Here We Go A-Wafering

In Ricardian fiction, one can KoningWafel2always depend on a banquet scene to feed the body and soul of devoted readers who defend the most maligned king in history.  Because medieval food was so colourful and robust, it is understandable that a wealth of  novels, stories and cookery books would emerge larded with roasted whale, fried hedgehog, starry gazey pie, as well as the more digestible pasties and puddings.

The most common food and drink served the nobility in Ricardian fiction are wafers and Hypocras – pressed upon characters that show up at Richard’s door – usually at the point of collapse.  In Patrick Carleton’s excellent “Under the Hog,” Mayor Wrangwysh of York, anguished by the vexing problem of fish garths, is plied with both wafers and wine.  Bishop Stillington, hand-wringing himself into near-apoplexy, partakes of them right before he spills the beans on Edward and Miss Butler.  Richard himself munches unconcernedly on wafers during another encounter with his hair-triggered brother George.  The Duke of Clarence sticks to Hypocras.  Rhoda Edward’s lovely novel “Some Touch of Pity,” serves wafers and Hypocras to Richard and Viscount Lovell at Northhampton while they cool their heels awaiting the arrival of young Edward.  Wafers and sweet wine seem to go very well with traumatic events – at least in the fictional world of Richard III.

So what are these wafers?  They may have been derived from the Eucharistic Host, made from a batter of fine wheat and water and pressed into a wafering iron.  The word comes from the French “gaufre” which means to crimp.  The Dutch refer to the wafer as “wafel,” the French as “oblie” and the Italians call it “cialdone.”  It wasn’t until the 13th Century that ordinary men were allowed to make them in non-sacramental fashion.  Rosewater, sugar and cinnamon were added to sweeten them and were given to guests as an after dinner “snack.”  Today, they come down to us in the French tuile, the Italian cannoli with its crisp shell, the Dutch waffle-weave biscuit, the ice cream cornet and the slim wafer placed atop an ice cream sundae.  Certainly, its heftier cousin, the waffle, has swept the world from at least Europe through the Americas.

Here’s a recipe from “Excellent and Approved Receipts and Experiments in Cookery” published in 1658:

“Take rosewater or other water, the whites of two eggs and beat them and your water, then put in flower and make them thick as you would do for butter for fritters then season them with salt, and put in so much sugar as will make them sweet, and so cast them upon your irons being hot, and roule them up upon a little pin of wood; if they cleave to your irons, put in more sugar to your butter for that will make them turn.”

The accompaniment to these wafers was traditionally Hypocras – a white or red wine that was basically doctored into a sweet drink served chilled.  The wine is named after Hippocrates and is considered to have medicinal properties.  Hypocras would have ingredients such as sugar, cinnamon, fresh or ground ginger and galangal (pronounced gul-lang-guh).  Galangal is “a root or rhizome of the ginger family”* and is often found in Thai kitchens and restaurants.  Hypocras is not unlike our modern mulled wine which we serve at Christmastime.  Although the spices are similar, today the sugar is often replaced by honey and it is served piping hot.

Here’s a recipe from The Form of Cury A Roll of Ancient English Cookery that simply seems to be a list of ingredients written in French:

“Trey unces de cannett, and iii unces de gyngeuer, spikenard de Spayn le pays dun denerer (le pays d’un Denier), garyngale, clowes, gylofre, poivre long, noiez mugadez (nutmeg), maziozame (marjoram), cardemon de chescun quart’ dunce (five penny weights), grayne de paradys stour de queynel de chescun dim unce de toutes, soit fair powdour (sugar).”

A whole pipe of this was provided for Archbishop Nevill’s feast in 1466.

Happily, the book “The Medieval Kitchen” provides a modern recipe on page 220:

4 cups of red wine or a dry white (1 liter), 3/4 cups of sugar (150g), 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon, 1 teaspoon of ground of fresh ginger, 1 small piece of dried galangal (optional).  Grind spices, if necessary, and mix with sugar in a glass.  Gradually stir in wine and mix.  Let stand for two hours, stirring occasional.  Strain the wine through a double layer of cheesecloth; repeat several times until clear.  Store in a corked bottle in the refrigerator for a few days before drinking.

Perhaps partaking of these two simple things – sweet wafers and spiced wine – will becalm the most troubled spirit – not unlike Mayor Wrangwysh of York when attended by his beloved King as they plotted against the hated fish garths.


*Spices, Salt and Aromatics in the English Kitchen, page 7


The Medieval Kitchen, Odile Redon, Francoise Sabbon, Silvani Servani

Cooking in Europe 1250-1650, Ken Albala

The Forme of Cury, Samuel Pegge

Spices, Salt and Aromatics in the English Kitchen, Elizabeth David

Under the Hog, Patrick Carleton

Some Touch of Pity, Rhonda Edwards

Seven Hundred Years of English Cooking, Maxime McKendry

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