It is hard to think of a more summery name for a drink than poppy blossom cordial. Today’s cordial recipe from the Cookbook of Unknown Ladies uses petals from the common poppy, Papaver rhoea, which brings a splash of colour to British fields and gardens between June and August. But although the name may sound appealing, the author of this recipe would have intended it as a medicinal remedy.
The cordial combines the blooms with licorice, a host of warm spices, raisins, aniseed and sweet fennel seed, and steeps them in a brandy – a pungent mix! After 2 weeks the brew is strained and sweetened with sugar.
To 2 qrts of brandy, put half a pound of red poppys, well pick’d & sifted from ye seeds & ye black cut of; one ounce of licorish, sliced very thin; half an ounce of cinnamon, broken in small bits & bruis’d; with a small quantity of cloves & mace & nutmeg; half a pd of raisins of ye sun ston’d; anisseeds & sweet fennel seeds, of each a quarter of an ounce, pick’d & sifted & bruis’d. Let these steep in ye brandy about 14 days in a black pitcher well glaz’d, close cover’d. Yn strain it well and put it into bottles with about a qr of a pd of loaf sugar to each qrt. This is good for ye collick or any surfeit.
This recipe was written in with the true sense of a ‘cordial’ in mind: a drink that would do good to the heart (‘cor’). The Georgian author recommends taking the cordial in cases of colic and ‘any surfeit’ – perhaps an instance of over-indulgence at the dinner table.
Over the course of the 18th century, cordials started to be embraced for their intoxicating properties, and as such contributed to those symptoms of gluttony and over-indulgence that they were originally intended to cure.
As the recreational use of cordials increased, so their herbal content decreased, evolving into what we, today, would recognise as an alcoholic liqueur.