‘The Great Uplifting Syrup’

This is a medicinal syrup (شراب, sharab) included as an appendix to an anonymous 13th-century Andalusian cookery book. The ingredients include borage, mint, and citron leaves, which are infused with a range of pungent aromatics (aloe, Chinese rhubarb, cassia, cinnamon and clove blossoms) tied in a pouch. It is sweetened with sugar.

It is purportedly beneficial for weak stomachs, while strengthening the liver and assisting digestion. More importantly, it also gladdens the heart, hence its name. Honestly, I didn’t notice any differences in my stomach or liver, but I can attest to the fact that drinking this syrup lifted my spirits!

Medieval Syrian pomelo drink

This is a recipe from a 13th-century Aleppine collection, and is a variation on a drink made with citron (أترجّ, utrujj). The Arabic word for the fruit used is kubbād (كبّاد), which in the western Mediterranean was known as zanbū‘ (زنبوع). The re-creation was made with the pulp, sugar, sour orange (نارنج, nāranj) juice, borage water, rose water, willow water, rue and the atraf al-tib spice blend. To really make it come into its own, add crushed ice and turn it into a refreshing mocktail — ideal for hot summer days!


Egyptian Pomegranate Oxymel Syrup

This oxymel (سكنجبين; sakanjabīn, sikanjabīn) syrup (شراب, sharāb) is found in a 14th-century Egyptian manual and is made by boling rose-water syrup (جلاب, jullāb) and sour pomegranate juice. Before drinking it, dilute with water and add crushed ice to turn it into a refreshing drink! And, don’t forget that it’s also a digestive, so it really is a win-win situation!

According to the physician Najīb al-Dīn al-Smamarqandī, who was active in the late 12th and early 13th centuries, oxymel is harmful to people with weak stomachs, or those suffering from nausea, colds, or nervous weakness. However, oxymel made with quince strengthens the stomach, counters loss of appetite, prevents nausea and sickness, and in convalescents helps strengthen their organs and stimulate their appetite. Oxymel made from pomegranate or apples, on the other hand, strengthens the liver and heart!

Citron drink (شراب الأترنج, sharaab al-utrunj)

Very simple to make, this refreshing citron drink from 13th-century Aleppo is a real winner on warm balmy days in the garden or by the pool! It is made with citron pulp, sugar, sour orange juice, borage water, lily water, rose water, and willow water. The author includes a variation which adds rue and the aṭrāf al-ṭīb spice mix. It is absolutely delicious refrigerated or with crushed ice for that mojito feel! You could, of course, make it with the juice of any citrus fruit, whereas today we can use normal oranges, which are already sweet enough and so one can reduce the sugar content somewhat.

Lemon-quince drink

A fourteenth-century Egyptian recipe for a refreshing quince and lemon drink (شراب ليمون سفرجلي, sharāb laymūn safarjalī). It is made by boiling rose-water syrup mixed with quince juice and then lemon juice, to give it that wonderful sweet-and-sour flavour. If you have musk to hand, add that too before serving. If not, it tastes just great without it! This re-creation comes with a twist in that some quince slices were also added to the mix, as these are prescribed in a similar recipe in the same book, for a quince oxymel (سكنجبين, sakanjabīn).

Tamarind syrup drink

A 13th-century Andalusian recipe requiring fresh tamarind soaked in water and sugar, which are cooked down to a syrup. It is drunk watered down and can be further enhanced with lashings of ice for a great beverage. It is another recipe that is primarily — but by no means exclusively — medicinal in that it was said to be useful against jaundice and thirst, as well as arousing appetite and removing the bitterness of food in the mouth.

Andalusian violet drink

This refreshing beverage from 13th-century Muslim Spain is made with fresh violet flowers that are boiled to extract their essence. After straining, sugar is added and this is cooked down to a syrup. Water it down with half the amount of hot water and it is ready to drink. Althrough primarily a medicine against fever and coughs, it has a wonderfully delicate taste which makes it a perfect summer drink as welll.

Refreshing oxymel drink

Whilst the English word combines the Greek for ‘vinegar’ and ‘honey’, the Arabic sakanjabin (سَكَنْجَبِين, also sikanjabin or sikanjubin) has its roots in Persian words for those two substances (sik, ‘vinegar; anjabin, ‘honey’). The drink, which was also made with sugar, was used in medicine as a sweetener to improve the taste of medicines. However, it was also enjoyed by itself. The re-created recipe is taken from a 13th-century Egyptian treatise. It is very easy to make and requires only date vinegar and rose-water syrup. Serve with crushed ice to complement the delicate sweet-and-sour taste and, why not, add some borage petals for colourful effect — an ideal beverage (and mixer) for a balmy summer afternoon!