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The Scrivener: Close Stopd Seaven Years

Brian Barratt provides a most inviting introduction to a brave and wholesome drink – metheglin.

Samuel Pepys (1633–1703) is well known for the diaries he industriously wrote when he was aged 27 to 36. He recorded his activities, often in great detail, in 1,250,000 words. He was an avid reader, even reading books while he walked and probably when he travelled by hackney cab or waterboat. His personal library of 3,000 books is now at Magdalene College, Cambridge University.

It is possible that Pepys read Nicolas Culpeper's 'Complete Herbal', a pre-scientific mix of astrology and botanical remedies published in the early 1600s. It is more likely that he read John Gerard's 'Historie of Plants', published in 1636. A book which was probably more to his eclectic taste is 'Eighteen Books of the Secrets of Art & Nature, being The Summe and Substance of Naturall Philosophy, Methodically Digested. First designed by John Wecker Dr in Physick, and now much Augmented and Inlarged by Dr R. Read', which was published in 1660.

These three books can provide some fascinating background to a word Pepys used in his diary on 29 February 1660 and reprinted in Open Writing on the same date in 2012:

'So to my mother’s, and then to Mrs. Turner’s, of whom I took leave, and her company, because she was to go out of town to-morrow with Mr. Pepys into Norfolk. Here my cosen Norton gave me a brave cup of metheglin, the first I ever drank.'

Metheglin? The word first appeared in print in the early 1500s. Here is a recipe from 1660:

'Take nine gallons of fair running water, put it over the fire in a clean Vessel provide these Herbs following, of wild Carrets with his flower and root six handfuls, of Bettony four handfuls, Harts tongue, Penyroyall, Rosemary, Cinkfoyle, Scabious, Polipodium of the Oake, leaves and roote; Century of each one handfull; Fennell seed, Anniseed, of each four ounces; Cinnamon, Ginger, Nutmegs, Cloves, Mace, of each two ounces; Elecampane roots one ounce; Raysins of the Sun; stond four pounds, Mugwort one pound, Licorish half a pound; bruise the Herbs, and beat the Spices to pouder, put all into the nine gallons of water, and boyl till it come to six gallons, then draw out your Herbs and strain them into the six gallons of water, put four gallons of Honey, and boyl it again to eight or nine gallons; then take it of, and let it stand till it be luke warme; with a little Barm of new Ale set it a working, and so let it continue for three daies space, and when it is well settled, take off the skim with a Skimmer, Tun it to a sweet Vessel sutable to the proportion of your Liquor, and let it stand and close stopt seaven years, and the last year of the seaven it shall be most wholesome.'

To show how brave, how splendid, this drink was, here are notes on a few of the ingredients. Be amazed!

— Carret = carrot. 'Wild carrots... break wind, and remove stitches in the side, provoke urine and women's courses, and helps to break and expel the stone' are among the many benefits listed by Gerard.

— Rosemary: Gerard writes, 'The distilled water of the floures of Rosemary being drunke at morning and evening first and last, taketh away the stench of the mouth and breath, and maketh it very sweet, if there be added thereto, to steep or infuse for certaine daies, a few Cloves, Mace, Cinnamon, and a little Annise seed'.

— Hart's tongue, a type of fern, 'a singular remedy for the liver, both to strengthen it when weak, and ease it when afflicted' (Culpeper).

— Penyroyall = pennyroyal, a species of mint. Then also known as pudding grasse. Culpeper lists many uses, including 'Drank with wine, it helps such as are bitten and stung by venomous beasts, and applied to the nostrils with vinegar, revives those that are fainting and swooning... Boiled in wine with honey and salt, it helps the tooth-ache'.

— Cinkfoyle = cinquefoil, was also known as five finger Grasse and 'The decoction of the roots held in the mouth doth mitigate the paine of the teeth' (Culpeper).

— Scabious: Culpeper tells us that it '...scoureth the chest and lungs; it is good against an old cough, shortnesse of breath, paine in the sides, and such infirmities of the chest. The later Herbarists do also affirm, that it is a remedy against the bitings of Serpents and stingings of venomous beasts'.

— Mugwort: Gerard is not impressed by the 'fantasticall devices' claimed for this herb among which are '...the traveller or wayfaring man that hath the herbe tied about him feeleth no weariesomenesse at all; and that he who hath it about him can be hurt by no poysonsome medicines'. Culpeper, however, concentrates on it uses for women 'to draw down their courses, to help the delivery of a birth, and expel the after-birth'.

Now before you rush of to prepare some of this brave concoction which contains remedies for every ill, keep in mind that you have to wait seven years for it to mature. You might like to make some mead, instead. Much easier. Here's the 1660 recipe:

'Take a well Coulord and new Honey, which hath a good tast soon mixt, and sharpe, which never came to the fire, being thick of substance; also Fountain water clear eight parts as much as the Honey; mingle well together over night, untill it be strong enough to bear an Egge, as you try brine; the next day, boyl it till it bear a scum, then skim it, and to make it purge the better, put in the whites of three or four Eggs beaten with Rose water, then skim so long as any scum ariseth, then put in those Spices, Lignum Aloes two ounces, Nutmegs, Cinnamon, Cloves and Mace, of each half an ounce, let it boyl with those a pretty space, (some use to hang it in a Vessel when is it Tund,) then take it off, and let it stand till it be cold, the next day take a Canvas sheet, fold it double, and strain it into a Cowle, it will be a day before it all run out, when it is all run out, tun it, and let it stand a day to purge, then bury it, leaving a little vent hole. Be carefull in the boyling, for being slack boyld, it nourisheth but little, and doth much move and stir the belly, and breedeth wind, but being well boyld, it disperseth wind, nourisheth more, and will keep the longer.'

© Copyright Brian Barratt 2012


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