Myth & Magic
This pottage was originally made with small wild song birds such as blackbirds. Birds would have been added on flesh-days, the rest of the year it would have been a vegetarian dish. Today we can substitute chicken instead of song-birds but equally it can be made without any meat at all.
- 1 teaspoon of saffron
- 4 to six leeks finely sliced
- 3 onions – chopped
- 1 pint chicken or vegetable stock
- Teaspoon honey
- Pinch each of saffron, pepper, cinnamon and cloves
- Pinch of ground ginger or few slices of fresh ginger
- Left over cooked chicken (optional)
Soak saffron in a little boiling water until water is yellow. Add all of the ingredients to the chicken or vegetable stock. Simmer gently in a large pan for 6 – 8 minutes. To serve as a side dish or main dish, drain off most of the stock; otherwise double the stock and serve as a pottage or soup.
A long stick was threaded with a mixture of dried fruits such as apricots, apples and plums. The fruit was coated in batter and spit-roasted over an open fire. More batter was spooned over the fruits as they cooked until they were covered in a thick layer. Once cooked, the bough cake was rolled in honey and spices before being served.
Easter Eggs Medieval Style
Birds’ eggs have been eaten at Easter ever since Anglo-Saxon times when according to the Venerable Bede, the festival was know as Eostre after the Anglo-Saxon goddess of Spring.
But if you want to try poached eggs medieval style for breakfast, this is the way the wealthy ate their poached eggs in the Middle Ages –
- Break eggs into boiling water and ‘seethe’ them.
- Take them out whole and lay them in a dish.
- Then take flour, mix it with milk, honey, a little powdered ginger.
- Stir over a low flame until you have a thick sauce.
- Colour the sauce with strands of saffron.
- Then pour the sauce over the eggs and serve the dish sprinkled with ‘blanche powder’ (a mixture of ground ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg).
In the Middle Ages people who could afford it often drank caudle for breakfast or at night. A caudle was thickened with eggs, which you are not supposed to eat during Lent or on Fridays. So a version was invented in which ground almonds were used to thickened the mixture instead – it makes a soothing winter warmer.
- 275 ml of water
- 850 ml of white wine
- 2.5 grams of ground almonds
- 1tsp of honey
- ½ tsp of ground ginger or 1 tsp of chopped fresh ginger
- Pinch of salt
- Few strands of saffron
Heat the water and wine until just coming to the boil, add almonds, honey, ginger. Stir in the saffron and take the mixture off the heat and leave for around 20 minutes, then return to the boil and serve hot in bowls.
Lange wortys de chare
A form of pottage, a thick porridge-like stew. It was the main meal eaten in the Middle Ages by wealthy and poor alike. There were lots of variations depending on whether it was a flesh (meat-day) or Lenten and fish day.
- 1lb shin beef
- 2 leeks
- 2 onions
- 2 stick celery
- Quarter of firm cabbage
- Salt & pepper
- Beef or vegetable stock
- 4 oz stale white breadcrumbs
- Few strands of saffron
Cut meat into small pieces. Add the meat to 2 pints of stock, bring to the boil, cover and stew until tender. Meanwhile chop vegetables into large pieces and boil in separate pan for ten minutes. When beef is ready add the vegetables together with a little of the water they were cooked in. Continue simmer until vegetables are soft. Add breadcrumbs, saffron and seasonings, bring back to the boil and cook for 2 – 3 minutes before serving.
The sweet which came to be called marchpane and then marzipan in England. Although some cities in Europe claim to have invented it when there was a drought and almonds were the only crop to survive, most researchers believe it was actually invented in the Middle East around the Eighth Century and was brought to Venice by returning crusaders. Since sugar was a key ingredient it was expensive. It only became widely used in England in the 15th Century.
Mince Pies, sometimes known as minch pies
These meat pies were not at first associated with Christmas, until the returning Crusaders brought with them exotic and costly spices such as cinnamon, cloves, ginger and nutmeg to add to the basic meat filling. Then these pies became a special treat for the Christmas festivities.
These spices were mixed with minced meat, seasoned with salt, pepper and vinegar and baked in an oblong pastry case to represent the manager with a baby Jesus on top. The figure of Jesus was not eaten. It was considered lucky to consume twelve pies over the twelve days of Christmas, each baked by a different cook. If any pie was missed out or refused, the corresponding month of the following year would be a bad one, which is a good excuse, if you need one, for never refusing a mince pie!
Pike in Galentyne
Pike and lampreys were boiled in ale or vinegar, and spices including pepper, ginger and cloves. The ale or vinegar helped to break down the fine bones. The flesh was removed from the coarser bones, then pressed back into a fish shape.
The pike was either served cold covered with a hot sauce, or hot with a cold sauce such as sauce vert. A hot galentyne sauce was thick and strongly flavoured, more like a relish or condiment than a modern sauce. A typical galentyne consisted of rye breadcrumbs, sweetened white wine, vinegar, oil, onion, cinnamon, pepper and – rather strangely – sandalwood.
A favourite medieval sweet dish and very easy to make today.
- 4 thick slices of white bread
- 8 oz (225 g) honey
- Pinch each of: ground ginger, cinnamon and ground black pepper
- Half oz (15g) pine nut kernels
Toast the bread on both sides and cut slices into small squares. Place toast on heated serving dish. Melt the honey is a saucepan with the spices and pepper for no more than two minutes. Do not let it boil or darken. Pour honey over the toast then arrange pine-nut kernels in the honey, but standing upright like little chess men or soldiers. Serve hot. Safest eaten with a fork to prevent burnt or sticky fingers.
Unlike the rich dish of eggs and cream which it was later to become, the medieval posset was a warming drink simply made from hot milk slightly curdled with ale or wine. It was sweeten with honey and flavoured with spices such as ginger, cloves and cinnamon. It was thought particularly effective at warding off chills.
Pork meatballs, in which ground pork was mixed with cloves, mace and raisins, moistened with almond milk mixed with meat stock. The mixture was rolled by hand into balls known as pellettys, which were then were fried. They were placed in a dish and a thin sauce made from meat stock thickened with ground almonds or almond flour was added and the dish finished by sprinkling with sugar and mace, and decorated with edible flowers such as wild marjoram, ramsons, chives or thyme flowers, which would have added to the flavour.
A stale loaf of bread, usually four days old, cut into thick, slightly hollow slices, which would act as a plate on which the meal would be served. After the meal the trenchers which had soaked up the juices and gravies of the meal would be given to the poor or the dogs or pigs to eat.
Stuffed bread loaves or rolls. In Medieval times, these were made with sweetened dough fortified with eggs, but the recipe works equally well if you use a small crusty loaf or crusty rolls.
Slice off the top. Scoop out the crumbs and mix with fried onions and/or finely chopped fruit, such as apples and apricots. Stir in generous amounts of melted butter, return the mixture to the hollowed-out rolls, replace tops and heat in the oven for 5 – 10 minutes or wrapped in foil in the embers of a fire. Great for eating round an autumn bonfire.
“I swear there is nothing so warming to the stomach on a cold winter’s night as sweet bread, hot from the oven, dripping with melted butter, truly a feast for St Barbara’s day.” (Camelot, in Company of Liars).
In The Falcons of Fire and Ice, there is a reference to mummy which was a medicine used throughout Europe and was rendered from human corpses. In the 12th century there was a lively trade in ancient Egyptian mummies to be ground up for medicine, but these began to run out, so they began to look for alternatives.
On a visit to Alexandria in 1564, a physician, Guy de la Fontaine, found one trader who collected the bodies of slaves or poor people, filled the cavities of the corpses with bitumen, bandaged them, dried them in the sun and sold them as genuine Egyptian mummies, which were then pounded down to make the medicine that was said to cure just about anything including blood clots, gout, leprosy, coughs, eye problems and rheumatism. Rather worryingly, when the trader was asked if any of the corpses had died of plague, he said it didn’t matter to him what anyone had died of so long as he could have their bodies.