Metheglin: the king's brew

Courtier, privateer, diplomat, swordsman, theologian, alchemist and incurable romantic, Sir Kenelm Digby was the sort of character you simply couldn’t make up. Oddly enough though, these days Digby is most revered among home brewers... 

Image by Jesse Wild

Image by Jesse Wild

Sir Kenelm Digby  (1603-1665) was a noted foodie, and he kept extensive notebooks of recipes encountered both in London and on his travels. These were published after his death by an enterprising steward under the title The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby Knight Opened (1669).

Among dishes with fantastic names like “a good quaking bag pudding” or “pease of the seedy buds of tulips”, there are no less than 115 different booze recipes, mainly for metheglin – or flavoured mead.  Kenelm got this brew from “Master Webbe, who maketh the King’s Meathe”. I’ve scaled it down considerably (Webbe’s recipe makes 300 bottles, but eight is probably enough to start with), and switched most of the fresh ingredients for dry ones. It’s strong and sweet, with a rather medicinal flavour.

1. Bring 10 litres of water to the boil. Add 5g of dried hops (I used East Kent Goldings) and boil for half an hour. Putting your ingredients in muslin bags will save you straining them off later.

2. Remove the hops, and stir in 1.6kg of honey. Boil for an hour, skimming occasionally.

3. Add 5g dried rose petals; 2 teaspoons each of dried rosemary, thyme and marjoram; 1 teaspoon of mint; 5g fresh ginger ; a stick of cinnamon and 4 tablespoons of oloroso (sweet) sherry. Webbe liked it with cloves and mace too, but “the King did not care for them”.

4. Boil for half an hour, then strain off the liquid into a sterilised fermenter and let it cool. If you want to check the specific gravity with a hydrometer (or an egg), it should be around 1075.

5. Whisk vigorously, then pitch half a teaspoon of yeast nutrient and 2 teaspoons of wine yeast. By the next day it should be fizzing nicely.

6. Leave it to ferment out and clear (mine took a few weeks), then siphon it off into sterilised wine bottles (corks rather than screw tops). Kenelm reckoned it would be ready to drink in a month or two, but it will keep much longer. 

Joly-Braime-profile-pic.jpg

Joly Braime is a writer and home brewer. He spends his leisure time tramping the moors or filling his coal shed with homemade alcohol.
 

jolybraime.co.uk

 

 

 

 


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A skin read

It’s widely said that everyone has a book inside them, less common is the knowledge that some people have actually had books made from the outsides of them. Duncan Haskell enters the dark world of anthropodermic bibliopegy

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Anthropodermic bibliopegy, the process of binding books in human skin, reached its macabre peak in the 19th century and was of particular interest to medical professionals who had access to cadavers. Some examples include the infamous Edinburgh murderer William Burke (of Burke and Hare fame) who was turned into a small pocket book after his execution in 1829, and John Horwood, the first man to be hanged at Bristol Gaol in 1821, whose skin now envelopes an account of his crime. The Historical Medical Library in Philadelphia houses the largest collection, with five such grisly tomes.

A twist to this tale is provided by The Anthropodermic Book Project. Suspecting that some of these alleged skin-bound volumes were nothing more than a tall story, they’ve begun testing specimens using a process known as peptide mass fingerprinting (PMF). Of the 31 tested, only 18 have been confirmed as human.

It remains uncertain whether the practice was sheer vanity, a deterrent to criminals or an unusual reminder of our own morality. What is clear though is that it’s definitely okay to judge these books by their covers. 

Words: Duncan Haskell

Delve into the findings at anthropodermicbooks.org

Anthropodermic bibliopegy features in issue 7 of Ernest Journal, on sale now.

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The Mail Train

Not so long ago, any letter or parcel landing on a doormat in London would have just disembarked from a surprising journey... underground.

Images courtesy of the Postal Museum

Images courtesy of the Postal Museum

Stretching for 6.5 miles in a tunnel deeper than the Tube, the Mail Rail transported post between Whitechapel and Paddington for 75 years until its closure in 2003. Since then, the stalactite-filled
tunnels and abandoned platforms have lain dark and empty. Until now.

The Postal Museum in Clerkenwell has opened part of the Mail Rail to the public; running battery-powered passenger trains on a 20-minute subterranean tour. While the Mail Rail is undoubtedly the star attraction, the museum is a thigh-rubbing joy to wander itself, for its interactive displays (you get to sort post and put your face on a stamp) and fascinating insights into what has kept this great British institution ticking for so long. 

Open everyday (except 24-26 December) from 10am to 5pm. Last train departs at 4.30pm. Journey lasts 15 minutes. For more info, visit postalmuseum.org

The Mail Train features in issue 7 of Ernest Journal, on sale now.

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Timeline of the far future

Impending asteroids, interchangeable North Stars and rings around Mars, what do future astronomical events have in store for the universe (and for planet earth)?

Image courtesy of NASA

Image courtesy of NASA

The north star swap

When undertaking peregrinations into the wild, we often seek guidance from the celestial arbiter Polaris, commonly known as the North Star. However, due to the effects of ‘precession’ (like when you nudge a spinning top) the earth’s ‘spin axis’ changes and with it, our North Star. In 3000 B.C.Alpha Draconis was the North Star and 13,000 years from now it will be Vega.  

Impending asteroid

For centuries, soothsayers have predicted our cosmic extinction. But your 26 times great-grandchildren (in about 800 years) may have genuine cause for concern. In 2880, there’ll be a 1-in-300 chance of Asteroid (29075) 1950 DA colliding with earth, the only asteroid considered to have a PalermoTechnical Impact Hazard Scale above the background level. 

The longest eclipse

On 16 July 2186, earth will be plunged into darkness for seven minutes and 29 seconds. This will be the longest eclipse in a span of over 12,000 years (4000 BCE to 8000 CE). Astronomers speculate this might be, or is at least close to, the theoretical maximum duration of a solar eclipse based on current astronomic conditions. 

Harvest moon

The Florida based Moon Express has already raised $45 million to launch three expeditions to the Moon, with the final mission ending in an exploratory mining excursion, aptly named Harvest Moon. With the maiden flight of their Lunar Scout shuttle set for this year, we might all have our own lunar artefact as early as 2020. 

Mars gets rings (or explodes)

The red planet has two satellites: Phobos and Deimos. Phobos has a shorter lunar orbit than any other in our solar system. This close proximity to the surface, together with tidal interactions, means that in eight million years, one of two things will happen. Either it will break apart and form rings or it will crash into the surface like a giant nuclear bomb. 

Words: Matt Iredale

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Wetland words

What is a wetland? According to new book Swamp by Anthony Wilson (Reaktion Books), wetlands are “in-between areas, mixtures of water and earth, land and liquid.” Let’s explore these murky hinterlands...

Image by Conor Beary

Image by Conor Beary

swamp

Renowned as places of abject mystery, the foreboding boat snares we call ‘swamps’ are defined by their ability to support woody plants, such as mangroves and cypress trees, and are permanently saturated by water.

marsh

The smaller and more cumbersome relative of the swamp, ‘marsh’, although very similar, is built up of non-woody plants and nutrient-rich soil that allows all manner of reeds and sedges to flourish.

bog

Taking many centuries to form, these small patches of spongy wetland are characterised by the appearance of partially decayed plant matter called peat. They’re also home to the illustrious British pastime, bog snorkelling.

quagmire

Traditionally known as ground that can’t support a man’s weight, the term ‘quagmire’, or ‘mire’, encompasses both bogs and fens. Although similar, ‘fens’ are more nutrient-rich, less
acidic and support a higher diversity of life.

bayou

Derived from the amalgamation of the Native American word for ‘small stream’, bayuk, and 19th-century French colonialism, a ‘bayou’ is a slow-moving swamp-like section of a river or lake that is filled with fresh or salt water.

Words by Matt Iredale

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