Writers and self-publishers in the middle ages had their work cut out for them. You could not just run to the local merchant and buy ink, you often had to make it yourself. It was equally hard to find a good quill and get your hands on parchment, papyrus, and vellum.
There are several ways to make ink in the middle ages and many have recorded their instructions on how to do it. The following recipe comes from Theophilus Presbyter, who in the early twelfth-century created a work known as De diversis artibus (On various arts).
To make ink, cut for yourself some wood of the hawthorn – in April or May before they produce blossom or leaves – collect them together in small bundles and allow them to lie in the shade for two, three or four weeks until they are fairly well dried out.
Then have some wooden mallets, and with them pound these thorns on a hard piece of wood until you completely peel off the bark, which you immediately put in a barrel full of water. When you have filled two, three, four or five barrels with bark and water, allow them to stand like this for eight days until the water has drawn off all the sap of the bark. Then put this water into a very clean pot or into a cauldron, place it on the fire and heat it. From time to time, put some of this bark into the pot so that, if there is any sap left in it, it can be boiled out, and, when you have heated it for a little, take it out and put in some more.
This done, boil down what remains of the water, to a third of the original quantity, pour it from this pot into a smaller one and continue to heat it until it becomes black and begins to thicken, taking particular care that you do not add any water except that which was mixed with the sap. When you see it become thick, add a third part of pure wine, put it in two or three new pots and continue to heat it until you see that it develops a kind of skin at the top.
Then left these pots off the fire and put them in the sun until the black ink resolves itself from the red dregs. Afterwards, take some small, carefully sewn, parchment bags like bladders, pour the pure ink into them and hang them up in the sun until it is completely dried. When it is dried, take from it as much as you want, mix it with wine over a fire, add a little iron vitriol and write. If, as a result of carelessness, the ink is not black enough, take a piece of iron, an inch thick, put it on the fire until it is red hot and then throw it into the ink.
There is something deeply romantic about forgoing a computer and all technology to write something. I think it would be a neat project to make your own ink, paper and go on a journey to find a writing quill and pen some short fiction.
Michael Kozlowski is the Editor in Chief of Good e-Reader. He has been writing about audiobooks and e-readers for the past ten years. His articles have been picked up by major and local news sources and websites such as the CBC, CNET, Engadget, Huffington Post and the New York Times.