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No hops, onions or cabbage before 1400, not even in Nuneaton….

Nuneaton History

Once again, looking for one thing led to another – this time to a fascinating site about the history of Nuneaton. It provides interesting year-by-year, century-by-century snippets about historic events, the weather, and…did you know that hops, onions and cabbage were introduced from Flanders in 1400? No, nor me.

http://www.nuneatonhistory.com/uploads/1/8/6/8/18680466/nuneaton_history_alan_cook.pdf

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A gin for Richard….

fotheringhay gin

I know that gin is the tipple at the moment. Wherever you go, the selection of gin that is available is really quite astonishing. Oh, dear, can’t stand the stuff myself.

Anyway, it now seems that Fotheringhay, Richard’s birthplace, is to launch a special gin in his honour in Fotheringhay Village Hall on 30th November, from 11am–4pm, where orders will be taken.

It is described as follows here:-

“Created by renowned artisan gin distillery Warner Edwards in Northamptonshire, this premium gin is flavoured with a tapestry of carefully chosen herbs and flowers that King Richard’s Plantagenet family would recognise. These include local linden blossom, quince – beloved by the King and served at his wedding – and the rose known as the White Rose of York. The rose adds floral top notes, while a hint of incense reflects Fotheringhay church, a building Richard knew very well. All the botanicals were sourced and harvested by local residents.”

Well, I cannot argue with the statement that quinces were served at Richard’s wedding, I wasn’t there! Nor can I quibble that the fruit was a favourite of his. But if it was, it’s the first I’ve known of it. But it doesn’t matter, because I’m sure the new gin will go down a treat with gin-lovers everywhere. I trust they all drink a Christmas toast to our king!

The biggest Viking silver hoard ever found in Britain….

Cuerdale Hoard - a selection of what was found

Part of the Cuerdale Hoard in the British Museum

Read more…

Clarissa Dickson Wright and the Art of Medieval Food

 

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The late Clarissa Dickson Wright is known to the English-speaking countries of the world as one of The Two Fat Ladies – the middle-aged motorcycling cooks who zipped around the English, Welsh and Irish countryside, one at the wheel of a Triumph Thunderbird, the other stuffed into the sidecar wearing what appeared to be a Biggles pilot helmet.  Jennifer Paterson, the elder, learned to cook in Benghazi and London as a saucy au pair for the upper classes.  After she tired of minding the kiddies, she appeared as a regular on the British Candid Camera and as the cook for the Spectator Magazine’s weekly lunches.   She was fired from the Spectator when she chucked all the kitchen crockery out of an upper floor window because the accountants left dirty tea cups in the sink.  Her culinary talents must have been formidable because she was retained long after she had tickled Enoch Powell’s bald spot during one lunch while girlishly cooing “koochie koo!” at the thunderstruck MP.  Hospitalized in 1999 and told she had a month or so to live, she was asked if she wanted to speak with a social worker.  “No,” she boomed, “I’m watching a Fred Astaire film.”

Clarissa Dickson Wright, although as insouciant as her other half, was a different kettle of medieval fish.  Born to an Australian heiress and the Queen’s surgeon, Arthur Dickson Wright, she grew up in London amid the upper classes of Scotland, Ireland, England and Oz.  Both her parents were connoisseurs of fine food and drink and during a time of strict food rationing her father was importing pigeon from the Middle East and caviar from Iran.  In this lavish environment, Clarissa learned to appreciate beautifully prepared food and drink but choose the law as her profession.  At 21, she became the youngest person called to the bar, working as a barrister at the Inns of Court.  Those who have read her hilarious and chagrined autobiographies “Spilling the Beans” and “Riffling Through My Drawers,” know that upon her beloved mother’s death, she collapsed into a sybaritic existence that decimated the family fortune and landed her penniless and drunk in a London jail with only Saki’s short stories as company.  Once sober, she rebuilt her life around food and its preparation, employed as a cook in private homes and as manageress of the well-known shop in Portobello Road called “Books for Cooks.”  In 1996, she and Jennifer came under the eagle eye of a sharp-witted BBC producer who decided to pair the women in a television program centered around their many talents.  These included Paterson’s basso profundo singing style, cocktail-shaking and motorcycling skills.  Dickson Wright brought her sharp wit and extensive knowledge of the history of English food.  “Two Fat Ladies” became an instant hit that was sadly cut short after its fourth season when Jennifer was struck down by cancer.

Dickson Wright, happily, went on to a solo television career bringing her knowledge of not only food but of country life to the British Isles.  Unfortunately, the programs were not available to Americans until fans of Clarissa uploaded them onto You Tube.  Two wonderful shows – 2008’s “Clarissa Dickson Wright and the King’s Cookbook” and 2014’s “Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner” – are there for the viewing.  Both explore the long history of cooking in England and push back against notions of bland food prepared by a garlic-phobic nation.  She makes a grand case that English food during the 14th Century achieved an artistic level that could rival France.

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Dash Barber as the young King Richard II in “Clarissa and the King’s Cookbook”

“The King’s Cookbook” takes us into the world of Richard II (1367-1400) and his lavish lifestyle at table.  Deep within the British Library, we are shown the original Forme of Cury (translation:  Method of Cooking), Richard’s compilation of 196 recipes complete with food stains and marginalia.  We are shown directions for making blancmange (originally made with capon), salad (with nary a piece of lettuce in sight) and blubbery roasted porpoise.  We learn that he employed over 300 kitchen staff.  These included saucers, milkers, boners, choppers, spit boy, roasters and scribes who sat in a vestibule writing down “receipts.”  All of them (with the exception of the scribes) were half naked because of the intense heat.  They struggled mightily under the aegis of the Master Chef who sat upon a throne in the kitchen overseeing the work.  They were expected to maintain rigid sanitary conditions.  In an extension of these rules – which would benefit most Waffle Houses in the USA – he demanded his guests be provided with spoons and napkins and prohibited them from eating with fingers or belching, farting and fighting.    In an interesting aside, Clarissa notes that while medieval cooking compilations do not include vegetable recipes, they were always included in meals and feasts.  Herbs and vegetables were foraged in the wild and/or grown in private kitchen gardens.  They were simply picked daily without much thought to recording how they were used.  In the program “Lunch,” we see a lamb pottage (“in a pot”) being cooked over an open fire by docents and volunteers in medieval dress.  As they peer into the bubbling pot, Clarissa laments today’s lack of available mutton which was once so popular and has lost favor among modern people because of its gaminess.*  We are also disabused of that most pernicious notion of the medieval era that expensive and rare imported spices were used to cover up the smell and taste of rotten meat.  Nothing could be further from the truth as several historians interviewed note with vehemence.  Medieval cooks, like our modern chefs, knew how to use ingredients economically and intelligently.  As they point out, only chilies would have disguised the taste of bad meat and they had not yet been imported from the Americas.

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Clarissa Dickson Wright at the British Library with the original Forme of Cury


The louche King Richard continued his wanton ways, taxing and spending his country into anarchy all to please his exquisite palate and discriminating taste.  “I will not dismiss one scallion from my kitchen on the grounds that Parliament asked me to, ” he famously sneered, much like a medieval Richard Olney faced with a shipment of bad wine.  Of course, as is usually the case with tyrants and run-away budgets, the citizenry was soon fed up and hankering for a change.  In 1399, he was brought to heel by the usual aggressive and ambitious upstarts that tended to gather around the edges of powerful Yorkists.  In this case, it was Henry Bolingbroke, who after a false promise of freedom confined Richard to Pontefract Castle with neither a napkin nor spoon in sight.  He then proceeded to starve the king to death in an ironic execution that mirrored the death several decades later of alcoholic George, Duke of Clarence, who was supposedly drowned in a butt of Malmsey.  Mordant Lancastrian wit!

So ended the life of the first foodie king who, at least, never burned a cake unlike a certain predecessor.  Instead, he left us with one of the earliest English-language cookbooks in western history which is offered free-of-charge on Kindle.

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“I give this heavy weight off my head, and this unwieldly sceptre from my hand”

Two recipes are mentioned in “The King’s Cookbook” from The Forme of Cury.  One is Goose Madame or Goose in Sauce Madame.  The other is the simple and delicious:

Pears in Red Wine

2 Pears, 2 cups of good red wine, 1/2-1 cup of sugar depending on taste, orange zest, 1 cinnamon stick, star anise (optional).

Cut the bottoms off of peeled pears so that they stand up.  Place in a deep saucepan and pour in the red wine.  Add all other ingredients and simmer until pears are a deep jewel-like red and easily pierced with a knife.  Cool and serve on a white plate with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream or sweetened ricotta.

pears

The website Coquinaria, devoted to medieval cuisine, has a recipe for Goose Madame in which it is advised that it be served at Christmastime.  We are now in the midst of high summer but perhaps it can be tucked away for later in the year or read for pure amazement at the list of ingredients that would delight Yotam Ottolenghi:

Stuff Goose Sauce Madame

1 large goose

For the stuffing: 2-4 tart apples, 2 pears, 2 Tbs. chopped parsley and 1 tsp. of sage and savory, 2 garlic cloves, chopped, 20-30 grapes, skinned.

For the sauce:  1 Tbsp of goose fat, 1 small onion, chopped, 1/2 liter (2 cups) of dark stock, 1/4 cup red wine, 1 Tbsp red wine vinegar, white breadcrumbs, galingale (or ginger), cinnamon mace, cloves, cubebs (a type of peppercorn), salt to taste, giblets.

Salt to taste

the neck and giblets of the goose

Stuffing prep:  Boil the unpeeled apples for an hour in water.  Drain and cool.  Peel pears, decore them.  Cut them in small pieces.  Mix in the chopped herbs, garlic and peeled grapes.

Put the stock in a boiling pan, add the giblets.  Bring to a boil, let simmer a couple of hours.  Strain through a fine sieve.

Sauce:  Heat some of the goose fat and fry the onion in it.  Add the strained stock and red wine and the bread crumbs.  Let this simmer a short while until thickened.  Now add the stuffing from the goose, spices and wine vinegar.  Bring to the boil once more.

Set the temperature at 180C or 350F.  Stuff the goose, secure the filling and place goose on a rack.  Baste regularly and after about two to three hours, take it out and let it rest for 10-15 minutes for the juices to redistribute.  This can be served whole or sliced with stuffing and sauce.

 

goose

Goose with Sauce Madame


*One of New York City’s oldest chop houses, Keen’s Steakhouse, no longer serves mutton although it is still advertised.  What you smell the minute you enter this wood-paneled old restaurant are giant lamb chops sizzling on the platter.

Both “Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner” and “Clarissa and The King’s Cookbook” are available in sections on You Tube.

Recommended reading:  all are available on Amazon:

A History of English Food by Clarissa Dickson Wright

Clarissa’s England:  A Gamely Gallop through the English Counties

Feast Days: Recipes from “The Spectator” by Jennifer Paterson.  Miss Paterson follows the Catholic liturgical calendar with recipes and amusing comments on the more eccentric saints of the Church.

 

 

 

Beauty tips from the Middle Ages, including how to get a huge, freckle-free forehead ….

 

Beauty tips

The following article is from here. It is a light-hearted look at the things our medieval sisters did to make themselves look beautiful:-

Longing to know how to hide your devil’s marks and dissolve your hairline? Step this way!

Strictly speaking, the Middle Ages extend from the 5th to the 15th century, but here, I’ll be focusing on the late Middle Ages. Best to clear that up and avoid any mishaps. I mean, imagine what a fool you’d look if you turned up to a 12th-century-themed party in 6th-century makeup. How your friends would laugh!

The late Middle Ages liked its maidens with high foreheads, long necks, sallow complexions and lacklustre eyebrows. Added to that, the babeliest of Medieval babes rocked low sloping shoulders and protruding stomachs. This might seem a touch… um… surprising, but in the name of fairness (both kinds) let’s give these ladies the benefit of the doubt and try to unravel their beauty commandments.

Hide your hair

It is a truth universally acknowledged that hair is sexy. So, naturally, it was seen as sinful by the Medieval Church, and decent women hid theirs with veils, nets, hoods and hats. In warmer European countries, women might get away with braiding since hot weather rendered head-covering a bit of a nightmare. Elsewhere, the only women who left their hair unconcealed were peasants, prostitutes and very young unmarried girls.

Hand in hand with the desire to hide hair was the belief that the higher the hairline the better. Many women resorted to potions of vinegar or quicklime to erode their natural hairline (often taking skin with it), whilst to keep foreheads as unsullied as possible, eyebrows were tweezed within an inch of their lives.

Unsurprisingly, all this hiding only made hair a more potent symbol of temptation, and most tempting of all was blonde hair. We know that women tinted their hair blonde with saffron, stale sheep’s urine, onion skins, or by spending time in the sun (often wearing a hat to maintain modesty, but with a sneaky hole cut in the top). Chaucer’s Virginia (from “The Physician’s Tale”), a “maid in excellent beauty,” has “tresses resembling the rays of [Phebus’] burnished sunbeams.” Whilst the Old Woman from the “Roman de la Rose,” a 13th-century French poem, advises: If (a lady) sees that her beautiful blonde hair is falling out (a most mournful sight)… she should have the hair of some dead woman brought to her, or pads of light coloured silk, and stuff it all into false hairpieces.”

Remove all distinguishing marks from your skin.

Pallor was preferred (as so frequently and boringly through much of history) and smooth skin was highly prized. In a darker turn of events, freckles, moles and birthmarks were often cited as the devil’s mark on those accused of witchcraft–blemishes left by a woman’s erotic entanglements with Satan.

Techniques used for reducing skin to a blank canvas include:

• To remove spots, lick an amethyst and rub the slobbery stone over offending areas.

• To remove freckles, boil oatmeal and vinegar together and smear it on. Alternatively, if you were out of porridge, you could use bull’s or hare’s blood.

• To eradicate redness, apply cucumber or strawberry juice.

• To soothe sunburn, use the squeezed juice of the waterlily.

The potency of all such unguents could be increased by the application of a plaster/band-aid made from sheep’s leather.

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Use enough makeup to keep your husband, but not enough to tempt the husbands of others

Just as women were encouraged to hide their hair so as not to lead men astray, excessive makeup was frowned upon. However, the views of Thomas of Aquinas show what a minefield makeup was.

On the one hand, Tom thought, yes, a woman should be allowed makeup in order to look her best for her husband, thus discouraging him from the sin of adultery. On the other hand, he cautioned: she should not make herself too pretty, thereby luring other women’s menfolk into an adulterous trap.

In terms of what was available to those willing to tread this very fine line, women could apply foundation, often lead-based, sometimes flour-based. Here’s a recipe from the 13th-century L’ornement des Dames:

Put very pure wheat in water for fifteen days, then grind and blend it in water. Strain through a cloth, and let it crystalise and evaporate. You will obtain make-up which will be as white as snow. When you want to use it, mix it with rosewater, and spread it on your face which has first been washed with warm water. Then dry your face with a cloth.

Eye makeup, despite being available since forever, simply wasn’t very fashionable. Most paintings and sculptures show women with pale, undefined eyes and thin eyebrows. However, we do know that women used to drop deadly nightshade into their eyes to dilate the pupils and make them appear bigger, which is possibly where the plant’s common name Belladonna, “beautiful lady”, comes from.

We know that a fair few women used rouge. Indeed, the 12th-century monge de Montaudon (monk of Montaudon) sang about statues in churches who complain that there is not enough makeup to decorate them “because of all the ladies who use rouge.” It was mostly made from ground plants (angelica or safflower), but the physician Gilbertus Anglicus mentions the effectiveness of brazilwood chips soaked in rosewater.

In terms of lip colour, similar rouge could be used, and also crushed berries to make stains. The 21st-century Lipstick Queen, Poppy King, named her famous Medieval lipstick in honour of the medieval trend for rubbing lemons on your lips to get a deeper colour.

I actually tried this myself and was amazed with the results. Sorry that these photos were so obviously taken in my kitchen, but that’s where the lemons live. I just cut one in half and squished it into my mouth, which was both yummy and effective; my lips look significantly more blood-filled, which is suitably medieval.

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Lip balm also existed, by the way. The book Secrets of Don Alessio Piemontese gives a recipe for “sweet smelling grease that will keep the lips and hands from chapping and make them moist and soft.” It’s made from suet, marjoram and wine.

I like the sound of wine-flavoured lip balm. I like the lemon trick, too. But I’ll keep my freckles and my hair, thanks.

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It’s so interesting to me that, in the age of Cara Delevingne eyebrows, St. Tropez tans and Big Sexy Hair, there’s a space in our beauty past like the Middle Ages. Just goes to show how subjective beauty can be.

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