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.


After about a week the thick sludge at the top in one of the jugs of wort seemed to have sunken away and the content smelled if yeasty still of something that I would associate with beer. In the other jug – the one without any added yeast – I spotted what could only be a speck of mould. In order to better determine how both sample had managed I poured them into modern plastic vessels. This allowed me to easier determine that the mould was a fact and that one of the batches had to be thrown away.

The second batch appeared to have most characteristics of a proper beer, if a bit cloudy and yeasty. After most of the yeast had been separated by decanting the beer, the resulting beer still smelled a bit of yeast. In appearance it was slightly cloudy though not as bad as I had first expected, and with an orange colour that reminded me of a pale ale, though perhaps on the lighter and brighter side of the scale. The taste was, apart from a hint of yeast, sour, somewhat blend not to strong but it had definitely a distinct beer flavour to it, with just a vague hint of the juniper berries. All in all I would say a weak but refreshing drink. If a stronger taste of juniper was wished for they should perhaps have been added during the fermentation rather than at the time the wort was being boiled.

Though perhaps not to efficient, it at least showed that it was possible to keep constant temperature in the stone vessels by just adjusting the height above the fire and by measuring the temperature by touch alone. This would allow for rather small batches of beer to be made. However as most things points towards beer being made in larger batches than serving jugs I would agree with most of the researchers into ancient brewing techniques, and say that larger vessels heated with stones was most likely the trick. Still the properties of the soapstone vessels, makes it suitable not only for small batches of beer, but rather – and this I find more likely- to make a small batch of cheese or other similar produces.

Beer IIb

July 6, 2010

I checked on the beer a few days later, Nothing had really happened with the the first batch except that it looked quite cloudy by the added yeast, but no real activity. The second batch on the other hand displayed some bubbles on the surface – mould or budding fermentation? I’ll leave it for a few more days to see what way it goes. In order to make any eventual yeast feel more comfortable I moved both jugs into the guide room, where it always is far to warm and cosy for me. However, a tourist made a comment the other day, about yeast in some of the plants we display at the museum that may be connected to beer brewing- yarrow and meadowsweet. He or she said something about them carrying yeast. Is there anyone of my readers who have some more ideas on yeast-carrying plants, which plants would be more suited to hold enough yeast? This ought to be looked into with some more care.

Beer II

July 6, 2010

Traditionally, one has often tried to make the most of the malt even after one has made a batch of wort. In some descriptions the beer of lowest value is the one made by pouring hot water over the malt in order to get the remaining sugar to wash out. I’ll be no more wasteful and try to do the same myself. Rather than pouring hot water over the malt I threw about half a jug into a cauldron of two jugs of water which I then started boiling. The rather heavy winds made the fire quite hot and the cauldron was soon boiling.

Not being used to the less sweet wort I think I must have left the cauldron boiling to long, as I ended up with a rather sweet wort, but no more than half a jug, so not really a good exchange. On the other hand I would have said that it was almost as sweet as the earlier batch, using the very in scientific method of trying to compare tastes from memory.

Nevertheless the wort was sticky and just as difficult to sieve, I was considering some alternative methods – like making a small basket of crowberry twigs, and filling it with leaves and malt – but neither seemed to offer a really good option.

This batch was then also left to ferment with no additions.

Beer Ib

July 6, 2010

Upon noticing that nothing happened in the jug I decided to add some commercial baking yeast, to see if I could get the process going. I later realised that the museum may have been to cold lately even if the outdoors temperature had reached some mighty 16 degrees Celcius.

My descision may have been a bit hasty.

Beer I

July 6, 2010

After the last attempt to get some sugar out of the malt I wanted to try to make a very small amount of beer using just about half a jug of malt. This would give me the opportunity to test three things. Can the soapstone vessels be used to to keep a constant temperature, can I get the wort to ferment using just the airborne yeast and would it be possible to crush the malt fine enough to get a good exchange of sugars in the malt.

For the task of crushing the malt I would have used a large mortar somewhat similar to the illustration in http://godecookery.com/afeast/kitchens/kit021.html. In the lack of such an instrument I chose to attack the problem a bit more primitively. Using the sort of make shift mortar consisting of a rounded rock and a soapstone vessel I started to grind the malt in a circular manner, this produced some grist that was larger than the one I milled, some crushed malt, and maily untouched malt.

The resulting malt was then mashed in the soapstone with water that I tried to heat carefully and slowly. Though I managed to keep the pot from boiling for almost two hours, my method of monitoring the temperature was also of the more primitive kind – I dipped the finger into the brew. Though primitive I assumed that it worked out all right since the wort turned out quite sweet in the end and had that particular smell of malt that has been turned into mash. After letting it be warm for a long time, I boiled it briefly in order to skim of any proteins. However it reduced quite quickly so I had to take it of the fire.

As the next step came the rather ungrateful task of filtering the wort. Though it was not much I did not really have any equipment that would be good for the task, if I have had a larger quantity and if the vat with a tap was not leaking like a sieve I should have used the method of juniper twigs and straws. Now all I had was a jug of wort and a linen sack. Trying to sieve the wort through the sack was a rather long and unrewarding task, as the sack seemed to seal up and more or less contain the wort. Perhaps due to the sugarcontent? In the end I grew tired of it – and the museum was closing- so I sneaked into the modern kitchen of the museum and borrowed a modern sieve. The result was a wort that was far from clear and filtered.

I poured the wort into a jug and left it there to see if it would ferment on its own.