July 29, 2011
Though we know of quite a few full meals of the medieval and renaissance era, our understanding on how to compose an entire meal properly are limited at best. While the dishes can be reproduced fairly well, we only have tidsbits of information suggesting when in a meal they should be served.
However, in quite a few places we do find suggestions on what to end a meal with, both with the purpose to aid digestion and general wellbeing. A common suggestion would be to eat pears and cheese, which in other words is a tradition with a rather old origin. Another tradtion that we have more or less lost by now was to end a meal with wafers and spiced wine.
As the manor did have an ancient (or probably 18th century) wafer iron, I decided that I should have a go at making wafers. Making wafers at least dates back to the 14th century, as is evident in this image from 1340. (Note the bowl of batter next to the wafermaking king)
The recipes I used for this trial was a French recipe from the late 14th century and a dutch recipe from the mid 16th century. It seems that the proper definition of wafers and waffles is a bit vague why the recipes chosen use the term waffles instead of wafers.
Le ménagier de Paris (1393)
Waffles are made in four ways. In the first, beat eggs in a bowl, then salt and wine, and add flour, and moisten the one with the other, and then put in two irons little by little, each time using as much batter as a slice of cheese is wide, and clap between two irons, and cook one side and then the other; and if the iron does not easily release the batter, anoint with a little cloth soaked in oil or fat. – The second way is like the first, but add cheese, that is, spread the batter as though making a tart or pie, then put slices of cheese in the middle, and cover the edges (with batter: JH); thus the cheese stays within the batter and thus you put it between two irons. – The third method, is for dropped waffles, called dropped only because the batter is thinner like clear soup, made as above; and throw in with it fine cheese grated; and mix it all together. – The fourth method is with flour mixed with water, salt and wine, without eggs or cheese.
Nyuewen Coock Boek (1560)
To bake good wafers.
Take grated white bread. Take with that the yolk of an egg and a spoonful of pot sugar or powdered sugar. Take with that half water and half wine, and ginger and cinnamon.
For the first recipe I chose to use the simpler of the two recipes, that of a 16th century dutch origin. The first part of making the dish was fairly straight forward, mixed the ingredients until I got a a nice thick batter. However using a “cooking wine” instead of a proper wine was not really a wise choice as it did not add anything to the flavour – but there was no chance to get myself some wine from the winestore.
The waferiron was then heated over embers and greased with butter. At first parts of the the wafers got stuck onto the iron. But with a somewhat higher temperature the wafers both got a nicer colour and loosened easier from the iron. I felt that the addition of spices were a bit to sparingly for my taste – but that could be changed once I redo the dish. Actually the fact that it was usually served at the end of a meal in order to help digestion would make it likely that it was both more spicy and sweet.
The next dish was based on the third variety of wafers/waffles found in the French cookbook, a dish called dropped wafers bases on the texture of the dough. As this dish included grated cheese I predicted that it would stick to the iron even worse than the first recipe. I made a mixture that was not so sticky and thick as the first recipe. Apart from the cheese and the texture of the batter it was made more or less like the above version, with the same problem of a wine that was almost tasteless. Much as I predicted the batter would stick even at a higher temperature. To solve this I added a bit flour with a much better result, even though I am not sure if the batter coud be said to be dropping (still it was more liquid than the batter for the first dish)
This time the wafers turned out fine with a quite nice taste of the cheese. Though the taste was nice in both cases (though a bit underspiced), the main result was to see how well they both turned out visually.
The main practical problem in making the wafers alone, apart from risking that the wafers got stuck, was the problem in handling the hot wafer iron when removing the wafers, which required something of an advanced balancing act.
Images will be forthcoming as soon as I am on my other computer.
July 29, 2011
Among the simpler dishes porridges of different kinds would stand out. It seems to have been an important dish already in the Viking age – and probably earlier – and was probably most important during the parts of the year or circumstances when one had to rely on only dried stored goods.
As an inspiration for this dish I have used a recipe from Liber Cure Cocorum (1400).
For gruel of fors.
Fyrst take porke, wele þou hit sethe
With otene grotes, þat ben so smethe;
Whenne hit begynnes wele to alye,
þou save of þe þynnest brothe þer by
To streyne þy gruel, alle and summe;
But furst take oute þy porke þou mun
And hak hit smal and grynde hit clene;
Cast hit to þo gruel þat streyned bene,
Colour hit with safroune and sethe hit wele;
For gruel of force serve hom at mele.
This recipe, or similar, can be found in several cookbooks from the 14th – 16th century. Though the inclusion of saffron makes it a rather exclusive dish, the idea of a porridge cooked with bacon or with pork could in some part reflects the ingredients what we find stated as the daily distributed foodwares in navy records of the 17th century.
Though the recipe states pork, it does not say in what form. In the cookbooks I both find reference to smoked meat and to fresh meat, but in this recipe nothing is stated. A hint towards fresh meat may be that the meat is supposed to be boiled before used in the dish, but I have found several references in which bacon is supposed to be boiled before used in dishes. As I simultaneously wanted to investigate both the exclusive dish and a more common porridge I opted for a smoked fatty side of pork. The meat I used was bought at Malmö kötthandel a very good deli that smokes the meat themselves.
Looking closer at the recipe one notices that it can be divided into a few steps; Boil the meat and remove it, cook the groats in the resulting stock, separate the liquid, mince the boiled meat, and to the liquid, add saffron & serve.
Though the recipe in itself is rather easy it did produce a rather large amount of making it possible for me to make both an exclusive soup and a more common porridge and thus making two dishes from one. As saffron was and is an exclusive spice it turns a rather simple dish into something very high society in its composition. Still to throw away all the porridge seems like an awful waste, when it easily could have been served to soldiers and servants at the keep.
I started by boiling some water with the smoked pork, rendering it soft and releasing oth some taste and salt into the water. I then removed the pork, added the crushed oats and started chopping the meat small. As the meat had been smoked with the rind it had to be cut of as well. Though smoked meat may dry out and getting hard if I keep it for a few weeks, boiling it makes it very soft again and easy to chop up. The recipe suggested that the meat should than be ground in a mortar. Though I only have a pounding mortar – as opposed to a grinding one – it was still turning the meat into something of a mush. When the oats had softened and the liquid started to get milky, I was supposed to strain of the liquids.
However, lacking a good strainer or a cloth through which to strain the liquid I proceeded by decanting the liquid from the pot. The problem using this method in the semi-dark cavern of my kitchen was that I only managed to get it separated that much, and some of the oats did remain in the liquid.
The liquid was mixed with some saffron and the main part of the porc. This was put back on the embers in a second earthenware pot. Into the first pot where the boiled oats remained I put in a small amount of smoked pork and the rind from the chunk of meat I originally used.
I let both simmer for a while after which I served both up in a bowl. The oat/saffron soup had really nice if a bit salty taste, and could certainly serve as a starter or side dish in a larger meal. The porridge on the other hand was far more timid in taste. Though the recipe for a porridge is a bit of a construction from my side it is a) still using an original recipe as a base, b) a plausible way of preparing a porridge in the early renaissance and c) as close as we get to an authentic recipe from the period. Personally I quite like the notion that with just the addition of some saffron and an extra step of preparation one may produce two dishes – one for the high seat and one for the workers.
July 24, 2011
A constant question that has haunted me since I started to study past food cultures is cuisine of the common people. In general most cookbooks are aimed at the upper echelons of the medieval/renaissance society with even the dishes that might be considered simpler including exotic spices or some other ingredient that will make it a bit to expensive to be considered something that the majority could afford. Though the renaissance and baroque cookbooks are increasingly aimed at a reader from the middle-class, the simpler dishes are still (with a few exceptions) not easily found in the cookbooks.
In order to get closer to the food that might have been eaten at the time I have mainly been looking at four sources;
The implications found in later cookbooks
Vague references in other texts
Indications found through description of handouts to soldiers
Archaeological evidence & historical context
Though most cookbooks are aimed at the upperclass or wealthy middle class there are some dishes that can be considered to be upgraded versions of more simpler dishes. In some of the cookbooks we may find pea soups, groat porridges, bean dishes or soups based on turnip greens but with a twist, such as saffron to make it a bit more prominent. In the cookbooks from the end of the period or the baroque we start to find inclusions of what can only be considered to be part of the more everyday meals. In a Danish cookbook from 1616, dishes such as salted herring and kale porridge are included, in the latter case we are told that the best examples of that dish are made in farmers kitchen.
Other, non-culinary texts, may give us a hint to dishes eaten by workers, farmers and the like. In an Italian text from the 15th century we learn that farmer preferred turnips or onions baked in the embers. Similar small tidbits of information can be found if one look through non culinary texts.
Although reflecting very special circumstances and being a bit later than the studied period some good input into the contents and sizes of a more common meal can be found through old navy documents stating what and how much food the sailors were issued daily. Though the diet and compositions of dishes may have changed somewhat, it is illuminating as it indicates to what extent the food was based on porridges of either barley or peas.
Archaeological evidence can if mapped out geographically and socially give us an idea as to what the preferred or most common ingredients were, although this in fact only tells us so much about the finished dishes. However, archaeology is still valuable in order to pinpoint the food of the ordinary people. Through analyses one may find indications of deficiencies of various minerals or if a marine diet was preferred. If related to the social status of the remains one may also gain a further understanding of the diet of the time. Historical contexts are also very important in the understanding of the food of the period. Not only do we know that fish was very important from a religious perspective, but also that the trade of salted herring and dried cod were important for Scandinavia yet wellspread throughout the social stratas.
In my hunt for some simpler dishes I am trying to find the dishes that may reflect what the sum of all of the above sources may indicate. In short I am looking for dishes that includes, porrridges, simple soups, kale, turnips or salted herrings. The dishes ought to be boiled rather than fried or roasted.
July 16, 2011
At the moment I am on my way to a stoneageevent to make a cooking pit and roast some hazelnuts at Ekehagen (http://www.ekehagen.se) so I might not be able to overlap the backlog this weekend. On the other hand, there might be a stoneage update among all this modern food.
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.
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?
July 7, 2011
When making the elderflower dish, I realised that boiling using a three – footed pot was a bit different from using a stove. Most imagery, and the layout of most hearths seem to indicate that the pots were used to cook over the embers rather than the actual fire. This produces a more even and controlled heat if not as intense and covering as having a pot directly in the flames.
Usually when boiling milk one have to watch ones back at all times as milk usually tend to boil vigorously and burn the moment you turn your back to it.
Not so when using the pot and embers, the milk simmered away just below the boiling point, drawing out the flavour of the elderflowers without being burned. While it may be a problem in other dishes, it was quite suitable in this context having this slow and controlled heat.
That said, my hearth is still smallish and I am only able to get so much embers out of it, with a larger fire, and more skill at keeping the fire, I should be able to get enough embers to surround the pot better thus making it get to a boil more quickly. However, regardless of this lack in regards to the amount of embers I still think that there is a valid point in the way one can controll the heat using embers.
July 6, 2011
Just outside the moat on the way from the parking lot to the manor, stands some impressive hedges with elder. As the fragrance became more and more present, I realised that I had to do a dish with elderflowers. Though I was primarily connecting elderflowers with rather sweet dishes, I wanted to try out a dish from Sabrina Welserin;
“38 To make elderflower pudding Take elder flowers, boil them in milk and strain them, make a firm dough from eggs and flour and roll it into a thin flat cake, cut it into the shape of little worms and put them into the milk, salt it and put fat into it and let it cook. “
In boiling the elderflowers with the milk I became quite aware of their fragrance, however it was not to perfumed. While the milk was seething I prepared the dough. I was a bit unsure if it was meant to be thickened or made firm with the mixture of eggs and flour. For the dough I used wheat flour, which would have been the probable choice in a dish like this. As I was preparing the dough It became clear to me however that “cutting dough into the shape of little worms” was actually a description for the chef to make noodles ( or some kind of pasta).
As I felt that the milk had seethed enough I drained of the flowers, returned the milk to the pot, added a small knob of butter, some salt and a part portion of the noodles I had done. As they cooked picked them up with a regular wooden spoon – the slotted spoon, that is made according to a medieval find, was to big to fit in the pot. The noodles reminded me of German spätzle, but were salty with a hint of elder. Still, some milk remained so I put in the rest of the uncooked “worms”as they cooked, the flour from both batches of noodles startened to thicken the milk, becoming more sauce like. Though this was not entirely what I had expected it did strike me as fitting the description of a pudding. In fact, the mixture of butter, salt, milk and flower almost made me end up with an elder bechamel with noodles.
In this mixture the taste of elder was much more prominent, and it was also the more preferred dish by my testsubjects (the employees of the museum). When testing the dish it struck me that both the noodles by themselves or the actual pudding would have fitted excellently together with a spitroasted chicken. Though it is a bit odd with a savoury dish with elderflowers to the Swedish palate, it was really enjoyable.
July 2, 2011
In my continued explorations of the oven I wanted to make one of the many fruit pies present in the cookbook of Sabina Welserin. The recipe I used for the dish:
“131 To make a pear tart
Take the pears and peel them, then fry them in fat, put them into a mortar and pound them well, put rose sugar and rose water in it, put ginger, cloves, cinnamon and sugar therein. Taste it, make a pastry shell as for other tarts, make no cover for the top and bake until crisp.”
The recipe was rather straight forward, with only a few steps . For the pie crust I used the recipe for a short paeste that I tried earlier though I made two batches which both were a bit to soft – possibly because I used a bit to much water in them. (I will never be an accomplished pastry chef).
For the filling I fried the pear pieces in butter using the three legged pan. The resulting soft pears wear beaten to a pulp using my brass mortar, though a widerimmed stone mortar would probably have been used for this purpose. To this I added the ground cloves, cinnamon, ginger and a dash of rosewater. The resulting mush was poured into the pieshells and put into the oven. Though I started the ovens early I was uncertain if I had reached the right temperatur, the lack of proper fire wood and perhaps my conservative use of wood made the fire in the oven burn rather slowly, though in effect it could just have been a case of not having enough time to heat the rather massive oven. The pies were baked for about an hour which was not enough as they were still a bit soft and moist when taken out of the oven. The taste was nice and a bit spicier than what one would expect in a modern pear pie – even if I did miss some raisins in it ( which are used in several other pear pies from the same book) The main lack in my interpretation – apart from the oven temperature- was that I was to conservative on the rose water, as it was almost undistinguishable.
Apart from a nice combination of tastes in the pie the main feature was the rather aromatic scent from the cloves. It is likely that the rosewater was added for the same reason – to create an olfactory sensation from the pie. Just as colours and appearance has been of importance in historical (and modern food) we ought perhaps also think about how some food may have been made with an olfactory experience in mind, using scents that does not entirely reflect the most immediate tastes.