With so many lovely cowslips around this year, I’ve been looking back at what I’ve written about them in the past:

The first time I ever tried mead was at a medieval banquet which the student’s union organized when I was at Manchester Poly. I remember the banquet being enormous fun where we all ate and drank enormously and then for some reason I drive home for the Christmas holidays with a decorated boar’s head on the seat beside me.

Being a great reader of just about everything during my childhood, I had often read historical novels when mead was drunk so I can imagine  I was very excited to try it for the first time. I don’t think I liked it very much, but that probably didn’t stop me drinking it!I’ve treid drinking it a couple of times since, and I still don’t care for it greatly.

However, I came across a recipe for mead in the little book I have by Ambrose heath, ‘Home Made Wines and Liqueurs and how to make them’. he has what he calls ‘a simple bee-keepers recipe’ in which you should boil for ¾ hour four pounds of honey dissolved in a gallon of water with an ounce of hops, half an ounce of root ginger and the pared rind of two lemons. Then it should be poured into a cask (he has a whole section on casks and how to prepare them) and fill it to the brim, and while it is still warm add an ounce of yeast. Once it has finished fermenting (no mention of how long this might take) add ¼ ounce of isinglass (which he writes as ‘isingless’) and bung the cask tightly. Six months later bottle your mead!

Ambrose heath has an appendix with notes on mead which he says was once ‘far more important and complicated drink’ and he mentions ‘The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby’ – an early cookery book published in 1669, which has twenty-six mead recipes. Heath mentions the Worshipful Company of Mead Makers from Cornwall, but says nothing more about them. In Cornwall when Heath wrote his little book in 1953 there was a mead making business in Gulval near Penzance; there were apparently nine different mead drinks: mead, sack mead, metheglin, sack metheglin, bochet, pyment, hippocras, cyser and melomel. he gives a two page recipe for sack mead… which seems awfully complicated for a home mead maker!

Ambrose also includes a recipe for cowslip mead; cowslips smell divine, but would cowslip mead taste divine? here is his recipe:

  • 1 gallon water
  • 2 pounds honey
  • 1 large sliced lemon
  • 1 gallon of cowslip flowers
  • 2 sprigs of sweet briar (if you can find it, not essential)
  • ¼ ounce yeast plus a little extra honey
  1. make a syrup with the water and honey, boiling uncovered for ¾ hour, skimming it well
  2. pour a pint of syrup over the sliced lemon
  3. pour the rest of the syrup over the cowslips, stir well, cover and leave in a warm place for 24 hours
  4. add the lemon syrup and the sweet briar
  5. add the yeast dissolved in a little honey
  6. let this work for four days then strain into a cask
  7. keep in a cool place for six months then bottle

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