Five-Flavor Berry Thirst-Water
|Full Recipe Name|
|The Compendium of Essential Arts for Family Living|
During Lord Þórfinnr Hróðgeirsson 's investigation of Yuan dynasty (1271–1368, led by Mongols) Chinese cuisine, he came across a selection of “thirst water” recipes in The Compendium of Essential Arts for Family Living. It also calls them “sherbets,” and the majority of them, like their relatives in Central Asian cookbooks, are sweet fruit syrups. This one is made from five-flavor berries (Schisandra chinensis)
Sherbets likely arose in the Islamic world, and spread to China in the 13th century. A 12th century Egyptian cookbook contains quince and sugar syrups, while a 14th century Arabic cookbook contains a lemon-quince-rosewater sherbet. Other examples exist.
Old Stuff from the Martial Forest by Zhou Mi (1232-1298) names fifteen “thirst waters” flavored with fruits, herbs and spices. It seems that the Mongols had a particular affinity for them: the 18th century Corrections to the Compendium of Materia Medica tells us that 14th century scholar Wu Lai records that the Yuan dynasty planted an orchard of 800 probably-lemon trees for the purpose of making “sherbet” by cooking their juice with boiled-down honey. This, and the name of this recipe, implies that sherbets were drunk by the upper strata of society - indeed they were sold, iced, in Hangzhou and Kaifeng during the Song dynasty.
Essential Arts lists 7 sherbets, five of which are boiled down fruit juices with honey or rock sugar, and often rosewood, borneol and musk, then dissolved into water to drink.
For about 1 gallon. The original recipe is fifteen times this, fermenting 50 liters of water.
- Dry five-flavor berries, which can be found deep within the pharmacy section of Chinese grocery stores, where the light does not reach.
- Dry beans. Mung beans were used because the author's grocery store didn’t have dry soybeans
- Honey. The author used linden honey because he had lots and it’s very pleasant and mild-flavored.
- Pour enough boiling water to cover the berries, and then some more. Let steep overnight.
- Drain the berries, and optionally steep in more water and drain again.
- Set the juice boiling
- Meanwhile, wash and soak the beans overnight.
- Again wash and drain the beans.
- Mill the beans with enough water to make a slurry.
- Drain the beans through fine cheesecloth.
- Add enough water to make a thick milk.
- Boil the bean milk for about half an hour. Stir, don’t let it boil over.
- Add enough of the thick bean milk to the berry juice to make it opaque.
- Add enough honey to the berry juice to make it both sweet and tart.
- Boil down until it becomes a syrup.
For transportation, the syrup was additionally heated after closing it to ensure shelf stability.
“Bean juice” was interpreted to be bean milk, as “juice” means a liquid derived from processing a substrate, and “bean juice” appears in the ctext.org corpus in contexts where bean milk makes sense.
Bean milk is a precursor to tofu, and therefore is at least as old as tofu. Tofu is documented by the 10th century, and by the 13th century was well established. Period processing would have used a quern rather than a food processor, but otherwise closely resembles what was performed. Ming dynasty author Li Shizhen in his magnum opus Compendium of Materia Medica gives the first four steps of tofu production as soaking the beans, grinding the beans, filtering, and cooking. These are the steps followed.
Deviations from Period Practice
This was prepared using modern equipment, but that should have little influence on the final flavor. Period cookware would have been iron or pottery vessels over a stove, and so would have contributed little flavor and had a similar cooking experience. The additional heating should have no effect on flavor, as this has already been boiled for quite some time.
The author believes the dried five-flavor berries to be as close to the period material as is reasonable. Dried fruits were well known in period, and would have allowed producing this beverage in the off season.
Mung beans are also well known in period, appearing as “green beans” (綠豆). It’s not clear if “bean juice” excludes mung beans, although they definitely have a different flavor from soy beans. Using a food processor on the beans probably releases some different flavors than grinding would: more harsh flavors are likely, although the quantity of bean juice that went in is relatively minor, so perhaps they will not be detectable.
Honey was added to taste, but of course that taste could be wrong. Historical Chinese tastes may have been more sour or more sweet.
This beverage is presented in a porcelain stem cup based off an 8th century example, poured from a bottle which mimics Song dynasty celadon ware, mimicking high-status late Song presentation: “wine [was] served in cups of fine porcelain placed on lacquer trays.” The author wished to use a lacquer tray, but it would not have made the journey to Pennsic. So that you may control the quantity mixed in the small tasting amounts needed for a panel, the syrup and the aromatics are served from the flip-top jars they were transported in, with spoons.
 Five-Flavor Thirst-Water
Take in proportion one liang of the meat from northern five-flavor fruit [Schisandra chinensis]. Soak in water at a rolling boil and let steep [off the heat] overnight. Take the juice and simmer it together, and add thick bean juice until it is the right color. Add well-refined honey so that it’s sweet and sour. Boil over a slow fire for perhaps two hours. Serve cool or warm.
- Kanz al-Fawa'id fi tanwi al-mawa'id, in Medieval cuisine of the Islamic World by Lilia Zaouali p. 133-134.
- The Description of Familiar Foods (Kitab wasf al-at’ima al-mu’tada), in Medieval Arab Cookery translated by Charles Perry p. 442-443.
- 吳萊 (1297-1340)
- 舍里別 Middle Chinese “syae li pjet,” while also giving “thirst-water” as the Chinese name.
- Huang, H. T., Science and Civilisation in China, Volume 6 Biology and Biological Technology Part V: Fermentations and Food Science. Cambridge University Press, 2000.
- 攝里白 Middle Chinese “syep li baek,” primarily calling them “thirst-waters.”
- With some mural evidence as early as the Han dynasty
- Science and Civilisation in China
- 本草綱目, 1578
- They appear in the 544 CE farm manual Qimin Yaoshu
- Gernet, Jacques, Daily Life in China, on the Eve of the Mongol Invasion, 1250-1276. Translated by H. M. Wright. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1962. Page 49.