I. THE NEED TO PREVENT FERMENTATION
Vinous fermentation changes sugar into alcohol. The one main reason for preventing fermentation is to keep the juice sweet. Augustine Calmet, 1672, the author of the Dictionary of the Bible, says, “The ancients possessed the secret of preserving wines sweet throughout the whole year.”
God's Laws of Nature Govern Fermentation
We have already studied some of these laws.
- Very sweet juices and thick syrups, in hot climates, if they ferment, undergo fermentation from bacteria and turn sour.
- Alcoholic wine, if acetic acid bacteria gets into it, undergoes acetous fermentation and turns to vinegar. Vinegar left exposed to air breaks down into water and a few salts.
- In order to get good vinous fermentation from yeast, exact proportions of water, sugar and yeast must be used and the temperature must be kept between 40 and 80 degrees.
- Vinous or alcoholic fermentation in grape juice can be prevented by filtering out the yeast, by cooling to cause the yeast to settle or subside, by boiling to kill the yeast, by using sulphur to stop the action of the yeast and by completely sealing out air to keep the yeast from growing.
- Acetous fermentation can also be prevented by boiling, by keeping juice cold, by filtering bacteria out, by using sulphur and by sealing out air.
Ancient People Followed God's Laws
The people of Bible times knew God's laws. By following these laws they developed ways to preserve their juice harvest.
- They boiled the juice. Grape juice will not ferment to alcohol if it is boiled down to make a thick syrup. Yeast cells die at temperatures over 100 degrees.
- They filtered the juice. Grape juice will not ferment to alcohol if the yeast is filtered out.
- They used sulphur. Grape juice will not ferment to alcohol if the juice is exposed to sulphur fumes or if oils containing sulphur are added to stop the action of the yeast.
- They cooled the juice. Grape juice will not ferment to alcohol if the temperature of the juice is dropped to 40 degrees; the yeast settles to the bottom.1
- They sealed air out of the juice. Grape juice will not ferment if air can be completely kept away from it.2
In ancient times the people generally combined one of the first four methods of preventing fermentation with the last, sealing out the air. But must that flowed by itself out of freshly picked grapes before treading began was very sweet and easier to preserve. Dr. Bacchiocchi says its high sugar content and the fact that it was mostly free from yeast made it quite easy to store in an airtight container.
Another sweet unfermented wine that was easy to preserve was Passum, or raisin wine. To make it, people dried grapes in the sun till about half their weight remained and then gently pressed out the juice.
Baron Liebig in Letters on Chemistry tells us, “If a flask (bottle or jar) be filled with grape juice and made air tight, and then kept for a few hours in boiling water, the wine does not now ferment.”3
II. THE ANCIENT PRACTICE OF PRESERVING FRUIT
Those who believe that people of Bible times could not preserve fresh juice would be amazed to learn what those people were able to do. Not only could they store fresh juice, they could also preserve the fresh fruit.
Records of Early Writers
Grapes and other fruits were an important food for the ancients, so they tried to preserve them fresh. Josephus, the Hebrew historian (37 – 95 A.D.), says that at the fortress of Masada, corn, wine, oil, all kinds of pulse and dates were “heaped up together. These fruits were also fresh and full ripe and no way inferior to such fruits newly laid in, although they were little short of an hundred years from the laying in of these provisions.”4 He felt that the air in that part of Israel was the cause of their lasting so long.
Pliny, a Roman naturalist (about 62 – 113 A.D.), is another historian who reported that provisions laid up for seiges continued good for a hundred years. A writer named Swinburn says, “that in Spain they also have the secret of preserving grapes sound and juicy from one season to another.”5
Columella (first century A.D.) in his book, On Agriculture and Trees, tells how people preserved lettuce, onions, apples and other fruits. He also gives recipes for preserving fermented wine and unfermented grape juice. Here is his recipe for preserving pears:
Before the pears are ripe but when they are no longer quite raw, examine them carefully to see that they are sound and free from blemish or worms, and then arrange them in an earthenware vessel that has been treated with pitch and fill it with raisin wine or must boiled down to one third of its original volume, so that all the fruit is submerged; then put a cover on top and plaster it up.6
One of the safest methods of preserving fruit was to submerge it in liquid honey. Another recipe tells how to put the fruit in a barrel between layers of sawdust and then seal the lid with thick clay. Sometimes the pieces of fresh fruit were daubed and covered with potter's clay. After the clay dried, the fruit was hung in a cool place. When someone wanted to eat the fruit, he dipped it in water and the clay dissolved. Columella says the fruit kept as “fresh as if it had only just been picked.”7
Recipes for Preserving Grapes
One way to preserve grapes was to cut the grape cluster from the vines and then seal the cut with hard pitch. After this the grapes were placed on a new earthenware pan full of the driest possible chaff. Another pan was placed over the first one and clay was daubed around the pans. The grapes were stored in a dry loft, covered with dry chaff. Columella says they “may remain green for as much as a year.” 8
Sometimes the grapes, after their stems were dipped in boiling pitch, were placed in dishes arranged in layers in a barrel. Then the barrel was filled with boiled down must.9
In Dr. Patton's day, around 1868, a wine manufacturer in Italy told Mr. E. C. Delevan that he kept fresh grapes in his loft from one harvest to another. He said there was no problem in getting fresh grapes or fresh juice free from fermentation at any time of the year. Then he sent a basket of fresh grapes, picked months before, to Mr. Delevan's room.10
Since the people of Bible times had methods of preserving fresh grapes from one harvest time until another, they could always have fresh juice just by squeezing grapes into a cup.11
III. AN ANCIENT METHOD OF KEEPING GRAPE JUICE SWEET
One Method of Preserving Juice: Boiling
When juice is boiled, the water in it evaporates. As the juice thickens, it becomes very sweet. This sweet thick juice may be preserved for years without further change. Boiling will stop the action of the yeast in juice that is beginning to ferment. Juice boils at 212 degrees F., and alcohol evaporates at 170 degrees F.12
Writers Before and After Christ Tell about Boiled Wine
Horace, born 65 B.C. wrote about wine that was like nectar. He said it was perfectly harmless and would not produce intoxication.13 Virgil, 70 B.C., also wrote, “or with the fire boils away the moisture of the sweet wine, and with leaves scums (skims) the surge (froth) of the tepid caldron (slowly boiling pot).” The boiling of the juice caused the water in it to evaporate. As it boiled, foam formed on the surface of the juice. In Virgil's day, leaves were used to push the foam to the side and take it off the sweet juice in the gently boiling cooking pot.14
Columella and other writers who lived in the days of the Apostles tell us, “In Italy and Greece it was common to boil their wines.”15
The historian Pliny, in the first century A.D., called boiled wine vinum dulce or sweet wine. One kind of wine, defrutum, was boiled halfway down; the other kind, sapa, was boiled down two–thirds. Pliny described the famous Opimian wine, made 200 years before, as thick like honey.16
Aristotle, 384 B.C., told about the wine of Arcadia. It was so thick it had to be scraped from the skin bottles and dissolved in water.17
Archbishop Potter (1674), in his Grecian Antiquities, says that the Lacedaemonians boiled their wines down a fifth, and waited four years before drinking them. Democritus, a philosopher, and Palladius, a doctor, who both lived about 350 B.C., called this boiled down juice wine.18
Since boiling was a common way to preserve grape juice in the countries near Israel, The Jews undoubtedly used this method too. The Mishna, the book of Jewish law, states that the Jews were in the habit of using boiled wine.19 In recent excavations of Lachish, a city captured by Joshua and made a part of Israel, the archeologist found two wine presses with equipment that was used, he thinks, for boiling the grape juice to make grape syrup.20
Writers of More Modern Times
Parkinson wrote in 1640 that the juice pressed out of ripe grapes was called wine. Mr. W. G. Brown travelled in Africa, Egypt and Syria from 1792 to 1798. He reported that the wines of Syria are “most of them prepared by boiling” immediately after the juice is squeezed from the grape. When the juice was boiled down it was put into jars or large bottles and preserved for use.21
InTravels in Syria, Volney (1788) observed that the “general custom of the country is to reduce the must to two thirds of its quantity” by boiling. The most popular wines of Lebanon so in demand in Greece and Rome, were, he thought, too sugary.22
Caspar Neuman, M.D., a Professor of Chemistry, in Berlin in 1759, wrote, “It is observable that when sweet juices are boiled down to a thick consistence, they not only do not ferment in that state, but are not easily brought into fermentation when diluted with as much water as they had lost in the evaporation . . . .”23
Dr. Patton contacted missionaries and researchers of the 1800's who investigated the customs of the day. Even in the 1800's boiling was very common. A missionary to Syria said that only a few gallons of fermented wine were made from vineyards two miles long and half a mile wide. The unfermented juice was boiled 4 to 5 hours and put into earthen vessels tightly covered with skin to keep out air. It was freely used by Mohammedans and Christians and after two years had undergone no change. This unfermented grape drink was made as the ancients made it.
Keeping the air out or sealing up the juice was important to all methods of keeping juice from spoiling just as it is important in all canning methods today. Air carries bacteria that cause spoilage.
The Jews, said Rev. Henry Homes in 1848, never raised grapes with the idea of using the crop mainly for intoxicating drink. He found 16 uses for the grape. The making of intoxicating drink was the least important.24 The Rev. Dr. Jacobus talked about the wine made by Christ: “This wine was not that fermented liquor . . . . All who know the wines then (in Jesus' day) will understand that it was the unfermented juice of the grape.”25
- Dr. William Patton, Bible Wines, Sane Press, Olka. City, p.24, 25. Dr. Patton used as his sources Dr. Nott's Lectures on Biblical Temperance, and the Temperance Bible Commentary, by Dr. Lees and Dr. Burns. Dr. Patton writes of cooling juice to 45 degrees. Modern writers say 40 degrees.
- Ibid., p.24.
- Ibid., p.25.
- Ibid., p.23.
- Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi, Wine in the Bible, Biblical Perspective, Berrien Springs, Michigan, 1989, p.107.
- Ibid., p.108
- Patton, Bible Wines, p.24.
- Bacchiocchi, Wine in the Bible, p.109.
- A warning about cooking with alcohol: “The residual taste of booze in a recipe does not leave, so a person should abandon any ideas of being able to cook out the alcohol. Even the taste alcohol leaves behind in any cooked dish is potentially dangerous to a recovering alcoholic causing them to have a strong urge to drink.” Wert, Rita, “Holiday Refreshments,” Union Signal, Vol. cxvi, No. 11, Nov., 1990, p.18.
- Patton, Bible Wines, p.28.
- Ibid., p.27.
- Ibid., p.28.
- Bacchiocchi, Wine in the Bible, p.120.
- Patton, Bible Wines, p.28.
- Ibid., p.29.
- Ibid., p.32.
- Ibid., p.33.