Posted by: Footler PJ16 SEP 2010
As a teenager I often spent my school holidays and weekends earning a few shillings by picking fruit and vegetables at a market garden in the Vale of Evesham in Worcestershire.
One day I went to collect my pay at the owner’s cottage as usual and found him cradling an earthenware jar filled, he said, with a new batch of “meth”, the local shortened form of metheglin.
He asked whether I had ever tried metheglin. When I told him that I had never even heard of it, he poured a small amount into a glass for me to try. I took a sip, then another. It was warm, sweet and exotically scented. He poured me a drop more while saying that that would be enough for my first try.
Some years later I discovered that the name metheglin was just one of many used in different parts of the world to describe a drink based on mead to which various herbs and spices had been added.
Mead is prepared from honey and water fermented with yeast. It has probably been made since 7000BC or even earlier. Indeed some say it is the ancestor of all fermented drinks.
The ingredients added to turn mead into metheglin might include ginger, tea, cloves, fennel, nutmeg, chillies, cinnamon or vanilla. Other possible ingredients include hops, juniper, lavender and chamomile.
The potential for creating new versions is limited only by the imagination of the maker but those containing garlic, basil or cumin are probably best used as marinades rather than as drinks.
In medieval times metheglin recipes were closely guarded by bee-keeping monks, particularly those who did not have vineyards. However, these mead-based drinks may have originally been used as folk remedies.
The word “metheglin” comes from the Welsh meddyglyn, which itself is derived from meddyg (healing) and llyn (liquor). Medd is also Welsh for mead.
I imagine that a long-forgotten traveller from across the River Severn introduced the drink to the hardworking countrymen of the Vale. They took to it with relish.