Homemade Wine Recipes from the 16th and 17th Centuries

The Lost Art of Wine Making at Home

Some Recipes Popular a Century Ago Revived to Show How Our Forefathers Brewed Their Own Beers, Made Their Own Ciders, Distilled Their Own Liquors.

The manufacture of homemade liquors is all but a lost art. A century ago every farm had its formulas, whether for the brewing of beer, or the making of cider, or wines from the fruits of the locality. But the wines of commerce became so cheap, and the coming of the railway made them so easily obtainable that, except in a few rare cases, the homemade sort fell into desuetude; whether innocuous or not is in dispute. Much water has passed under the bridge since Macculloch, writing in 1816, said, “the price of the sugar is the price of the wine.” Even in those days it was probably true only of certain kinds in certain conditions.

In collecting data on this subject it is necessary to go back a hundred years or more. No authoritative books have been published since about 1832, and those largely compilations from earlier works.

Here and there, in country neighborhoods, one finds some local dainty, so smooth on the toungue, so delicately flavored, as to pique the curiosity, and is rewarded by the information that the drink is compounded of dandelion or elder flowers. These are more of the liqueur or cordial type, and though delicious, soon pall. It is hard to imagine the drink habit contracted on a beverage of this sort.

There is, or was, another type, more frequently to be met with. It is usually compounded in the most artless manner, simply by pouring strong spirits of some sort over fruit, whether cooked or uncooked, which lent its name to the decoction…

Interest in these archaic formulas flagged. They were tedious and troublesome to carry out, and the product was buly to handle and slow to ripen. It was far easier–and, indeed, cheaper–to let some one else attend to the work.

Now, however, the situation has changed. All the world and his wife seem to be going about exchanging recipes involving raisins, brown sugar, yeast, and cider. There is even a story of a prominent man of letters making wine in a chafing dish, and setting up a whiskey still in a percolator, the “worm” of which apparatus (it is said) consisted of a putty blower bent around a chair leg.

Especially devised for the needs of such an experimenter might have been the following recipes, taken from an unpunctuated still-room book of the seventeenth and eighteenth century:

APRICOCKE WINE: Take to every pint of water 10 or 12 apricockes, let it boyle gently at first after a pace till it be strong of the fruit then let it stand and take some of the clear and bottle it; to a bottle take an ounce and half of sugar and stop it close. The sirrop yt comes from dried apricocks, put in white wine and bottled a month is very good.

GOOSEBERRY WINE: Take a skillet with a quart or three pints of gooseberries full ripe to a quart of Spring water. Set them on a soft fire and let them stand till the water taste sharp of the gooseberries, but let them not break to pieces for that will make your liquor thick; then strain it and boyle it again half as clear then set it in an earthen pan letting stand till the next day then bottle it up with three ounces of sugar to each bottle. Stop it not till it hath done working, but then very close. Redd gooseberries make a very pretty wine.

CHERRY WINE: Take of the best sort of cherries full ripe Stone them then breake them to mash and let them stand all night in something that will not change the color of the cherrie liquor next day strain them out in a jelly bagg & press out all the juice let it run upon Sugar and to every gallon putt a pound of Sugar then tun it up stop it close and let it stand a month or 6 weeks then draw it out into bottles & in every bottle put a little loaf of Sugar & stop it close.

QUINCE WINE: Grate your quinces strain them in a corse strainer and strain your juice through a flanin to every gallon of juice take a pound of fine sugar Stir it unitll your sugar be melt’d then put it into a barrel and bottle it after 24 hours.

RASPBERRY OR CURRANT WINE: To a quart of water take a pound of sugar and 3 pound of rasberries bruise them in a stone morter and put them into your water and Sugar and let it stand 24 hours, stirring 3 or 4 times then strain it through a hair Sive or canvas bag then tun it and stop it close in 3 or 4 weeks it will be fit to bottle it will keep a year you may make Goosberry wine this way.

SMALL WINE, otherwise called Solerion. You may do Rasberry this way: Take 2 gallons of Spring water set it over the fire and let it boyle well, take a pound of reasons of the Sun Slit them open but not Stone them and take a pound of white Sugar and when the water is boyl’d put the Sugar & reasons to it, either in a Steene or Caske put ye juice of 3 lemons and the rine of one thin pared Stiring it once a day keeping it close Stopped let it Stand 3 nights and 2 days. let it run through a jelly bag. bottle it up and in 8 or 9 days ’twill be fit to drink. After all, what use is punctuation? These recipes are perfectly clear and understandable without a comma to bless them. Their simplicity is, however, somewhat misleading, as the quantities given are proportional only, and the inexperienced must be warned that too small a quantity will not ferment at all.

The following are somewhat more ambitious:

GOOSEBERRY OR CURRANT WINE: Take 2 gallons of Spring water Set it over the fire boyle it a little then put 4 pound of powder Sugar let it boyle and Scume it well take it off and Strain it and when it is as cool as wort put 2 spoonfulls of barm to it let it worke a little then to every gallon of water put 5 quarts of Goosberrys or currants first hand pick’t and bruised put it in a little barrell & stir it once a day and keep it close stopt let it stand 3 or 4 days and when you begin to See it Sink Strain it through a jelly bag and put it in the Cask being walshed out with the Same liquor Stop it up very close & when you think it may be fine draw it off into bottles.

EBULUM DRINKE: Put one peck of Elder berries to the quantity of halfe a hogshead of Ale 2 penny worth of Ginger sliced 2 nutmegs and a penny worth of Cloves & mace bruise all your Spices boyle all toghether with the berries till they breake, then strain them through a Straining Sive and when tis coole as your usual wort pupt barme to it as to beer, there must be some be boyl’d in it. And when fitt to bottle, bottle it with a lump of loave Sugar it will drink much ye more Lively, it is good for ye Spleen or Dropsy.

ENGLISH CLARET: Take six gallons of water, two gallons of cider, and eight pounds of Malaga raisins, bruised; put them all together, and let them stand close covered in a warm place for a fortnight, stirring it every other day very well. Then strain out the liquor into a clean cask, and put to it a quart of barberries, a pint of the juice of raspberries, and a pint of the juice of blackberries. Work it up with a little mustard seed, and cover it with a piece of dough three or four days by the fire side; then let it stand a week, and bottle it off. When it becomes fine and ripe, it will be like common claret.

ENGLISH CHAMPAGNE: Take three gallons of water and nine pounds of moist sugar, boil the water and sugar half an hour, scum it clean, and then pour the boiling liquor upon one gallon of currants, picked from the stalks, but not bruised; and when cold, ferment it for two days with half a pint of good ale yeast; afterwards pour it through a flannel bag, and put it in a clean cask, with half a pint of isinglass finings. When it has done working, stop it close for a month, and then bottle it, putting into every bottle a very small lump of loaf sugar. This is an excellent wine, and has a fine color.

ENGLISH MOUNTAIN: First pick out the largest stalks of your Malaga raisins, then chop them very small, and put five pounds to every gallon of cold spring water. Let them remain a fortnight or more; then squeeze out the liquor, and put it in a proper cask, having been previously fumigated with a match. Let it remain unstopped till the hissing or fermentation has ceased; then bung it up, and when fine bottle it off.

CURRANT WINE: (Extracted from Transactions of the Philosophical Society of Philadelphia): Gather your currants full ripe; break them well in a tub or vat; press them and measure your juice; add two-thirds water, and to each gallon of this mixture, (juice and water,) put three pounds of Muscovado sugar, the leaner and drier the better; very coarse sugar clarified will do just as well; stir it well til the sugar is dissolved, and then bung it up. Your juice should not stand over night, if you can help it, as it should not ferment before mixture. Observe that your cask be sweet and clean, do not be prevailed to add more than one-third of juice, as above prescribed, for that would render it infallibly hard and unpleasant; nor yet a greater proportion of sugar as it will certainly deprive it of its pure vinous taste. Fill your cask full, and leave a vent hole open. When the fermentation is over stop it up tight, and in six months it will be fit for use; like other wines, however, it will improve very much with age.

IMITATION MADEIRA: Put thirty gallons of soft water into a vessel at least one-third larger than sufficient to contain that quantity; and add to it one cwt. weight of Malaga raisins, grossly picked from their stalks. Mix the whole well together, and cover it partly with a linen cloth. When it has stood a little while in a warm place, it will begin to ferment, and must be well stirred twice in the twenty-four hours, for twelve of fourteen days. When the sweetness has nearly gone off, and the fermentation much abated, which will be perceived by the subsiding and the rest of the raisins, strain off the fluid, pressing it first by the hand, and afterward by a press, out of the raisins. Let this liquor be put into a sour wine castk well dried and warmed, adding eight pounds of fine sugar, and a little yeast, and reserving part of the liquor to be added from time to time, as the decline of the fermentation will give room. In this state the liquor must remain for a month with the bung hole open; and having filled the vessel with the reserved liquor let it be closely stopped, and kept for a year or longer and then bottled off. At the end of a year and a half it may be drunk, but will improve for four or five years. If this wine is kept a long time, so that no sweetness remain, it will very much resemble madeira.

N.B.–Some saving may be made in the expense, by eliminating the quantity of raisins and increasing that of sugar; or by diminishing the proportion of raisins and sugar, and adding clean malt spirits, when the bung of the cask is closed up. Any other raisins may be used as well as Malaga; but the thinner the skins and the sweeter the pulp, the stronger will be the wine.

PORT WINE (CHEAP): Cider, ten gallons, — honey, one gallon — carbonate of soda, six ounces. Strong tincture of grains of paradise (Guinea pepper) three quarters of a gallon–powdered catechu two and one half ounces. Color with a strong tincture of logwood and a small portion of burnt sugar. The laconic sponsor of this compound adds: “This wine is made without the admixture of any spirit, though a small portion would much improve it” The “working” so lightly alluded to in these and other receipts is none other than the process of fermentation upon which all the result of the finished product depends. Fermentation is the decomposition of the sugar contained in the “must” or expressed fruit juice, in the course of which carbonic gas is set free, and alcohol is formed. The must of which wine is made consists of a large proportion of water, holding in solution certain proportions of saccharine matter, of the fermentative principle, of various acids, and of various other ingredients.

The juice, having been extracted from the fruit, is put into a tub or cask, and left to itself in a suitable temperature. In twenty-four to forty-eight hours it commences to “work,” the first indications being the rise through the bung hole of a frothy, mucilaginous scum, characterized by large persistent bubbles specked with yeast and other refuse. This is called purging, and is different from the active effervescence of real fermentation, which sets in immediately after.

At the same time, the temperature of the fermenting mass begins to rise above that of the surrounding atmosphere. This rise continues for several days, or even a week or more, and until the saccharines begin to be weak. Then the fermentative action slackens gradually, and the temperature falls until it again reaches that of the surrounding atmosphere. Soon after this, fermentation ceases and the wine is dry. The barrel must be kept full while active fermentation continues. The wine must now be “racked,” or drawn off into well-sulphurized barrels, and placed in the coolest place available. The whole course of fermentation consumes, ordinarily, from four to ten days, according to the strength of the must and the degree of temperature, light musts fermented at high temperature being terminated in a shorter period, and rich must in low temperature requiring longer.

The wine must now be allowed to remain in quiescence for some days in order that the lees may deposit, providing no fermentative action reappears. In case there is such continued action, the new wine is immediately racked again into freshly sulphurized barrels.

After several days the greater part of the lees will have settled. There will still, however, remain in suspension some particles, from which the wine must be freed by clarification, or “fining,” which is done by means of some albuminous substance, preferably the whites of eggs, or gelatine.

Source: NY Times, Apr. 27th, 1919

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— Burns