Posts by sannieb

I am a former nonprofit Executive Director who abandoned the business life to become a stay-at-home mom in 2013. I am currently a musician, teacher and part-time writer/historian! I am passionate about history and making tough academic subjects easier to understand and digest. I also love to travel and learn new languages and experience different cultures. And, lastly, I love food!

Cryppys, Crisps: 14th-century Fritters?

Cryppys, often called crisps, are another type of fried honey-flavored treat from 14th-century England. Unlike crispels, crisps are considered fritters because they are made with batter instead of pastry dough. Many sweet fritters of the era contained fruits (especially apples) or other ingredients like almonds. This particular recipe is very basic, containing only flour, egg whites and honey.

The Recipe

The transcription below is from Ancient Cookery (Diversa Servicia), c. 1381, a Bodleian manuscript that was included in the second half of Samuel Pegge’s 1780 edition of the Forme of Cury.

xxvi. For to Make Cryppys

Nym flour and wytys of eyryn sugur other hony and sweyng togedere and mak a batour nym wyte grees and do yt in a posnet and cast the batur thereyn and stury to thou have many 2 and tak hem up and messe hem wyth the frutours and serve forthe.

Crisps. Take flour and whites of eggs, sugar or honey and mix together to make a batter. Take white grease (lard) and place in a posnet and cast the batter therein and stir it until you have many and take them up and plate them with the fritters and serve forth.

The Ingredients

I based my recipe on the redaction created by the popular cookery website Medieval Cuisine: See Cryppys. I quartered their recipe for practical reasons but I had to make some slight adjustments. The recipe below makes around 10 “fritters”.

1/4 c. flour
2 egg whites
1 tsp honey
1/4 c. water
lard

Rather than walk through each step in detail like I usually do, I’ve just written some brief directions to do it the way Medieval Cuisine suggests. See below for additional notes.

Combine egg whites, water and honey and whisk together. Add mixture to flour and mix to create the batter. Drop a tablespoon of batter into the lard (or oil) and fry over medium heat until golden brown. Flip to cook evenly. Drain on a paper towel and serve.

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You may need to add more flour to thicken the mixture. Medieval Cuisine’s measurements do not result in a thick batter. Mine was still on the runnier side like pancake batter, even after adding some flour. If you want something more traditionally fritter-like you’ll probably need batter that is closer to biscuit dough in thickness. I added additional honey after tasting a finished crisp because it needed it. Eat the crisps plain or top with honey or powdered sugar. I didn’t mind the crisps, though I definitely prefer crispels as my go-to medieval fried treat.

 

 

posnetAs for history, one term worth noting is posnet, as in “place in a posnet.” A posnet means “small pot,” referring to a type of early cast iron skillet with legs. Because all cooking was done directly over a fire (often in a hanging cauldron), it would have been necessary to put the pot right on the coals in order to melt the lard and fry the batter properly.


Some thoughts

There are a few things about this recipe that make me wonder…

  • Cast the batter therein and stir it until you have many” is a strange phrase for making a fritter. Crepes are made by spreading the batter around the pan. Or maybe this simply means drop in batter, stir and repeat until you have many fritters? It could also mean drizzle the batter around in the hot oil and stir it around until you have many swirls, much like you would a funnel cake. The latter possibility could support the “crisp” idea, especially since the word crisp at the time often meant curly rather than brittle. (Walker)
  • There is no leavening agent here and nothing to dip into the batter as directed in most other period fritter recipes. The final product turned out to resemble a little frilly pancake rather than a true crispy fritter, despite the use of the word “frutours” in the recipe. The distinction between fritters and pancakes can get a bit hazy.
  • There is another recipe in the Forme of Cury called Cryspes (crisps), which is very clearly a funnel cake. If cryppys are “crisps” then these are either supposed to be made the same way or a different chef used a similar name for an entirely different type of treat.
  • Could the title itself, Cryppys, actually mean crepes instead of “crisps?” There are no other crepe recipes in the Forme of Cury to easily disprove this theory. There was no standardized spelling in Middle English so people often wrote things out phonetically according to dialect. Seems to me that medieval foodies simply use the same commonly accepted translation without considering the possibility that it might be wrong.

 

There are some medieval recipes that are based entirely on guesswork combined with a lot of trial and error, even for the seasoned food historians I look to for guidance. This is definitely one of those recipes.  That said, I personally do not believe Medieval Cuisine’s redaction for cryppys is completely accurate. Next time I try this recipe I’ll try it a few different ways to compare:

  1. Spread a thin batter around (using measurements above) to make a sort of crepe.
  2. Drizzle the batter in a spiral into the hot oil to make something more like a crispy funnel cake. Not a fritter, but it would be “crisp.”
  3. For a crisp that is more fritter-like, increase the amount of flour and/or reduce the water to make a doughy batter.

Stay tuned for updates!


Sources and Suggested Reading

Honey Crispels

If you thought deep-fried sweets like funnel cakes, elephant ears/beaver tails and doughnuts were modern inventions for the county fair, think again. Fried pastries have been around since ancient Egypt and China. The Romans ate something called scriblita, a fried pastry dough. Fried doughs were common throughout Asia, the Middle East and Europe in various forms during the Middle Ages. The Youtiao (a Chinese cruller) originated in China during the 10th century Song dynasty. A recipe for Awameh is found in a Middle Eastern recipe book from 1226. Fritter recipes are plentiful in medieval European manuscripts and were extremely popular street treats just before Lent.

European colonization spread some familiar forms of fried pastries even further across the globe. Beignets were introduced to Canada by French settlers in the 1600’s and gradually made their way down to Louisiana to ultimately become a staple of Cajun cuisine. A century later, the Pennsylvania Dutch (German) immigrants brought funnel cakes to the United States. Fried fair foods became especially popular in the U.S. during the 19th century. It was then that the term “doughnuts” became common for a certain type of fried dough, likely coined by Washington Irving in reference to Dutch oliebollen (fried pastry balls).  Meanwhile, the Navajo Indians developed their own tasty version of fried bread, Puff Puffs became a traditional treat in Nigeria and the popularity of Sopapillas began to spread throughout South America. Needless to say, there is a wide variety of fried dough pastries worldwide, many with histories going back hundreds or even thousands of years.


The Recipe

One type of ancient fried dough is the crispel. This was a popular treat in medieval Europe during the 14th century. It was basically pastry fried in olive oil and glazed with warm honey.

This recipe was composed by King Richard II’s master cooks around 1390 and compiled in what is now called the British Library ms 5016. A duplicate manuscript called the Rylands English ms 7 was created in 1420 (see image below). This collection of recipes is better known as the “Forme of Cury,” which was published by Samuel Pegge in 1780.

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Forme of Cury, 1420 English MS 7 f.76r

Cryspels. Take and make a foile of gode past as thynne as paper; kerue it out wyt a saucer & frye it in oile; oþer in grece; and þe remnaunt, take hony clarified and flamme (flaunne) þerwith. Alye hem vp and serue hem forth. 

Crispels. Take and make a sheet of good pastry as thin as paper; carve it out with a saucer & fry it in oil; or in grease; and the remnant, take clarified honey and baste there-with. Allay them up and serve them forth.

Pastry Dough

1 3/4 c. flour
½ c. butter
1 egg
2 tbsp cold water
Pinch of salt

You will also need

Honey
Olive oil or lard


Step ONE: The Dough

Take and make a sheet of good pastry as thin as paper…

After attempting this recipe with a variety of dough types, I discovered that the absolute best result (and most authentic) comes from basic homemade shortcrust pastry dough.   While it would be nice to use pre-packaged frozen pastry dough sold in grocery stores, it just doesn’t work. Any preferred dough could possibly give you good results, but be sure to avoid puff or extra-flakey pastry. I will explain why in Step Three.

Cut butter into cubes and rub it into flour until the dough is crumbly. Add the salt, egg and cold water to bind into a dough. Add more water if necessary.  

Optional: steep a couple strands of saffron in the cold water prior to adding to the dough. This was common practice in royal kitchens. 

Step TWO: Roll and Fry

Carve it out with a saucer & fry it in oil

Roll the dough out very thin and use a mug to cut into small circles. Fry (not sear) in olive oil or lard. Be sure to fill your pan with enough oil to cover the dough. When one side is golden and crispy (this takes about 30 seconds), flip over to fry the other side. Let your crispel cool on a paper towel.

Note: While you can certainly deep fry in olive oil with no problems, the less refined Extra Virgin oil does have a lower smoke point than other cooking oils. If you are worried about EVOO’s low smoke point, use light or pure olive oil instead.

Step THREE: Baste

Take clarified honey and baste there-with. Do them up and serve them forth.

Meanwhile, bring your honey to a boil and stir often. This is especially important if your honey is raw, hard or crystallized. This process is meant to clarify your honey or simply liquify it a bit, making it easier to baste.

Baste your crispels with the honey using a basting brush. If you prefer, dip your entire crispel in the honey but be aware that basting really is the best way to go. King Richard’s cooks direct us to “baste” for a reason. Serve them warm.

If your dough is too flakey this step will be very frustrating. The result might be a crispel with a gaping hole in the top or a pastry that dissolves in your mouth like cotton candy, but not in a good way. I recommend following the directions above and start with a homemade dough. Do not be afraid to make your own dough! It really isn’t difficult.

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The great thing about working with pastry is that you can roll the whole thing out and cut it all into circles immediately after you make it. Fry what you need and freeze the rest for later. Just wrap the circles in plastic wrap, stack them in a ziplock and put them in the freezer. When you’re ready to wow your friends and family with a quick medieval treat, fry them up frozen or thawed (your choice) and drizzle some honey or even agave over the top. Easy!

If you are interested in trying a similar period recipe, check out cryppys (crisps). This is more of a fritter since it uses a batter instead of a pastry dough.

Additional medieval pastry dough recipes:
“Game of Thrones” shortcrust recipe
Medieval pie crust using lard and hot water
Further reading on medieval era pie crusts


Sources

 

Italian Blackberry Sauce, c. 1464

There is no shortage of 15th century Italian recipes thanks to Maestro Martino de Rossi, a well known and influential “celebrity” chef who worked in some of the greatest kitchens of late Medieval/Renaissance Italy. In 1464/65 he wrote Libro de Arte Coquinaria (The Art of Cooking), which is widely considered to be the first modern cookbook and possibly the best historical record of Italian cuisine.

There are a lot of sauce recipes in Libro de Arte Coquinaria but I was especially intrigued by what is commonly known as “Heavenly Blue Summer Sauce” or “Summertime Cerulean Blue Sauce” thanks to an English translation found in the book The Medieval Kitchen (1998) by Edward Schneider.

This particular recipe is made with blackberries, which are harvested during the summer.  According to Medieval folklore blackberries are never to be eaten after Michaelmas (a very old Catholic holiday) on September 29th. They are poison! Story goes, the Archangel Michael and Lucifer had a big fight in Heaven. Lucifer lost and plunged to Hell, landing in a blackberry bush. He cursed the berries, but not before spitting and possibly urinating on the bush.


The Recipe

Sapor celeste de estate. Piglia de li moroni salvatiche che nascono in le fratte, et un poche de amondole ben piste, con un pocho de zenzevero. Et queste cose distemperarai con agresto et passarale per la stamegnia.

The following translation is a blend of two separate translations by Jeremy Parzen and Edward Schneider:

Heavenly Summertime Sauce. Take blackberries that grow in the thickets/shrubs, and a small amount of almonds, well grounded, with a little ginger. Thin these things with verjuice and pass through a stamine/sieve

**Note on the translation

Every modernized redaction of this recipe I found calls it “Heavenly Blue Summer Sauce.” The blackberry sauce did not turn out blue for me or for anyone else, it seems, who has tried making it. This prompted a good look at the original Italian-Latin text, which I noticed doesn’t contain a word for blue (blu or caeruleus). I am an amateur at best when it comes to Latin, but Sapor celeste de estate could be loosely translated to mean “Heavenly taste of Summer.” My initial theory that this recipe may have been mistranslated was backed up by a 2005 English Edition of The Art of Cooking by Luigi Ballerini and Jeremy Parzen.  I decided to go with Parzen’s recipe title: “Heavenly Summertime Sauce.”


Heavenly Summertime Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1 package (1.5-2 cups) blackberries
  • 2 tbsp. blanched almonds, finely ground
  • 1 tsp. grated fresh ginger
  • 1-2 tbsp. verjuice (apple cider vinegar is an appropriate substitute)
  • 1 tsp. sugar, additional sugar to taste

Step ONE

Take blackberries that grow in the thickets/shrubs, and a small amount of almonds, well grounded, with a little ginger.

Crush blackberries in a mortar or puree in a food processor or blender. If you’re happy with a thick puree, stir in your almonds and ginger. Otherwise, strain the blackberries to remove seeds and simply use the juice before adding the other ingredients.

Step TWO

Thin these things with verjuice and pass through a stamine/sieve

Add the verjuice or cider vinegar to your mixture. 15th-century purees were made by forcing the mixture through a sieve, but you’ll save some time and energy using a blender or food processor. If desired, run your sauce through a strainer but be aware that it will take some work to push it all through. I divided my mixture into two parts to try both methods. I started with the strainer but ended up transferring most of it to the blender. The point is to turn your puree into a sauce, so at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter which method you use. The sauce will be thick.

Step THREE

Adjust flavors and serve over meat.

The resulting sauce will be slightly sour and slightly sweet. I thought the sauce was a bit dull and it needed to favor either sour or sweet. So I added a touch more sugar, but only a pinch at a time until I was satisfied with the balance of flavors.

Sauces like this one would have been paired with a white meat like veal or chicken. Birds were a favorite meat source during the summer months so your most authentic dish served with blackberry sauce would likely be poached chicken.


I enjoyed this sauce. It was unique and certainly different from modern sauces but it went well with some shredded chicken and, surprisingly, with pork. It also tasted pretty good on a homemade roll. Of all the family members who tried it, the biggest fan was my 12 year-old nephew!

Working with blackberries can be very messy but this sauce is easy to make. I encourage even the beginner cooks out there to give it a try and let me know what you think!


Sources

Featured Image photo by Photofarmer.

Apple Muse: an Ancient Applesauce

Apple Muse was an extremely popular medieval dessert, likely enjoyed in some form at every level of society due to the availability of the three core ingredients.

There are many versions of this recipe found in a variety of manuscripts but often under different names: Appylmoes, apulmos, appillinose, etc. All versions I’ve found call for apples, almond milk and honey and are to be thickened with bread crumbs or egg yolks. Some versions add spices for sweetness and flavor, others simply for color. Depending on the recipe and personal taste, Apple Muse (or perhaps “Mousse”) could be thin like applesauce or thick and mushy like a bread pudding. There is a lot of room here for interpretation.

As always I like to provide some basic history about certain ingredients, especially when presenting a dish so common to the the Medieval world.


Apples

Apples were probably the most accessible fruit in medieval Europe. Every culinary manuscript contains a large percentage of apple-based recipes. Desserts, mostly.

DSC_0024 (1)

I am the type of person who will get derailed by a tiny detail such as which kind of modern apple might be considered most authentic to the Middle Ages. After much research and deliberation I’ve found that there aren’t any. No modern varieties of apples existed back then. A few period varieties can be found but are grown in specialty antiquity/heirloom or research orchards in Europe. Like today, there were many types of apples, some better for eating raw and others used only for baking. Generally speaking, medieval apples were smaller than ours and not quite as sweet.

Some of the most popular varieties in the 13th through 15th centuries were the Copstard, Queene, Pippin (an ancient variety, not just any Pippin) and Old Pearmain. There are thousands of varieties of modern apples but only a handful are available to me locally. Among those that are most common in U.S. grocery stores the varieties I believe are best to use are the Golden Delicious, McIntosh and Granny Smith (a descendent of an ancient French crab-apple). Many popular apples like Pink Lady, Jonagold and Gala are actually descendants of the Golden Delicious. At the end of the day, any apple you want to use will probably do.

If you’re interested in reading up on apple varieties, Orange Pippin is a fantastic place to start!

Honey

Until sugar became more accessible and affordable, honey was the sweetener everyone relied on. It was highly valued in medieval society, not only for its flavor but also for its medicinal properties. Honey has been an important worldwide agricultural product pretty much since the beginning of time.

Further reading on the history of honey:
Medieval Beekeeping
The Honey Association

Almond Milk

Almond milk is one of the most common ingredients in medieval cooking and is a must for any period culinary enthusiast. Due to the large number of days when animal products like cow’s milk and meat broth were off-limits, almond milk was often the go-to substitute.

You can read up on the history of almond milk and even learn how to make it at home by reading my previous posts:
Almond Milk the Medieval Way
Almond Milk the Medieval Way: Pt. 2


The Recipe

This recipe is from Harleian ms 279, a manuscript written in approximately 1430. It was transcribed by Thomas Austin and combined with another Harleian manuscript and 3 extracts. Austin’s collection was published in 1848 under the title Two Fifteenth-Century Cookbooks.

Apple Muse. Take Appelys an sethe hem, an Serge hem þorwe a Sefe in-to a potte; þanne take Almaunde Mylke & Hony, an caste þer-to, an gratid Brede, Safroun, Saunderys, & Salt a lytil, & caste all in þe potte & lete hem sethe; & loke þat þou stere it wyl, & serue it forth.

My translation:

Apple Muse (Mousse)- Take apples and boil them, and force them through a sieve into a pot; then take Almond milk and honey, and add, and grated bread, saffron, sandalwood, & a little salt, & put all in the pot & let them boil; & see that you stir it well, & serve it forth.

Ingredients

The measurements below are a result of more than one attempt at this recipe to find a pleasant texture somewhere between runny and congealed.

  • 2 apples
  • 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 3 tbsp honey
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs (2 slices of toast)
  • Pinch of saffron
  • Pinch of salt
  • Red sandalwood powder for color (optional)

Step ONE

“Take apples and boil them, and force them through a sieve into a pot;”

Core and peel your apples and boil them in water until they are nice and soft, easy to mash. Depending on how many apples you use this could take about 10 minutes. Drain the water.

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Without the use of modern blenders, purees were made by mashing and pushing the food through a sieve, a type of strainer. While you’re welcome to sieve your boiled apples by hand, it will save a lot of time and energy if you use a blender or food processor. You could even mash with a mortar and pestle. It doesn’t matter much which tool you use as long as your puree is relatively smooth. No need to be a hero.

Step TWO

“…take Almond milk and honey, and cast thereto, and grated bread, saffron, sandalwood, & a little salt, & cast all in the pot & let them boil; & see that you stir it well”

Add the remaining ingredients and simmer long enough to heat it through and thicken. This takes around 5-7 minutes.

A few notes:

  • Adjust the honey according to taste. Three tablespoons is perfect, in my opinion, if using a sweeter variety of apple.
  • Commercial bread crumbs aDSC_0017nd Panko should be avoided at all costs when making this recipe. These products aren’t generally advised for authenticity purposes anyway, but while they are acceptable in other recipes, the texture is what will make or break this dish. Experience taught me that using the ultra-fine breadcrumbs results in an apple muse that is extremely thick and unpleasant. Instead, toast a couple pieces of bread and dry them out before crushing (or sieving) into crumbs.
  • Saffron does add a bit to the flavor. However, as was typical in medieval cooking, it was intended to be used as a food colorant. You could throw a pinch right into the pot or steep it in the almond milk ahead of time. Saffron is pricey so if you want to omit this ingredient you certainly may, or you could even replace it with a little yellow food coloring.
  • Sandalwood powder can be difficult to find in its edible form. During the Middle Ages it was commonly added to food to color it red, not enhance the flavor. By all accounts the sandalwood is either unpleasant or not even noticeable so its use is entirely optional here. If you still desire that red color, use food coloring. But you’ll need enough to turn it red, not pink!

Step THREE

Serve it forth!

Apple Muse is great served right out of the warm pot, but I personally prefer eating it cold. There is no indication in the recipe of any spice toppings to dress the Apple Muse for serving. I suppose you could sprinkle some Ceylon cinnamon or nutmeg on top, but I left mine plain.

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Photos by Nathan Berry


This is a pretty simple and tasty dish, but it is a bit…odd. It is not quite an applesauce, not quite a pudding, not quite an oatmeal. The flavor is wonderful regardless of texture. The super-thick version I made was just awful, but that might just be my texture preference. I don’t believe Apple Muse was intended to be runny, but you could easily adjust the measurements to suit your personal taste. Have fun with it and don’t be afraid to experiment!

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Sources

Erbeßsuppen, a Medieval Pea Soup

Today’s recipe is yet another popular medieval pottage: Pea Soup. If you want to know more about pottages, read my previous post on the subject.

This recipe comes from a German cookbook called Ein New Kochbuch by Max Rumpolt, head cook for Daniel Brendel of Homburg, Elector of Mainz. This cookbook was, according to all available sources, the first textbook for professional chefs in training. There isn’t enough information out there about Max Rumpolt that I trust, but we do know the book was written in 1581 and the digitized version can be accessed here.


The Recipe

Erbeßsuppen is an ideal winter pottage, especially on a fish day. Any household hoping to survive the winter would have a nice stock of preserved and dried foods like split peas. For anyone not wealthy enough afford to buy imported goods and produce, preserved foods would have been all they had to work with.

Because this recipe was written after 1500 it is technically considered Renaissance cooking. However, there is nothing “Renaissance” about it at all. The ingredients are very basic and likely hadn’t changed for a couple hundred years. The transliteration from the original book into modern German text was done by Thomas Gloning and can be accessed here.

Erbeßsuppen

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Erbeßsuppen mit klein gehackten Zwibeln/die geschweißt seyn/pfeffers vnd gelbs/so ist es auch gut

My English translation:

Pea soup with small chopped onions/ that have been sweated/ pepper and yellow/ so it is good too.

The “pepper and yellow” is referring to the seasoning. Pepper (it) and yellow (it), so it is good too. So the chef suggests adding extra flavor with pepper and coloring it with saffron. I have yet to find a medieval recipe that suggests yellowing food with anything other than saffron. Salt isn’t specifically mentioned, but anyone who cooks knows a pea soup needs salt.

I based my redaction below on the ratios suggested by Medieval Cuisine.  My version yields 2-3 servings. Double everything but the olive oil and onions if you plan on feeding the whole family.

Ingredients

  • 2 c. split peas
  • 2 tsp. olive oil
  • 1 onion
  • 2 c. water
  • 2 c. vegetable broth
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • Optional: pinch of saffron (very small pinch- maybe 5-10 threads)

The instructions are very simple:

  1. Dice and “sweat” the onions in the olive oil. This is almost the same as a sauté, but at a lower temperature to avoid browning.
  2. Add the broth, water, peas and seasonings.
  3. Bring to a boil then simmer for 2 hours.

For authenticity, don’t add anything else to the pot. And if you want to go the peasant route leave the saffron out. Bacon or ham would be fine additions if you’re not a stickler for source accuracy. If you prefer a creamier pea soup blend it up until it is nice and smooth. Otherwise, it is fantastic as is.

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Blend the soup for a creamy texture

I am in general not a huge fan of pea soup, but this one is delicious. Straightforward ingredient-wise and easy to make on the fly. Just make sure you simmer it for the full 2 hours!

 

Two Peasanty Pottages

If there is one dish that exemplifies Medieval cooking it would probably be pottage, which is basically a soup or stew. Pottage was a staple of the medieval diet, from the lowliest peasant to the royal family. There was an enormous range of pottages, from the most basic vegetable soup to fancy meat or fruit pottages with luxurious imported spices. Anything that could be thrown in a pot and boiled together could do as a pottage (or “potage”). It was typically eaten with bread or served directly in a bread trencher.

Pottages were popular not only because of their variety and seemingly endless combinations, but they were ideal for the medieval lifestyle. Some pottages could be boiled up quick and ready to serve, others would stay on the fire for days on end with additional ingredients being added from time to time.

A peasant pottage would usually consist of whatever vegetables and herbs they had on hand boiled in some stock. If desired and the ingredients were available, the pottage might be thickened with barley or bread crumbs. Only on special occasions or during the winter would they include meat. Depending on the home, the pottage would be prepared in either a large earthenware pot and left to simmer on the hot ashes or hung on a beam in a large cauldron directly over the hearth (usually outdoors). Because of the ingredients they had on hand (typically cabbage, turnips, leeks and onions), peasant pottages tended to be quite thin.

A pottage for urban dwellers or wealthy citizens would be cooked in the same method, but in a cauldron hanging over the kitchen hearth or fireplace. The difference, though, is that there was a much wider variety of ingredients and flavors. There would be little need to keep the pottage going for days for anyone other than servants, so it generally tasted better and was typically much thicker. Town dwellers had access to many more types of food and were not bound only to the foods they could grow in their tiny urban gardens. Anything available at the market that they could afford could potentially be thrown in the pot. A variety of oats and grains would be used to thicken, if desired. Meat was more widely available, as were imported spices and herbs. The wealthiest homes would serve fancy pottages like frumenty or morrew, which often included additional ingredients like exotic meats, sugar, currants, and saffron. For anyone lucky enough to dine with the nobles at court, the sky was the limit when it came to pottage-worthy ingredients.


Two Peasant-y Pottages

Regardless of who you were and what your rank was in medieval society, you would have certainly eaten a version of one of the two pottage recipes below. This would have been especially true for rural peasants who basically lived off of cabbages and leeks. However, the peasant version would have been seasoned with only salt or whatever herbs they had on hand.

These recipes are from The Forme of Cury (1390-1420), a collection by the Master Chef of King Richard II. They are made with the same main ingredients: leeks and onions simmered in chicken broth. Both are seasoned with powder douce and colored with saffron.

A few notes about the ingredients:

  • Saffron was a very expensive spice then, as it is now. Though it was grown locally in England it still would have been far too pricey for a peasant, or even the average town dweller. Saffron adds very little to the flavor, depending on how much you use. Its main purpose was actually to color the food, as you’ll see in the recipe for Blaunche Porre. Dyeing food was a very common practice in kitchens that could afford the luxury. Medieval gentry especially loved turning their food gold!
  • Cabbages, leeks and onions were often considered “peasant food” due to their availability (very easy to grow) and low cost. Despite this, every recipe manuscript, including those written by known court chefs, called for these three ingredients in a wide variety of dishes.
  • Powder Douce (“sweet powder”) was a spice blend used liberally in medieval cooking. It was typically made with ginger, cinnamon, cloves and sugar. Chefs could create their own personalized blends or simply purchase it pre-blended, much like we do now with Italian seasoning. Here is a typical powder douce recipe, but feel free to adapt it to according  your personal taste.

Caboges in Potage

Take caboches and quartre hem and seeth hem in gode broth with Onyons y mynced and the whyte of Lekes y slyt and corue smale and do þereto safron and salt and force it with poudre douce. 

My translation:

Take cabbages and quarter them and seethe them in good broth with minced onions and the whites of leeks sliced and carved small and do thereto saffron and salt and force it with powder douce.

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Ingredients:

  • 1 cabbage (rough chop or quarter)
  • 8 cups (2 qts) chicken broth. Use less liquid for thicker pottage.
  • onion
  • leek
  • saffron (optional)
  • salt and powder douce to taste.

No detailed directions are necessary here. All you do is simmer the cabbage, onion and leek in chicken broth. When it is soft (around 8-10 minutes), season to taste. Serve warm, with bread.

Blaunche Porre

Blaunche Porre could literally mean “white leeks” but is often called “Golden Leeks” in other recipes. It also calls for smale bryddys, which are blackbirds or finches. We are going to leave the little birdies out for (hopefully) obvious reasons, but it might be worth adding a bit of chicken to the pot next time. This dish could really use it, in my opinion.

To make blaunche porre. Tak whyte lekys & perboyle hem & hewe hem smale with oynouns. Cast it in good broth & sethe it up with smale bryddys. Coloure it with saffferoun; powdur yt with pouder douce. The Forme of Cury

Translation:

To make golden leeks. Take white leeks and parboil them and cut them small with onions. Cast it in good broth and seethe it up with small birds. Color it with saffron; powder it with powder douce.

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Golden leeks served with the broth.

Ingredients

  • 1-2 leeks
  • 1 onion
  • 2 cups of chicken broth
  • Powder douce to taste
  • Saffron to color

*My redaction above makes approximately 2 servings. It is very important to only use the white ends of the leeks to get the right shade of gold at the end.

Suggested measurements to serve 6 (from The Medieval Cookbook by Maggie Black):

1 tsp saffron strands, 2 tbsp boiling water, 6 leeks, 3 medium onions, 2.5 cups chicken stock, 1/2 tsp. powder douce.

This pottage is made pretty much the same way as the caboges, but it’s better to prepare the food coloring ahead of time rather than throw the saffron in. Still, here are the directions broken down in 4 easy steps:

  1. Start by soaking the saffron strands in 2 tbsp boiling water for a few minutes. You’ll see the water begin to turn yellow.
  2. Meanwhile, bring the broth to a simmer and add the leeks and onions. I suggest dicing the onions and finely slicing the leeks. Let everything boil together for about 8 minutes.
  3. Add the saffron and let it simmer for a minute or two. If it still isn’t gold enough for you, go ahead and add some yellow food coloring or throw in more saffron.
  4. Season with salt to taste, add the Powder Douce.
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Drain the broth, if you prefer

You can serve this runny or drain the stock and eat it as a side dish. This pottage, like most pottages, is meant to be eaten with bread. If you’re feeling adventurous and crafty you could carve yourself a bread trencher or take the easy way out and just buy a bread bowl. Otherwise, a regular bowl will do.

Minnehaha Cake, Chicago World’s Fair (1893)

Today’s recipe is brought to you by The World’s Fair Recipe Book by J.F. Landis, which featured over 600 recipes for food, medicine, remedies for various human and animal ailments, etc. Because it was published in April of 1893, I would assume it was sold at the Columbian Exposition (“Chicago World’s Fair”) beginning the following month.

Access the entire digitized book here: The World’s Fair Recipe Book

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It is difficult to find any specific information about the collection. I have so many unanswered questions: Whose recipes were they? Was this intended to be a souvenir or what?  Were these recipes for foods sold and featured at the Exposition? Were these recipes collected by the Ladies’ Auxiliary or submitted by Exposition vendors?

What I do know is that The Ladies Auxiliary of the Columbian Exposition put out their own souvenir cook book, called The Home Queen World’s Fair Souvenir Cookbook. The Souvenir Cookbook had vague, simplified recipes (a 19th century woman probably knew kitchen basics), and many of them were even signed by individual Auxiliary members. This book included hundreds of recipes, etiquette guides, homemaking tips, pictures and bits of other pertinent info. Some sources suggest this book was not sold as a souvenir during the Fair, but given to all the Exposition’s Lady Managers, the many members of the Ladies Auxiliary who participated, and the wives of governors or other important people. So the Home Queen souvenir collection may or may not have been available to the general public but a decent number of copies were out there.

As for The World’s Fair Recipe Book, we can only assume it was available for purchase but I don’t know. There don’t seem to be any surviving copies! At the very least, it was submitted to the Library of Congress and a request was made on the cover for salespeople (“Agents wanted everywhere”). Why bother publishing such a book if not intending to sell it at the World’s Fair?

For the sake of understanding where the following Minnehaha cake recipe came from, we know it probably didn’t originate with a Ladies’ Auxiliary member (they published their own book), but instead was gathered by J.F. Landis from some other source. Regardless of where the recipe came from, it’s a valuable piece of American food history from the 19th century.


Minnehaha Cake

There is such thing as a traditional Minnehaha cake and a few different versions can be found online. Basically it’s a layered butter cake with raisin filling and sugar icing. It was apparently very popular in the U.S. around the turn of the century. There is no definitive source for the name that I can find, but it is widely assumed to be named after the Indian princess Minnehaha from Longfellow’s 1855 poem Song of Hiawatha. 

The Recipe

 

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Step ONE: The Batter

“Four eggs, leaving out the whites of three for filling. One-half cup butter, one cup sugar, one-half cup milk, two cups flour, one teaspoon soda, two of cream tartar.”

Pretty much every cake-from-scratch from this era, or really any era, suggests creaming the sugar and butter before blending all the wet ingredients together. This recipe doesn’t say it specifically but I’ve baked enough cakes to know creaming is the first thing to do. After that was done I added the remaining wet ingredients (milk, 3 egg yolks and 1 full egg), then the baking soda and cream of tartar and mixed well. Flour was added last.

While not a common practice in modern cooking, flour definitely would have been sifted in the 19th century. Commercial flour these days is refined enough that it doesn’t contain the bugs, chaff, or other things that it used to. However, sifting helps with exact measurements and actually gives the flour a lighter and less lumpy texture, which is especially useful in cakes. Dry ingredients could be sifted with the flour if you want to blend them together extra well.

I poured the batter into two 8″ rounds and baked at 350 degrees. It took between 20-25 minutes for my cakes to be done, but you may need to add a few minutes if necessary.

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Step TWO: The Filling and Frosting

“Whites three eggs, one and one-half cups granulated sugar, one cup chopped raisins, add a little water to sugar, and boil till it will hair, then add the beaten whites, and to part of this add the raisins…”

I will admit that after attempting to follow the vague directions in the recipe with zero sugar-working or confectionery experience, this experiment was a total failure.

After a couple tries, my baking partners and I decided to abandon hopes of making an 1893 boiled sugar icing that day. We also ran out of eggs. So I divided what frosting I happened to have on hand into two portions. Chopped raisins were added to one portion and the rest was left as is.

Luckily for you, I’ve done a bit of research and discovered that it is helpful to use a candy thermometer to get the sugar to the correct temperature or bad things will happen. Also, “beaten eggs” in this case means beaten to the point where peaks form, such as in a soufflé. To make life easier in the future, simply use this Fluffy Boiled Icing recipe. While not exactly like the World’s Fair version, the resulting flavor and texture will probably be close enough.

Step THREE: Layer and Frost

When the cakes have cooled completely, level one with a knife or a cake leveler. Spread the raisin-frosting filling on top of the leveled round and stack the other on top of it.

Use the plain icing to frost the entire exterior of the cake and unless you want to decorate it further, your Minnehaha cake is done!


Despite the issue with the icing and not having enough backup frosting to cover the entire cake, the Minnehaha Cake was delicious. It is hearty, sweet, and the raisin filling was way better than I expected. I would definitely make it again (and I will), but perhaps after I have figured out how to make the boiled icing.

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The cake looks terrible but tastes great!