Apricot Cardamom Cordial

Cordial glass with golden liquid

I really like cardamom, and it seemed to be a good match for apricots.  I took this to Interkingdom Brewing Competition at Pennsic, where it did well.  This is my competition documentation.  Now I know there’s a spice called Grains of Paradise, and that I can purchase it under that name; I didn’t know that when I wrote this documentation for it. 

Historical brewers can tell you that the sweet sipping liqueurs we know today first started to appear in receipt books in the late seventeenth century, and didn’t really get a foothold until the eighteenth.  This was in a competition for people focussed 16th century and earlier, but with leeway for beverages that tasted good. 

Have you tried this? Made it, tasted it?  What did you think?

This is a recipe I pulled off an SCA brewer‘s list. The documentation attached to it referred to cardamom being known as Grains of Paradise, which seems unlikely, as Grains of Paradise are apparently very similar to pepper, which cardamom is not. I could account for all of the ingredients in period. While we know that ―sipping cordials‖, the way we like them today, were functionally unknown before the sixteenth century, they are still pleasant to drink, and surely the vitamins in the apricot nectar and warming properties of cardamom count for something.

I used apricot nectar with a lot of pulp for the fruit juice, which is why this is not clear. I could have used a fining agent such as isinglass, but I was concerned it would negatively affect the flavor. I attempted a paper filter to see if it would do any good, but apricot nectar does not filter clear.

As we are all familiar, and as I mentioned above, there are no cordials in the modern sense that date back to period. Cordials were medicines, herbs and flowers infused in hard liquor, most often distilled wine, and used as tonics. Though not called brandy until the seventeenth century (originally from ‗brandwine‘, or burned wine), distilled wine was not unknown to those who could afford the wine to make it from. Distilled mead dates to the fifth century in Britain, and distillation was well established in Europe by at least the eleventh or twelfth century. Norman knights encountered distillation from grain (

uisge beatha, or whiskey) when they invaded Ireland in the twelfth century. Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery describes some very palatable-seeming cordials, but at its earliest this recipe collection dates to 1550. Plat‘s Delightes for Ladies (1602) has four recipes in it for distilling liquor steeped with herbs, which puts them more in the liqueur category than that of a brandy.

The bottle is labelled with hand-made paper, tied in my own handspun woolen thread, and written in oak gall ink.

I hope you enjoy it.

Yours, in honor of bee and brew,

(my SCA name)

The Style

The Oxford English Dictionary has some interesting things to say about what “cordial” means. In its first-level definition, in references dating back to 1400, ―cordial is defined as “of or pertaining to the heart.”  In references dating from 1471, with regard to medicine, food, or beverage: ―Stimulating,  comforting, or invigorating the heart; restorative, reviving, cheering.  At its last level, it is defined as ―…liqueurs, syrups, and sweet drinks.‖ There is nothing here to determine the alcohol base or primary flavors common to cordials, though sack-pressing fruit for fermentation dates to the First Dynasty of Egypt.

As we are all familiar, there are no cordials in the modern sense that date back to period. Cordials were medicines, herbs and flowers infused in hard liquor, most often distilled wine, and used as tonics. Though not called brandy until the seventeenth century (originally from ‗brandwine‘, or burned wine), distilled wine not unknown to those who could afford the wine to make it from. Distilled mead dates to the fifth century in Britain, and distillation was well established in Europe by at least the eleventh or twelfth century. Norman knights encountered distillation from grain (uisge beatha, or whiskey) when they invaded Ireland in the twelfth century. Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery describes some very palatable-seeming cordials, but at its earliest this recipe collection dates to 1550. Plat‘s Delightes for Ladies (1602) has four recipes in it for distilling liquor steeped with herbs, which puts them more in the liqueur category than that of a brandy.

The Recipe

  • 2 cups apricot nectar (from Spain, slightly sweetened)
  • 2 cups white brandy (Christian Brothers‘ finest)
  • ½ tsp cardamom seeds (about 7)
  • 1.5 cups orchard honey, with enough water to heat it to liquid

Since I made this in winter and live in a place apricots do not grow, fresh apricots were prohibitively expensive. I compromised with organic apricot nectar which contained a lot of pulp, which is why this cordial is not crystal clear. I could have used a fining agent such as isinglass to pull the solids out, but I was concerned it would negatively affect the flavor. The white brandy was not of high quality, and I was concerned that the flavors mask its edge.

I soaked the cardamom seeds in the nectar and liquor in a clear jar in the sun for three days, shaking it to mix twice a day. I then put it in a dark place and forgot about it for a while. After a bit I tasted it and decided to add honey. The original recipe called for sugar, so I converted at a ratio of about .5- .75 cups of honey per 1 cup of sugar, and then subtracted a bit because the nectar was already sweetened some. The honey I used was semi-solid, so I heated it in a little water to render it liquid and to melt any sugar crystals.

Ingredients and Elements (in alphabetical order)

Apricots

Prunus Armeniaca

―The apricot is a member of the rose family, along with peaches, plums, cherries, and almonds. The word apricot comes from the Latin praecocia meaning “precocious” or “early ripening.” It first appeared in English print in 1551. .. Alexander the Great is said to have brought apricots from their native home in China to Greece in the fourth century B.C. The Arabs carried apricots to the Mediterranean, and the apricot became a main crop in Italy for centuries. Franciscan friars brought the apricot to America in the late 1800s, where they thrived… In Eastern countries, the apricot is known as ‗moon of the faithful,‘ and the ancient Persians referred to the apricot as “egg of the sun.”― (Peggy Trowbridge Fillipone, Apricot Recipes and Cooking Tips, http://homecooking.about.com/od/fruit/a/apricot.htm, accessed February 22, 2008).

According to Peter Wolf, ―It is believed that apricots originated in China, although they were probably known by another name in Asia. From there, they were brought westward and introduced into Asia Minor and Europe. (http://www.peterwolfe.com/history1.htm, accessed February 22, 2008)(this link no longer works – tested 2/12/2012).
Brandy

The term ‗brandy‘ is derived from brandywine, from the Dutch brandewijn, meaning ‘burnt wine’. It is a general term for distilled wine, usually 40–60% ethyl alcohol by volume. In addition to wine, this spirit can also be made from grape, pomace, or fermented fruit juice. Unless specified otherwise, brandy is made from grape wine. It is normally consumed as an after-dinner drink. Brandy made from wine is generally coloured with caramel coloring to imitate the effect of long aging in wooden casks; pomace and fruit brandies are generally drunk unaged, and are not usually coloured. The origins of brandy are clear, and tied to the development of distillation. Concentrated alcoholic beverages were known in ancient Greece and Rome and may have a history going back to ancient Babylon. Brandy as it is known today first began to appear in the 12th century and became generally popular in the 14th century.

―Long before the 16th century, wine was a popular product for trading in European region. In the early 16th century, a Dutchman trader invented the way to ship more wine in the limited cargo space by removing water from the wine. Then he could add the water back to the concentrated wine at the destination port in Holland. They called it “bradwijn,” meaning “burned wine,” and later became “brandy.” (http://www.cocktailtimes.com/history/brandy/index.html, accessed February 22, 2008).

Or, as Siegfried Faustus said in a post to the Atlantia Brewers‘ list:

―99% of what I see entered into Cordial competitions, are exactly what we all tend to think of, as cordials. Vodka/Brandy/Grain, steeped in Fruit/Herb, and sweetened with sugar syrup.  However, as I think most of us know, documenting this type of cordial to within period, is hard…there are many medicinal uses of ‘mixtures’ that can be found in period documents.  These usually involve adding spices to wine (and, in history, sometimes then distilling it) – essentially creating a Spiced or Mulled wine (or Brandy). Very rarely are they sweetened. So these are, a bulk of the ‘period cordials’ that we have.

Cardamom

Elletaria cardamomum

Zingiberaceae family

A plant native to India, in modern times it can also come from Guatemala and Ceylon [Sri Lanka?]. According to Sharon Stevens, it was grown in the garden of King of Babylon in 721 B.C. and used in perfumes in ancient Greece and Rome and in cosmetic industry today. Cardamom has a small three-sided, creamy white, pithy pod, containing aromatic dark brown seed, and is available both whole and ground (decorticated – pod removed). It is said to be good to freshen breath. (Stevens,

http://www.astray.com/recipes/?show=Cardamom_history, accessed February 22, 2008 (this link no longer active as of 2/12/2012)).

It is a perennial with tall simple canes or stems that grow out of rhizomes. It is native to the shady forests of India, Ceylon and Malaysia. Today it is cultivated mainly in Guatemala and India

The flower spikes produce white or pale green flowers that produce green pod capsules that contain 10 to 20 seeds. These seeds are small black and sticky. The best quality cardamom seeds are ripe, hard and dark brown in color. It is difficult to grow and must be hand picked which is why it is one of the most expensive spices.

Cleopatra is said to have found the scent so enticing that she had the palace scented with cardamom smoke when Marc Anthony came to visit. Ancient Greeks and Romans used cardamom in foods as well as for Medicines and perfumes. In the New Testament which was largely written in Greek ―amooman‖ appears in reference to the aromatic plant cardamom. The word means “blameless without reproach.” (Joan Russell, The Smorgasboard, found at http://www.foodreference.com/html/artcardamom.html, accessed February 22, 2008).

Honey

Who had honey, and what was it like? Honey is usually the primary flavorant in mead, unless very strong-flavored spices have been added; the nature of the honey used  changes the finished product entirely. I kept this in mind when using honey to sweeten this cordial.

―The plaited wicker hive, or skep, was invented by the nomads of the steppes; it was then adopted by the Celts….Charlemagne…laid down regulations for beekeeping at the same time he introduced a general policy of agrarian economy. Farms were obliged to keep bees and…pay the emperor in kind: two-thirds of all honey and one-third of all beeswax produced….‖ (Toussaint-Samat, 1987, p. 30)

Bottle (Presentation)

Clear glass was known to the Romans by 200 AD, but was maintained and developed as an art form in the Islamic world through the centuries:

―The art of glassmaking was greatly refined by the Romans, but when Rome declined, the skills were all but lost to Europe. In the Middle East, however, craftsmen were busy working in the traditions associated with typically Islamic art. Glass centers at Damascus and Aleppo spread the fame of Islamic glass. Glass from Syria was exported throughout the known world—even to the far reaches of Asia Minor and China. Travelers wrote with great praise of their visits to the glass centers. One such person was al-Kazwani who, in the thirteenth century, referred to the magnificent ware to be found in the glass bazaars of Aleppo. Another traveler who wrote of glass was the Persian geographer Hafiz-I-Abru, who in his memoirs noted that the glass of Aleppo was ‗decorated with elegance and taste.‘

In Persia, glassmaking became an important craft during the reign of Shah Abbas in the seventeenth century. Persian glassware kept the traditional decorative designs, but in later centuries equally beautiful glassware with jewel-like colors and unusual shapes became popular. (Saudi Aramco World, December 2007, pp. 12-15. http://www.saudiaramcoworld.com/issue/196210/beauty.in.glass.htm, accessed February 3, 2008).

According to Wikipedia, not the world‘s most documentable source, Sir Kenelme Digby is considered the father of the modern wine bottle. During the 1630s, Digby owned a glassworks and manufactured wine bottles which were globular in shape with a high, tapered neck, a collar, and a punt. His manufacturing technique involved a coal furnace, made hotter than usual by the inclusion of a wind tunnel, and a higher ratio of sand to potash and lime than was customary. Digby’s technique produced wine bottles which were stronger and more stable than most of their day, and which, due to their dark color, protected the contents from light. During his exile and prison term, others claimed his technique as their own, but in 1662 Parliament recognized his claim to the invention as valid.

The bottle is labelled with hand-made paper, tied in linsey-woolsey thread which I spun, and written in oak gall ink.

MEAD BIBLIOGRAPHY

Sources used in this documentation.

Acton, Brian, and Duncan, Peter (1985). Making Mead, G.W. Kent, Inc., Ann Arbor, MI

Digbie, Sir Kenelme (1669). The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digbie Kt. Opened: Whereby is Discovered Several ways for making of Metheglin, Sider, Cherry-Wie, &c. Together with Excellent Directions for Cookery As also for Preserving, Conserving, Candying, &c. H. Brome, London. Reproduced by the Mallinckrodt Chemical Works, 1967.

Hess, Karen, ed. Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery, New York: Columbia University Press, 1981.

Oxford English Dictionary (1971). Oxford University Press, Oxford, England.

Petrie, W.M.F. Social Life in Ancient Egypt.

Plat, Sir Hugh, Delightes for Ladies. Humfrey Lowens, London, 1602. London: Crosby Lockwood & Sons, Ltd., 1948.

Pliny the Elder. Naturalis Historia, or Natural History, c. 77AD.

Schramm, Ken (2003). The Compleat Meadmaker. Brewers Publications, Boulder, CO.

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