As of this point, I am taking a step back from the SCA for a duration of time yet to be determined. I will still show up at some events, but current politics, coupled with exhaustion due to drama and other issues has driven me out.
I am happy to continue to field questions and will be actively monitoring my site until I feel fit to return to my research for the society’s purpose. Until then, I am going to be focusing on my mundane research for upcoming conferences, and consider moving forward with my PhD.
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.
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:
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.
So, while I’m taking a short break from heavy SCA sewing and research, I want everybody to help me keep my brain ticking.
Every week, or however often I get questions, I’m going to have a question/answer column here on my blog. Feel free to ask me anything about Roman and Byzantine history, textiles, clothing, etc, and I’ll give you a complete answer, or as complete as I can, with citations to send you on your way. General ancient and medieval history questions can also be fielded if you’re looking for something more broad.
If this gets busy, I don’t know how many questions I’ll be able to answer, but I’ll do my best to make sure that everybody is covered.
So last weekend (the 21st of September) was our Artifacts of a Life event here in the East Kingdom. There were some some amazing displays there!
The premise of the event was to create a collection of artifacts pertaining to your persona or another persona, something that they would have had during their life, grave goods, etc. I chose an 11th Century Byzantine woman, which, by the way, is rather hard. Because the majority of the artifacts we have from the Byzantine period are earlier. Here is my display:
Here is a close up of the necklace. I totally failed in posting updates of me making it, but it took 2 seasons of Sons of Anarchy marathoning in the background to emulate the look. I swear my fingers still hurt looking at it.
And the original:
I tried to get a little bit of everything, namely aspects of a Byzantine life: Spiritual, Temporal, Wealth, and Food/Drink. I tied it together with that silly backstory I previously posted.
I did well, I learned a lot, and met some wonderful people. Although I did not win the category I entered, I did go home with an autocrat’s prize, that is a lovely HUGE book of Italian Renaissance paintings that is totally drool worthy. I can’t wait to do this again, I think next year my “persona” will be Roman Egyptian. 😉
The Muscat is in the fridge. The Conditum Paradoxum is upright and settling out. (It clarified while cellared.) I will need to re-rack it before Great Northeastern War this weekend. I am EXTREMELY excited about my first chance to panel in the East Kingdom Brewer’s Guild. I’ve been dabbling with my local guild: The Smokingbridge Guild of Libation Brewers, for a while now, but I never thought to bring it to the Kingdom level until I got these beverages done. I will be paneling my Conditum Paradoxum along side a short mead, rose and lavender cordial, and my pomegranate balsamic sekanjabin if there are enough slots open for all 4. I’d like to thank Mistress Bess Darnley for taking a moment to look over my documentation and providing feedback.
The next panel I’ll probably make will be at Birka in January, and these shinies will be good to go:
YES! The Rosatum and Retsina are done and bottled and delicious! I can’t wait til these age. They’re going to be remarkable.
That is probably the worst movie/history pun crossover in the entire internets. Anyways, we have wine!
First you gotta sanitize those bottles. We may be making Roman wine, but we don’t need Roman germs.
Then you make your boyfriend put the carboy on the counter for you.
Once you siphen into the bottling bucket (best money ever spent, ever deal with bottling out of a carboy? Ung.) separate off the small batches of infused wines. Here is the Retsina with pieces of pine resin in the bottom, and the Rhosatum, with dried roses in a bag infusing in the pickle jar. These should be bottled by the end of the month. Pliny says to leave the roses in there for 3 months, but I’m assuming he meant fresh. I’m using dried, so I’d rather monitor what this is going to do and the flavor I’m going to get before creating a mess.
I also separated my portion off for the Conditum Paradoxum, the spiced wine from Apicius. After gathering my ingredients, it all went into the pot for an hour on low heat to steep. The pine resin melted fast, which got me worried, but it was fine.
Once that was infused with the rest of the wine, it was strained and bottled. Here is the Conditum in the bottles next to the unaltered muscat wine I made.
So, being the brave soul I am, I tried the Conditum in the period style, using warm saltwater to dilute it, as the straight liquor is extremely sweet.
Bottling and infusing the wine today! Excited! Pictures to follow in tonight’s post.
In the end, I will have the following:
2 gallons of “Ancient White” Muscat wine.
1 gallon of Conditum Paradoxum (spiced wine from Apicius.)
1 gallon of Rhosatum (rose wine from Pliny the Elder.)
1 gallon of Retsina (resined wine.)
I’ve found a couple different redactions of the Conditum Paradoxum. I have one written down in my brewing journal (this is a must-have for anyone who brews as much as I do. I conjure up recipes and write them in, and track my progress on existing projects) but I found a different approach online I may go with instead. The basis of the drink is that you take a base wine, Apicius doesn’t say what color though both reds and whites were widely consumed by the Romans, and you make a must of honey, saffron, mastic, bay leaf, black pepper and dates. I don’t have any mastic, so I’m subbing in cinnamon. Plus, with my Retsina, I didn’t want to overdo it with that flavor. I *DO* have plenty of pine resin to work with, so that is still an option.
The rhosatum is getting treated exactly as Pliny says: put rose petals in a bag, put it in the must, close the sucker up and then let it sit for 3 months. I’m assuming he means fresh petals, and I’m using dried, so I’m going to be monitoring the color of the liquor and making sure nothing goes funky in there. If I stop the infusion early, I stop it early. No big.
The Retsina doesn’t have a clear cut recipe. I’m more or less trying to re-create a flavor profile than an actual recipe. Originally, Greek and Roman wines got the resin flavor from the use of pine resin as a sealant on the amphorae. Being that I don’t have an amphora, (I’ve looked, they’re expensive to get made) I’m cheating and tossing an ounce of resin in the wine and letting it age a month. If this works out, I’ll bottle the wine and seal the top of the bottles with resin like wax as a nice touch.
I’m going to let the wines bottle age a minimum of 3 months, so my first bottles should be ready by Pennsic War, at least of the Conditum Paradoxum (which I plan to panel with hot seawater to dilute it with!)
More updates today as it comes, live, from Black Dolphin Brewing!