Showing posts from 2016

Su Dongpo Is A Tease

Last time, I translated a mead recipe from Zhang Bangji, which he claimed was the one Su Dongpo used and wrote poems about.  Apparently unbeknownst to Zhang Bangji, but knownst to us, Su Dongpo wrote a huge book of literary spew where he talked about random topics, Dongpo's Forest of Footnotes.  One of those footnotes, the twelfth entry on scroll eight, is about mead.

This is a received text, a scan of an 18th century copy made during an attempt to catalog and reproduce every book ever written, which means that there's no punctuation since it hadn't become popular in China yet.  I'm going to lean a bit on the punctuation from the blog post that led me to this text, but the blog post was missing some phrases so I've taken a more rigorous crack at translating it than I did in my first blog post.

予作蜜酒格與真水亂 My method for mead: stir together in pure water: 每米一斗用蒸餅麵二兩半餅子一兩半如常法取醅液 For every dou of grain, 2.5 liang of steam-cake flour, and “cake seeds” 1.5 liang just like the …

A Mead Recipe

Recently, I posted about my search for a Chinese mead recipe, and some potential leads.

Today, I cracked open the English-language textbook on Chinese food and beverage production, Science and Civilisation in China Volume 6 Biology and Biological Technology Part V: Fermentation and Food Science, and it contains a section on mead (page 246)!

It backs up my research so far, although it doesn't include the really early archaeological finds because they were excavated after it was published.  There are a few mentions of honey used for various things in the classical period, but it isn't until the Tang dynasty in about 650 that we start to see references to mead.

The Song dynasty author Zhang Bangji (張邦基) recorded in his book Random Notes from the Scholar's Cottage (《墨莊漫錄》) what he claims is Su Dongpo's recipe for the mead mentioned in the poem I translated last time.  Science and Civilisation has a translation, but I decided to make my own before I read theirs.  It's i…

Mutton Wine

While reading Science and Civilisation about mead, I found this passage talking about the medicated wines in The Wine Canon of North Hill (北山酒經):
Two wines with animal components are included, the venerable tiger-bone wine and the estimable mutton wine.  The tiger-bone is still going strong, but the lamb appears to have lost its appeal. (page 237) For a brief moment I felt safe in knowing that I didn't have a copy of the source text.  These were simpler times, full of innocence and happiness.  Then I though, "well, I should really make sure it hasn't been digitized yet" and lo and behold, has it.  Ugh.  It's in the third chapter ("下")

〔白羊酒〕 White Mutton Wine 45

臘月取絕嫩羯羊肉三十斤, In the twelfth month take thirty jin of the meat of a particularly tender wether. 肉三十廳內要肥膘十斤, Within the thirty [jin?] should be ten jin of fat. 連骨使水六斗已來, Add six dou of water to the bones, 入鍋煮肉,令極軟。

Chinese Mead?

Carolingia, the Boston-area SCA group is planning an event in March called the Laurels Prize Tourney, where laurels (people who are Officially Very Good At Arts and Sciences) put out challenges and people try to meet them.

One of the challenges calls for well-researched mead, and I wondered if I could find any Chinese mead recipes.  I know that grain wines were far and away the dominant thing, but there's got to be something out there, right?

Well, I read through 46 pages of search results for every mention of "honey" after the Han dynasty (206 BCE - 220 CE) in the big online repository of Chinese texts and came up with nothing.  Rats.  I did learn that they preserved plums in honey, which is kind of cool I guess. doesn't have everything though.  And while I was taking a break around page 20, I decided to see what Google could turn up.

English wikipedia mentions this paper about a 1000-2000 BCE find supporting a mixed honey, rice and grape fermentation, but …

I Found a Better Name

I took a trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in late September because I thought there was an exhibit on Chinese laquer ware that was going to close soon.

I had the year wrong, it's opening and closing in 2017.  Whoops.

Instead, I took a stroll through the Chinese collection, on the lookout for drinking cups I could replicate, and took a ton of photos for my friends with research interests.  There was a lot of debate about what exactly this woman

is holding happening in the SCA China facebook group, and I happened to be walking past the statue at the time so I took some video and helped answer the question.

I also took a look at the scrolls section since I have friends who do beautiful calligraphy and are always looking for ideas.

I came across this beautiful scroll:

Which is titled, politely, "Drinking and composing poetry."  Except it isn't.  Here's the title colophon

Read right-to-left, these are foot-high characters that read


I don…

Where We Stand, Where We Go From here

Pennsic was a whirlwind of activity, and despite me promising to update this blog "real soon I promise" life got in the way.

I think this is a good time to take inventory of what I've figured out over the past year or so.  There are a lot of unanswered questions, but I've made a ton of progress nailing down this process.
Yeast Cakes I've got a recipe for "exceptional" yeast cakes that worked once, last year.
I tried to make it a month ago and it rotted 😑
But hey, it worked once.
I also learned that the warning about "don't store this in a sealed container or it'll turn black and get gross" wasn't kidding, since my cakes did just that.  Mr. Jia wasn't joking, apparently.
The recipe as I handed it out at Pennsic is posted at the bottom. Brewing I made one rice wine for Pennsic that was delightful.  Sweet, dark, saucy, it was great.  I didn't get to panel it, sadly.  I made one short-wine a while ago that also worked well.  S…

Mijiaya, or Going Retro

On the outskirts of Xi'an, the Chan River flows.  It eventually meets the Wei River, which flows into the Yellow river.  On a dusty terrace above the river is a site called Mijiaya, where excavations in the 2000s uncovered pottery dating from 3400 BCE to 2000 BCE.

Some of the earliest potter, from 3400 BCE to 2900 BCE, the late Yangshao period, includes parts of an amphora, an urn and a funnel.  This May, some archaeologists at Stanford published an analysis of residue on the pottery:

It's malted barley, along with millet, something called Job's tears, and some other starches.

I think this is awesome!  We know that alcohol production in China predates writing.  The Records of the Grand Historian (史記) from 50 BCE discusses King Zhou, the last king of the Shang dynasty, who reigned 1075–1046 BCE:
[He] made a pond of wine, hung the trees with meat, made men and women chase each other about quite naked, and had drinking bo…

Successfully Cooking Rice

I posted about rice cooking methods a little while ago, with mixed success, but I think I've got it down now.  The secret?

Soak the rice overnight.
I had initially thought that I could measure hydration of the rice by how much it expanded, and since it's done expanding after about an hour or so I stopped soaking there.  But what a difference soaking overnight makes!

Soaking didn't seem to affect the millet much, which might be why Qimin Yaoshu says to steam it twice.  It's also probably why I didn't have as much trouble with millet wines.
I tried steaming a second time since I was steaming the millet anyway, and poured a little bit of cool water over the rice and millet before returning it to the steamer.  The rice was 100% cooked throughout, as was the millet, although the millet feels a bit dry to the touch.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Mistakes Happen

I'm trying to get a short wine recipe to work, but it's tricky.

One of the problems is how long to incubate the yeast cakes before using them.  The recipe says:

浸麴發如魚眼湯。 Soak the yeast cakes until they bubble with bubbles the size of fish eyes.
And so I waited for bubbles.  They never came, and one day when I checked on the brew...
Sadness.  It's covered in a slick of fungus.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Methods for Cooking Rice

Previously, I'd struggled with adequately hydrating millet and rice while steaming.  You'd think this wouldn't be a problem, but once the grain is at the temperature of the steam, no more steam will condense on it.  If it's not already wet, it gets hot, but not really cooked.

Steaming grain twice (letting it cool in between) helped, as did wrapping the grain in cloth, but not enough.  I was missing something.

Reading through Science and Civilisation in China, Volume 6, Part 5, Fermentations and Food Science, which is far and away the most complete and well-researched English-language book on the topic of Chinese brewing, I've spotted a hint.

A line from a poem in the Shi Jing, the Classic of Poetry, this one from the 10th to 9th century BCE:

... 誕我祀如何?或舂或揄,或簸或蹂。釋之叟叟,烝之浮浮。
The given translation for this is: We pound the grain, we bale it out,
We sift, we tread,
We wash it, we soak it,
We steam it through and through. The poem is talking about how food is prepa…

Pressing and Straining

Chinese grain wines are fermented on the mash, which means that if you want to get something drinkable out the other end, you need to separate the grain from the liquor.

I initially was assuming this was happening without firm evidence, because the fermented mash is not wine by any means.
I've used cheesecloth with some success to filter it, but it's a little difficult because you have to squeeze it pretty hard to get the wine out, or else sensuously massage the bag of mash with your hands to allow it to continue draining.  I think that it's hard to drain because the grain particles are pretty fine, and clog up the filter.  Beer mashes can run into this problem occasionally, but don't usually because they're less porridge-like since the grain isn't cooked.
Straining through cheesecloth has been what I've been doing, but you still end up with a lot of sediment coming out of the bag. Some of this sediment will settle out, particularly from millet wines, but n…