Mead, using a 13th/14th century English manuscript
The "Tractatus de magnete et operationibus eius" England, 13th century.

Master Rhys Terafan Greydragon

The Reynolds Historical Library has parts of the Tractatus de Magnetate et Operationibus eius (the thirteenth-century letter on the magnet by Petrus Peregrinus) available on-line. Included is one of the oldest known surviving English mead recipes (folio 20r).The manuscript is written on vellum in brown ink with red chapter headings. Much of the text is in Latin, however the recipes are mostly in English. Below is the mead recipe.

//ffor to make mede. Tak .i. galoun of fyne hony and to žat .4. galouns of water and hete žat water til it be as lengh žanne dissolue že hony in že water. thanne set hem ouer že fier & let hem boyle and ever scomme it as longe as any filthe rysith žer on. and žanne tak it doun of že fier and let it kole in ožer vesselle til it be as kold as melk whan it komith from že koow. than tak drestis of že fynest ale or elles berme and kast in to že water & že hony. and stere al wel to gedre but ferst loke er žu put žy berme in. that že water with že hony be put in a fayr stonde & žanne put in žy berme or elles ži drestis for žat is best & stere wel to gedre/ and ley straw or elles clothis a bowte že vessel & a boue gif že wedir be kolde and so let it stande .3. dayes & .3. nygthis gif že wedir be kold And gif it be hoot wedir .i. day and .1. nyght is a nogh at že fulle But ever after .i. hour or .2. at že moste a say žer of and gif žu wilt have it swete tak it že sonere from že drestis & gif žu wilt have it scharpe let it stand že lenger žer with. Thanne draw it from že drestis as cler as žu may in to an ožer vessel clene & let it stonde .1. nyght or .2. & žanne draw it in to an ožer clene vessel & serve it forth
// And gif žu wilt make mede eglyn. tak sauge .ysope. rosmaryne. Egre- moyne./ saxefrage. betayne./ centorye. lunarie/ hert- is tonge./ Tyme./ marubium album. herbe jon./ of eche of an handful gif žu make .12. galouns and gif žu mak lesse tak že less of herbis. and to .4. galouns of ži mater .i. galoun of drestis.

I have only used the part of the recipe highlighted in yellow. My redaction is as follows:

For to make mead. Take 1 gallon of fine honey and to that 4 gallons of water and heat that water til it be as lengh [?]. Then dissolve the honey in the water, then set them over the fire and let them boil and ever scum it as long as any filth rises thereon. Then take it down off the fire and let it cool in another vessel til it be as cold as milk when it comes from the cow. Then take lees from the finest ale or else yeast and cast it into the water and honey and stir all well together, but first look before putting your yeast in that the water with the honey be put in a clean tub and then put in your yeast or else the lees for that is best and stir well together. Lay straw or else cloths about the vessel and above if the weather is cold and so let it stand 3 days and 3 nights if the weather is cold. And if it is hot weather, 1 day and 1 night is enough at the full. But ever after 1 hour or 2 at the most assay thereof and if you will have it sweet take it the sooner from the lees and if you will have it sharp let it stand the longer therewith. Then draw it from the lees as clear as you may into another vessel clean and let it stand 1 night or 2 and then draw it into another clean vessel and serve it forth.

The ratio of 1 part honey to 4 parts water will produce a sweet mead. This is equivalent to 3 lbs of honey per gallon. The water is boiled first and then the honey added which will reduce the water amount a little. It can be interpreted to remove the water from the heat and dissolve the honey, which is good advice to avoid carmelizing honey on the bottom of the part before it is dissolved in the water. The phrase "as lengh" seems to indicate how long you boil the water. The recipe says lees from a batch of the finest ale is best but otherwise fresh frothing yeast from the top of an ale batch is good. The lees provide some nutrients which will help the yeast grow better. The recipe calls for adding the yeast when the mixture has cooled to the fresh milk temperature which is about 95 deg F. If this is done using fresh yeast then it will help it activate more quickly while the mixture continues to cool to room temperature.

The original recipe uses some old terms. "Stonde" is found in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) under the entry "stand", meaning an open barrel set on end or a tub. "Drasts", which the OED dates back to AD 1000, means dregs or lees. Adding the lees of a previously brewed batch to start a new batch is common practice even today. It is interesting to note the recommendation to insulate the fermenting vessel if the weather is cold. Of further interest is the number of vessels used. Transferring to another vessel to cool will speed the cooling process because the new vessel is presumably room temperature. Transferring it again (presumably by pouring it) into another vessel will also serve to aerate the mixture before adding the yeast, which as modern brewers know will help the growing conditions of the yeast.

What I did:

I used 1 quart of honey to 4 quarts of water, boiling the water first and then dissolving the honey in the hot water and putting it back on the fire (my gas stove) to boil again. I skimmed the rising foam until it quit foaming and then took it off the fire and transferred it to a clean vessel to cool. Transferring to a clean vessel (which is nominally room temperature) helps speed the cooling process.

I then transferred it to my fermenter. I did not have another batch of previously brewed mead (or anything for that matter) so I used fresh yeast.

I brewed the batch on Monday, and on Thursday evening (after 3 nights and 3 days) I transferred to another vessel, which I let stand for a day before racking it into the final bottle to bring to the event.


Making Medieval Mead (or Mead Before Digby), Compleat Anachronist #120, Christina M. Krupp, Summer 2003

Tractatus de magnete et operationibus eius. With other tracts., Reynolds Historical Library, University of Alabama.

Attached to my paper documentation was a copy of the original web page from the Reynolds Historical Library, and an image of the manuscript.

Return to Greydragon Library...