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.


17 Responses to “A food of beans”

  1. Dan said

    Hej Daniel,

    I don’t know about German or the Scandinavian languages, but in English, “beer’ referred to a beer made with hops, and “ale” was one without. As far as I know, this distinction continued till the 1600-1700s

    • eldrimner said

      Yes, the former English distinction between beer and ale was what made me consider a possability for the same in German. To ofen we use a modern interpretation of the word and thus paying no heed to what the recipes actually calls for. That said it is next t impossible to find non-hopped beers these days.

      • Dan said

        There’s a Scottish ale called Fraoch that’s “hopped” with heather… I looked into it about a year ago, and at that time you n’tcould special order it from Systembolaget. Be warned though-it was’n’t cheap… There was someone on the Authentic Viking Food list from Norway who I think was selling a gruit ale- I’ll see if I can dig up his name and /or the brewery name

      • eldrimner said

        Fraoch is a very nice beer that I usually recommend for those that want a gale (myrica gala ) tasting beer, however, it still has some amount of hops in it which influnences the taste whe heated. A Norwegian gruit-based beer sounds really interesting. Let me know what you find out.

      • Dan said

        Well, it turns out I had misremembered; first off, the brewer is Danish, and as far as I can tell, all of his beers for sale have hops in them. He has a webpage which may talk about his brewing unhopped beers somewhere, but trying to read Danish makes my brain hurt, so I only skimmed it. If you’d like to look at it, the addy is http://oelsmeden.websted.dk/
        Sorry for raising false hopes

      • Andreas Klumpp said

        Dear mister Serra,

        I am a native German medieval archaeologist and historian. I am also working on the “buoch von guoter spise” at the time. Given it’s southern German origin the discussion about “ale-like” or hoped beers can be answered quite simple: at least at the time the recipes were written, southern Germany seems to be hop beer land. The “Krudebiere” ( “ale-likes” and beers brewed with different herbs instead of hops) were mainly produced and used in north Germany, where they produced hop-beers as well in the same region, but very seldom brewed or consumed in the south.

        As far as I am informed, the only name difference between hoped and ale-like beers since at least the high middel ages is “Bier” (hoped beer) and “Krut-“, “Grude-“, “Krude-“, “Gagelbier” (and some other different spellings meaning “ale-like” beer brewed with herbs)


        Andreas Klumpp

      • eldrimner said

        Thanks, though I knew about the differences according to british definitions, I didn’t know the distinctions in German.

        Very interesting, are you going through all recipes or are you looking at certain dishes from that book? And in the latter case what sample do you use, e.g. looking at different cooking methods or some other selection?

        It is a very interesting cookbook, and I have only tried to make a few of the dishes, though I think a few more will follow. If nothing else, so for personal preferencies I intend to make recipe 44, next week.

      • Andreas Klumpp said

        For my PhD project (http://culina-historica.blogspot.com) I want to reconstruct about 10 recipes each out of the “buoch von guoter spise”, the “menagier de Paris” and of the oldest source of “the forme of cury”. I started by cataloguing all recipes of “buoch von guoter spise”.

        Which recipe 44 do you mean, there are different countings available. I tried “my” 44 “xlj Ein condimentelin” last week and put it online today (http://culina-historica.blogspot.com/2011/07/vorversuch-1-44-161r-xlj-ein.html). It will take some days to translate it into English.

        By coincidence I also decided some time ago to try “Ein spise von bonen” and will do so next week or the week after.

      • Andreas Klumpp said

        I had an inspiring talk with a colleague yesterday about beer in the middle ages. The result is: there are actually hop-free beers in southern Germany, but hopped beeres seem to be predominant. The “Reinheitsgebot” (purity laws for beer) of the 15th century state that there is to much fraud and that many brewers use cheap and sometimes dangerous herbs and plants instead of hops and that this is forbidden now. So my conclusion is, there are hop-free beers in southern Germany. But they are mostly very cheap and potentially fatal, so costumers tried to get more expensive hopped beers instead, if they could afford it.

      • eldrimner said

        And considering that the cookbooks are written in an upper middle class context at least it would be safe top assume that the beer used in the dishes were hopped. (No matter what I think of warm hops) Still the beer I used while being a bit anachronistic did fit in the dish as it was not so hoppy. Perhaps a sour beer like Geuze woyuld have been an eveen better interpretation.

        What did you settle for in your attempt to deal with the mbean dish

      • I will post it on my blog as soon as I have tried the recipe. I didn’t manage to do it this week. But next week will be filled with experimenting stuff in preparation for a rehearsal cooking on August 11th at Bad Windsheim open air museum. I am still thinking and testing some beers which I think will fit the vicia faba and the vinagre.
        It is hard to come by the variation of vicia faba which is save for human consumption. This legume is mostly grown in Germany in its bigger, potentially poisonous variaty for animal feeding. But I found precooked vicia faba in glasses per coincedence in my local grocery store – didn’t knew they had that before.

        Which vicia faba do you use, is it still a common legume in Sweden or did you have to search first, too?

        As you have probably seen, I didn’t manage to translate the condimentelin recipe yet, either. But I will do that soon.

      • eldrimner said

        Since I live in an area with quite a lot of immigrants there is no problems getting hold of
        Vicia Faba, usually in cans, glass jars or dried. But as I made this recipe in the summer it was sold fresh in the local market.

      • Andreas Klumpp said

        Sorry it took a while, but my own interpretation is online now (http://culina-historica.blogspot.com/2011/08/vorversuch-2-33-160r-xxxiij-ein-pie-vo.html). I wanted to publish it first before answering your questions.
        As I mentioned earlier, I think most beers in Southern Germany contained hops. I tried two kinds of beer: Bavarian weiss beer, which is brewed with a mixture of barley malt and wheat malt, and draught beer, only barley malt, of the same brewery. The weiss beer is top fermented, about the draught beer I am not sure and think about asking at the brewery. As far as I am informed, until the 15th century most beers were top fermented. Some brewers made experiments with colder brewing temperatures and the happy accident occured that two yeast types intercrossed. This was the day of birth for cool fermented beers like Pils, Lager, …
        I used white wine vinegar and the combination with the top fermented beers reminded me strongly of British malt vinegar. Malt vinegar has never been very common here in Germany and is nowadays nearly impossible to come by.

  2. Christian Stubø said

    If Wikipedia can be believed, “Äl” was the old, no longer used, German name for beer with no hops. Wikipedia didn’t say how long that distinction continued, nor did it cite a reference for the statement.

    • eldrimner said

      Thanks, even if wikipedia is not always to be trusted it is a starting point. Actually the choice of beer for medieval and renaissance cooking is turning out to be a rather complex question – which I perhaps ought to adress someday.

  3. eldrimner said

    Actually I saw a comment on my little discussion on boiling vs. seething elsewhere, and think that I might have got caught up in the language of medieval recipes, old swedish use of word etc…Linguistically I woud associate seethe and sjuda…this association seems to be true still in recipes of the 14th and 15th century. However in modern English ot woud perhaps be better to use simmer rather than seethe when describing the meaning of “sjuda” and what seems to be central in many dishes.

    Dan, as you are familiar with both Swedish and English, does that make sense to you?

  4. Dan said

    Well, if you go with “a *strong* simmer”or “high simmer”, it could work. The problem is that it’s a distinction that isn’t really used in cooking nowadays, in either language- it’s pretty much only used to refer to an emotional state…if you think about the phrase “seething with anger” (sjuda av ilska), it means something more active/vigorous than just simmering, but not quite vigorous enough to boil over. It’s kind of unfortunate that the term has fallen out of fashion in the kitchen; sometimes simmering isn’t enough, and boiling is too much, but seething would be just right…

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