while the rosemary and rosewater added fresh, vegetal notes. This is a great recipe for a summer picnic, barbeque, or dinner party.