Yesterday I gave you some Welsh recipes from the past, so today I thought it would be interesting to follow up with a glimpse into what historical Wales has to offer by way of beverages.
My first offering is courtesy of A Modern System of Domestic Cookery (Manchester, 1823) by M. Radcliffe:
Ancient British Liquor, called Bragget. This once famous old British liquor is still made by a few respectable families, chiefly in Wales; from one of which we have been favoured with an admirable method of preparing it. The original Welsh name is bragod; from which has been formed that of bragget or braggot, for it is found both ways in the few old dictionaries and other books where it occurs, and simply defined as a drink consisting of honey and spices. Were this correct, it could only be considered as the Welsh appellation of mead or metheglin; but, according to our information, bragget implies a combination of malt liquor, with honey and spices, the best method of preparing which is as follows: —Take after the rate of a gallon of water to a pound of honey, and stir it till the honey be melted. Then, adding half a handful each of rosemary tops, bay leaves, sweetbriar, angelica, balm, thyme, or other sweet herbs, with half an ounce of sliced ginger, and a little nutmeg, mace, cinnamon, and a few cloves, boil them gently together for nearly half an hour; scumming it well, till it looks tolerably clear. In the mean time, having prepared three gallons of the first runnings of strong ale, or sweet wort, mix the two liquids quite hot, with all the herbs and spices; and, stirring them together for some time over a fire, but without suffering them to boil, strain off the liquor, and set it to cool. When it becomes only the warmth of new milk, ferment it with good ale yeast; and, after it has properly worked, tun it up, and hang a bag of bruised spices in the barrel, where it is to remain all the time of drawing. It is generally drank from the cask; but may be bottled, like other liquors, any time after it has entirely ceased to hiss in the barrel. A weaker sort of bragget is sometimes prepared with the third runnings of the ale, a smaller proportion of honey, and the strained spices, &c. with a few fresh herbs; the second runnings, in that case, being made the family ale. These arrangements, however, and other obvious deviations, are made according to the taste or inclination of the respective parties.
So, bragget (all spelling variants derive from Old Celtic) is a sweet spiced fermented beverage made from ale and honey, so similar to mead and metheglin. A couple of other random interesting factoids about bragget that elevate its historical importance: it was mentioned by Chaucer in his Canterbury Tales, and it has become a catchword for sweetness – as in ‘Braggot Sunday’ in Mid-Lent, when a brief suspension of abstinence was allowed.
Honey spiced alcoholic beverages have their place, of course, but sometimes all that one wants is a simple ale: here it is:
To brew very fine Welsh Ale.
Four forty-two gallons of water, hot, but not quite boiling, on four bushels of malt, cover, and let it stand three hours. In the mean time infuse a pound and a half of hops in a little hot water, or two pounds if the ale is to be kept five or six months, and put water and hops into the tub, and fun the wort upon them, and boil them together three hours. Strain off the hops, and keep for the small beer. Let the wort stand in a high tub till cool enough to receive the yeast, of which put two quarts of ale, or if you cannot get it, of small beer yeast. Mix it thoroughly and often. When the wort has done working, the second or third day, the yeast will sink rather than rise in the middle, remove it then, and turn the ale as it works out, pour a quart in at a time, and gently, to prevent the fermentation from continuing too long, which weakens the liquor. Put a bit of paper over the bunghole two or three days before stopping up.
A New System of Domestic Cookery (1808) By Maria Rundell.
And my final offering, from a well-known Scottish cookery book:
Two gallons of water being boiled, and allowed to cool; one pound of raisins, two pounds of loaf sugar, the juice of three lemons, and their peel cut thin, are added; after being stirred daily for four days, it is run through a jelly-bag and bottled; in ten days, or a fortnight more, it will be fit for use, and will be found excellent in warm weather. The corks should be tied down.
The Practice of Cookery: Adapted to the Business of Every Day Life
(Edinburgh, 1830) by Mrs Dalgairns.