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Early Cordial Recipes

by Caryl de Trecesson/Carol Hanson
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The background discussion on cordials is on this page and my own redactions and variations on this page.
Recipes Prior to 1700

There are certainly more prior to 1600 than shown here. Unfortunately I'm limited to research in the English language as well as the inability to access (or afford) texts only available as original documents.

Recipes: c. 1550-1625 ?

From Martha Washington's Booke of Cookery, c. 1550-1625, ed. by Karen Hess as Martha Washington's Booke of Cookery and Booke of Sweetmeats (NY: Columbia University Press, 1995), cited in Basic Cordials by Master Terafan Greydragon, Drachenwald University, 11 November, A.S. XXXV.

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.

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. [Caryl: given the large amounts of cinnamon in this recipe, it isn't clear to me that a drinkable result is intended or whether it's for freshening linens or some other non-potable use. The next recipe at least has sugar in it.]

To Make Cinnamon Water Without Distilling it [this one from Stefan's Florilegium: Cordials]
Take one quart of brandy, & halfe a dram of oyle of cinnamon, & a pinte of water, & halfe a pound of white sugar. boyle ye water & sugar together, & mix ye oyle & sugar together, yt is with a little of ye sugar before you put it to ye rest, then mix them alltogether, & set it by till it be cold. & then bottle it up.

Recipe: 1564 ?

From Maison Rustique. Originally in French by Charles Estienne and Jean Liebault as L'Agriculture et Maison Rustique in 1564. First English translation in 1600 by Richard Surflet, reprinted 1606, then revised and republished as Maison Rustique, or, the Countrey Farme by Gervase Markham in 1616. The English translation calls the original author "Charles Stevens" and the both "Doctors of Physicke", so the book may be the source of the ubiquitous "Stevens water." This recipe is from Alcoholic Drinks of the Middle Ages (Complete Anachronist #60) by Marc Shapiro/THL Alexander Mareschal.

Take equal parts of cloves, ginger, and fowers of rosemary, infuse them in very good wine the space of eight days: distil the whole. This water comforteth the stomacke, assuageth the pains and wringings of the belly, killeth worms, and maketh fat folk to becom leane, or maketh fat the leane, if they drink it mixt with sugar.

Recipe: 1594

From The Jewell House of Art and Nature, Sir Hugh Platt, 1594, cited in Basic Brewing: Introduction to Meads, Wines, Beers, Cordials, and Exotics by Lord Tadhg macAedain uiChonchobhair, University of Atlantia, Spring Session, A.S. XXX.

How to give a prettie grace both in tast and propertie, unto the spirit of wine.
If you infuse the same uppon the rinde of a civel sower Orange, or Lymon, you shall finde a pleasaunt and comfortable taste thereby, or if you woulde not have the same descried by his colour, you may redistill the spirit so tincted in balneo. Some give a tuch unto the spirit of wing with rosemary, some with annis seedes, some with sweet fennell seedes: som with one seed, or hearbe, and some with another, by infusing the same a day or two upon them.

Recipes: 1596

From Thomas Dawson's The Good Huswifes Jewell, 1596 (Falconwood Press, 1988).

A Copie of Doctor Steevens water.
Take a gallon of Gascoigne wine, then take Ginger, Galingale, Camamill, Cinamon, Graines, Cloves, Mace, anyseedes, Fennell seedes, Carraway seedes, of every of them one dramme, that is two pence halpenny waight, then take Suger minced, red Roses, Time, Pellitorie of the wall, Wilde Margerum, Peniryall, Penimountain, wilde Time, Lavender, avens, of every of them one handfull, then beate the spice small, and bruse the hearbes, and put all to the wine, and let it stand twelve houres, stirring of it divers times then still it in a Limbecke, and keepe the first pinte of water by it selfe, so it is best, then will come a second water, which is not so good as the first, the vertue of this water is this: It comforteth the spirites, and preserveth greatlye the youth of man, and helpeth inwardes diseases comming of colde, against the shaking of the Palsey, it cureth the contraction of sinewes...[Caryl: this goes on and on]...And who so useth this water now and then and not too often, it preserveth him a good liking, and shall make him seem yong very long.

To make Aqua composita for a surset. [Caryl: I suspect the word is "surfet" = surfeit]
Take Rosemary, Fennell, Isope, Time, Sage, Horehound, of each of these a handfull, Pennirial, red mints Margerum, of each sixe crops [Caryl: "the head of a flower or herb", OED], a roote of Enula Campana [Caryl: = elecampane], of Licoras, Annyseeds brused of each two ounces, put all these to three gallons of mightie strong Ale, and put it into a brasse pot over an easie fire, and set the Limbecke upon it, and stop it close with dowe or paste, that no aire doe goe out, and so keept it stilling with a softe fire, and so preserve it to your use as need requireth.

To make Rosemary water.
Take the Rosemarye, and the flowers in the middest of May, before sunne arise, and strippe the leaves and flowers from the stalke, take foure or five alicompans [Caryl: = elecampane] rootes, and a handfull or two of Sage, then beate the Rosemarye, the Sage and the rootes together, till they be very small, and take three ounces of Cloves, iij. ounces of Mace, iij. ounces of Quibles, halfe a pound of Anniseedes, and beate these spices every one by it selfe. Then take all the hearbes and the Spices, and put therein foure or five gallons of good white wine, then put in all these Hearbes and Spices, and Wine, into an earthen pot, and put the same pot in the ground the space of sixteene dayes, then take it up, and styll it in a Styll with a very soft fire.

To make the water of life. [Caryl: from everything but the kitchen sink!]
Take Balme leaves and stalkes, burnet leaves and flowers, a handfull of Rosemary, Turmentill leaves and rootes, Rose folis a handfull, red roses a handfull, Carnations a handfull, Isop a handfull, a handfull of Time, red strings that grow upon Savery a handfull, red Fennell leaves and rootes a handfull, red Pints a Handfull, put all these hearbes into a pot of earth glased, and put therto as much white wine as will cover the hearbes, and let them soake therein eight or nine dayes, then take an ounce of Sinamon, as much of Ginger, as much of Nutmegs, Cloves, and Saffron, a little quantitye, of Annyseedes a pound, great Raisons a pound, Suger a pound, halfe a pound of Dates, the hinder part of an olde Cony, a good fleshye running Capon, the flesh and sinewes of a legge of mutton, foure young Pigions, a dosen of Larks, the yolkes of twelve egges, a loafe of white bread cut in sippettes, Muskadell, or Bastard three gallons, or as much in quantitie as suffiseth to distil all these together at once in a Limbecke and therto put of Methridatum two or three ounces, or else with as much perfect Treakell, and distill it with a moderate fire, and keepe the first water by it selfe, and the second water alone also, & when there cometh no more water with strings, take away the limbecke, & put into the pot more wine upon the same stuffe; and stylle it againe, and you shal have an other good water, and shall so remaine good. In the first ingredience of this water, you must keepe a double glass warely for it is restorative of all principall members, and defendeth against all pestilentiall diseases, as against the Paulsie, Dropsie, Spleene, Yellowe or black Jaundice, for wormes in the bellye, and for all agues be they hot or cold, and all maner of swettings, and pestilentiall sorrowes in man, as melancholy, & flegmatike, and it strengtheneth and comforteth all the spirits and strings of the braine, as the heart, the milte, the liver, and the stomacke, by taking thereof two ortheree spoonefulles at one time by it selfe, or with ale, Wine, or Beere, and by putting a prittie quantitye of Suger therein, also it helpeth digestion, and doth breake winde, and stoppeth laske, and bindeth not, and it mightelye helpeth and easeth Man or Woman of the paine of the heart burning, and for to quicken the memory of man, and take of this water three spoonefuls a daye, in the morning, and another after he goeth to dinner, and the third last at night.

Recipe: 1597

From John Gerard's Herball, first published 1597, cited in Culinary gleanings from John Gerard's Herball or General Historie of Plantes, 1633 by Cindy Renfrow.

Ros Solis. Of Sun-Dew, Youth woort, Ros Solis.
It strengtheneth and nourisheth the body, especially if it be distilled with wine, and that liquor made thereof which the common people do call Rosa Solis. If any be desirous to haue the said drinke effectuall for the purposes aforesaid, let them lay the leaues of Rosa Solis in the spirit of wine, adding thereto Cinnamon, Cloues, Maces, Ginger, Nutmegs, Sugar, and a few graines of Muske, suffering it so to stand in a glasse close stopt from the aire, and set in the Sun by the space of ten daier, then straine the same, and keep it for your vse.

Recipes: 1609

From Sir Hugh Plat's Delightes for Ladies (Humfrey Lownes, London 1609), cited in Alcoholic Drinks of the Middle Ages (Complete Anachronist #60) by Marc Shapiro/THL Alexander Mareschal.

Spirit of Spices
Distill with a gentle heat either in balneo, or ashes, the strong and sweet water, where- with you have drawen oile of cloves, mace, nutmegs, Iuniper, Rosemarie, &c. after it hath stood one moneth close stopt, and so you shall purchase a delicate Spirit of each of the said aromaticall bodies.

Spirit of wine tasting of what vegetable you please
Macerate Rosemarie, Sage, sweet Fennel seeds, Marjerom, Lemmon or Orenge pils, &c. in spirits of wine a daie or two, and then distill it over againe, unless you had rather have it in his proper colour: for so you shall have it upon the first infusion without any farther distillation: and some young Alchymists doe hold these for the true spirits of vegetables.

Steevens Aqua composita
Take a gallo of Gascoign wine, of ginger, galingale, cinamon, nutmegs & graines, Annis seeds, Fennel seeds, and carroway seeds, of each a dram; of Sage, mints, red Roses, thyme, Pellitory, Rosemary, wild thyme, camomil, lavender, of each a handfull, bray the spices small, and bruise the herbs, letting them macerate 12 houres, stirring it now & then, then distill by a limbecke of pewter keeping the first cleare water that cometh, by it selfe, and so likewise the second. You shall draw much about a pinte of the better fort from everie gallon of wine.

Aqua rubea
Take of muske sixe graines, of Cinamon and ginger of each one ounce, white sugar cany one pound, powder the sugar, and bruse the spices grossely, binde them up in a cleane linnen cloth, and put them to infuse in a gallon of Aqua composita in a glasse close stopped twenty foure houres, shaking them togither divers times, then put thereto of turnsole one dram, suffer it to stand one houre, and then shake altogether, then if the colour like you after it is settled, poure the cleerest forth into another glasse: but if you will have it deeper coloured, suffer it to worke longer upon the turnsole.

Recipe: 1615

From The English Huswife by Gervase Markham, 1615, cited in Basic Cordials by Master Terafan Greydragon, Drachenwald University, 11 November, A.S. XXXV.

To make that sovereign water which was first invented by Doctor Stevens, in the same form as he delivered the receipt to the Archbishop of Canterbury, a little before the death of the said doctor: take a gallon of good Gascon wine, then take ginger, galingale, cinnamon, nutmegs, grains, cloves bruised, fennel seeds, caraway seeds, origanum, of every of them a like quantity, that is to say a dram; then take sage, wild marjoram, pennyroyal, mints, red roses, thyme, pellitory, rosemary, wild thyme, camomile, lavender, of each of them a handful, then bray the spices small, and bruise the herbs and put all into the wine, and let it stand so twelve hours, only stir it divers times; then distil it by a limbeck, and keep the first water by itself, for that is the best, then keep the second water for that is good, and for the last neglect it not, for it is very wholesome though the worst of the three.

Recipes: 1651

From John French, The Art of Distillation, London, 1651. There are many more cordial recipes than the four I've copied below; click on the title to get to the complete on-line text.

Take a gallon of small aqua vitae and put it into a glass vessel. Put thereto a quart of canary sack, two pounds of raisins of the sun stoned, but not washed, two ounces of dates stoned, and the white skins thereof pulled out, two ounces of cinnamon grossly bruised, four good nutmegs bruised, an ounce of the best english licorice sliced and bruised. Stop the vessels very close and let them infuse in a cold place six or eight days. Then let the liquor run through a bag called Manica Hippocratis made of white cotton.
This liquor is commonly used in surfeits, being a good stomach water.

Take a gallon of gascoigne wine; a dram each of ginger, galganal, cinnamon, nutmeg, grains, aniseed, fennel seeds, carroway seeds; a handful each of sage, red mints, red roses, thyme, pellitory, rosemary, wild thyme, chamomile, and lavender. Beat the spices small and bruise the herbs, letting them macerate 12 hours, stirring them now and then. Distill them by an alembic or copper still with its refrigeratory. Keep the first pint by itself, and the second by itself.
Note that the first pint will be hotter, but the second the stronger of the ingredients. This water is well known to comfort all the principal parts.

Distill green hysop in a cold still until you have a gallon and a half of the water. To this put four handfuls of dried hysop, a handful of rue, as much of rosemary, and horehound, elecampane root, bruised, and of horse-radish root, bruised, of each four ounces, of tobacco in the leaf three ounces, aniseed bruised two ounces, two quarts of canary wine. Let them all stand in digestion two days and then distill them. In the water that is distilled put half a pound of raisins of the sun stoned, of licorice two ounces, sweet fennel seeds bruised two ounces and a half, ginger sliced an ounce and a half. Let them be infused in frigido the space of ten days. Then take them out.
This water sweetened with sugar candy and drunk to the quantity of three or four ounces twice in a day is very good for those that are ptisical. It strengthens the lungs, attenuates thick phlegm, opens obstructions, and is very good to comfort the stomach.

Take of sugar candid, one pound; canarie wine, six ounces; rose water, four ounces. Make of these a syrup and boil it well, to which add of aqua imperialis, two pints; ambergris, musk, of each eighteen grains; yellow sanders, infused in aqua imperialis, two drams.

Recipes: 1653

From Nicolas Culpeper in "Compounds, Spirit and Compound Distilled Waters" in his Complete Herbal(1653), containing many more recipes than the four given here.

Angelica water the greater composition
College : Take of Angelica two pounds, Annis seed half a pound, Coriander and Caraway seeds, of each four ounces, Zedoary bruised, three ounces: steep them twenty four hours in six gallons of small wine, then draw out the spirit, and sweeten it with sugar.
Culpeper : It comforts the heart, cherishes the vital spirits, resists the pestilence, and all corrupt airs, which indeed are the natural causes of epidemical diseases, the sick may take a spoonful of it in any convenient cordial, and such as are in health, and have bodies either cold by nature, or cooled by age, may take as much either in the morning fasting, or a little before meat.

Aqua Mirabilis
College : Take of Cloves, Galanga, Cubebs, Mace, Cardamoms, Nutmegs, Ginger, of each one dram, Juice of Celandine half a pound, spirits of Wine one pound, white Wine three pounds, infuse them twenty-four hours, and draw off two pounds with an alembick.
Culpeper : The simples also of this, regard the stomach, and therefore the water heats cold stomachs, besides authors say it preserves from apoplexies, and restores lost speech.

Aqua Mariœ
College : Take of Sugar Candy a pound, Canary Wine six ounces, Rose Water four ounces; boil it well into a Syrup, and add to it Imperial water two pounds, Ambergreese, Musk, of each eighteen grains, Saffron fifteen grains, yellow Sanders infused in Imperial water, two drams; make a clear water of it.

Spiritus Lavendula compositus Matthić
Or compound spirit of Lavender. Matthias
[Caryl: this is long to put here, but I loved Culpeper's comments on the "College" recipe!]

College : Take of Lavender flowers one gallon, to which pour three gallons of the best spirits of wine, let them stand together in the sun six days, then distil them with an Alembick with this refrigeratory.
Take of the flowers of Sage, Rosemary, and Bettony, of each one handful; the flowers of Borrage, Bugloss, Lilies of the Valley, Cowslips, of each two handfuls: let the flowers be newly and seasonably gathered, being infused in one gallon of the best spirits of wine, and mingled with the foregoing spirit of Lavender flowers, adding the leaves of Bawm, Feather-few, and Orange tree, fresh gathered; the flowers of Stœchas and Orange tree, May berries, of each one ounce. After convenient digestion distil it again, after which add Citron pills the outward bark, Peony seed husked, of each six drams, cinnamon, Mace, Nutmegs, Cardamoms, Cubebs, yellow Sanders, of each half an ounce, Wood of Aloes one dram, the best Jujubes, the stones being taken out, half a pound, digest them six weeks, then strain it and filter it, and add to it prepared Pearls two drams, Emeralds prepared a scruple, Ambergrease, Musk, Saffron, of each half a scruple, red Roses dryed, red Sanders, of each half an ounce, yellow Sanders, Citron Pills, dryed, of each one dram. Let the species being tyed up in a rag, be hung into the aforementioned spirit.
Culpeper : I could wish the Apothecaries would desire to be certified by the College.
1. Whether the gallon of Lavender flowers must be filled by heap, or by strike. 2. Next, whether the flowers must be pressed down in the measure or not. 3. How much must be drawn off in the first distillation. 4. Where they should get Orange leaves and flowers fresh gathered. 5. What they mean by convenient digestion. 6. Where you shall find Borrage, Bugloss, and Cowslips, flowering together, that so you may have them all fresh according to their prescript, the one flowering in the latter end of April, and beginning of May, the other in the end of June, and beginning of July. 7. If they can make a shift to make it, how, or which way the virtues of it will countervail the one half of the charge and cost, to leave the pains and trouble out.

Recipes: 1655 ?

From The Queens closet opened (tenth edition 1698, original believed to be in period by some but others state the first edition was 1655), as cited in The Elusive Cordial Recipes by Master Rauthulfr Meistari inn Orthston, Brewers Guild, Barony of Madrone, An Tir.

A cordial water of Sir Walter Raleigh.
Take a gallon of Strawberries and put them into a pint of Aqua vita, let them stand so four or five days, strain them gently out and sweeten the water as you please with fine sugar; or else with perfume.

A cordial Cherry-water.
Take a pottle [quart [but see ending note]] of Aqua vitae, two ounces of ripe Cherries, stoned, sugar 1 pound, twenty four Clovens, one stick of Cinamon, three spoonfuls of Aniseeds bruised, let these stand in the Aqua Vitae fifteen days, and when the water hath fully drawn out the tincture, pour it off into another glas for your use, which keep close stopped, the Spice and the Cherries you may keep for they are very good for winde in the Stomach. [Caryl: note that whoever inserted the "quart" explanation is incorrect; a "pottle" is two quarts, e.g. the unit of measure between a quart and a gallon.]

Recipe: 1669/1677

From The Closet Of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digby Kt. Opened, 1677, cited in A Boke of Gode Cookery: Beverages by Hugh (James L. Matterer).

To make Plague-water.
Take a pound of Rue, of Rosemary, Sage, Sorrel, Celandine, Mugwort, of the tops of red Brambles, of Pimpernel, Wild-draggons, Arimony, Balm, Angelica, of each a pound. Put these Compounds in a pot, fill it with White-wine above the herbs, so let it stand four days. Then still it for your use in a Limbeck.

Another Plague-water.
Take Rue, Agrimony, Wormwood, Celandine, Sage, Balm, Mugwort, Dragons, Pimpernel, Marigold, Fetherfew, Burnet, Sorrel, and Elecampane-roots scraped and sliced small, Scabious, Wood-betony, brown May-weed, Mints, Avence, Tormentil, Carduus Benedictus, and Rosemary as much as any thing else, and Angelica if you will. You must have like weight of all them, except Rosemary aforesaid, which you must have twice as much of as of any of the rest; then mingle them all together and shred them very small; then steep them in the best White-wine you can get three days and three nights, stirring them once or twice a day, putting no more Wine then will cover the herbs well; then still it in a common still, and take not too much of the first water, and but a little of the second, according as you feel the strength, else it will be sour. There must be but half to much Elecampane as of the rest.

Sack with Clove-gilly flowers [this one from Recipes from Kenelme Digbie, 1669 transcribed by Joyce Miller and provided by Spencer W. Thomas. Note that this is really just a flavored wine, not a distilled cordial.]
If you will make a Cordial Liquor of Sack with Clove-gillyflowers, you must do thus. Prepare your Gillyflowers, as is said before, and put them into great double glass-bottles, that hold two gallons a piece, or more; and put to every gallon of Sack, a good half pound of the wiped and cut flowers, putting in the flowers first, and then the Sack upon them. Stop the glasses exceeding close, and set them in a temperate Cellar. Let them stand so, till you see that the Sack hath drawn out all the principal tincture from them, and that the flowers begin to look palish; (with an eye of pale, or faint in Colour) Then pour the Sack from them, and throw away the exhausted flowers, or distil a spirit from them; For if you let them remain longer in the Sack, they will give an earthy tast to them. You may then put the tincted Sack into fit bottles for your use, stopping them very close. But if the season of the flowers be not yet past, your Sack will be better, if you put it upon new flowers, which I conceive will not be the worse, but peradventure the better, if they be a little dried in the shade. If you drink a Glass or two of this sack at a meal, you will find it a great Cordial.

Some Recipes Sources After 1700

Doro. Petre, Her Book
Facsimile page from the Manuscript Cookbook of D. Petre, 1705, at the University of Pennsylvania Library. There are two sections. The "Recipes" section has one cordial-type recipe for a Cherry Brandy, but the "Medicinals" section has a large number of distillates including yet another variant of "Doctor Stephen's water".

The Household Cyclopedia of General Information: The Distillation Process to Make Cordials
Published in 1881 so even further out of SCA period, but the techniques and recipes show some basis in traditional methods. There is an insistence on using a highly distilled alcohol (not a brandy) as the base specifically so that there isn't any flavoring other than those added in the recipes. The proportions need to be adjusted unless you really want 10 gallons of each cordial.

As made by the Debatable Brewers in early 1997, with documentation by Ellisif Flakkari; recipe and cordial by Tofi Kerthjalfadsson, Ellisif Flakkari, Leif Hjalmsson, and Barak Ben David (called "Red"). Not a period recipe, just based on documentable ingredients and techniques.

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text copyright 2002 by Carol Hanson (e-mail)

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