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My Cordial Recipes

by Caryl de Trecesson/Carol Hanson
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The background discussion on cordials is on this page and early recipes prior to 1700 are on this page.
Four Herbal Cordials

1) Herbal Cordial, loosely based on 1596 recipe "To make Rosemary water" and 1609 recipe "Spirits of wine tasting of what vegetable you please"

tsp. packed fresh rosemary leaves
tsp. packed fresh sage leaves
3 T. packed fresh lemon balm leaves
1-1/2 cups 80-proof brandy
simple syrup: 2 c. white granulated sugar to 1 c. water

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) was said to clear the head and improve memory. Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) was said to cause "the mind and hearth to become merry and reviveth the heart". Sage (Salvia officinalis) supposedly also helped the memory and quickened the senses. (All remarks from Nicholas Culpeper, Culpeper's Complete Herbal, cited by Jennifer Heise/Jadwiga Zajaczkowa in Jadwiga's Stillroom Book: On the Medieval and Renaissance Use of Herbs.

The fresh herbs were bruised with a mortar and pestle and then put in a glass jar and covered with brandy, then left for 1-1/2 weeks but stirred each day. The solid material was strained out and squeezed through cheesecloth and the liquid then poured through unbleached coffee filters. A simple sugar syrup was then added to the proportions of 1 cup of syrup to 2 cups of liquor. This turned out rather sharp, even with the same proportion of sugar syrup I've used in the other cordials. Perhaps best be viewed (and tasted) as a medicinal tonic rather than as a drink for pure enjoyment.

2) Rosemary Cordial: FAILURE!, based on 1596 recipe "To make Rosemary water"

1-1/4 quart 80-proof brandy
2 TB. dried rosemary leaves
2 tsp. dried cut elecampane root
1 tsp. dried sage leaves
2 tsp. cloves
1 TB. mace
1 TB. cubebs
2 TB. anise seeds

The amount of rosemary in the original recipe is unspecified; the size of an elecampane root is unknown; otherwise, the amounts were based on estimated proportion of the given weights to the 4 gallons of wine in the original recipe. The rosemary, elecampane, and sage were ground together with mortar & pestle. The other spices were ground separately. The ingredients were combined with the brandy in a glass jar and left for 16 days with occasional stirring. The solid material was strained out using a fine nylon coffee filter. The resulting liquid was taste-tested before adding sugar. It was absolutely horrible, and the aftertaste was worse. No amount of sugar would have helped. The liquid was dumped down the sink and the jar filled with a bleach solution to remove all trace. What went wrong? Some possibilities:
(1) The original uses wine instead of a distilled spirit; the higher-proof may have pulled stronger flavor from the ingredients, so the maceration time or the amounts should have been reduced.
(2) I didn't use fresh rosemary or elecampane or sage; this might have changed the flavor enough to be drinkable.
(3) My proportions may have been off; more rosemary, more sage, less elecampane?
(4) It's just a bad recipe. :-)

3) Aqua Composita for a Surfet, based on 1596 recipe "To make Aqua composita for a surset".

3/8 tsp. fresh rosemary leaves, chopped
3/8 tsp. fresh fennel leaves, chopped
3/8 tsp. fresh hyssop leaves, chopped
3/8 tsp. fresh thyme leaves, chopped
3/8 tsp. fresh sage leaves, chopped
3/8 tsp. fresh horehound leaves, chopped
3/4 tsp. fresh pennyroyal leaves, chopped
3/4 tsp. fresh mint (peppermint and spearmint) leaves, chopped
3/4 tsp. fresh marjoram leaves, chopped
1/8 tsp. dried elecampane root, minced
3/4 tsp. dried licorice root, minced
1 1/2 tsp. anise seeds, bruised in a mortar
3 c. scotch whisky, 80-proof
1/2 c. superfine white sugar

The original recipe does not call for any maceration period at all. To mimic the heat extraction of distillation and to reduce the proof of the whisky to that closer to the result of a single distillation of "strong ale," I heated the mixture of flavorings and whisky for 1/2 hour in an open pot over medium-low heat (enough heat to release steam, but without actually boiling). The liquid was then filtered first through a nylon coffee filter and then through doubled unbleached paper filters, and the sugar was added. Despite the filterings, the result is very cloudy. The flavor is strongly herbal/medicinal but the taste is appealing, especially for those who enjoy Chartreuse or Benedictine. A fuller documentation of this redaction, including information on the medicinal properties of the herbs, is here.

4) Simple Surfet, based on 1596 recipe "To make Aqua composita for a surset".

1/8 tsp. dried rosemary
1/4 tsp. fennel seeds
1/8 tsp. dried thyme
1/8 tsp. dried sage
1/2 tsp. dried mint (peppermint and/or spearmint)
1/4 tsp. dried marjoram
3/4 tsp. anise seeds
3 to 3-1/8 c. scotch whisky, 80-proof (750 ml)
1/2 c. white granulated sugar

This is a varient of the "Aqua Composita for a Surfet" digestive cordial (recipe above) using only easily obtained ingredients but trying to maintain the same proportions of herbal flavors. The original recipe does not call for any maceration period at all. Mix the flavorings in a mortar and bruise them lightly. To mimic the heat extraction of distillation, I heat the mixture of flavorings and whisky for 20 minutes in an open pot over medium-low heat (enough heat to release steam, but without actually boiling). The liquid was then filtered first through a nylon coffee filter, the sugar was added and dissolved, and then the liquid was strained again through doubled unbleached paper filters. Despite the filterings, the result stays slightly cloudy. The flavor is strongly herbal/medicinal but the taste is appealing, especially for those who enjoy Chartreuse or Benedictine.

Three Citrus Peel Cordials

1) Cloved Orange, loosely based on 1594 recipe of "How to give a prettie grace both in tast and propertie, unto the spirit of wine"

peel of 2 Valencia oranges
2 cinnamon sticks, 3", broken
8 cloves
6 cups 80-proof brandy
simple syrup: 2 c. granulated sugar to 1 c. water

The oranges were pared carefully so that no white pith was used (it makes the flavor bitter); each orange had approximately 1 TB. of peel. The flavorings were added to the brandy and left for one week, being stirred occasionally. The liquid was then filtered with a nylon coffee filter and then with doubled paper filters; the sugar syrup was added in the proportion of 1 c. of syrup to each 2 c. of liquid. The result was tasty, but heavier on cloves and lighter on orange than originally desired. A new batch is being tried with the peel of 3 oranges, 4 cinnamon sticks, and 4 cloves...results were disappointing because now there was too little spice flavor to it.

2) Blood Orange, based on 1594 recipe of "How to give a prettie grace both in tast and propertie, unto the spirit of wine"

3 TB. grated orange peel from about 6 blood oranges
2 cups 80-proof brandy
2 cups 100-proof grappa
1-1/2 cups simple syrup: 2 c. granulated sugar ( 1 c. white, 1 c. raw) to 1 c. water

The oranges were grated carefully so that no white pith was used (it makes the flavor bitter) and the peel was added to the brandy and left for three days, being stirred occasionally. The liquid was then filtered with a nylon coffee filter and the sugar syrup added and dissolved, then and strained again with doubled unbleached paper filters. The result was simple in flavor but very nice to drink. This won the cordial section of the Great Northeastern War brewing competition in 2003.

3) Lemon Orange, based on 1594 recipe of "How to give a prettie grace both in tast and propertie, unto the spirit of wine"

2 tsp. grated lemon peel from 2 lemons
1-1/2 tsp. grated orange peel from 1 orange
2-3/4 cups 80-proof brandy
1-1/4 cups 100-proof grappa
1-1/2 cups simple syrup: 2 c. granulated sugar (1 c. white, 1 c. raw) to 1 c. water

The orange and lemons were grated carefully so that no white pith was used (it makes the flavor bitter) and the peel was added to the brandy and left for three days, being stirred occasionally. The liquid was then filtered with a nylon coffee filter and the sugar syrup added and dissolved, then and strained again with doubled unbleached paper filters. The result was a good mix of lemon and orange flavor, though the proportions can probably be played with without much harm.

Eight Fruit/Berry Cordials

1) Sweet Strawberry Cordial, based on 1655 (?) recipe of "A cordial water of Sir Walter Raleigh"

2 lbs. frozen strawberries
6 cups 80-proof brandy
simple syrup: 2 c. white granulated sugar to 1 c. water

The frozen strawberries were put in a glass jar and covered with brandy, then left for 4-1/2 weeks but stirred each day. The solid material was strained out and squeezed through cheesecloth and the liquid then poured through unbleached coffee filters. A simple sugar syrup was then added to the proportions of 1 cup of syrup to 2 cups of liquor. Very sweet but very drinkable.

2) Blackberry/Strawberry Cordial, based on 1655 (?) recipe of "A cordial water of Sir Walter Raleigh"

1 lb. frozen blackberries
1/4 lb. frozen strawberries (see discussion)
3 cups 80-proof brandy
simple syrup: 2 c. white granulated sugar to 1 c. water

The frozen blackberries were put in a glass jar and covered with brandy, then left for 4 weeks but stirred each day. The solid material was strained out and squeezed through cheesecloth and the liquid then poured through unbleached coffee filters. A simple sugar syrup was then added to the proportions of 1 cup of syrup to 2 cups of liquor. This blackberry cordial alone turned out to taste a little too much like cough syrup. A strawberry cordial made with the same recipe proportions was combined with the blackberry in a ratio of 2 cups blackberry cordial to 1/2 cup strawberry cordial, leaving the flavor mostly blackberry but muted by the strawberry. The result should be the same as if I had used 1 lb. of blackberries and 1/4 lb. of strawberries in the original maceration, and now has a significantly more appealing taste. This won the cordial section of the Great Northeastern War brewing competition in 2002.

3) Spiced Cherry Cordial, based on 1655 (?) recipe of "A cordial Cherry-water"

1 quart of alcohol base (4 batches were made for comparison: 100-proof grappa, 80-proof brandy, 80-proof vodka, and 70-proof "white" brandy)
1 ounce pitted ripe sweet dark red cherries (approx. 4), halved
8 ounces white granulated sugar (approx. 1-1/8 c.)
12 cloves
1/2 large 3" stick of cinnamon (or, 1 thin 3" stick)
1-1/2 tsp. anise seeds, bruised with mortar and pestle

The amounts are half of what was specified in the original recipe. The ingredients were combined in glass jars or bottles and left for 15 days with occasional stirring. The solid material was strained out using a fine nylon coffee filter and then paper coffee filters. The main impression is of a anise/clove liqueur, but there is a touch of cherry flavor and the cherries added a surprising amount of color given the relative quantity. Of the four cordials, the grappa and the dark brandy were much preferred over the other two for color and flavor. The others were viewed as acceptable but not very interesting. The lower proof of the clear brandy may also have reduced the amount of flavor extraction, so perhaps the amount of flavoring ingredients should be increased accordingly when using that as a base.

4) Cordial of Divers Berries, based on 1655 (?) recipe of "A cordial water of Sir Walter Raleigh"

12 oz. frozen blackberries
12 oz. frozen raspberries
16 oz. frozen strawberries
1 quart 80-proof brandy
simple syrup: 2 c. white granulated sugar to 1 c. water

Trying different fruits and a different maceration time; I'd been told to leave the fruit in brandy for about 4 weeks but the original recipe says 4 to 5 days. The frozen fruits were put in a glass jar and covered with brandy, then left for 5 days and stirred each day. The solid material was strained out and squeezed through cheesecloth and the liquid then poured through a fine nylon coffee filter. A simple sugar syrup was then added to the proportions of 1 cup of syrup to 2 cups of liquor (there was about 4-1/2 c. and added 2-1/4 c. of syrup). The result tastes the same as similar berry cordials made over a longer time: very smooth and very good.

5) Pear Spice

1-1/2 lbs. small seckel pears, cut, cored, frozen
2 whole cloves
2 3" cinnamon sticks, broken
1 whole nutmeg, lightly grated
1 quart 80-proof brandy
simple syrup: 2 c. white granulated sugar to 1 c. water

The frozen pear pieces and the spices were put in a glass jar and covered with brandy. The nutmeg was removed after 24 hours, but the rest was left for 21 days and stirred each day. The solid material was strained out and squeezed through a fine nylon coffee filter and then strained through unbleached paper filters. A simple sugar syrup was then added to the proportions of 1 cup of syrup to 2 cups of liquor. The result was very smooth and sweet but not very interesting, with not enough pear flavor. It did get better with age, after about 6 months.

6) Morello Cherry Cordial, loosely based on 1655 (?) recipe of "A cordial Cherry-water"

1 quart of 80-proof brandy, or 2 cups brandy and 2 cups grappa
12 oz. jar of morello cherries, drained
8 ounces white granulated sugar (approx. 1-1/8 c.)
1-1/2 tsp. anise seeds, bruised with mortar and pestle

The ingredients are those of the original recipe but with many more cherries and minus the cinnamon and cloves. The ingredients were combined in a glass jar and left for 15 days with occasional stirring. The solid material was strained out using a fine nylon coffee filter and then doubled unbleached paper coffee filters. The result is an excellent balance of sweetened sour cherry flavor complemented by a touch of anise.

7) Pomegranate Cordial

1 quart of 80-proof brandy, or 2 cups brandy and 2 cups grappa
2 large pomegranate, the seeds and pulp only (all white membrane removed), approximately 3 cups
8 ounces white granulated sugar (approx. 1-1/8 c.)

The pomegranate seeds/pulp were crushed lightly with the back of a large spoon to release more of the juices. They were then combined with the sugar and brandy in a glass jar and left for 7 days with occasional stirring. The solid material was strained out first with a fine nylon coffee filter and after with doubled unbleached paper coffee filters. The result is a beautiful pink-red cordial with a nicely not-too-sweet flavor.

8) Blackberry Brandywine, based on a recipe for blackberry wine in Martha Washington's Booke of Cookery, c. 1550-1625

3 cups of 80-proof brandy
12 oz. frozen blackberries
1/2 c. raisins, cut up
1/2 tsp. grated lemon peel
1-1/2 tsp. lemon juice
1-3/4 c. simple syrup: 2 c. granulated sugar (1 c. white, 1 c. raw) to 1 c. water

The wine recipe called for 1/2 peck (= 4 dry qts.) of blackberries, 1 lb. (about 3 cups) of raisins, cut up, 1 lb. (about 2-1/4 cups) of sugar, and 2 or 3 lemons, sliced. The proportions of the flavorings are somewhat in keeping with the original wine recipe. All the ingredients except the syrup are combined in a glass jar and left for 7 days with occasional stirring. The solid material was strained out with a fine nylon coffee filter. The sugar syrup was then added and dissolved and the final mixture strained with doubled unbleached paper coffee filters. The raisins and lemon cut the heaviness of the blackberries to make this a very drinkable blend.

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text copyright 2002, 2004 by Carol Hanson (e-mail)

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