Hippocras

Translator: Leah Hunt

hipocras, hippocrass, ypocrasse, ypocras, hypocras, hyppocras, ipocras, ippocras... the spellings and recipes are numerous for this unique beverage from the European medieval gastronomy, which once knew great fortune until the century of Louis XIV.

The spiced wine, the piment and the hippocras.


Originally known as spiced wines

We do not know a great deal about its origins.

Oldcook : hippocras, medieval spiced wine - ypocras et issues de table (BnF)

During the Middle Ages, alcohol belonged primarily to the doctors and apothecaries (the only ones to possess a still). However, people enjoyed drinking these spiced wines, before or especially after a meal.

Contrary to the usual medieval practice concerning recipes, these spiced wines require precise proportions because they are important elements of the medieval dietetics. They promote digestion.


Ypocras et issues de table - ? - (BnF, Ms fr 938 fol 69)


The Romans were already familiar with the spiced wine tradition: Pline the Old in his Book XIV-n°107 of Natural History spoke of aromatic wine that was nearly prepared as perfumes and he gave three different compositions for this wine.

We also discovered, in the beginning of the De Re Coquinaria of Apicius, a recipe for a superb spiced wine (Book I-I.1) and another for a spiced wine with honey that people drank during their journeys (Book I-I.2).

The pimen

The pimen is a word derived from the late Latin pigmentum: aromatic or spice.

Around 1182, Chrétien de Troyes made his hero, Perceval, drink pimen at the end of his meals. For example, this occured during the famous scene of the presentation of the grail. In 1250, Henri III, king of England, ordered someone by the name of Robert de Montpellier to hasten directly to York, just before the Christmas feast which was rapidly approaching, in order to prepare, as well as he had the previous years, the giroflé and claré, which was intended for the King's use. (Robert Dion, in Les fêtes gourmandes au Moyen Age, 1998, Imprimerie Nationale).

We found the first spiced wine recipes in the Tractatus de Modo, a manuscript of recipes that was written in Latin at the end of 13th century.

In 1307, Arnau de Vilanova, the famous Catalan theologian and doctor, recommended the piment for patients in his Regiment de Sanitat (rules of health), which was written in Montpellier.

In 1324, the Sent Sovi, a Catalan cookbook, noted the presence of waffles and pimen, just as Roman de Flammenca, written in Occitan, had around 1240.

Subsequently, if the word claret is used with specific recipes, the term pimen or piment seems to disappear or no longer be used. In favor of the term hippocras?

The hippocras

Origin of the word hippocras:

Hippocrates, the famous Greek doctor, is spelled Hipocràs in modern Catalan and Ipocràs in medieval Catalan. Arnau de Vilanova (or Arnaud de Villeneuve) mentioned Ipocras (the doctor) and also gave a recipe for pimen. He taught in Montpellier. One can surmise that someone speaking Catalan and selling spices or pimen, would have changed the word pimen to ipocras or ypocras (the oldest spelling), with reference to Hippocrates, confirming the dietary orientation of the spiced wine. So, we assume the Catalan origin of the word hippocras.

The notes that follow the published book in 1780, containing the texts of the Forme of Cury (1390) and the Ancient Cookery (1381) proposes a second hypothesis (p. 160): It took its name from Hippocrates' sleeve, the bag or strainer, through which it was passed.

The first recipe of hippocras (ypocrasse or ypocras) was written in English, in the Forme of Cury in 1390.

Pur fait Ypocras.
Treys Unces de canell. Et iij unces de gyngener. spykenard de Spayn le pays dun deneres. garyngale. clowes, gylofre. poivr long, noiez mugadez. maziozame cardemonij de chescun i.qrt douce grayne [?] de paradys flour de queynel de chescun dimid unce de toutes. soit fait powdour and serve it forth.

Our proposed translation:

To make hippocras. Three ounces of cinnamon and three ounces of ginger. One denier (penny) worth of spikenard of Spain. Galangal, cloves, long pepper and nutmeg. Marjoram and cardamom, a quarter ounce for each. Grains of paradise (or guinea grains) and cinnamon flower, a tenth ounce for each. So make the powder and use it.

The recipe fails to mention that we must mix the powder with some wine and sugar, and it also does not specify the proportions one must use to make hippocras.

Afterwards, the recipes followed each other:

  • 1393, Ménagier de Paris: pour faire ung lot de bon ypocras.
  • 15th century, the printed edition of the Viandier de Taillevent: ypocras.
  • 1508, The booke of Kervinge and Sewing
  • 1529, Libro de guisados, Ruperto de Nola (version in castillan of Llibre del Coch)
  • 1555, La pratique de faire toutes confitures, condiments, distillations d'eaux odoriférantes & plusieurs autres recettes très utiles (6 recipes of hipocras and one receipe of piment).
  • 1593, Secreti, Stefano Francesco di Romolo Rossetti
  • 1600, Le théâtre d'agriculture et mesnage des champs, Olivier de Serres.
  • 1607, Le trésor de santé.
  • 1660, Le confiturier françois, Massialot
  • 1689, Le sieur de La Varanne, recipe of white hipocras
  • 1692, La Maison réglée d'Audiger : to make a good white and red hipocras
  • 1723, The cooks and confectioners Dictionary, John Nott
  • 18e?, Le Petit Albert : to make rapidly an excellent hipocras
  • 1768, Le Cannameliste français
  • 1850, La cuisinière de la campagne et de la ville (The country and city cook).

Originally, the hippocras was made from wine, sugar and spices. According to the index and glossary of the 1780's book containing the Forme of Cury, the hippocras with sugar is destined to the lords, and the one made with honey is for the people ! In the Middle Ages, sugar is considered as a luxury product, classified among the spices, with medicinal purposes similar to the spices.

From the 14th to the 16th century, there were only spices (and marjoram in the Forme of Cury). Afterwards, the recipes became more rich in fruit, for example: oranges, apples, lemons, almonds, and even milk by Audiger.

Translator: Leah Hunt


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Hypocras in French