A food of beans

July 10, 2011

When looking into early cuisines one easily ends up with dishes that reflect a prominent cuisine, most cookboks come from a context of the nobility or wealthy burgher. Dishes that comes from a more ordinary setting are mainly found by reading between the lines in other sources, or can be deduced from some of the simpler dishes found in the cookbooks. As the cookbooks seem to include more of the upper class households there we also receive a larger sample of non-festive dishes.

The recipe used was based on a dish found in “Ein Buch von guter spise” from the late 14th century

31. Ein spise von bonen
Siude grüene bonen, biz daz sie weich werden. so nim denne schoen brot und ein wenic pfeffers. dristunt als vil kümels mit ezzige und mit biere. mal daz zu sammene und tu dar zu saffran. und seige abe daz sode. und giuz dar uf daz gemalne. und saltz ez zu mazzen. und laz ez erwallen in dem condiment und gibz hin.
Boil green beans until they become soft. So take then fine bread and a little pepper. (Take) three times as much caraway with vinegar and with beer. Grind that together and add saffron thereto. And strain the broth and pour the color thereon and salt it to mass and let it boil in the condiment and give out.

While this dish would not have been a common meal it could have been a part of a less exclusive diet if one excluded the saffron. As I had not brought any saffron with me to the manor that day I decided to interpret this as simpler dish.

Though fairly simple at the surface the recipe did raise a few questions which I will try to answer as I go through the recipe. For this dish I used fresh fava beans, though dried would have worked only that it would have taken forever to boil them. The choice of fava beans, or broad beans (vicia faba), as they would have been the only beans available.

Boil green beans until the become soft. Are they to be boiled in meat broth or in water, in some dishes beans and peas are boiled together with meat or in a meatstock, here nothing seem to indicate that so I chose to use just water. Though the translation said to boil the beans I was more or less seething them rather than boiling them – and I might be wrong here but I believed that the German word siude, is similar to sjuda in swedish meaning to seethe rather than boil. Considering that I was using a three-footed pottery pan, seething the beans made more sense.

The texture of the boiled beans was also somewhat of a point of consideration for my part. In many of the recipes containing beans, the beans are boiled and then ground to a mush. This recipe did not call for that so I decided to try it as dish with whole beans.

While the beans were cooking I prepared the condiment with which the beans were to be served. So take then fine bread and a little pepper. (Take) three times as much caraway with vinegar and with beer. Though pepper could have been considered somewhat expensive, some may have been used in the middle class home. For simplicity I chose to use black pepper. For vinegar I chose maltvinegar. Though the recipe probably had wine vinegar in mind, as it originated in southern Germany, I went with a more Scandinavian choice – maltvinegar. Being based on malt or beer it would have been the most available vinegar here up until the 18th century. A bit more difficult was the choice of beer. Today most beers are rather heavy in hops, and though I am fond of hoppy beers, the bitterness of a heated hoppy beer is overpowering and lacking in flavour. For this reason I chose the beer I could get hold of with the least hop – content, a Swedish porter. While I am quite aware that it is stouts and porters were products of the 18th century, flavourwise I thought it was more fitting than some other beers that were available.

[ Though Germany proud itself of their ancient beerlaws, I am uncertain of the amount of hops used at the time. Would there have been a different names given to beers with or without hops?]

Anyway after mixing the condiment together I added them to the drained beans, and let them boil together. I might still have used a bread that was not white enough, or it may have been a bit to large pieces, as it did not really thicken the beanstew. At other times I would have let the breadcrumbs rest a while in the vinegar/beer mixture to be almost dissolved, but I was lacking in time.

The final result was a nice if somewhat to dark dish. The whole beans actually made it a rather good looking dish, with a very interesting and complex taste with the acidity of the vinegar and the sweetness from the beer and the beans themselves.

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