My blog is a little wine heavy for someone who grew up in a family that mostly drank beer and whiskey, but I was asked to discuss hippocras because I make up batches of my hippocras spice blend and give it to people as holiday gifts. Hippocras is a nice warming winter beverage which is beneficial to the cardiovascular system and the digestive system.
It is the is Middle English name for an aromatic wine derived from the Old French word ypocras. The drink is named after the Latin vinum Hippocratum — a spiced wine strained through a Hippocratic sleeve. This was a cloth bag hung and used as a strainer to remove all fine particulates as in the picture below.
The first few times I had this it was made with a sweet dessert wine to which they added cupsful of sugar. As I am not a sugar person. I didn’t care about making Hippocras for some time after that. One day I was reading the English Texts Society’s printing of Harleian MS 4011 The Boke of Nurture (1465) in which John Russell shared that when making ypocras you should use a “red wyne” that is “whote [hot] and drye to taste, fele, & see.”
I decided to look around for a receipt I liked and try it with a dry, red wine. Konrad Gesner wrote about many types of aromatic wines as medicinal preparations which were said to be beneficial to people with cardiac problems, weak stomachs, or “defaultes” of the lungs. This was one of them
“The inner barkes of Cinnamon. vi drammes: halfe an ounce of white Ginger hoole, Nutmegges elect .ii. drammes, Cloues, graines of paradice, of ether a dram: Cardamomum, Pep∣per, Calamus Aromaticus, Coriander prepared, of euery one a scrupull, mixte them and beate them somewhat groose. Eight poundes of wine, clari∣fied honye .xxvi. ounces, mixte all, and strayne [ xxx] them accordinge to Arte. Some clarifye theese spiced wines with Almond milke.”1559 English translation of Konrad Gesner’s Thesaurus Euonymi Philiatri.
The last sentence speaks to the process of clarifying a beverage with milk that was wildly popular in the Early Modern period. It is similar to the way I use egg whites for fining wine. Cooks Illustrated wrote a great article about it several years ago, so I am not going to duplicate efforts on that topic.
The phrase “according to Arte” needs some explanation here. Traditionally this mixture is stirred into the cold wine, the wine is slowly warmed and then strained through a muslin bag. You want to use very low heat so that all your aromatics don’t steam off. Some recipes for Hippocras mentioned setting it near a warm fire in an earthen jug, rather than sitting it on the heat. I put it in a crockpot that has one of the keep warm settings.
I use galangal instead of ginger. It’s the most common ingredient in the receipts for cardiacall persons. It’s a similar flavor profile to ginger and has similar antioxidant actions in terms of neuroprotection, without being quite so dry which I prefer for elders. I also rarely add sugar, but you can add the amount of sugar that is to your liking. You could also use hard cider or cider instead of wine.
Adapted from Thesaurus Euonymi Philiatri
- 12 grams Cinnamon (2.5 tsp)
- 4 grams of dried Galangal or Ginger (1 tsp)
- 4 grams of nutmeg (1 tsp)
- 4 grams of grains of paradise or cloves (1 tsp) (I use both and omit the pepper)
- 2 grams of dried coriander (1/2 tsp)
- 2 grams dried calamus (1/2 tsp)
- 2 grams cardamom (1/2 tsp)
- 3 liters of wine (Two of the magnum bottles)
- 750 mL sugar or clarified honey (3 cups)
- If you are starting out with powders, you just mix the herbs together. I have to grind my herbs into a coarse powder to get started because I don’t keep powdered herbs around. You could tie the mixture up in a small bit of butter muslin or cheese cloth, or seal it in one of those press and seal teabags. I will say you get better flavor from the first method, but the second method is easier especially if you start with powders.
- Once the ingredients have been ground to your liking you stir them into the cold wine in a saucepot or crockpot and gently warm the mixture. It should not simmer or boil. You could also use a hibiscus infusion or apple juice for a non-alcoholic version.
- How long you allow the spices to infuse is a matter of taste. I like to let mine warm for a couple of hours.
- Add as much honey or sugar to the mixture as you want, stir until dissolved. Strain into glasses to serve.