Le Menagier de Paris was published in 1393 and contains a wide range of advice and information on almost every aspect of life in the 14th century.
Book 2, article five includes recipes for the ill (Buvrages pour les malades), and one of these recipes is for a sweet tisane.
Tizanne doulce. Prenez de l’eaue et faites boulir, puis mettez pour chascun sextier d’eaue une escuelle d’orge largement, et ne chault s’elle est à toute l’escorce, et pour deux parisis de réglisse, item, des figues, et soit tant bouly que l’orge crève; puis soit coulée en deux ou trois toiles, et mis en chascun gobelet grant foison de succre en roche. Puis est bonne icelle orge à donner à mengier à la poulaille pour engressier.
Nota que la bonne réglisse est la plus nouvelle, et est en la taille de vive couleur vergaie, et la vieille est de plus fade et morte, et sèche.
Sweet Tisane. Take fresh running water and bring it to boil, then for every one sextier1 of fresh water a generous porringer of barley, and it is not important if it has husks, and for two parisis2 of licorice, similarly, figs, and then boil it until the barley bursts and then strain it through two or three layers of cloth, and put in each goblet an abundant amount of rock sugar. This barley is then good to give to poultry to fatten it.
Note: that good licorice is the newest, and is in size a bright color and ridged3, and the old is more pale and dead and dry.
The challenging and interesting part of this recipe interpretation wise, for me is the figs. From first reading it appeared that the amount of figs would appear to be the same as the licorice, but as that comes out at less than half a fig, and the recipe clearly uses the plural, that cannot be the case.
3.7 litres water
7 dried figs - chopped into quarters
4 grams licorice – this is the dried stalk of the licorice plant (you might find this in an Indian supplies shop)
Bring the water to the boil in a large pot. Add the barley, figs, and licorice stick. Boil gently till the barley bursts (about 45 minutes). Strain through cloth (you might find it easier to do a first draining through a colander) and pour the liquid hot into goblets, into which a small lump of rock sugar has been ground.
This recipe makes a warming, somehow soft tasting tisane which is both soothing and pleasant. Give it a try!
1 In old French a sestier is a measure of wine – approximately one gallon/3.7 litres – I have concluded with research, that sextier is simply an alternative spelling of sestier.
2 A Parisii is a small coin (like a half penny). Searching, I have found that they generally seem to have weighed between 1.6 and 1.8 grams
3 My dictionary of Old French does not contain the word vergaie. I note that another translator of this recipe Jane Hinson (The Goodman of Paris, published 1992) translates vergaie as “greenish”. The word vergier in old French has a few meanings including young trees, border, strip, cut groove in, ridged and embossed and as good quality reglisse (licorice) has deep grooves along the length of the surface, my decision was to lean towards this interpretation of the word. I would love to hear from you if you have any thoughts on this!