Wednesday, November 16, 2016

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")


White Mutton Wine


In the twelfth month take thirty jin of the meat of a particularly tender wether.
Within the thirty [jin?] should be ten jin of fat.
Add six dou of water to the bones,
Put it in a wok and boil the meat, and make it extremely soft.
Strain out the bones, split and break down the meat fibers , and retain the broth.
When you are steaming the rice for the wine, evenly scatter the fatty meat on the surface of the mixed rice, and steam it until it is soft.
Mix it in a common bowl, use a full six dou of the meat broth, to completely spread the savory flavor throughout.
Steam it again, a good long time to get rid of what’s on the table top, and spread it to cool.
Select some good dregs, and mix it in according to the previous recipe.
Again take two sheng of meat broth, and put it together with what’s already on the table and the first liquid to be pressed out.
Pass a few days following the usual method for big wines, but only use yeast starters from the middle of the cakes [?].
One method is to distribute the dregs, and only put the boiled meat into the additions of grain.
Take dregs at one time and mix them into the weng.

The wine canon was published in 1117 during the Song dynasty, and according to the dictionary 王力古漢語字典, during the Song dynasty one dou was ten sheng, and one sheng was 670 mL.  One jin was 633 grams.  That makes the overall recipe call for 18.99 kg of meat and 4.154 L of broth.

I'm not making this because I don't eat sheep.  But maybe someone will.

Science and Civilisation goes on to point out that this wasn't just this one book.  Mutton wine continues on after North Hill, with books in 1235, 1330, sometime in the Yuan dynasty, and 1596 all having recipes.

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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 having just been disappointed with the Mijiaya beer (there's no recipe post because it tasted like hot mouth woe) I'd rather take something with a bit more evidence behind it than isotope and residue analyses.

Chinese wikipedia has a more relevant view of history but no citations.  We get a single relevant bullet in their "history" section:

  • Tradition has it that one of the first mead making regions in China was in Gongyan, during the Western Zhou dynasty in 780 BCE, where there was a record of mead making, which also flourished in the Tang (618 - 907 CE) and Song (960 - 1279 CE) periods.
And in the "Uses" section,
  • The Compendium of Materia Medica (本草綱目, first published 1578) thinks that mead can treat some various diseases.
Carrying on with the broad search, there's a poem by Su Shi, who lived from 1037 - 1101 CE.  I've translated it poorly:

There is a daoist in the west of Shu named Yang Shichang who makes great mead, very rich and strong.
I, having just obtained his recipe, wrote this song to bequeath it.
Pearls of rice water make sweet-wine, and in July the field-laborer's sweat runs bright.
But it doesn't compare to the spring urn's self-issuing fragrance, bees ploughing and weeding flowers to make grain.
One day, a small boil, with foam like fish spittle, the second day, foggy becomes clear bright and alive.
The third day, when you open the urn, the fragrance fills the room, I quickly pour it into a silver bottle without waiting for it to scatter.
A hundred coins a cup and thick without sound, sweet dew with no turbidity as clear as ghee.
The lord does not see the bees in the south garden picking flowers like rain, who Heaven taught first to brew wine and inebriate the gentleman.
Over the past years the gentleman has become poor to the bone, did he ever beg for grain?
All things in the world truly is unclear and uncertain, but the honeybee's great victory keeps watch over the river.

This is way more of a recipe than I expected from a poem.

Something like:

  1. Boil honey and water (how much?) and place in an urn.
  2. At some point it will clarify.
  3. After clarifying, it'll become fragrant.  Bottle it and sell it for $$$.
There are a bunch of medium quality articles on the Chinese internet that I'm reading through as well.

This one (which seems to be ripped from this paper which I can only read the abstract of.  Chinese internet yaaaay) claims to have a few recipes for mead, including the one mentioned in the above poem.

They say, and I translate,

In 1082 CE, Su Shi [aka Su Dongpo] obtained the secret mead recipe from the Western Shu Daoist Yang Shichang, which used sticky rice and honey as ingredients.  I personally brewed an "open fermenter and the fragrance fills the walls" mead. 
About the method for making "Dongpo mead," A Collection of the Records of Dongpo has this recorded: "My making of mead is built on [true one water disordered?], and for every dou of grain, use two and a half liang of steamed flour, like the normal method, take dregs from wine, and also put one liang of it into the steamed cakes to ferment them, and after three days, if the flavor is very hot and hard, and then add one dou of cooked grain to it; if it is sweet and soft, then every time you add cooked grain, add an additional half a liang; after another three days, add more, and it'll be done.  If all during fermentation the fermenter is full to the brim and you lose it from expansion, adding less water is advisable."
Tang dynasty pharmaceutical texts say that wine was from "millet, other millet, rice, honey, grapes and others" and that "Making wine or short-wine always requires yeast cakes, except honey and grapes, which alone do not. 

There are some leads here.  Hopefully I can get enough evidence to make a real recipe.

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Monday, November 14, 2016

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't think a better name for the blog exists, so I'm taking it.

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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.


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.  So I have a process that works sometimes.

Everything else has, frankly, been a disappointment.  There's a real challenge to growing the yeast cultures correctly so that the timing works, and I think the degraded yeast cakes are a hindrance.  I also think I still haven't steamed the millet right.

What you get when it doesn't work is either a sour, pale wine, if you had not-steamed-enough-millet.  The failed rice short-wines were... stranger.  Because the rice cooked fully, but didn't mash (converting starch to sugar), I was left with sour, starchy water with a viscous consistency.  It's drinkable, but not actually pleasant in any way.

Mouth-woe, in other words.

The basic rice wine recipe (YE1W1 for those following along at home) I passed out at Pennsic is at the bottom of this post.


I think I'm going to give up on millet for a while.  It's clear that I need polished millet, and figuring out how to do that seems impractical.  Later wine books only use rice, and I think there are flavor reasons for that besides the difficulties in steaming and polishing.

I need a new batch of yeast cakes, so I'll start that soon.  One question that's worth testing is whether I can use commercial whole wheat flour for the raw 1/3 of the cakes.

I also plan to iterate more on the rice wine recipes.  On suggestion of someone from the brewers' guild, I bought a 1 gallon widemouth pickle jar, and my local brew shop had a lid for it which can take a bubbler.  This will be a lot nicer than using a bowl, and hopefully let me watch the progress of waking up the yeast.

I've got more translations coming down the pike, but brewing is the bottleneck here, and I hesitate to post them without trying them.  The ones with pasteurized wine are super tempting, though.

I also want to congratulate my friend Vika on her induction into the Order of the Maunche, a big fancy award for being awesome at arts and sciences in the fun-medieval-times group.  She blogs about clothing and is pretty awesome, so check her out. 


Exceptional Yeast Cakes #1

Makes about 25

  • 3 pounds whole wheat berries
  • oil for frying
  • water
  • optionally, commercial yeast balls, which can be found in Chinese supermarkets
  1. Place 1 pound of the berries into the steamer and steam them until they are soft.
  2. While the berries are steaming, stir-fry another pound of the berries in a large frying pan, stirring constantly until they are yellow and fragrant but not burnt.  Immediately remove from the heat.
  3. Grind all three pounds of berries well.
  4. Combine all portions.  If using, powder and mix in the commercial yeast balls.  Form the mix into flattened balls about three inches across and one high, adding just enough water to hold them together.
  5. Place the balls in a clean box with limited but not completely restricted air flow.  They'll drip, so make sure it's on a plate.
  6. Appease your gods, and make sacrifices to statues made of the paste as necessary.
  7. After seven days, flip the cakes.
  8. After seven days, gather the cakes in a pile.
  9. After seven days, take the cakes out.  When dry enough, thread twine through the middle of them using a clean needle, and hang them to finish drying.
  10. Store in an open container.

Exceptional Yeast Cakes #1 Wine #1

Scaled to 100 mL of yeast cakes, which uses 2.1L of millet or 1.8L of rice and makes about 2 L of wine.
  • 100 mL powdered exceptional yeast cakes, about one cake
  • 2.1 L dry white millet or 1.8 L dry white sticky rice
  • water
  1. Dry the yeast cakes completely, and scrub them clean.
  2. Crush and grind the cakes into powder.  Soak them in 500 mL water for three days until they start to bubble, and add them to your fermenter.
  3. Rinse and soak 300 mL of dry grain overnight.
  4. If using millet,
    1. Steam the millet for 20 minutes in a steamer lined with cloth.
    2. Spread the millet to cool.
    3. When cool, steam for another 20 minutes or until fully cooked.
  5. If using rice,
    1. Steam the rice in a steamer lined with cloth just until steam issues from the steamer
    2. Take the rice out, and cover it with boiling water.
  6. Spread the grain to cool, and then add to the fermenter.
  7. Add water.  It's unclear how much to add.
  8. The next day, repeat steps 3-8 with 300 mL of grain.
  9. The next day, repeat steps 3-8 with 1L of grain.
  10. If using millet, three days later repeat steps 3-8 with 300 mL of grain.
  11. Several days or weeks later, once the mash has finished fermenting, transfer it into a cheesecloth or strainer bag and press it to extract the wine.  You will need a good amount of force to separate the liquid.  Fully pressed mash is about the consistency of cooked cornmeal, like a tamale.
  12. Optionally filter a second time through silk.  Liner silk works.
  13. Transfer to a closed container, let settle, then decant and bottle.

"Boiled" Millet Wine

I brought one new wine to King and Queens Arts and Sciences : a "boiled" millet wine.  This is the first wine for the second "...