Food History

A Medieval Trick for Turning White Wine into Red

June 14, 2013

In Strange Food History, we're hitting the books -- to find you the strangest, quirkiest slices of our food heritage.

Today: Creepy medieval magic at the dinner table.

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Sure, we hear stories of people slipping things into their enemies' drinks, of people dying mysteriously at the dinner table, of wildly paranoid kings employing armies of taste-testers to make sure their morning porridge was safe.

But sneaking strange powders into a friend's drink, as a medieval cookbook points out, doesn't have to be malicious -- it can be magical. 

A British cookbook from 1313, now housed at the British Museum, contains a tiny tip for turning white wine into red at the table:

Take in the spring the flowers that grow in wheat, which are called darnel or passerose, and dry them until they can be powedered. Put some of this, without being observed, into the wine glass, and the wine will turn red.

Forget the asparagus, ramps, strawberries, peas -- ask your local farmer for some darnel and passerose, and try this at your next dinner party!

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Brette Warshaw

Written by: Brette Warshaw

I'm a reader, eater, culinary thrill-seeker, and food nerd.


NoraMunro June 16, 2013
Brette, I am very happy to see that you've found an actual mediaeval recipe to share. Now, could you please stop applying the adjective "creepy" to everything mediaeval? I'm normally a calm person, but this is starting to make me want to poke you (gently!) with a spork.
itrofnoc June 14, 2013
Be careful, darnel (Lolium temulentum) is considered toxic
NoraMunro June 16, 2013
I was under the impression it's the fungus (of the genus Neotyphodium) that can infect the darnel, not the darnel itself that was the problem. Good point, though, as I'm not sure how you could be sure that any darnel that came into your hands was fungus-free.
Nick R. June 14, 2013
Totally following you now. I'll follow anyone who reads cookbooks from 1313.
Brette W. June 14, 2013
You just made my day!
Gabriella P. June 14, 2013
I'm so trying this.
Kenzi W. June 14, 2013
Right? Me too. This is fantastic.