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Non-Alco-Drks-art - 6/18/08


"Non-Alcoholic Drinks in Period" by Count Gunthar Jonsson, OL, KSCA.


NOTE: See also the files: beverages-NA-msg, Orng-Lmn-drks-art, bev-water-msg, barley-water-msg, coffee-msg, infusions-msg, fresh-juices-msg, small-beer-msg.





This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.


These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org


Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author or translator.


While the author will likely give permission for this work to be reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.


Thank you,

Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous

stefan at florilegium.org



This class handout was written for a class taught at the Ansteorra King's College in June 2008.


Non-Alcoholic Drinks in Period

by Count Gunthar Jonsson, OL, KSCA


After attending feasts for over 20 years I have been very disappointed in always being subjected to the constant barrage of Country Time lemonade, iced tea and water.  Surely people in our time period drank more than ale or wine or beer all the time. I know all the stories about how people drank alcohol because the water was so bad but it's hard to totally buy that argument. Many period food and drink recipes call for "takng fayre water" which meant they wanted clean, non-salty and potable water for their recipes.  Water was drunk in quantity, anyone doubting this just has to look at the fact that wells were dug in all fortresses.  There was and incident in the Hundred Years War when the nobility complained they were forced to drink water instead of wine because of shortages.

This wasn't health, it was elitism.


The Arabic world especially had a variety of non-alcoholic drinks because so many were forbidden alcohol in any form. After doing some research I found that often fruit juices were made into syrups and then mixed with either hot or cold water.  I've served diluted fruit syrups at many feasts to good results.  A good start if you would like to make some of the diluted drinks but don't want to make them is to go to any Middle Eastern or Oriental Market, they have bottles of fruit syrups you can experiment with.  My personal favorite is the Black Currant but you can get Rose, Blueberry, Cherry, Coffee, Lavender and a variety of others.


The best source I've found for period non-alcoholic drinks is in An Anonymous Andalusian Cookbook of the Thirteenth Century with translation by Charles Perry. (1)

Also known as "Al Andalus" in some circles.


Al Andalus has several recipes for drinking syrups as well as their medicinal values. This is a great place for a frazzled head cook to start.


Another great thing about making fruit drink syrups is they last for months.


Syrup of Lemon

Andalusian p. 279 (Translation and commentary by David Friedman)

Take lemon, after peeling its outer skin, press it and take a ratl of juice, and add as much of sugar. Cook it until it takes the form of a syrup. Its advantages are for the heat of bile; it cuts the thirst and binds the bowels.

*This we also serve as a strong, hot drink. Alternatively, dilute it in cold water and you have thirteenth century lemonade. All three of the original recipes include comments on medical uses of the syrups.*


This is very basic and I've used this to great effect at feasts. Just take equal parts lemon juice and sugar and place over low heat. Slowly stir and reduce until a syrup is achieved and it takes on a bit of cooked flavor. Add either hot or cold water to your taste.


These are also from Al Andalus courtesy of the Miscellany: I haven't converted the quantities over to modern because it really doesn't matter much. The recipes do give proportions which is the more important aspect.


Syrup of Sour Grapes

Take a ratl of juice pressed from sour grapes, and another of sugar, join them and cook until it takes the form of a syrup. Drink an qiya of this in two more of water. Its uses: for mastering jaundice and cutting bilious vomiting ; it gives appetite and cuts the thirst, dissolves phlegm by cutting it, and stops bitterness in the mouth.


1 cup juice pressed from sour grapes

1 cup sugar


Cook down to a syrup.

Mix with cool water in 1 part syrup to 2 parts water or to taste.


Again, take equal portions of the juice of sour grapes. These were often grapes that were not quite ripe as well as there being certain varieties of grapes who were a bit more sour than others.


This is something you can do when you find some grapes at the local supermarket that are too sour for regular eating.  I also like grabbing a bunch and mashing them down for their juice to make verjuis.  The store doesn't mind you tasting a grape and is actually happy for you to buy them when they are sour because most people don't want them. You can also buy bottles of Sour Grape Juice in a decent ethnic market.


Speaking of ethnic markets, I've had great luck in getting syrups of black currant, rose, cherry, grape and orange at them. This makes feasting much easier as you just add a bottle of syrup to water in the average large drink cooler.


Syrup of Tamarind

Take a ratl of tamarind and steep in five ratls of water, throw away the dregs immediately and add the clarified water to a ratl of sugar. Cook all this until it takes the form of a syrup. Drink two qiyas of it in three of cold water. It is beneficial in jaundice, and takes it away easily; it cuts bilious vomit and thirst, awakens the appetite to eat, and takes the bitterness of food out of the mouth.

You can find blocks of tamarind at most Mexican markets. Tamarind is very sweet/sour and makes for a refreshing drink.  


1 cup of tamarind paste

1 cup of sugar

5 cups of water


Mix the cup of tamarind paste into the water and let sit for several hours.

Strain out the dregs then mix the sugar into the flavored water.  Boil this down to a syrup.

To drink, mix 2 parts syrup to 3 parts cool water.


Another idea is a Honey/Ginger syrup that is mentioned by Sir Kenelm Digby (2)

This is an easier modern idea of it.


Ginger syrup

Chop 1/2 pound of ginger finely (makes about 1 and 2/3 c.).

Mix with 4 c. water and boil for 30 minutes Cool overnight

Mix 1 c. honey with 1 c. water; boil for 5-10 minutes

Strain ginger and add liquid to honey syrup. Boil for 5 minutes.

Add 1/3 c. lime juice. Boil 2 minutes.

Cool & bottle.

Dilute 1 part syrup in 6-8 parts water.


Syrup of Apples

Take a ratl of sweet apples, those that the common people call sarj [this might mean "little lamps"], cook them in water to cover until they fall apart and their substance comes out, then clarify it and take the clear part and add it to a ratl of sugar. The bag: an qiya of aloe stems, pounded and put into the bag. Cook until it takes the form of a syrup. Drink an qiya in two of hot water. Its benefits: it fortifies and gladdens the heart.


5 lbs of sweet apples (like winesap, gala, braeburn, etc)

5 lbs of sugar

Several gallon size tea bags or crushed aloe stems in cloth bag



Wash and quarter apples.  Put in a large stockpot and cover with water.  Cook apples over medium heat until they fall apart easily when pressed with a spoon, about an hour and a half.  Keep an eye and stir occasionally to prevent sticking and scorching.  Once the apples are soft and have given up their juice pour the mass into a strainer set over another stockpot and press out as much juice as possible.  Discard the apple remains.  


Add tea bags or aloe stems to the liquid.  Add sugar.  Set stockpot over the fire on low and allow to reduce over several hours until the liquid has reduced to a quarter of the volume.  Cool and place in jars.


The recipe calls for it to be mixed with hot water and this creates a very satisfying "hot toddy" effect. This is great for a cool evening.


In my investigations of aloe I have found it has been used both topically and internally for centuries. The common aloe plant is abundant in the area so just regular aloe stems would work. Unfortunately, among the medical benefits of aloe laxative properties are also noted. I don't think that steeping crushed stems in the juice would give anyone a case of discomfort, but I would rather not risk it. It was also noted that the pulp of the aloe is very bitter. I feel the aloe was not only included for medicinal benefit but also for the bitterness to balance out the very sweet apple syrup. For this purpose I chose regular tea bags. In the future I will try the crushed aloe to see if there are any ill effects but for my first try and for an item to be distributed to the masses I went with something a little less potent.


This recipe as well as the above syrups were gotten from Cariadoc's Miscellany (3) with modern redactions by me.

Speaking of Apples, cider has been drunk for thousands of years. Stabon, a Greek geographer wrote about a Basque drink called "Phitarra" made by boiling pieces of apple in water and honey. In the 9th Century Charlemagne kept brewers on his estate to make ale, perry and all manners of drinks.


The apple press was created in the 13th Century and by the end of that century wine and cider brokers named by municipal officers were established in the city of Caen. Apple cider and perry were drunk all through the ages and was popular through the 19th Century in America. So serving apple cider at feast is a very period thing to do. But with the caveat that regular cider usually isn't well received as a meal drink for the average SCA diner. I suggest either diluting it to refreshing proportions or letting it ferment just a little.


Slightly Hard Apple Cider

Add a little champagne yeast to a several gallons of commercial cider and leave for a day or two at cool room temps. There will be a bit of fermentation but not enough to create enough alcohol for anyone to worry about. The taste will be changed as well.

Or get your local brewer who knows about such things to make you several gallons of very weak cider.


Barley Water

Barley water has lately made a comeback. It is tasty, refreshing and different but not so much as for diners to be distracted or put off by its flavor.

Barley "Soda"
1/2 cup pearl barley
water, to rinse barley
10 additional cups cold water
1 whole ripe lemon, to be juiced and the rind used
3/4 cup (approx) additional lemon juice (more on this later)
1/2 to 1 cup sugar, honey, golden syrup, or other equivalent sweetener (I prefer honey), to taste

Rinse the pearl barley under running water. Scrub the lemon to make sure the rind is clean. Put the rinsed barley in a pan or pot, cover with cold water, bring to a boil, and let simmer for 3 minutes. Remove from heat and drain.


Rinse the pearl barley under running water until the water runs clear. Scrub the lemon to make sure the rind is clean. Put the rinsed barley in a pan or pot, cover with cold water, bring to a boil, and let simmer for 3 minutes. Remove from heat and drain. Reserve the barley & discard the water.

Put the simmered barley in another large pot and add the 10 cups cold water. Grate the rind from the lemon into the water, careful not to get any of the white pith. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover well, and let simmer on low for 60 minutes. Check it occasionally to make sure it's not boiling too hard - you don't want to lose too much liquid.

Roll the lemon (now minus the rind), pressing it with your palm, on a countertop or cutting board to release the juices inside. Juice the lemon and add enough extra lemon juice (from whatever source, commercially available is fine) to make at least 3/4 cup of juice.


To the barley water in the large pot, add the lemon juice and sweetener; stir until dissolved. Taste the liquid and add any additional lemon juice until it is as tart as you prefer.

Pour the barley water through a strainer into a pitcher. I have found that if you bring the temperature down a bit then use a 2 liter soda bottle it works very well.

You can enjoy the barley water as a hot drink like tea, pour over ice for a refreshing drink on a hot day, or chill in the refrigerator. I like it diluted with a bit of water and poured over ice but Elizabeth enjoys it full strength.


This also works well with oranges, although I find it a bit too sweet.  One additional advantage when using oranges is that the used barley makes a great breakfast.

Recipe makes approximately 2 liters of "Barley Soda."

Another interesting drink is a Weak Honey Drink, again from Digby (2).


Weak Honey Drink

(More commonly called Small Mead)

Digby p. 107/147

Take nine pints of warm fountain water, and dissolve in it one pint of pure White-honey, by laving it therein, till it be dissolved. Then boil it gently, skimming it all the while, till all the scum be perfectly scummed off; and after that boil it a little longer, peradventure a quarter of an hour. In all it will require two or three hours boiling, so that at last one third part may be consumed. About a quarter of an hour before you cease boiling, and take it from the fire, put to it a little spoonful of cleansed and sliced Ginger; and almost half as much of the thin yellow rind of Orange, when you are even ready to take it from the fire, so as the Orange boil only one walm in it. Then pour it into a well-glased strong deep great Gally-pot, and let it stand so, till it be almost cold, that it be scarce Luke-warm. Then put to it a little silver-spoonful of pure Ale-yest, and work it together with a Ladle to make it ferment: as soon as it beginneth to do so, cover it close with a fit cover, and put a thick dubbled woollen cloth about it. Cast all things so that this may be done when you are going to bed. Next morning when you rise, you will find the barm gathered all together in the middle; scum it clean off with a silver-spoon and a feather, and bottle up the Liquor, stopping it very close. It will be ready to drink in two or three days; but it will keep well a month or two. It will be from the first very quick and pleasant.


11 pints water
1 T peeled, sliced fresh ginger (~1/4 oz)
1/2 t yeast
1 pint honey = 1 1/2 lb
1/2 T orange peel


Dissolve the honey in the water in a large pot and bring to a boil. Let it boil down to 2/3 the original volume (8 pints), skimming periodically. This will take about 2 1/2 to 3 hours; by the end it should be clear. About 15 minutes before it is done, add the ginger. At the end, add the orange peel, let it boil a minute or so, and remove from the heat. The orange peel should be the yellow part only, not the white; a potato peeler works well to get off the peel. Let the mead cool to lukewarm, then add the yeast. Cover and let sit 24-36 hours. Bottle it, using sturdy bottles; the fermentation builds up considerable pressure. Refrigerate after three or four days. Beware of exploding bottles. The mead will be drinkable in a week, but better if you leave it longer.


Using the 2-litre bottles makes life much easier because the yeast can build a lot of pressure and beer makers sometimes have problems with their bottles exploding.  But the plastic bottles simply swell and the worst that can happen is split seams.  The first batch I made I kept the bottle caps on tight.  The bottles swelled until there was no neck and the dimples in the bottom disappeared.  Getting the caps off was a slow and careful process.  But the mead was wonderfully sparkly, almost like a soda pop.  But the second time I did this I felt the period version may have had a lid put on it but the crocks certainly weren't tightly sealed.  So this time I put on the lids but didn't screw them on all the way.  This resulted in a lightly effervescent and slightly sweeter drink.



(1) An Anonymous Andalusian Cookbook of the Thirteenth Century

A translation by Charles Perry of the Arabic edition of Ambrosio Huici Miranda with the assistance of an English translation by Elise Fleming, Stephen Bloch, Habib ibn al-Andalusi and Janet Jinson of the Spanish translation by Ambrosio Huici Miranda, as published in A Collection of Medieval and Renaissance Cookbooks, Seventh Edition (1998), Volume II. (C) Charles Perry 1992

(2) The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby Knight Opened by Kenelm Digby (1603 – 1665)

(3) Cariadoc's Miscellany. The Miscellany is Copyright (c) by David Friedman and Elizabeth Cook, 1988, 1990, 1992. http://www.pbm.com/~lindahl/cariadoc/miscellany.html


Copyright 2007 by Michael F. Gunter, 3621 Frankford Rd., Apt 336. Dallas, TX 75287. <countgunthar at hotmail.com>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited.  Addresses change, but a reasonable attempt should be made to ensure that the author receives a copy.


If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org