I’ve been slacking in my period beverage making as of late. I’m still brewing mead, and my hibiscus mead just won 1st place in a mundane brewing competition down here in Florida, but as far as recreating a medieval recipe? Total slacker.
I’m very close to making craftsman level in the East Kingdom Brewers Guild (Yes, I live in Trimaris, but I still panel with the East because I can.) and it was suggested that I add more non-alcoholics or medicinals to my repertoire. I’m a fan of the 13th Century Anonymous Andalusian Cookbook for the weirdness and variety of its medicinal syrups, so I decided to give one a whirl.
I used Cariadoc’s translation of the cookbook on his site here:
The recipe I chose was the Syrup of Sandalwood, and it reads as thus:
“Take two ûqiyas each of red and white sandalwood, and an ûqiya of white manna of sugarcane. Then pound the sandalwood and cook it in rosewater until its substance comes out, and let there be five ratls of the rosewater. Then take the clean part of it and add it to two ratls of sugar, take the tabâshîr and put it in a bag, and cook all this until it forms a well-made syrup. Its benefits are to calm the heat of jaundice, to cut thirst, and to profit in the other ailments and fevers of jaundice. It leaves the nature as it is, without causing retention or thinness of urine. It fortifies the stomach, the liver, and the other organs, and in this it is most extraordinary.”
I mean, why wouldn’t I pick a syrup that was made with one of my favorite incenses? According to this article from the Getty, Sandalwood (as well as rose) was used in the home, but was also a luxury perfume. While we have serious lacuna regarding Byzantine foodways, these culture-adjacent recipes still provide a bit of a hint as to the smells and bells of what the Byzantine Empire could have enjoyed. Even though it’s a supposition, I feel like an expensive perfumed drink would be right up a Byzantine patrician’s alley.
A quick bit of internet research led me to this site for measurement conversions. Al-Andalus would be Maghrib/North African:
ratl = about 2 cups (16oz)
An ûqiya seems to literally translate from Arabic to English as “ounce”. So I went with that.
So let’s break this down into a modern redaction using these measurements:
2oz of White Sandalwood
20oz of Red Sandalwood
10 cups of Rosewater
1oz of Sugarcane manna…
What the heck is manna? Manna is basically the sap that extrudes from the joints in the cane, or simply the juice. This is not really all that easy to obtain for the average SCAdian unless you have a cane farm, nor is it something to put into a “bag” as described in the original recipe. So, what I did was cut a piece of fresh cane along the grain (it is very, very hard), and exposed the flesh. Sugar is made from reducing the juice from the cane into crystals, but again, this needs to be in a -bag-. So, after some thought and weighing what I had on hand, I decided to slice up and use 2 full ounces of sliced sugarcane for this project.
1oz 2oz of sliced sugarcane
4 cups of granulated sugar
There, that’s what you need!
But rosewater is best when you make it, versus buying it in the store. How do you make it? Infusing roses into water, of course. Easy peasy. My general recipe is about 1/4 cup of dried roses for every 2 cups of water. Bring the water to a boil, remove from heat, and let steep for an hour or until the roses lose their color. I recommend putting the roses in a bag or making “tea bags” for them out of coffee filters. It makes cleanup easier and results in less absorption and liquid loss. I made 5 ratls of rosewater, or, 10 cups, with a full cup of roses, and it was plenty strong enough.
While the rosewater was steeping, I following the directions and got to pound up the sandalwood in a mortar and pestle to help it release more aroma and flavor. I purchased chips, versus powder, and I’m glad I did. It made it a bit better for infusion, I think.
I put my smashed incense into a larger saucepan, and added the rosewater. Like before, I brought it to a boil, and reduced the heat to a simmer. The recipe says to cook until “its substance comes out”, but this stuff is so aromatic, my entire house smelled of it, especially the red sandalwood, which is a stronger incense. I gave it a good simmer for 30 minutes, and removed it from the heat. I let it cool until I could handle the pot safely, and filtered out the sandalwood chips using a coffee filter in a funnel into a different pot. Fortunately, most of the chips sunk and stayed in the pot. This made cleanup super easy, where I doubt powdered incense would have had the same benefit.
Into the saucepan I added my granulated sugar with the sandalwood rosewater, and the sugarcane slices in a bag. I measured out my fragrant water and had only 6 cups instead of 10, so I topped it up.
This is when the fun begins.
When I make sekanjabin, my ratio of sugar is higher than my ratio of water and vinegar, thus, a lower temp simmer does the job in 30 minutes, and you have a nicely sweet syrup. If you go higher in temp and bring it to a boil, you can scald the sugar and make it too thick. I wanted to avoid this. So I brought the entire cast of characters up to a boil, and then dropped it to a low simmer for a half hour. This resulted in no syrup. It was a pleasantly favored and colored sweetened water. Damn. Where did I go wrong?
Did those 4 cups of water I added back in screw the pooch? What could I do? I let it cool overnight, and woke up to no syrup. I needed to troubleshoot this. I could add more sugar, yes, but it was already pretty sweet. What I ended up doing was going against my initial judgment, and giving it a boil at med-high heat for another 30 minutes, and THAT did it. The recipe says, “cook until this forms a syrup”, and that is what you have to do. You have to observe, you have to be medieval. We get so stuck in our modern ways of cooking with times and measures, that we forget that sometimes you just need to use your eyes. I periodically checked on the boil and watched it reduce. I could probably reduce it more if I wanted, but I decided to leave it be at this point. It was a syrup, not molasses.
The final product is a deep reddish-brown liquid that is pretty opaque.
I let it cool completely, and then spooned some into a glass of water to test it. It is basically a face full of sandalwood with a sweet, nutty, rosey taste. It’s very pleasant. I wouldn’t drink it all the time, but adding it as a sweetener to tea, or as an iced beverage on a hot day, and it could be lovely. It is definitely “Middle Eastern”, and definitely different for those that may not particularly be familiar with floral beverages, but I like it. I think it will panel well, and I’m going to give out some small bottles as gifts along with some of my cinnamon sekanjabin as I never drink all of my syrups. That’s A LOT of sugar, and these are supposed to be a treat, or medicine, you know, in case we need to calm the heat of jaundice.
For those looking for a less-chatty version of my redaction, here it is:
Syrup of Sandalwood
An Anonymous Andalusian Cookbook of the 13th Century
Redaction by Anna Dokeianina Syrakousina
For the Rosewater:
1 cup dried roses
For everything else:
2oz White Sandalwood chips
2oz Red Sandalwood chips
2oz sliced sugarcane
4 cups of granulated sugar
Make the rosewater by infusing 1 cup of roses into 10 cups of water. Bring water to a boil, remove from heat, and let steep for 1 hour or until the roses lose their color. Discard roses. (I recommend making tea bags out of muslin bags or coffee filters to control the roses better.)
Pound each sandalwood in a mortar and pestle to release additional aroma and flavor. 5-10 minutes of stress-relieving pounding for each variety.
Place rosewater and sandalwood in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Drop to a low simmer and steep for 30 minutes. Filter out sandalwood, and transfer liquid into a clean pot.
Place sugarcane in an infusion bag into pot with sandalwood-rosewater and 4 cups of sugar. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to med-high as to have a constant boil, but not one that will cause the sugar to foam and boil over. (This makes a huge mess.) Boil for 30-40 minutes or until a syrup is rendered. Remove from heat and let cool completely. Bottle.
Sugar syrups should keep indefinitely as long as the bottles are sealed. Add to cold or hot water to taste.