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Murder and mayhem in medieval London…

IMG_5516.jpgHere is a link to an interesting map and article on the murder hotspots of medieval London.  Click on a dot and details pop up of that particular murder.

Most of the culprits either just simply disappeared pronto or skedaddled into sanctuary and  frustratingly the outcomes are not shown.  The vast majority of the victims were male,  sadly one a small  child,  John de Burgh, aged 5 years old who died after being ‘cuffed’ after he stole a small amount of wool which he had hidden under his hat.    One of the more audacious was the murder of the gatekeeper of Newgate Gaol, Nicholas at Mill, who was stabbed to death by two men who broke into Newgate to do so.

Its seems you were quite vulnerable if you were a clerk in holy orders, several of them being bumped off.  Although priests seemed to be susceptible to ending up as murder victims  they could actually give as good as they got with one priest, Alan de Hacford murdering Walter de Anne, the man he shared his lover, Alice de York with,  after finding Walter and Alice sitting together.  For reasons unknown Alice aided and abetted Alan, the pair of them fleeing afterwards.

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Loud music then as now could lead to altercations with fatal results.   In May 1324, Thomas Somer,  a minstrel.   incensed Thomas of Lynn, by playing outside his home after dusk.  The householder Thomas chased Somer intending to bash him with a door-bar.  After Thomas caught Somer and struck him, the musician pulled out a knife and fatally injured Thomas.

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In this picture its the turn of musician to get it…

A few of the culprits were female including a fishmonger stabbed to death by his mistress.  Surprisingly she didn’t batter him to death  with a piece of cod!… joking.. .. while another woman, a prostitute by the name of Agnes ‘Houdy Doudy’ killed another woman, Lucy,  the pregnant wife of Richard de Barstaple, by ‘striking her on the belly with fists and knees’.  Yet another woman, a beggar known as Nicola from Cardiff,  drowned her 3 month old baby,  Alice,  while ‘surreptitiously pretending to wash the child’ in a ditch.

Reasons for people getting murdered varied quite a bit from a suicidal man, John Pentyn,  bashing his would be rescuer over the head  with an iron stave to Roger Styward,  who as a result of throwing eel skins in the street,  received a fatal kicking.  Servants died protecting their masters belongings.  A violent altercation about a horse led to a murder while a planned gang rape ended in complete and utter mayhem.

Royalty was not exempt from the fallout of murder – John Gremet a groom of the kitchen of Queen Philippa – was murdered by another royal servant, Peter Tremenel.

A total of 142 murders are detailed sourced from the Coroners’ Rolls and credit and thanks to Prof Eisner at the Institute of Criminonology, University of Cambridge.   Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

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A Mediaeval Feast in Essex

I stupidly decided to cook a mediaeval feast to celebrate New Year’s Eve with some friends. I say ‘stupidly’ not because it wasn’t a success but because the amount of work and fiddly techniques nearly killed me!

I wanted to do something similar to one of the courses of Richard’s coronation feast, so about 15-20 dishes, mixed sweet and savoury. I had tasted some mediaeval recipes while at Middleham in July and loved the different tastes and rich flavours, so I bought the recipe book the dishes had come from. This was ‘The Medieval Cookbook: Feast for the King, compiled by Patricia Rice-Jones. I also had another book, The Medieval Cookbook by Maggie Black

I chose a variety of recipes and created the following menu: A Mediaeval Menu

Obviously, one person (me) would not be able to cook all this in one day, so I began early and started with the sugared almonds, crystallised ginger and mixed pickles. The recipes were not difficult, but very fiddly and time-consuming as they were all done from scratch. There were often several processes to go through for each dish. Even the sugared almonds required you to painstakingly add a tablespoon of sugared water to the almonds in a pan and jiggle them about over the heat until dry – several times over! The vegetables and apple for the pickle had to be hand peeled and sliced before the process started.

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I then made some stocks to freeze for several of the recipes, made from lamb and chicken bones. With the lamb stock, I made the venison stew – I did it in the slow cooker and the smell was fantastic! Not so when I tasted it! The unfamiliar herbs I had used (hyssop and savory) were extremely bitter and the stew tasted horrible. Knowing I could not serve this concoction as it was, I added honey, red wine and cranberries. Phew! It was delicious. I let it cool and froze it. Here is the finished dish, served in bread trenchers with a slice of frumenty.

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Venison stew and frumenty

The next cooking session involved pastries. I made figs in coffins and the chicken pasties with ready rolled pastry (I’m not a complete idiot!) and froze them to cook on the day.  Then I made the ‘Grete Pye’. This was formed of a layer of minced beef with suet and spices. Then a layer of game meat, a layer of chopped dates and prunes with spices and finally another layer of minced beef. I made a pastry rose design to decorate it (of course!). Here are the figs in coffins and Grete Pye:

Over the next couple of weeks, I cooked various dishes which could be made in advance, such as the wine sauce for the salmon and the chicken (which would later be crowned with eggs). These are the finished dishes:

The day before, I spent most of the day preparing and cooking, in particular the Leche Solace (a sort of blancmange) and the Geli Partied with a Device had to be allowed to set in the fridge and the orange segments were marinated in honey and spices. The pictures here are of the Leche Solace and the baked orange served in the halved peel.

I will relate the procedure to make the Geli to show you how elaborate and intricate some of the processes were. This jelly was made with a bottle of fruity, white wine and a pound of sugar, some cinnamon, nutmeg and fresh ginger. After simmering for about ten minutes, it is cooled for three to four hours, then strained through muslin lined with coarsely-ground almonds. Milk is added and it is then strained several times through muslin until it clears (I gave up after six times – it would have to do!). Gelatin, dissolved in water, is added to the reheated wine mixture and stirred until dissolved. White rose petals were placed in the dish and the mixture poured over and left to set – I had picked the last white rose from my garden in November and frozen it. I had one leaf and I arranged it with some of the petals on the top once it had set. For me it was the most delicious item. Here is a photo of it.

Phto of Geli partied with a device

Geli Partied with a Device

On the day, New Year’s Eve, I was still cooking. I reheated the venison stew in the slow cooker, made the frumenty and Lombard slices, roasted the salmon and baked the frozen pastries. The sauce for the salmon had to be reheated and the pears had to be peeled and poached and the oranges baked. I made the dough for the fritters from scratch and left them to rise. Trying to time all of this was an absolute nightmare!

Photo of roasted salmon

Roasted Salmon

However, the feast was a great success, all except the sautéed lamprey, which was disgusting – we all tried one small piece and gave the rest to the dogs. There was so much food, I didn’t bother to cook the fritters until late in the evening, as no-one had enough room to eat any! The fritters and lamprey are pictured below.

The feast was finished off with a gingerbread ‘subtletie’ of a York Rose with gold leaf centre. I also made Hippocras (spiced wine) and served Lindisfarne mead.

Photo of gingerbread subtletie

Gingerbread Subtletie

My guests entered into the spirit by dressing up. All in all, it was a great success but I will never voluntarily make a mediaeval feast again, although I may well make some of the individual dishes and I have already used some of the more unusual spices that I don’t normally use.

Photo of 'mediaeval' guests

‘Mediaeval’ Guests

 

Haunted Essex

Some of the venues in this article are surprising and the nocturnal visits sound very expensive but they include some classic historical venues. In Colchester, the Castle and (Howard) Red Lion are included, as is the Redoubt at Harwich, although the Kelvedon Nuclear Bunker and North Weald Station are much newer. In the north of the county, many of the locations are connected to Matthew Hopkins and his anti-witchcraft activities, or earlier victims such as Ursula Kemp (the St. Osyth Cage). In the south, there is also the Valence House, Dagenham.

Good luck ghost-hunting.

Dyer or Dire?

Many of you will remember the episode of “Who do you think you are” in which Danny Dyer was revealed as a descendant of Edward III. In this new two part series, he “meets” a few prominent ancestors, some even more distant.

The first episode began with Rollo, ancestor of the Dukes of Normandy, which saw Dyer visit Sweden, although Danes and Norwegians also claim that Viking dynast, to learn sparring with a sword and shield. Then he went to the Tower to talk about William I and Dover Castle for Henry II, discussing his rebellious sons and his mixed relationship with Becket. At every stage, riding a horse, jousting or dyeing (Dyeing?), he was accompanied by a professional genealogist (Anthony Adolph, in a cafe opposite Buckingham Palace) or a historian, if not one of television’s “usual suspects”. At the end, Dyer visited France to learn of a slightly different ancestor – St. Louis IX, although Margaret of Wessex is another canonised forebear.

The second episode did feature some real historians: Elizabeth Norton, Chris Given-Wilson, Tobias Capwell and Tracy Borman. The opening scene had Isabella on the Leeds Castle drawbridge shouting at Edward II (Dyer): “Git aht ov moi carsel” (you may need Google Translate, but not from French). We were shown an image of Hugh le Despencer’s grisly execution, without pointing out that there were two of that name, followed by Edward’s confinement in Berkeley Castle, forced abdication and the legend of his even grislier end. Henry “Hotspur” Percy, who died in battle at Shrewsbury, followed as Dyer tried on late mediaeval armour. The next scenes concerned Sir John Seymour at Wolf Hall, inveigling his daughter into Henry VIII’s world, as Dyer dressed up and tried “Tudor” dancing. We then moved on to Helmingham Hall as Catherine Cromwell married Lord Tollemache, whose successor met Dyer, his cousin, again. The series concluded with a “sugar banquet” as the star’s family joined in, dressed as Elizabeth I’s contemporaries.

Both programmes were informative about mediaeval life, such as the “silver pennies” bearing Dyer’s image and the West Ham badge, although his stereotypical East London patois grates a little. It brought to mind Ray Winstone as Henry VIII (“I have been betrayed!”) or Nick Knowles‘ egregious Historyonics.

How strict was medieval royal court mourning at Christmas….?

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Medieval Christmas

Medieval Christmas

I know I have (more than once!) written of a strange string of coincidences connecting Richards II and III and their queens, both named Anne. Now I have come upon another question that puzzles me. It is well known that Richard II loved his Anne deeply, and was distraught when she died suddenly in the summer of 1394. He and his court were plunged into mourning, he had Sheen palace razed to the ground because he could not bear to go where he and she had been so happy, etc. etc.

Richmond's Islands, 1720

Richard II and his queen had a lavish lodge, La Neyt, built on an island in the Thames at Sheen, so they could be alone together

One way Richard chose to distract himself was an expedition to Ireland, where trouble was brewing for English rule. No English monarch had been there since King John (when he was still a prince). Richard II took a huge army over, and believed himself successful in reasserting English power, as witness the illustration below, of him received homage/knighting Irish kings. At Christmas 1394, barely six months after Anne’s death, historians tells us that Richard had a whale of a time with entertainments, revels and all the usual celebrations of the period.

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Royal celebrations at Christmas – Henry VIII

Now, does this sound like a monarch and court in full mourning for a beloved consort? No. Was Richard II, who was a very emotional man, able to set his grief aside and order revels, both for the season and the “victory” over the troublesome Irish kings? [It wasn’t to be long after Richard’s return to England that those kings started stirring again – well, I would have too!] Or have these junketings been overstated or even falsely reported?

Dublin - Richard II knighting the Irish kings - 1394

Richard II receiving the Irish kings, 1394

Whatever, it was Christmas, and we have a King Richard, sunk in grief for his Queen Anne. I now find myself wondering what might have happened if Bosworth had gone the other way, and Richard III were still king at Christmas 1485. He was another king in deep mourning, having lost his Anne in March that same year (and his son the year before). He too would have had something to celebrate – defeating Tudor, and enjoying the Christmas season. Even if negotiations were in full swing for his remarriage, would he have thrown mourning for Anne to the winds and had a lavish old time of it? Perhaps he would think his court and the realm at large was in need of a happy time at last, and so he would set his own feelings aside? Maybe that’s what Richard II had thought before him?

©Photo. R.M.N. / R.-G. OjŽda

The giving of New Year gifts at the court of the Duc du Berri.

I’m genuinely curious about this business of kings in mourning, because Richard II made it clear he adored Anne of Bohemia, and as far as we are concerned, Richard III and Anne Neville loved each other too. Their shared agony on the sudden death of their only child, Edward of Middleham, suggests a great closeness, if nothing else. Maybe both marriages were first entered into for political reasons. Anne of Bohemia brought nothing to her marriage, except her family and connections; Anne Neville brought half the Warwick inheritance, which was nothing to sniff at. I believe that both marriages became love matches, and that whether the kings liked it or not, they were obliged to marry again as soon as possible.

Betrothal of the French Princess to Richard II

The betrothal of Isabella of Valois to Richard II.

Just over a year following Christmas 1394, Richard II married the six-year-old Isabella of Valois, daughter of the King of France. One theory for this odd choice of bride—by a childless king who was beset by uncles and cousins hungry to succeed him—is that it was a way of staying faithful to Anne for longer. Such a very young second wife would not be expected to be available for consummation before she was, at the very least, twelve.

It was still 1485 when Richard III’s envoys commenced negotiations for him to marry Joanna of Portugal, who is known to posterity as the Blessed Joanna, Princess of Portugal. She was eight months older than Richard, and in the end did not marry anyone. These 1485 negotiations were not only for Richard’s marriage, but for that of his eldest niece, Elizabeth of York, who was to marry Joanna’s cousin, who would become Manuel I.  This sounds a workmanlike arrangement, made because, as I have said, a childless king had to marry again, quickly. At least Richard III’s chosen bride would be able to provide him with heirs, unlike little Isabella of France. And he was arranging a very good marriage for his illegitimate niece.

So, just what was the protocol for this sort of thing? Did mourning mean just that, mourning? Nothing less. Or could it be dipped into and out of, as the situation dictated?

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Christmas 1483 at the court of Richard III….

Christmas Richard

What was Christmas like for Richard III? I’m thinking particularly of 1483, his first as king. He still had both his wife and child, and the future must have looked set for a long and prosperous reign. He was only to have two Christmases as king, and by 1484 he and Anne had lost their only child, Edward, Prince of Wales. If he’d lived to Christmas 1485, he’d have lost Anne as well.

So 1483 was the happiest of his short reign. What did they do? What did they eat? What entertainments did they enjoy? How did they decorate everything? Here is an excellent Nerdalicious article that describes what might have gone on….

 

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Henry VII banned card-playing, except at Christmas….

According to Christmas: Its Origin and Associations by William Francis Dawson, playing cards was prohibited by a statue passed in the reign of Henry VII. The old kill-joy! Or maybe it was in defence of the royal purse, it being known that his queen, Elizabeth of York, was rather over-fond of gambling. Henry paid her debts, and his pips probably squeaked.Queen-of-HeartsIt is thought Elizabeth was the original ‘Queen of Hearts’ on playing cards, and that Henry had her commemorated in this way. Maybe he did. I don’t know. But see here for more of this theory.

However, much as I’d like to think that saving his spare cash was Henry’s real motive for banning cards, it seems he only forbade the lower ranks to play. Higher society could play as much as it liked! Whatever, cards were generally banned, except at Christmas, when the pastime was still allowed for one and all:-

“A Scotch [sic] writer1 referring to this prohibition, says: ‘A universal Christmas custom of the olden time was playing at cards; persons who never touched a card at any other season of the year felt bound to play a few games at Christmas. The practice had even the sanction of the law. A prohibitory statute of Henry VII.’s reign, forbade card-playing save during the Christmas holidays. Of course, this prohibition extended only to persons of humble rank; Henry’s daughter, the Princess Margaret, played cards with her suitor, James IV. Of Scotland; and James himself kept up the custom, receiving from his treasurer, at Melrose, on Christmas Night, 1496, thirty-five unicorns, eleven French crowns, a ducat, a ridare, and a leu, in all about equal to £42 of modern money, to use at the card-table.’”

King Henry VII - Pierre Marechal, Rouen, c.1567

Pierre Marechal, Rouen, c.1567

Now, as the Scottish king was not married to the English princess until 1503, it is quite clear that he had learned to play cards long before his courtship with Margaret; for in 1496, when he received so much card-money from his treasurer, the English princess was but seven years of age. James had evidently learned to play cards with the Scottish barons whop frequented his Father’s court, and whose lawlessness led to the revolt which ended in the defeat and melancholy fate of James III. (1488), and gave the succession to his son, James IV., at the early age of fifteen years.’ ”

1 Book of Days, Edinburgh.

 

 

 

I’ll Have What She’s Having: A Medieval Christmas Tasting Menu

beef

Spiced beef

“Let us consider some of our genuine English culinary assets.  Among the best of them are our cured and salted meats.  Hams, gammons, salt silversides…”

So begins one of Elizabeth David’s chapters in “Spices, Salts and Aromatics in The English Kitchen,” a charming book that takes us through centuries of English cookery with its yin and yang of salty and sweet, pungently bitter and honeyed agreeableness.  Her book is a lesson to those of us in the Americas and Europe who so disdain English food based on a bad meal in a chain restaurant or a hastily grabbed sandwich at Tesco Express.  David illuminates a vision of past glories and shows a way forward by trusting to an old cuisine based on freshness, seasonality and creativity.  With that in mind, here are some recipes that reach far back in time and yet are still appropriate on a modern table at the holidays:

Spiced Beef

While not quite medieval if The Forme of Cury (The Method of Cooking) is anything to go by, Spiced Beef has been a British and Irish Christmas season favorite since the Elizabethan era.  Given the luxurious amount of sweet and spicy elements that goes into the dish, and the availability of beef, it is hard to believe that it was completely unknown to someone of King Richard the III’s lifetime or status.  In any case, it is a delicious and interesting dish both for its unique flavor and unusual preserving technique that so intrigues the amateur chef:  the weighing down of a hunk of beef with a heavy plank and two large cans of refried beans.

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Sally responds to a pastrami sandwich at Katz’s Deli in NYC.

According to Elizabeth David, this dish is particularly popular in the counties of Yorkshire, Cumberland and Sussex.  “The Harrods Book of Traditional English Cookery” claims it as a specialty of Leicestershire and since a very popular version of it was (and may still be) sold in its grand food halls, who are we to argue?  In New York City, of course, it is known as pastrami and sold, hand cut and served on rye, at the popular Katz’s Deli on the Lower East Side.  The word “pastrami” comes from the Turkish word “bastirma” meaning “pressed meat.”  In Pakistan, it is known as “Hunter’s Beef” which returns us to the thought of when this dish popped up in the West.   Could it or its preserving technique been brought back from the Middle East by the Crusaders?  It is certainly hard to believe that the Tudors had anything to teach us that wasn’t first known to generations of the Byzantine wars.

Here’s how to do it:  purchase four to six lbs of Silverside or the American cut called Bottom Round.  (Brisket is often used but it is very expensive and once cooked tends to shred like disintegrating rope.)  Rub it all over with soft brown sugar and place it in sterilized Tupperware and store in the crisper section of the refrigerator.  Do the same thing the next day  – you will see that water is drawn from the beef but that is how it should be.  On the third day, rub the meat with a substantial mix of crushed kosher or sea salt, juniper berries, allspice berries, black peppercorns, a pinch of clove and half a teaspoon of Prague Powder.  (Prague Powder will preserve the pink color of the meat and is available on Amazon.  It is optional.)  Continue to rub and turn the meat for the next 8-10 days.  Always return to the crisper or coldest part of the fridge.  After a few days, you will notice a very inviting smell.

On Day 8-10, take the roast out of the fridge and wipe clean.  Place in a tight-fitting dutch oven and pour in a cup or two of water so that it comes up half way up the roast.  Set the oven temperature between 250-290F/143C.  The water must simmer, never boil.  Roast it between 3-5 hours or until it registers 165F/74C on a meat thermometer.  Once cooked, let it cool in the pot and then wrap it in wax paper or tin foil.  Weigh it down with a cutting board and two large cans and place it overnight at the back of the fridge.  When ready to eat, bring it to room temperature and slice very thin.  Serve it with brown or rye bread and strong mustard or horseradish and some pickled vegetables or cole slaw.  It would be perfect the day after Christmas served as part of a cold collation.   As the week goes by, it will only improve in flavor.  Elizabeth David notes, “the beef will carve thinly and evenly, and has a rich, mellow, spicy flavor which does seem to convey to us some sort of idea of the food eaten by our forebears.”

Salat. XX.III.XVI

Take persel, sawge, garlect, chibolles, oynouns, leek, borage, myntes, porrectes, fell and ton tressis, rew, rosemarye, purslarye, laue and waische hem clene, pike hem, pluk hem small with thine hand and mix hem well with rawe oile, lay on vynegur and salt, and serve it forth.

This is a recipe directly from Richard the Second’s cookbook, The Forme of Cury.  While I would never contradict Clarissa Dickson Wright who has said that medieval salads were generally a vegetable mix and not greens, this clearly has much more in common with modern salads than Miss Dickson Wright would have us believe.  To my mind, this salad is definitely overkill but then again King Richard II was a kind of overkill guy.

Elizabeth David, in her cranky book “Christmas,” suggests salad as an appetizer but in European fashion, might well be served after the main course along with some nice cheese.  In her book “Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book,” Mrs. Grigson has an interesting chicory salad that she serves at Christmas.   Served with apples in a mayonnaise dressing, it suspiciously reminds one of a 20th century invention, the Waldorf Salad.

Chicory is a bitter green with a complicated history.  Medieval monks in Europe grew it but probably only used the tender leaves and blue flowers of the plant.  The most common form of it today, also known as endive to both the Americans and the French, is the forced white or yellowish chicon (bud/root) cultivated by the Belgians in the 1840s.  To the Italians, dressed in its pretty, ruffled red clothes, chicory is known as radicchio or treviso and is ludicrously expensive.   Because of its bitterness, it has been used as a coffee substitute seemingly throughout the world during hard times.  New Orleanians have made the coffee/chicory combination a classic at Cafe Du Monde in the French Quarter along with the famed “beignets”. Medieval people would have simply strewn their “salats” with this precious herb.

chicory

Chicory

 

Mrs. Grigson’s Christmas Salad:

Mix equal quantities of diced cold poultry or game bird and diced, unpeeled eating apples and sliced chicory.  Dress with vinaigrette alone for guinea fowl or pheasant.  Mayonnaise can be added for light poultry, together with some cubed Gruyere cheese. An alternative dish using chicory is to cook it in cream and butter as the French do with the summer herb, savory.

My Simple but Delicious Salad Fit for a Medieval King:

Mix crisp lettuce along with baby spinach, arugula (rocket) or watercress or any herb on hand.  Make a dressing of 1/4 cup of virgin olive oil, a splash of good vinegar, a dash of Dijon mustard and salt and pepper.  Mix well and dress salad at the last possible moment before serving.  If you must, you may add some red onion or sweet pepper or herbed croutons.

alice

Alice B. Toklas at tea

Queen Elizabeth I Apples

I found this odd recipe while perusing Alice B. Toklas’s classic cookbook which is infamous for the recipe of hashish cakes she naively included in her chapter called “Recipes from Friends.”  The rock-ribbed Republican and Catholic convert was chagrined to find that she had been transformed into an early hippie (or belated beatnik) and drug eater.

This simple receipt, however, was submitted by the English painter and baronet, Sir Francis Rose, and suggests an early English pickling method.  Again, we see the Tudors being given credit for a dish that is not only easy to make but contains ingredients that were well known to medieval cooks years before Henry VIII was a gleam in his father’s eye.  It should be started several months before the holiday season when apples are just starting to ripen and fall from the trees:

“Cook in sugar water whole unpeeled very fine apples until transparent.  Then put the apples into jars filled with hot vinegar that has been boiled with honey, allspice and fresh rosemary.  Place into hermetically sealed jars (sterilized) and the apples not served for several months.”  This would make a very nice addition to a ham or pork dish served at Christmas as they do in the southern United States.

Mince Pye

This evergreen-favorite is also associated with the Elizabethans but came into its own with the Victorians.  I suspect mincemeat is much older than the Tudor era because so many medieval receipts  for pottage or “tartlettes” mix pork and mutton with honey, lemon and oranges, spices such as saffron and cinnamon, almonds and dried fruit.  Again, it demonstrates a sophisticated palate in its use of salty, sweet and acidic developed once the spice trade routes were established.  Elizabeth David traces both plum pudding and mincemeat to the Mediterranean.  As examples, she cites a fruity Greek pudding with the unappetizing name of “strepte”  and an ancient Breton dish called “le far” that resembles a plum and raisin-filled clafouti. Of course, as time passed, the meat disappeared from mince pie and became much more sweet and one-dimensional.

As an experiment, I made two batches of the pies – one using beef suet (from Atora) and one using the truly medieval ingredient of marzipan (marchpane).  I was reluctant to use the suet because my husband is still recovering from a beef suet Spotted Dick served at Rules in London.  It gave new meaning to the term “stick to the ribs.”   Still,  I was invested in my menu and could not be stopped.

Serve these mini-pies between Christmas Day and Twelfth Night to ensure good luck:

mince pies

Mincemeat:

Add a good handful each of currents, raisins, yellow raisins (sultanas), dried cranberries (optional), brown sugar, salt, apple cider vinegar, lemon/orange candied peel*, grated lemon zest and two grated apples to a saucepan.  Sprinkle two tablespoons of mixed spice (pumpkin pie spice) over it and stir.  Cover with cider or unsweetened apple juice and bring to a boil.  Lower heat, cover and cook it down until fruit is soft and sludgy. The salt and vinegar is unconventional but I prefer the chutney-like flavors which cut through all the sweetness.  Add a couple of tablespoons of brandy and spoon into sterilized jars.  Allow to cool.  These can now be stored in a dark, cool place until ready for use.

Pastry:

1 and 1/2 cups of flour, 1 stick/113 g diced cold unsalted butter, 1 t salt, 1/4 cup of cold water

In a food processor, pulse flour and salt.  Add butter and pulse until well-combined.  Add enough water until the dough comes together and tip out onto a well-chilled, floured board.  Bring it together until it forms a ball and refrigerate for at least one hour or overnight.  When ready to make the pies, roll it thin and cut circles that will fit small tart pans.  Place about a tablespoon of mincemeat, depending on the size of your tart pans, and the grated suet or marzipan and cover with a top crust.  Set the oven at 400F/200C  degrees and bake for approximately 20 minutes.

The freshness, bright flavor and lightness of these tarts bear no comparison to any store bought variety I have known.  The little pies using beef suet added a pleasing umami sensation – the “mouth feel” so prized by tv chefs and culinary instructors but can easily be omitted.  Just be sure not to use the nasty mixed peel that appears in supermarkets during the holiday season.  Amazon sells very good lemon and orange peel for minimum cost as well as crystallized ginger which would be a nice warm addition.

MEV-10200153 - © - Mary Evans Picture Li

No tasting menu for Christmas can exclude the ever-popular wassail and/or mulled wine that was once known as Lamb’s Wool when served during the harvest celebration of Lammas Day.  It is seemingly everywhere these days and even the tackiest grocery store or bodega knocks out a bag of tired spices for the holidays.  I picked up my assorted fresh spices at the gift shop at Valley Forge National Park in Pennsylvania and it certainly seems like something both the British and American armies would have enjoyed when heading into winter quarters.  Originally, mead was used in the preparation and then hard cider, generally using fermented apples or other fruits,  honey and spices such as ginger and cinnamon and whole cloves.   Now, more often than not, white or red wine is used.  I prepared it with a red wine “blend” following a easy recipe from the superb book “Fabulous Feasts Medieval Cookery and Ceremony” by Madeleine Pelner Cosman.  Interestingly, her menu offers mulled wine to be served directly after the starter which implies that it would work very well as an aperitif.

Simply pour the spices into a gallon of excellent wine or hard cider, add half a cup of sugar or honey, two quartered oranges and one lemon.  Bring it to a boil and then simmer for an hour or two.  Miss Cosman suggests a pinch of pepper or basil for a hit of sharpness.  Serve in mugs with a stick of cinnamon.  The result is a warming, spicy beverage perfect for a cold night before the wood fire.

You now have a starter, an entree, a side, a dessert and a beverage for your Christmas celebration.  Choosing to make one of them will bring you closer to understanding our medieval forefathers and their superb culture and enticing and exotic foods.  And God bless you and send you a happy New Year!

 

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Ancient Roman roads drove later development….

Roman road-building - WordPress

A friend in America sent me the following article, by Christopher Ingraham of the Washington Post. Having just been researching the ancient route from Paris to Lyon, as it was in the late 14th century, I found it very interesting to think that the routes and places chosen by the Romans all those centuries ago, are still ruling us today.

“Ancient Roman roads drove later development 

“Prosperity begets prosperity: On a global level, economists and historians have shown that places that prospered 100, 500, even 1,000 years ago tend to be more economically developed today.

“But how? We’re less clear on the exact channels by which economic activity sustains itself over the millennia. Could dynastic wealth play a role? How about the concentration and transmission of knowledge via institutions such as schools and libraries? How does military might factor in?

“Now, a team of Danish economists has put forth a forceful case for one largely overlooked driver of economic development in Europe: roadways built by the Roman empire nearly 2,000 years ago. They demonstrate that the density of ancient Roman roads at a given point in Europe strongly correlates with present-day prosperity, as measured by modern-day road density, population density and even satellite imagery of nighttime lighting.

“Their data show that infrastructure investments are — if you’ll pardon an unpardonable pun — a pathway to long-term prosperity.

“To arrive at this conclusion, Carl-Johan Dalgaard of the University of Copenhagen and his colleagues first obtained a geographic database of the major roads of the Roman era that had been compiled by Harvard University’s Digital Atlas of Roman and Medieval Civilizations.

“Roman roadways were massive infrastructure projects even by modern standards. They consisted of several base layers, including stone, gravel and sand, over which large stone slabs were laid. At the empire’s peak in 117 A.D., scholars estimate, the Romans had built nearly 50,000 miles of roadway across Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. Many of them have lasted well into the present day.

“Dalgaard and his colleagues took a map of the major ancient Roman roads and superimposed it over satellite imagery showing the level of nighttime illumination in 2010. Economists often use nighttime lighting as a proxy for economic activity: more lights, more development.

“The visual relationship is particularly striking in France. There, you can clearly see the paths of ancient roadways connecting not just major modern cities, like Paris and Lyon, but also many minor ones, too. Across inland France, nearly every junction of ancient roads is marked by a splash of light in the modern era.

“While just eyeballing it like this is certainly suggestive, it’s not good enough for social science research. So Dalgaard and his colleagues took it several steps further: They divided the entire ancient Roman empire into a grid of 1 degree latitude by 1 degree longitude squares and measured the density of Roman roads within each. For each square, they also measured modern-day population, the density of current roadways and economic activity as indicated by the satellite imagery.

“They then ran a battery of statistical tests to determine how the presence of ancient roadways was related to the modern-day variables they measured. The answer: quite a bit. Places with more Roman roads in antiquity tended to have more roads today, as well as more people and greater levels of economic development.

“Now, there’s a big question of causality looming over all this: Can we really say that ancient roads caused greater economic development down the line? Or is it more accurate to say that more prosperous areas in the ancient world simply had more of a tendency to build roads to other places as a natural result of their prosperity?

“Dalgaard and his colleagues marshal convincing pieces of evidence to argue in favor of a causal link that runs from ancient roadbuilding to modern-day prosperity. For starters, Roman roads weren’t typically built with trade in mind: Their primary purpose was to move troops and supplies to locations of military interest. Trade was an afterthought.

”Roman roads were often constructed in newly conquered areas without any extensive, or at least not comparable,existing network of cities and infrastructure,” Dalgaard and his colleagues write. In many instances, the roads came first. Settlements and cities came later.

“Then there’s the fascinating question of what happened to Roman roads built in North Africa. At some point between 500 and 1,000 A.D., wheeled transport was essentially abandoned in the region. Goods were ferried around on the backs of camels, rather than in carts pulled by oxen. The exact reasons for this are up for debate and probably involved costs, advances in saddle technology and the increasing military and political might of groups that had traditionally relied on camels for transport, Dalgaard and his colleagues explain.

“If you’re not pulling carts around, you have less of a need for paved roadways. As a result, the Roman roads in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) weren’t maintained the same way they were in Europe, where cart-based transit remained dominant. ”The implication of these developments is that since ancient roads fall into disrepair in the MENA region, to a much greater extent than in Europe, one should expect to see much less persistence in infrastructure density.”

“Indeed, that’s exactly what Dalgaard and his colleagues found. The correlation between ancient roadways and modern-day development so prevalent in Europe is much smaller and less significant for the Middle East and North Africa. ”As ancient roads are left to decay they ultimately become a less reliable predictor of modern road location in the MENA,” they found. ”Roman road density does not predict current day economic activity within the MENA region.”

“In sum, Dalgaard’s research adds historical heft to the idea that infrastructure investments can be a driver of economic growth. While most research into that question has focused on short-term results, Dalgaard’s paper suggests that infrastructure investments today could continue to bear fruit for thousands of years to come.

Across Inland France - WordPress

Across inland France, nearly every junction of ancient roads is marked by a splash of light in the modern era. WASHINGTON POST ILLUSTRATION | DATA FROM NOAA EARTH OBSERVATORY, NATURAL EARTH AND DIGITAL ATLAS OF ROMAN AND MEDIEVAL CIVILIZATION

Ancient roads - WordPress

Ancient Roman roads superimposed on 2010 satellite imagery of nighttime lighting in Europe. WASHINGTON POST ILLUSTRATION | DATA FROM NOAA EARTH OBSERVATORY, NATURAL EARTH AND DIGITAL ATLAS OF ROMAN AND MEDIEVAL CIVILIZATION

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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