Photo by Allison Stein Wellner
This past summer, I caught a cold. It's rare for me to have a full-bore coughing, sneezing, sore throat extravaganza in the warmer months, so to distract myself from thoughts of swine flu and obsessive temperature-taking, I paged through Food: The History of Taste, a lavishly illustrated reference book edited by Paul Freedman. A 16th century fresco of Benedictine monks gathered for dinner caught my eye, and the caption explained that monasteries and convents were famed for medicinal preparations including "cordials and pharmaceutical sweets called electuaries".
Electuaries? I'd never heard that word before, and as I padded off to the kitchen to drop another Airborne tablet into a glass of cold water, I considered whether an electuary could provide me some relief from my bricked-in-nose, burning throat, aching head hell. (I try to avoid over-the-counter cold medicines, as they make me muddle-headed and that makes me feel sicker.) After all, I already enthusiastically appreciated other monastic culinary creations--like, for example Trappist beer.
At first, I thought I might be able to buy an electuary somewhere, maybe at a health food store, but the term has really fallen out of use. I didn't find many recipes either, but my preliminary Web research suggested that these electuaries would involve spices, sugar, and perhaps alcohol, which seemed like they'd at least be quite tasty. I was just going to have to figure out how to make them myself.