murreyandblue

A great WordPress.com site

Archive for the tag “mediaeval food”

Medieval food that looks awful but apparently tastes divine…!

 

Well, we know that the people of the medieval period loved their colours. The brighter the better, it seems. But, it also seems that this liking didn’t extend to their food. I found this wonderful article on the British Medieval History Facebook group, and just had to share it here.

However, it has to be said that the dishes mentioned (and illustrated, see above and below) were rather…ugh! when actually on the plate. Not the fault of the cook. Oh, no. It was just impossible to make these things look even vaguely appetising. Not even for a monarch as picky as King Richard II, from whose book of recipes—Forme of Cury—they have been taken. I mean, the gruel in the illustration looks like, well, a pile of sick. The mounchelet below looks even worse. All both lack are the proverbial bits of carrot, which we always seem to find in such deposits.

But, in this instance appearances are very deceptive, and the dish itself is apparently delicious. Hard to imagine when the article also contains a comment that some things are probably better eaten by candlelight! Looking at it, I have to agree, but reading the recipe and so on, I’m more than prepared to believe it tasted delicious. Mind you, vegetarians and vegans won’t agree!

Anyway, do read the article, and if you attempt to produce the same dishes…bon appetit!

Mounchelet, served with, bottom right, ultra-colourful carrot purée. The creamy mash is hidden, but was delicious, too. Picture by Christopher Monk © 2020.

 

 

A French Medieval Lenten Repast

the good man of ParisGood Friday falls today and in commemoration of the crucifixion of Christ we offer several meat free loosely-based receipts from the medieval manuscript Le Menagier de Paris or The Goodman of Paris.  First published anonymously in 1391, it is amusingly similar to Mrs. Beeton’s famous 19th century book of household tips covering diverse subjects such as food, medicine, herbs, gardening, marital accord and its corollary of good wifely behavior.

For those who follow food trends across the globe, it is always amazing and perhaps comforting to find that the French, whether living in medieval times or soaking up rays in Southern California, tend to stick to the tried and true products and gustatory formulas of their beloved patrie.  Looking through Raymond Oliver’s excellent history “The Gastronomy of France” one realizes that most medieval recipes can still be found in Jacques Pepin’s newest cookbook or on a menu at Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons in Oxfordshire.

The following receipts are adapted from a menu in the 1540 Le Menagier de Paris:

First Dish and Plate

sorrel

Sorrel is an easily grown herb.  Its name simply means “sour” and it is often used in a cream-based soup.

 

Cress and Sorrel with Vinegar

1 bunch of Watercress, 1 bunch of Sorrel, several handfuls of peas and Arugula (Rocket).  Layer the ingredients on a large white plate or bowl.  Dress with:  Olive oil, Red Wine Vinegar, Dijon Mustard, Salt & Pepper.  If dressing is too bitter, a hint of sugar is appropriate.

***

The French consider figs and bay leaves a match made in heaven in much the way we might pair chicken with tarragon, fish with fennel and seafood with bacon or ham.

 

bay

Fig Crostata with Bay

1 1/2 cups of flour (approx. 200 grams), 1 teaspoon of salt, 1 stick of cold butter (110 grams), ice cold water.   Dice cold butter.  In a food processor, pulse flour and salt.  Add the diced butter and mix until it has a mealy appearance.  Add small amounts of water until it binds.  Place dough on a cold surface and knead with a bit of flour until it forms a ball  – don’t over knead!  Place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or overnight.  When ready to use, roll out to a nine inch circle.  Add:

Figs cut into quarters, several teaspoons of honey, lemon juice and a pinch of salt.  Mix and add to the crostata.  Place two bay leaves on top.  Fold over the edges of the crostata so that the pie mixture won’t spill out while baking.  Use an egg wash if you wish to have an attractive appearance.  Place in an oven heated to 375F (approx. 190 Celsius).  Bake for approximately 35 minutes.  While the bay leaves will perfume the crostata, they should be not be eaten.

Second Dish

Most of the French Lenten dishes that are included in medieval texts appear to be freshwater fish:  Trout, Eel, Perch, Pike, Carp with the occasional Cod, Sole or crustacean thrown in for variety sake.  But in looking for a dish that would satisfy a hungry penitent but not overtax one’s culinary ability, let’s turn to the New World for a receipt.   The classic “Charleston Receipts,” first published in 1950 by the Junior League, showcases the overlapping ethnic influences of anyone who ever passed through this romantic coastal city.  That would include the Creeks to the Spanish, French, British and Africans.  This receipt comes straight from Paris:

Fillet of Sole Marguery as submitted by Mrs. Robert Small

1 large sole or flounder, 2/3 cups of white wine, 1 tablespoon of flour, 2 cups of heavy cream, cooked shrimp, fresh sliced mushrooms, butter and salt.  Place filleted sole or flounder in a buttered pan and sprinkle with salt.  Pour a portion of white over the fish.  Bake twenty minutes, basting often.  Remove fillets to platter.  Thicken stock in which the fish has been baking with flour.  When well blended, add cream, shrimp, mushrooms (that have been sautéed in butter).  Now add remaining wine.  Pour this over fillets; garnish with parsley and serve piping hot.

fish

It would seem sinful to offer a dessert on Good Friday given that the recipes above feature wine, butter, heavy cream, honey and sugar.  So let’s wait until Sunday when the Easter Bunny will deliver his chocolate eggs and candy-laden baskets.

Notes:

Watercress, pea, sorrel salad by Darren Robertson and Mark Labrooy

Fig Crostata, Melissa Rubel Jacobson, Food and Wine Magazine

Sole Marguerey, Charleston Receipts

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The importance of fish in the medieval diet….

There is no disputing that fish was very important to the medieval diet. The Church ruled that not only was it required food on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, but also for Advent and the forty days of Lent. And I’m sure there were other days when it was mandatory too, but the previous sentence covers the main diet.

If you go to this article you’ll find the story of how fish became part of the religious year. You’ll also find that “….after Henry [VIII] became smitten with Anne Boleyn, English fish-eating took a nosedive….” Henry’s son, Edward VI, took steps to rectify this awful situation!

The thought of fish for forty days is a little daunting, I have to say, but it’s what our medieval forebears observed seriously. And I’m sure may still observe this now. But today, of course, we have refrigerators and freezers to be sure of always having our fish fresh. But what about back then? In the middle of summer, many miles from the sea, how could they ensure their fish stayed edible? Well, they had it all worked out, I can assure you.

Fishmongers, from 15th century Chronicle of Ulrico de Richental

What follows now is mainly about knightly households and higher, because that is what I have been researching for my present novel. My source is The Great Household in Late Medieval Period by C.M. Woolgar, and I have by no means covered all the detail continued in this very informative book, which I thoroughly recommend.

Let’s start with sea fish. There wasn’t anywhere in England that was too far from the sea for people to have fresh sea fish, but such fish were also widely preserved—pickled in brine, smoked and dried (often accompanied by salting). This kept fish like herring, cod and other white-fleshed fish in good order for months, and was vital over the winter period.

Cod that was salted and pickled in brine was known as saltfish. If the cod was dried in the open air, it was known as stockfish. If certain fish were to be kept for a shorter period, but still longer than if they were fresh, they were “powdered” (lightly salted). But eels and oysters were kept in barrels, the salt water being regularly changed to keep it clear.

Both stockfish and saltfish were often imported from Scandinavia and the northern coast of Germany, but there was a large contribution from English waters as well. There is evidence in the Severn estuary of late-medieval fishtraps that would have caught sea-bream, salmon, mullet, plaice and so on.

from https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1020017

Herring was a vital fish for the nation’s diet, and around it grew a considerable industry in the North Sea ports. It was seasonal, of course, being readily available in mid to late summer. White herring (salted and pickled) became available toward the end of the fresh-herring season, and red herring (smoked) were to be had later on. Joan de Valence, when at Goodrich, was supplied with preserved herring from Southampton, and she had dried, salted cod brought by sea from her Pembroke estates to Bristol, shipped across the Severn to Chepstow, and thence by conveyed by packhorse to Goodrich. A lengthy business, but no doubt the cod was thoroughly enjoyed.

Oysters were much consumed at Lent, either fresh in shell, or pickled, without shells, in barrels. Mussels and whelks were sometimes confined to Lent. Shellfish were gathered along the shore by women. Joan de Valence’s cook, Master Roger, was sent weekly from her residence at Hertingfordbury to purchase fish in London.

Fresh sea fish were usually carried by packhorses, and like stockfish and saltfish were put in baskets or wickerwork panniers. Fish pickled in brine were transported and stored in barrels. Sometimes they were stored in straw.

Now let me move to freshwater fish, which could be very expensive and were generally confined to consumption by the upper class and monasteries. There was some fishing in rivers, but the great majority of such fish were kept in ponds. Not natural ponds, but those that were specially constructed around castles, great manor houses and religious houses. The more modest of these ponds were small and rectangular; others were like lakes.

Remains of fishpond alongside River Lodden in Old Basing, Hampshire

Households employed skilled fishermen to select and catch the denizens of these ponds. They went out in boats on the large pools, but the small ones required fishing from the banks.

From The Treatyse with an Angle
Men netting fish in a pond, 14th century

John Howard, Duke of Norfolk, kept a record (partly in his own hand) of the stock in his ponds. This included carp, which were not widely recorded in England before the 1700s. Clearly he deemed them worthy of his own personal attention.

The fish in these ponds included pike, eels, lamperns, lamprey, bream, roach, chub and tench. Trout were fished from freshwater streams, and I have not found them mentioned as being kept in ponds.

Freshwater fish were usually eaten within hours of being caught, and thus ponds were sited close to residence. There fish were sometimes moved wrapped in wet straw or grass, or in barrels that were lined with canvas and filled with water. Storing live fish in water is something still done by many fishmongers, and I well remember back in 1962 selecting trout from a tank outside a hotel in Grundhof, near Echternach, Luxembourg. The trout came from the nearby River Sûre. I’d never seen such tanks in England, so it came as a great surprise. And that particular tank is still there!

So, thanks to C.M. Woolgar, I am now more knowledgeable about medieval man and his relationship with fish, but one thing does puzzle me. The small matter of pike. In a pond. With other fish.

Now, the pike is a predatory cannibal, and I can’t imagine it will sit on its fins and whistle a happy tune. No, it will be hellbent on consuming anything that moves in its vicinity. So, what did medieval man do to preserve all his freshwater fish? Building a separate pond for the pike would be very expensive indeed, and unlikely. So…what happened? How did they cope with a rapacious pike?

I can only hope Master Pike didn’t grow to the proportions of Jonah’s whale!

Here is another article on the subject, another, another , another and another.
 
 
 

 

Christmas under Henry VII, complete with “foot sheets”. . .!

christmas-clipart-transparent-png-2

Henry VII in royal robes

 I was browsing, and came upon the following interesting details about how Henry VII celebrated Christmas and Twelfth Night. It is from Christmas: Its Origin and Associations by William Francis Dawson, which I found in Google Books.

The following extract has been tweaked a little by me, to create more paragraphs and thus make it more legible. Huge paragraphs can become a strain to follow. In my opinion, anyway. The illustrations are my additions. Here goes. . .with my comments at the end:-

. . . Christmases . . . “were kept by Henry VII. at Westminster Hall with great hospitality, the King wearing his crown, and feasting numerous guests, loading the banquet-table with peacocks, swans, herons, conger, sturgeon, brawn, and all the delicacies of the period.

medieval-recipes-ancient-recipes

At his ninth Christmas festival the Mayor and Aldermen of London were feasted with great splendour in the great hall, the King showing them various sports on the night following in the great hall, which was richly hung with tapestry: ‘which sports being ended in the morning, the king, queen, and court sat down at a table of stone, to 120 dishes, placed by as many knights and esquires, while the Mayor was served with twenty-four dishes and abundance of wine.

medieval feast

And finally the King and Queen being conveyed with great lights into the palace, the Mayor, with his company in barges, returned to London by break of the next day.

mayor's barge leaving Whitehall

“From the ancient records of the Royal Household it appears that on the morning of New Year’s Day, the King ‘sitting in his foot-sheet’, received according to prescribed ceremony a new year’s gift from the queen, duly rewarding the various officers and messengers, according to their rank. The Queen also ‘sat in her foot-sheet’, and received gifts in the same manner, paying a less reward.

King Henry VII Christmas feast

Were Henry and Elizabeth employing their “foot sheets”…?

“And on this day, as well as on Christmas Day, the King wore his kirtle, his surcoat and his pane of arms; and he walked, having his hat of estate on his head, his sword borne before him, with the chamberlain, steward, treasurer, comptroller, preceding the sword and the ushers; before whom must walk all the other lords except those who wore robes, who must follow the king. The highest nobleman in rank, or the King’s brother, if present, to lead the Queen; another of the King’s brothers, or else the Prince, to walk with the King’s train-bearer.

Henry VII at coronation

The coronation, yes, but it’s an illustration of Henry VII in procession in his royal robes.

“On Twelfth Day the King was to go ‘crowned, in his royal robes, kirtle, and surcoat, his furred hood about his neck, and his ermines upon his arms, of gold set full of rich stones with balasses, sapphires, rubies, emeralds, and pearls’. This ornament was considered so sacred , that ‘no temporal man’ (none of the laity) but the King was to presume to touch it; an esquire of the body was to bring it in a fair handkerchief, and the King was to put it on with his own hands; he must also have his sceptre in his right hand, the ball with cross in his left hand, and must offer at the altar gold, silver, and incense, which offering the Dean of the Chapel was to send to the Archbishop of Canterbury, and this was to entitle the Dean to the next vacant benefice. The King was to change his mantle when going to mean, ansd to take off his hood and lay it about his neck, ‘clasping it before with a rich owche [brooch].’

Henry VII with sceptre

“The King and queen on Twelfth Night were to take the void (evening repast) in the hall; as for the wassail, the steward and treasurer were to go for it, bearing their staves; the chapel choir to stand on the side of the hall, and when the steward entered at the hall door, he was to cry three times, ‘Wassail! Wassail! Wassail!’ and the chapel to answer with a good song; and when all was done the King and queen retired to their chamber.

Wassail

Wassail!

“Among the special features of the banquets of this period with the devices for the table called subtleties, made of paste, jelly or blanc-mange, placed in the middle of the board, with labels describing them; various shapes of animals were frequent; and on a saint’s day, angels, prophets, and patriarchs were set upon the table in plenty.

“Certain dishes were also directed as proper for different degrees of persons; as ‘conies parboiled, or else rabbits, for they are better for a lord’; and ‘for a great lord take squirrels, for they are better than conies’; a whole chicken for a lord; and ‘seven mackerel in a dish, with a dragge of fine sugar’, was also a dish for a lord.

“But the most famous dish was ‘the peacock enkakyll, which is foremost in the procession to the king’s table’. Here is the recipe for this royal dish: Take and flay off the skin with the feathers, tail, and the neck and head thereon; then take the skin, and all the feathers, and lay it on the table abroad, and strew thereon ground cinnamon; then take the peacock and roast him, and baste him with raw yolks of eggs; and when he is roasted, take him off, and let him cool awhile, and take him and sew him in his skin, and gild his comb, and so serve him with the last course.”

roast peacock for medieval banquet

Me: It all sounds very grand. . .and incredibly stilted. Can they really have enjoyed the occasion? All those rules of precedence, etc. I can only suppose that Richard III must have endured the same?

And speaking of Richard, what, exactly, were the ermines that adorned Henry’s arms? They had to be basically fur, I suppose, and laden with so many jewels they must have felt heavy. Were they made especially for Henry? Or were they among the “crown jewels”, and therefore had been worn by Richard before him, and Edward IV, etc. I have never heard of ermine being donned separately on the arm. Maybe it was a Tudor innovation, to emphasise Henry’s right to the throne. Well, the right he usurped. My lack of knowledge does not mean much, for I am constantly faced with new things of which I have never heard before.

The same applies to “foot sheets”. What were they? In modern parlance they appear to be akin to plasters that are applied to the bottom of the feet. Hmm. I cannot imagine that if Henry and Elizabeth wore such items, it would warrant such particular mention. So, what were foot sheets? It was winter, so were they something to ensure the royal feet did not get too cold?

Prince-Philip-snuggled-under-blanket-Queen-Elizabeth-II

Were foot sheets something like this?

If anyone knows more, pray enlighten me! To learn a little more about medieval Christmases, go to:- https://www.historyextra.com/period/medieval/medieval-christmas-how-was-it-celebrated/

And finally, I wish you all the compliments of the season!

christmas-clipart-transparent-png-2

 

Gourmet Magazine Does a Christmas Medieval Feast

gourmetLong before Gourmet Magazine went out of business in 2009, collapsed under too many overwrought articles on bovine emissions, it had been an intellectual colossus in the culinary world.  From the 1940s through the ’60s, it featured lush travel articles on world cuisine venturing into far-flung places such as Persia, Bhutan (“a taste of Shangri-La!”) and the Texas prairie.  Only Gourmet Magazine could print recipes from ordinary folks in the Midwest (“Nicoise Salad Abramowitz”) to the finger food of the Whirling Dervishes.  Its writing staff featured charmingly rococo names like Malabar Hornblower, Waverly Root, Doone Beal and Irene Corbally Kuhn all of whom had long literary and culinary careers.  Waverly Root wrote the classic Food of Italy and Hornblower did major historical work digging into the eating habits of the Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts.  Gourmet took food and travel so seriously that articles were often published in two or three chapters over the course of several months no doubt incurring skyrocketing expenses that only post-war prosperity could support.  In its last years, it played more to the penurious and attention-deficit youth market:  store bought pizza dough recipes and textless photographs of Brooklyn mixologists.  Where oh where had the monthly columns “Specialites de la Maison New York” and “Paris Journal” – undoubtedly written by tubby gourmands with napkins askew – gone?

mario micossi

Mario Micossi’s etching for “A Medieval Feast”

Luckily, that’s where Ebay comes in.  For a pittance, one can buy ten old Gourmets and wile away a nostalgic hour or two remembering New York City or London restaurants one dined at in 1979.  Still, I was surprised to see Gourmet time travel.  While flipping through a 1976 edition, I came across an article called “A Medieval Feast” by the self-styled Pressure Cooker Queen Lorna J. Sass.  Written in the present tense, it captures something of the heated expectations of the barons seated in King Richard II’s Great Hall and the hysterical mood of the chief steward, pantler and butler.  Imagine two hundred cooks in the kitchen with slaughtered animals piled to the roof!  Here is a list of some of provisions she cites:

“14 oxen lying in salt, 2 freshly killed oxen, 120 sheepheads, 12 boars, 13 calves, 100 marrowbones, 50 swans, 210 geese, 200 rabbits, 1,200 pigeons, 144 partridges, 720 hens and 11,000 eggs”

While the kitchen is in tumult, minstrels play and jugglers and acrobats wander among the noble and refined diners.  “Like the Prioress in the Canterbury Tales, they are careful to leave no traces of grease on either their lips or their mazers (drinking bowls).”  How those merry Yorkists could rock it!

Here are two slightly adapted recipes from “A Medieval Feast” that reinforces how our western ancestors applied the modern notion that savory and sweet can be combined in a delicious and sophisticated manner.  Everything old is new again.

Try these during the Christmas season:

medieval-pie

Pork Pie with Herbs and Spices

Make two pie dough crusts and drape one round over the rolling pin and fit it into a pie pan.  Prick it with a fork and chill for 30 minutes.  Do a blind bake at 400 degrees F (200 C) for 10 minutes.

In a bowl combine 1 beaten egg, 1/4 cup each of minced pitted dates and raisins, 2 tablespoons of chicken broth, minced parsley and 2 tablespoons of brown sugar, salt, sage, 1/2 teasoon of ground ginger and crushed saffron threads.  Add 3/4 pound of boneless pork loin cut into cubes and combined well.  Transfer to pie shell.

Place the second pie round over the rolling pin and unroll over the pie.  Trim and crimp and paint with either milk or beaten egg.  Prick the crust to allow steam to escape.  Bake the pie at 350 F (175C) in the lower third of the preheated oven for approximately 1 hour and 10 minutes or until crust is golden.

Spiced Pear Puree

In a heavy saucepan combine 6 ripe but firm pears, peeled, cored and diced along with a cup of sherry.  Add several cinnamon sticks (to taste), 3 tablespoons of brown sugar and 1/8 teaspoon of allspice, mace and pepper.  Bring to a boil and reduce until pears are soft.  Discard cinnamon sticks and puree the pears.  Return to fire and cook until slightly thickened.  Stir in homemade breadcrumbs or graham cracker/digestive biscuits crumbs and serve with sweetened whipped cream with a little nutmeg grated on top.

pears

And while you enjoy these dishes, give a nod to the Plantagenets and their Yorkist cohorts who brought such joy and abundance to the Christmas season and a doleful sigh to the Tudors who brought them low.

gourmet

 

father christmas

 

 

 

 

 

Some dilgirunt for His Majesty, if you please….!

Medieval dishes

Don’t you just love it when glossaries cross-reference you from the word you seek, to another word, which then refers you back to the first word – with no definition or explanation whatsoever?

I have just been looking at this culinary glossary, seeking more information about an intriguing medieval dish known as ‘dilgirunt’. Intriguing because of its unusual history. But, when looking up dilgirunt, I am referred to ‘malpigeryum’. Just that dilgirunt = malpigeryum = dilgirunt. Not a word about what these words actually mean. But from other sources, I know that dilgirunt is a sort of spiced chicken pottage/porridge/gruel, and that if lard/suet is added to it during cooking, it becomes malpigeryum. But in spite of my quibble about the above glossary, the site is nevertheless good for reference.

So that we know what we’re talking about with dilgirunt, here is an old recipe:-

‘Take almonde mylk, and draw hit up thik with vernage, and let hit boyle, and braune of capons braied and put therto; and cast therto sugre, claves (cloves), maces, pynes, and ginger mynced; and take chekyns parboyled and chopped, and pul of the skin, and boyle al ensemble, and, in the settynge doune of the fire, put therto a lytel vynegur alaied with pouder of ginger, and a lytel water of everose, and make the potage hanginge, and serve hit forth.’ — Household Ordinances (Society of Antiquaries), page 466.

Well, I hope you can follow the above, because although I did find a modern English version, I failed to make a note of where, and now cannot find it anywhere. Sorry about that.

The yellow-highlighted entry in the illustration below is a lengthy explanation of Dilgirunt. It is from Munimenta Gildhallae Londoniensis – Liber Albus, Liber Custumarum et Liber Horn, in Archivis Gildhallae Asservati – Volume 2. Liber Custumarum, with Extracts from the Cottonian MS. Claudius, D.II.

From as early as Edward I, and at least until George IV, diligrunt was traditionally served at coronations. Providing it was the jealously guarded right of the Barons Bardolf, Lords of the Manor of Addington, near present day Croydon. I’m not sure how the tradition first arose, but the barons were proud of their right. And when the Leigh family became Lords of Addington, they inherited the right to provide dilgirunt at the monarch’s coronation. Finally the right passed to the Archbishops of Canterbury, when they became lords of the village. I do not know if it was served at the coronation of our present queen. It would be interesting to know.

Coronation of George IV, 1821

This extract from the National Archives provides a description of the 1377 coronation ceremony of Richard II. It demonstrates how influential individuals and power groups wanted to secure their right to be involved in a medieval coronation ceremony. Interesting reading, and sometimes quite curious and quaint. For instance, if you go down the list to Number 15, you find:

“. . .William de Bardolf tenant of certain lands in Adynton. Petition to find a man in the king’s kitchen to make a mess called ‘dilgirunt’, and if lard be added it is called ‘malpigeryuin’. Claim admitted, and service performed. . .”

Three separate dishes of dilgirunt were then provided. One for the monarch, one for the Archbishop of Canterbury, and one for an individual the monarch chose to nominate.

It is interesting to think that if the dish was ceremonially served at all coronations from Edward I to George IV, then it must have featured when Richard III was crowned. A little research soon revealed that it was. At least, I think  that’s what I understand from a “dilgirunt” reference to The Coronation of Richard III : the Extant Documents, edited by Sutton and Hammond. (Gloucester: Alan Sutton; New York: St Martin’s, 1983) I wonder if Richard liked the dainty dish that was set before him? You can read a lot more about his coronation here.

If dilgirunt was offered to Henry VII, I can only hope a stray chicken bone stuck in his throat!

Henry VII by Luke Harookhi

 

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

2018-12-31 19.50.11

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

 

Clarissa Dickson Wright and the Art of Medieval Food

 

clarissa 3

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.

clarissa 4

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.

clarissa 5

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.

richard 11

“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.

 

 

 

More About Lamprey

I wrote a blog post a good while ago about the love of lamprey in mediaeval times and ever since then I have wanted to try it. Well, in the summer of 2017, I finally got the chance.

We were visiting Bordeaux and had taken a river boat cruise on the Garonne river – the guide happened to mention that one of the fish caught in the river was lamprey and that it was a local delicacy so, after the boat docked, I asked her if she could tell me where I could get some. She said there was a restaurant called La Brasserie Bordelaise which served it, so we looked it up on the internet and checked the menu – it was quite an upmarket, expensive restaurant but, as it was our wedding anniversary, we decided to treat ourselves and booked a table.

The food generally was lovely and fully lived up to the rather expensive prices. The lamprey, cooked à la Bordelaise, was 32 euros! (If you don’t believe me, click here and scroll down – look for ‘Lamproie à la Bordelaise’ under the heading ‘Les Plats’). And when we looked at the wine booklet (I can’t really call it a wine list, it was that long!) we found a bottle of Château Petrus for a mere 2,500 euros! Needless to say, we decided not to buy that!

So, what did I get for my euros? Here are some pictures.

Photo of lamprey cooked Bordeaux style

 

Photo of Lamprey cooked Bordeaux style

So, what did it taste like, you may ask? Well, to be honest, I can’t say I really know what lamprey taste like because all I could taste was the sauce it was cooked in, which was some kind of beef stock, onions and red wine. The nearest thing in taste I could compare it to is tinned oxtail soup! Yes, I paid 32 euros for something that tasted like a tin of soup! Anyway, at least I can say I’ve eaten it! And then I had this for dessert (yum!):

Photo of Tarte Tatin with double cream!

1066: A Year to Conquer the Cauliflower….

According to Mark Twain, “A cauliflower is nothing but a cabbage with a college education.” And maybe he’s right, but the BBC documentary series “1066: A Year to Conquer England”, starts off with cauliflowers that must have had a Tesco education.

There they sit, large, super-white, plump, and nestling in beautifully tender, pale green supermarket-trimmed leaves, atop posts that have vaguely human-shaped figures fixed to them. The vegetables are the figures’ heads. Along on horseback, in the middle of winter, at full pelt, come young William of Normandy plus friend, with razor-sharp swords. Double whoosh! The poor cauliflowers are in smithereens.

Now, I wouldn’t mind so much if they hadn’t used what are clearly cauliflowers grown under glass, or something similar. No cauliflowers grown outside in the middle of an 11th-century Norman winter would have such delicate pale leaves. Or such beyond-flawless white heads.

A much more awkward point, however, is that according to http://www.cell.com/current-biology/fulltext/S0960-9822(95)00072-8 (which in turn quotes from Cabbages, kales etc. Brassica oleracea (Cruciferae), by Thompson, KF, 49-52) “…Cauliflowers were domesticated relatively recently. They were unknown in the early Middle Ages, and were apparently introduced into Europe from the Levant or Cyprus at around the end of the fifteenth century…” Oops. So how could they be in Normandy in William’s time?

If the Beeb had only used a common old cabbage, they’d have been OK, but I suppose bits of greenery flying in all directions would have quite the same impact as huge white cauliflowers being obliterated with such Norman gusto.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: