Hawthorn Ink

I was all excited when I discovered hawthorn Ink was made in period thinking it was possibly the berries I’d need to use. When I looked it up I actually remembered that I had seen it before and had registered too late, then as now, that the ink is made from the wood just before it comes to life in Spring – it’s the sappy wood that’s required, not the berries. I want to add the recipe here in the vague hope that it might remind me to pay more attention next spring! This recipe is supposed to give an ink powder, ready to reconstitute with a little wine and vitriol (ferrous sulphate) so it might be a good one for travelling scribes? I’m looking forward to giving it a go and have added it to my Spring To Do list notebook for my new country “Estate” in the Barony of Eplaheimr.

The recipe comes from Theophilus: On Divers Arts, Chapter 38 entitled Ink

“When you are going to make ink, cut some pieces of [haw]thorn wood in April or in May, before they grow blossoms or leaves. Make little bundles of them and let them lie in the shade for two, three, or four weeks, until they are dried out a little. Then you should have wooden mallets with which you should pound the thorn on another hard piece of wood, until you have completely removed the bark.” (this of course rather depends on the hawthorn season in your neck of the woods and it must be noted it tends to come earlier these days with climate change and all)

“Put this immediately into a barrel full of water. Fill two, three, four, or five barrels with bark and water and so let them stand for eight days, until the water absorbs all the sap of the bark into itself. Next, pour this water into a very clean pan or cauldron, put fire under it and boil it. From time to time also put some of the bark itself into the pan so that, if any sap has remained in it, it will be boiled out. After boiling it a little, take out the bark and again put more in. After this is done, boil the remaining water down to a third, take it out of that pan and put it into a smaller one. Boil it until it grows black and is beginning to thicken, being absolutely careful not to add any water except that which is mixed with sap. When you see it begin to thicken, add a third part of pure wine, put it into two or three new pots, and continue boiling it until you see that it forms a sort of skin on top.” (- bigger production than I’m imagining for myself here )

“Then take the pots off the fire and put them in the sun until the black ink purges itself from the red dregs. Next, take some small, carefully sewn parchment bags with bladders inside, pour the pure ink into them, and hang them in the sun until [the ink] is completely dry. Whenever you want, take some of the dry material, temper it with wine over the fire, add a little green vitriol and write. If it happens through carelessness that the ink is not black enough, take a piece of iron a finger thick, put it into the fire, let it get red-hot, and immediately throw it into the ink.”

Theophilus: On Divers Arts, 1979 translation version by J.G.  Hawthorne, and C.S. Smith

I really like the shade thrown at the end – “If it happens through carelessness that the ink is not black enough” – you have to resort to adding blackened iron to your ink, and well… you just aren’t dedicated enough. Sniff.


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