Summer chicken

August 19, 2011

As the summer is drawing to an end I felt that I had to try out one of the few dishes that were explicitly stated to be a summer dish. From a dutch cookbook from the late 15th century we find a recipe for a dish called “summer chicken”-

“Wel ende edlike spijse 1484”

.J. Poelgen metten rasspeyte inden somer
ziedse in eenen pot met sticken
ende alsij taluen ghezoden sijn doe
ter in wijns ghenouch ende lettel
waters daer toe druuen van rosinen
ende barghin smout ende dodere /
van eyers ghenouch

Young chickens with raisins (?) in the summer.
Broil them in a pot in pieces (?). When they are halfway done, add enough wine and some water, and add raisins, pig fat and enough egg yolks.

(Translation & source; http://www.coquinaria.nl/kooktekst/Edelikespijse1.htm)

Here the translator got a bit uncertain on the line “met sticken” which could have meant for the chicken to be in pieces, or to be done with pieces of something. Having just printed the translation of the recipe, I did not heed the original text to much though. As the translation stated that the chicken should be broiled in a pot I did however chose to follow the idea that it should be in pieces.
The interpretation that the chicken should be parted follows closely the instructions one could find several medieval English recipes where one are asked to “smyte him in pieces” – referring to the meat.

[An alternative interpretation  would have been to read the broil as a boil - in other parts of the translated manuscript ziedse is used for boiling rather than broiling. If one instead should read that the chicken where boiled the “sticken” could have meant sticks of cinnamon, which would fit in taste, and actually mirror some other medieval dishes.]

Following the interpretation where the chicken should be broiled, I cut it up in pieces , melted some lard in the pot I were going to use and poured in the bits of chicken when it was hot enough. Here it may have been a lack in understanding the language properly my self as broil would perhaps rather relate to something being grilled.

[The problem with frying in a three footed pot is that the rounded bottom does not really allow for  broiling or frying, unless the embers are built high around the pot – in hind sight I should probably have used the three footed pan instead.]

When the chicken got some colour I added water, wine and raisins. A rather good amount of lard was already in the pan from the frying, so I decided not to add any more of that. However the statement pig fat could possibly have referred to something salted and smoked, like bacon or perhaps italian lardo, instead of just rendered but unsalted lard.

After the chicken had boiled for a while I took out some of the liquid which I then mixed with three egg yolks in order to thicken the stew. This mixture was poured back into the pot and the whole stew where put to a boil.

The finished stew had a nice yellow look to it because of the eggyolks even though I could have been a bit better at mixing in the yolks so that they would not set – but I blame the darkness in my kitchen.

The taste was sweet and slightly acidic, but still it had a nice balance. For a modern palate, however the main thing lacking was just a slight touch of salt which would have carried the tastes a long way. In this interpretation the combination of sweetness from the raisins and the taste of the chicken meat, reminded me, although to a less extreme level, of the medieval dish blancmange. Though I considered the original dish almost unedible the combination grows on me. However after trying the dish as it was done I added some salt it, which really lifted it. The main question is whether this dish should be unsalted and thus bear a resemblance to the blancmanges of the period or if the pork fat should have been interpreted as being bacon, giving the dish a more foody taste.

The actual summer part of the dish is not directly apparent, but it could be that it is rather light in taste, that raisins and wine are considered summery or something else that I would have missed – to look into that further one ought to read what the medical books f the time considers food fit for summer.

Although the dish includes ingredients that could be considered somewhat expensive here – wine and raisins, they are not excessively expensive and could perhaps have been served as a festive meal by someone in the urban middle class, where such wares could be bought.

Pancakes

July 29, 2011

Following the theme of the previous post I am now moving on to pancakes. Though pancakes today is considered a very simple dish that most people knows how to do, it would not be a common dsh until the metal pan is spread to a larger extent. The origin of pancakes can probably be traced back to ancient greece or even earlier of one were to include varieties of flat bread. However in a medieval/renaissance context the first appearance of pancakes seem to date back to about the early 15th century.

For this part of my experiments I have again chosen to use two recipes, a French recipe from “Le ménagier de Paris” (1390) and a newer dutch recipe. Though am a bit cautious about enhancing modern images and food traditions when doing renaissance dishes – as things may change in 500 years – the Dutch cookbooks, and some of the baroque painters seem to give a pancakes an important role already during the 16th century.

I started of with the French recipe;

Lé menagier de Paris (1390)

CREPES. Take flour and mix with eggs both yolks and whites, but throw out the germ, and moisten with water, and add salt and wine, and beat together for a long time: then put some oil on the fire in a small iron skillet, or half oil and half fresh butter, and make it sizzle; and then have a bowl pierced with a hole about the size of your little finger, and then put some of the batter in the bowl beginning in the middle, and let it run out all around the pan; then put on a plate, and sprinkle powdered sugar on it. And let the iron or brass skillet hold three chopines, and the sides be half a finger tall, and let it be as broad at the bottom as at the top, neither more nor less; and for a reason.

This recipe is more or less what we would recognise as a pancake today, though it is rather deepfried than fried. Again the lack of a proper wine frustrated me as it would influence the taste. My lack of bowls that could pierce made me try to drip out the bater in a spiral shape using the rim of the bowl and a spoon, with a mediocre result. The batter was made quite liquid through the addition of both eggs, wine and water. The batter fried alright though it spread a bit to wide to make a nice spiral shape. Though the addition of some sugar in the end, made it a quite nice snack I realised that I might have used a bit to much egg in the mixture.

In the second trial I instead used a dough based on a Dutch recipe from 1510

Om panckoecken te maken inde vastenen

Square deepfried pancakes, 16th century Netherlands

To make lenten pancakes

[13] Om panckoecken te maken inde vastenen Neemt [14] fijn bloeme die suldi beslaen met gheste Dan maeckt [15] daer af deech Dan salmen van dien seluen deeghe ne[16]men een cleyn clontken ende maken dat viercantych [17] seer dunne emmers soe dunne alst moghelyck es om [18] maken tot dat cleyn gaetkens worpt: Dan bacxse wel in [19] raeptsmout Sommyghe dye willen backen der inne [20] rosinen ende dye steken si hyer en daer eene ende oock [21] cleyn stucxkens van appelen.

[13] To make lenten pancakes. Take [14] fine flour which you shall beat up with yeast. Then make [15] dough from it. Then, from the same dough, one shall [16] take a small lump and make it square [17] [and] very thin, in any case as thin as it is possible to [18] make, until small holes appear. Then fry them well in [19] rape oil. Some, who wish to, fry raisins therein [20] and they stick them one here and there and also [21] small pieces of apple.

Although certainly called pancakes there are several parts in it that we would not recognise in a pancake today. The first problem in understanding the recipe came when reading that four should be whisked with yeast in order to make a dough. At this occasion I dissolved some of the yeast into water and whisked it up with the flour making a rather firm dough. Though the whisking may suggest that should have made a batter, it also states that I should form small square cakes, which requires a nice firm dough. The flour used in both this dish and the former was of course ordinary wheat flour. After I made the dough, describing the ingredients to ne of the visitors, I did get a small revelation about the content of the dough. At the time a liquid yeast, would most likely have been the remains of making beer. If I had added some beer to the yeast I woud probaby have had a dough with a bit of a taste in it self. This ought to be remembered for future use.

I shaped the dough into small square bits on which I planted pieces of raisins and apples. As the recipe suggest that I should fry the raisins and as I at first thought I needed to turn the cakes n order to get them evenly fried.

This was not necessary, and in fact completely wrong as it turned the raisins into hard burt inedible stones. Though I appreciated the risk of that happening it came about far quicker than I had anticipated. After the first cake made this way I soon abandoned that method and instead just let the fry on one side, whilst scooping up some hot fat with a spoon and poured over the cakes. That was however not really necessary either. In the recipe one are told to make the cakes so thin that holes appear, and through these holes the fat would pour up and deep fry the surface as well, without burning the raisins.

The cakes were fried in rapeseed oil as suggested by the recipe. It is quite interesting as it is one f the first recipes suggesting the use of this oil. Finds from a settlement in Sweden dating back to the Iron Age, suggests that the plant (brassica rapa) was cultivated already at this time, it is however unclear if it was turnips or the oilrich plant that was grown.

Though the cakes lacked what we would consider the classical medieval tastes of cinnamon, ginger etc. it had a ice taste and would serve well as a small snack. It is possible that in the Netherlands – being close to the wine growing areas of Germany, raisins would not have been a to expensive commodity.

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