From De Re Coquinaria I.1, 1st century
The recipe for conditum paradoxum opens one of the most famous cookbooks in history: De Re Coquinaria. This collection of recipes is linked to the bon-vivant and chef Apicius, who calls conditum ‘an excellent spiced wine’ – who am I to argue with that?
The great thing about conditum is that it’s one of the few ancient recipes for which we have actual measurements. A great opportunity to reproduce a drink as the Romans enjoyed it!
I recommend one big adjustment to the ancient recipe: unless you want to have enough conditum to get the whole of Rome drunk, size the recipe down to 1 liter.
- 240 ml honey
- 70 ml dry white wine to start with + 700ml at the end
- 4 g black pepper
- 4 g allspice
- 0.5 g mastic, crushed
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 date pit, soaked in wine to soften, then roasted and crushed
- A couple of saffron strands
I know what you’re probably thinking right now. “That much honey? I don’t think so!” I feel you. I used to stubbornly invert the honey-to-wine ratio every time I made conditum in the past. It just doesn’t fit well within our modern palette. For this blog post, however, I decided to fight that urge and do exactly as Apicius prescribes. After all, conditum is meant to be a concentrate. Once diluted, you’ll no longer have the feeling your teeth are going to fall out.
If you’re convinced, go ahead and grab a saucepan to mix the honey and 70ml of the wine. Stir it continuously on a low heat to avoid burning. When the mixture starts boiling, add an extra splash of wine. Apicius recommends skimming this mixture thrice, letting it sit for a day each time. This was probably done because Roman honey had a lot of impurities, which necessitated filtering. We can save ourselves the trouble, because modern honey as you buy it in the store is perfectly clear.
Next, add the spices. The recipe calls for piperis. But the translator’s commentary* points out that while piperis generally refers to peppercorns, in this context it may also refer to allspice (or even other spices). I was intrigued by this remark and decided to go with half black pepper, half allspice. Next add the bay leaf, crushed date pit, saffron and – if you’re able to get your hands on it – mastic. This last ingredient is a resin obtained from the mastic tree that will give a very subtle, pine-like undertone to the conditum.
Add the remaining wine (700ml) and let it sit in the fridge overnight. Strain it the next day to get rid of the sediment … and then you’re ready for a Roman drinking party!
As I mentioned at the outset, the Romans did not drink this concoction straight – in fact, such behavior would have been considered outrageous! If you were a Roman, you’d probably dilute your conditum with water. But if you’re an average 21st century bon-vivant … well, you’re probably gonna “dilute” it with more wine. One part of conditum to 3 or 4 parts of wine or water make a particularly tasty combo.
If you want to go a little crazier, perhaps to surprise your guests at a dinner party, go for what I call “Conditum Royal”:
- 1.5 oz Conditum Paradoxum
- 4.5 oz Champagne
- Garnish: a couple of peppercorns
Nunc est bibendum! Now it’s time to drink!