Five Sharbats for Crown Arts and Sciences

Back in March, I competed in the Crown's Arts and Sciences Championship, and with the assistance of my dazzling outfit managed to charm the judges into giving me one of the two winning spots!  I'm honored to have won: the competition was very strong.

I've been a little remiss in updating the blog because the world is falling apart, but I'm back!  And I want to share both what I put together for the competition, and my actual documentation so that others can see at least one approach that seems to work ok.

I wanted to brew a selection of thirst-waters / sharbats as my entry.  The competition judges one entry or several as a single body of work, so it wasn't strictly necessary, but part of the story that I wanted to tell was the spread of sharbats out of Central Asia and establishing them as a drink shared across 8,000 miles, from Andalusia to China.

It turns out that it's a little hard to draw a direct linguistic line between sekenjabin in cookboo…

Two Thirst-Waters for Pennsic

With the success of my firsttwo thirst-waters, I wanted to follow up on the rest of them from The Compendium of Essential Arts for Family Living.  I made the first one, which was really a short mead (and reused the spices and yeast to make a very nice plausibly-historical metheglin), but that leaves six thirst-waters to try: Malus asiatica, Chinese strawberry, Chinese quince, five-flavor [berry], grape, and fragrant sugar.

Chinese quinces are pretty hard to get, and the fragrant sugar one has some pretty unclear bits.  I can get grape juice, but getting Vitis vinifera, the European grape, is rough in the summer: American grapes make up most commercial grape juice, and they have a really distinctive flavor that wouldn't be appropriate for Chinese grapes, which would be vinifera.

When I was looking through Manhattan Chinatown grocery stores, I came across a bag of five flavor berries:

Meanwhile, I remembered that I had picked a quantity of young ornamental crabapples back in 2017 a…

Yuan Dynasty Bochet Lemonade

Based primarily off of the poem I discussed earlier, and cross-referencing other sherbet recipes, I made a caramelized honey lemonade, similar to bochet, which is mead made from caramelized honey.

What I drew from that poem is:

a hundred flowers brewed into a sweet dew syrup A primarily honey-based syrup
In the southern garden, boiled to red dragon marrow The honey should be boiled until red.  This is a little conjectural, but I think fairly convincing.  Other sherbets cook their syrups pretty severely:  Compendium of Essential Arts for Family Living's Chinese Quince sherbet has you cook the quince slices in honey until it forms "flexible strands," which is pretty cooked.  I got a similar effect after the syrup I made had cooled fully.
 heaven's winds, summer heat, good-for-"meng" fruit And then we add lemon juice.

Sherbets typically have a fruit juice and an optional sweetener added, and this fruit is definitely it.   Is it lemon?

I've found several t…

Medieval China Gothic

In my search for thirst-waters, I came across an 18th century reference to the Yuan dynasty planting lemon trees and using them for thirst-waters.  I haven't been able to track down a specific historical provenance for that information, but I did find the poem they additionally cite about lemons (good-for-"meng" fruits).  It's sort of helpful, and I suspect it's an oblique reference to bees making honey.

Well, and also to drunkenness.  This is a Chinese poem, after all, and if they're not about at least one of the moon, autumn, or drunkenness, they're probably not worth much.

That said, I think most of the lines read independently like "Medieval China Gothic"

This poem appears in First Selection of Yuan Poems compiled in the Siku Quanshu, published 1784, but ascribed to Gu Sili, 1669-1722.  This poem also appears in the Ming dynasty collection The Stone Granary Collection of Poems from the Ages by Cao Xuequan, 1574-1646, and in the undated Coll…

Imperial-Style Thirst Water

I was trawling through a really large Yuan Dynasty cookbook The Compendium of Essential Arts for Family Living when I came across a section of recipes titled "thirst-waters."  Curious, I read more.

The book says that these recipes are called, in foreign lands, 攝里白 which in reconstructed Middle Chinese is something like "syep li baek."  A similar recipe I found in an anecdote in the 18th century Corrections to the Bencao Gangmu, relating a 14th century orchard of lemon trees planted by the Khan, says that the mongols call these drinks 舍里別 “syae li pjet.”

There's a category of Central- and West-Asian drinks that are fruit syrups dissolved into water called "sherbets," and that's indeed what these recipes are for.  The earliest references I've found to thirst-waters in China date to the 12th century, where the Old Stuff from the Martial Forest lists, but does not give recipes for seventeen drinks named "cool waters":
Sweet bean soupCoco…