July 8, 2011
While most dishes in medival or renaissance cookbooks have rather matter-of-fact names there is one that stands out and has always tickled my imagination. In the cookbook A Proper newe Booke of Cokerye from the 16th century one can find a dish called ”Eggs in moonshine”:
”To make egges in moneshyne.
Take a dyche of rosewater and a dyshe
full of suger, and set them upon a
chaffyngdysh, and let them boyle, than take the
yolkes of viii or ix egges newe layde and putte
them therto everyone from other, and so lette
them harden a lyttle, and so after this maner
serve them forthe and cast a lyttle synamon
and sugar upon them.”
This is also one of the recipes that I find rather straightforward without many pitfalls. In a three fotted pan I heated equal amounts of rosewater and sugar. The sugar I used was brown cane sugar, though I suspect that a bit more refined cane sugar would have fitted the dish better. I must admit that am not entirely sure about the sugar qualities of the time – but the name of the dish suggest a rather light coloured sauce. The rosewater used was a commercially available rosewater, which may differ some from the rosewater made at the time. (A recipe for making rosewater can be found in ”The goodman of Paris”.)
While the sauce was working its way to a boil I started separating egg yolks from the white. Though the egges were storebought and refridgerator kept, I became quite aware that the eggs where not newly laid – most of the yolks burst at the mere sight of them. When I considered the sugared rosewater hot enough I placed the yoks, one by one in the pan. With the quality of the yolks I had this was a tricky operation.
I let the egg yolk cook just long enough to still be semi-soft. The decision to do so was partly based on personal preferences, my estimation on how the dish would tie together better but also repeated references from medieval sources that runny or softboiled eggs were preferred.
Here I might have let the rosewater syrup cook for a bit long as it started to caramelise, and got somewhat brown and sticky. Still I could pour some of the sauce over the eggs. Before serving I sprinkled the eggs with some cinnamon and finely ground sugar.
Though it did not look exactly as I was imagine it, it turned out to be a very nice little dish. Though rose water often may give desserts a somewhat perfumed and soapy taste, it ws actually quite balanced here. The fairly rich amount of sugar makes it a good and rather simple example of renaissance cooking. And though it may seem a bit strange it was really appreciated by the few co-workers that got a chance to try it. In keeping the yolks somewhat soft, they mixed quite well with the sauce giving it almost an impression of a custard in texture and taste.
In order to be served at a high table it should be improved somewhat visually, with a clearer sauce and perhaps even served on a silver plate. This may however be my modern association of moonshine and a silvery shine.
According to C.S. Lewis “eggs in moonshine” seem to be a term meaning something else than just this dish, anyone who has a clue?
June 16, 2010
Another possible way of using the malt would be to use it for baking. A bread with some malt will gain some in flavour and sweetness I assume, but perhaps loose some in texture.
To start this experiment I ground a handful of malted barley, to my surprise it was extremely easy to grind, so easy that I in fact got something flourlike by only putting the malt through the hand quern once. I was a bit cautious at first as I though some old flour had been left behind mixing in with the malt. But the greyish colour and a distinct smell revealed it to be indeed malt. I then mixed 1/3 malt with 2/3 of regular barley flour, on this I poured some hot water in order to get even more sugar out of the malt. A very distinctive brewing smell arose from the dough making me think that I at least made something right. As I tried to form the bread I noticed that it was even more difficult than usual but still manageable. The bread was form into small cakes that was baked on the pans. The resulting bread, although a bit coarse due to the chaffs, was somewhat sweeter and more full in taste when compared to regular bread.
Although a possible bread from the time no such bread has been found, but the question is if it is possible to discern it from a regular bread.
June 16, 2010
Of the five tastes, sweetness plays an important role today, but should this be the case even in earlier cuisines. One may argue that a food culture that has only scarce access to sweet resources would not feel the need nor want for anything sweet. While this may be true in some areas, I would assume that the sweet taste actually played a role already during the Viking Age. In southern Scandinavia honey was used already in the Bronze Age and even earlier one seem to have roasted nuts, which will bring out the sweetness of them. So although one were not exposed to the amount of sweetness and sugar as we are today, one would have recognised the sweet taste and appreciated it. In the sagas and myths honey and mead is mentioned from time to time – which may indicate a fondness for anything sweet. In later culinary literature, the sweet taste is increasingly important, but even the earliest cookbooks would include sweet dishes.
However, the sources that can provide sweetness are fairly limited, especially here. So far I can only think of five principal sources that can provide some kind of sugary sweet; honey, dried berries, malt, lactose and birch sap.
Honey which should have been the most obvious source, was rather rare up here, and perhaps even in the whole of Scandinavia due to the lack of bee cultivation. There are some indications in the sagas that honey would have been imported. A possible source for the imported honey could perhaps been the Slavonic areas along the Baltic coast.
Dried berries, especially blue berries, could of course provide a good source of sweetness though that would have been a rather limited resource, and would require people that would have tme to go out in the forests or heath to pick them. This would however have to be considered.
Malt was probably the most accessible source of sugar. Although mainly used in order to make beer, it is probable that malt also could have been used to sweeten some of the food. The drawback would of course be that as they retain the chaffs, using them might give the food a rather coarse taste.
Lactose would in a sense have been readily available in any dairying food culture. However, even though milk was quite abundant up here obtaining a sweet liquid would have required to reduce the milk considerably, a somewhat wasteful method, that still may have been used for festive occasions
Finally birch sap may have been used a source of sugar, today it is used for birch sap wine and maple sap could be used for making maple s As this area mainly consisted of birch it is another probable source of sugar. However, in order to not damage the tree, one has to monitor how deep the draining pipes are drilled into the tree and if not plugged the tree will bleed to death.
Of the above sugar sources I would assume that malt is by far the most common, and will commence the sweet experiments by exploring this source.