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

 

Gregorian Chant, A Beginner’s Guide

Medieval music is typically divided into two major categories: secular and sacred. Anyone who has explored the complex world of medieval music has likely come across religious chants, often referred to as Gregorian Chants. While on the surface it may seem that all chants are pretty much the same (especially for those unaccustomed to hearing medieval religious music), there is a wide variety of styles, themes and functions. Gregorian Chants are not for everyone, but knowing and appreciating the basics is certainly worth it for any musician, historian or music lover.


Medieval Church Music

It is almost impossible to make sense of what Gregorian chants even are without at least some knowledge of the Catholic Church. Rather than try to summarize theology and centuries of religious rites and customs, I will just define some key words that will come in handy. Note that definitions and descriptions are specific to Western Christianity (Roman Catholic) and do not necessarily have the same meaning in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

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Cantate Domino, Illustration for Psalm 97. c. 1380

Liturgy- A religious ritual or rite, or the formal arrangement of religious services. The main services of the Roman Catholic Church are the Mass/Holy Eucharist and the Divine Office. Services typically include scriptural readings, prayers and chants. The outline of these services stays pretty constant, but the specific content changes depending on the time of year. The yearly schedule determining which religious content (prayers, chants, etc) makes up these services is called the liturgical year.

Feasts- Feasts are religious celebrations or commemorations of events and/or people. Holidays are feasts. There are two feast cycles that make up the liturgical year. The first is called Proper of the Time, Temporale, or Feasts of the Lord. The focus of these feasts is the life of Christ and includes such holidays as Christmas and Easter. The second feast cycle is the Proper of the Saints or the Sanctorale and is all about the individual saints and their lives.  The two feast cycles overlap. Some feasts are on the same day every year. Others, such as Easter, change dates and are called “moveable” feasts.

Mass- This service is the most important one of the Roman Catholic Church. It is a ritual commemorating the Last Supper. There are musical and nonmusical sections in the Mass, some of which are from the Proper and others are from the Ordinary.

Divine Office, or simply Office– Also called the Liturgy of the Hours and the Breviary. These 8 sets of prayers and services (called “canonical hours”) are done daily and are distinct and separate from the Mass. The arrangement, or plan, of the Divine Office services can vary depending on whether they are done in monasteries, cathedrals or churches. The musical forms used in the Office/Liturgy of the Hours are hymns, psalms, canticles, responsories and antiphons.

Ordinary- The specific texts, chants and music that are used in certain parts of the Mass and Office services that are always the same, regardless of the day or the feast. Melodies may change depending on the taste of the local clergy, but the words are always constant. The musical forms that make up the Ordinary are the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei. These songs and chants are permanent parts of the Mass and do not change with the feasts. Here is a link to the full texts of the Ordinary of the Mass.

Proper- The texts, chants and music that make up the Proper are those items within the Mass and Office services that change from feast to feast. The types of music in the Proper that are used during Mass are Introit, Gradual, Alleluia, Offertory and Communion. Other forms of chants are used for special occasions, such as tropes, sequences and processionals.

Are you confused? Keep reading!

So the typical Mass would consist of the standard Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Bendictus and Agnus Dei (Ordinary). Depending on the day of the liturgical calendar and which feast cycle it is, a feast-specific Introit, Gradual, Alleluia, Offertory and Communion would also be performed (Proper). Throughout the day, separate from Mass, certain prayers, canticles, psalms or hymns would be sung as part of the Divine Office. Each of these would be appropriate for the specific hour or time of day (according to the Liturgy of the Hours).

Religious/liturgical music of the Middle Ages (with traditions continuing into the Modern day) can be narrowed down to two basic types: Psalmodic and non-psalmodic. Within those two styles are varying prayers and chants that are categorized according to the religious source text being used, subject matter and musical form. They are: Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Benedictus, Agnus Dei, Introit, Gradual, Offertory, Communion, Alleluia, Canticle, Antiphon, Responsory, Psalm or Hymn. There are other forms from the Divine Office Proper that are less common and are not listed here. Some types of chants have been around since the beginning of Christian chant, others were added to the liturgy over the centuries.

The repertory of approved liturgical chants could include a variety of melodies used to sing the same texts and preferred versions would change as musical styles evolved over time. For example, the Kyrie (a prayer of the Mass Ordinary) could be sung a number of ways. Phrases are repeated as many times as the composer felt was musically  appropriate, but the text is always the same: “Kyrie eleison. Christe eleison. Kyrie eleison.

A 14th century Kyrie by Guillaume de Machaut:

A 15th century Kyrie by Guillaume Dufay:

The Roman Catholic musical tradition is far more complex than a group of monks chanting in Latin or a choir singing a hymn. When the average person refers to sacred Medieval music, everything typically falls under the umbrella term “Gregorian chant.” Unless you’re Catholic or especially interested in ancient religious music there is no real need to know the specific distinctions between each unique musical form (such as what distinguishes a Kyrie from an Introit). But as you learn a bit more about Gregorian chants and how they came to be canonized, keep in the back of your mind that the texts themselves hold a great deal of religious significance. It is also important to remember that there is an incredibly wide variety of chants and that many sacred songs of the Middle Ages are not actually chants at all. As you explore the world of Gregorian chant you’ll discover just how unique and beautiful they really are.


Gregorian Chant, a Brief History

Even before Christianity was legalized in the 4th century, early Christians were using unaccompanied singing and chanting in religious services. These chants are known as Plainchant or Plainsong. As Christianity spread, a variety of musical traditions and plainchant repertories developed independently throughout what was left of the Roman Empire.

The known Western traditions included Mozarabic (Roman Spain), the Gallican chants of Gaul (France),  Ambrosian chant (Milan, Italy), Beneventan (Italy), Anglo-Saxon and later the Sarum (England), Old Roman and Gregorian (Rome). In the East, Christians developed plainchant rites and traditions including Byzantine, Coptic, Syrian, Ethiopian and Armenian. Other liturgical forms existed elsewhere, such as the Celtic rite in Ireland and the Slavonic in Scandinavia.

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Notated Gregorian Chant

The Gregorian style of chant gets its name from Pope Gregory who reigned from 590 to 604. There is a lot of debate regarding Pope Gregory’s part in creating and shaping the Gregorian tradition in Rome. His actual role seems to have been minimal, if not non-existent. Regardless of who developed this liturgical tradition, its popularity spread incredibly quickly throughout the empire. Over the next couple centuries, the Popes felt it was in the Catholic Church’s best interest to eliminate local traditions in favor of a uniform Roman-based liturgical calendar and musical style. Charlemagne, in particular, was a huge supporter of doing away with any non-Roman traditions and replacing them with Roman rites. Once he became Holy Roman Emperor he forced the clergy to adopt the Gregorian repertory or else.

By the 9th century, Gallican and Slavonic had been completely banned by papal decree. Celtic had been replaced by Sarum, Beneventan was on its way out but would last into the 11th century. The rest of the local traditions were gradually replaced by Gregorian or had morphed enough over the years to be able to co-exist with Roman rites to an extent. Old Roman and Mozarabic were used in some places during the Middle Ages, probably because they borrowed enough from the Gregorian style to be able to survive or fly under the papal radar. Ambrosian is the only style of chant other than Gregorian that was officially sanctioned by the Roman Catholic Church. Both are still in use today.


What makes a Gregorian chant a Gregorian chant?

Gregorian chants are free-form, meaning they are not metered and have no time signature. They are modal, giving composers the option to write a melody in one of 8 specific scales. Most will employ a technique called melisma, which is singing a number of notes for one syllable of text. The overwhelming majority are written and sung in Latin.

For centuries, Gregorian chants were sung a capella as pure melody. They could be sung by a soloist, a choir or a congregation, depending on the type of chant. Most chants were monophonic (one voice), meaning only one melody was sung in unison. They had no harmonies or even instrumental accompaniment. At most, a portative organ might play a single note as a sort of drone, but almost all of the time there was nothing but vocals. Instruments were considered impure, worldly and were deemed wildly inappropriate for Christian worship. Only instruments of the spirit, “living strings,” were worthy means to praise God.

Later, as musical styles in the Middle Ages changed, polyphony (many voices) began to be employed in the church.  Organum was introduced in the 9th century, which is multiple “voices” singing the same melody in unison, but at intervals. The typical chant would have two voices: one being the base melodic line and the other set at a fourth or fifth interval, or even an octave, higher. The purpose of this was not to add harmony the way most modern music does (chords, blending of tones that are distinguished from the song’s melody and rhythm), but more to add depth to, or “enliven” the melody. It wasn’t until the late Renaissance that the Church allowed updated polyphonic choral arrangements of sacred chants to be performed during Mass.

organum

Parallel Organum. 5th Interval

An Invitatory for Trinity: Deum Verum (7th century). This hymn is from the Breviary (Divine Office) and is used during Ordinary time. This chant begins with a monophonic melody then switches to organum. It will go back and forth between the two. Listen for that second line sung at a 4th interval higher.

O Ignee Spiritus by Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) is another Breviary hymn that is dedicated to the Holy Spirit. The text is prose written by Hildegard herself and not from scripture. This Office hymn is not part of the Ordinary so it is not heard very often. It is a monophonic chant and is heavy on melisma. This particular version uses a mixed choir, which forces organum (men and women sing an octave apart) where it was probably intended to be sung by women alone.

As an added bonus for my musically-inclined readers, I’ve included the following piano arrangement of “O Ignee Spiritus” with the intent that everyday musicians such as myself may have an opportunity to play a Gregorian chant at home. Because the piano did not exist in the 12th century and Hildegard wrote this hymn to be monophonic without instrumentation, this is not a piece that could be considered remotely authentic. However, my love of Medieval music has inspired me to transcribe this chant into a format that stays true to the original melody while adapting it with added harmony to make it playable and enjoyable on the piano. My goal was to capture the otherworldly essence of this hymn, as well as make it fun to listen to and play. Please be aware that this is my own personal work. You are welcome to print and play it all you want, just do not share without the proper attribution!

o-ignee-spiritus

Here is an audio sample (MIDI):


Sources and Further Reading

I am not Catholic so in order to ensure accuracy I relied on information gleaned from the following sources:

A note about the featured image for this post: This is an illuminated manuscript from a 14th century choir book. The image is a cutting that depicts St. Lawrence in the letter “C.” This initial begins the Introit to the Mass for the feast of St. Lawrence.

Salat, an Aromatic Medieval Salad

It may or may not surprise you to learn that people in the Middle Ages ate salad. And they ate it often.

Unlike today, salads weren’t for calorie-conscious women on diets. Salads were very common meal starters and were loaded full of herbs and aromatic vegetables found in every household garden.

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Alsace Gardens, Jardin medieval. Photo by daniel70mi

Salads were not only genuinely enjoyed by people of all social classes, but were also considered important dishes that served a very functional medicinal purpose. A typical salad included leafy greens, a variety of herbs, loads of allium vegetables (leeks, onions, garlic, etc.), an occasional fruit like wild strawberries, and edible flowers.

Today’s recipe comes from a manuscript called The Forme of Cury, which is a collection of recipes written by King Richard II’s Master chef in 1390. Most of the ingredients will be familiar to you, but others will probably only be accessible if you grow them yourself.


The Recipe

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The Forme of Curye. Recipe begins at the bottom left.

Salat

Take parsel, sawge, garlec, chybollus, oynons, lek, borage, myntes, porrettes, fenels and towne cressis, rewe, rosmarye, purslary, lauen and waische hem clene pyke hem  pluk hem small with thyne hond and mynge hem wel with rawe oyle. lay on vyneger and salt and surve hem forth.

Translation:

Take parsley, sage, garlic, chives, onions, leek, borage, mint, scallions, fennel, garden cress, rue, rosemary, purslane, rinse and wash them clean, pick them pluck them small with thine hand and mix them well with raw oil. Lay on vinegar and salt and serve them forth.

As is usually the case with 14th century recipes, there are no measurements. Because these ingredients will be eaten raw we can safely assume that “garlic” means garlic greens and “fennel” is referring to the bulb and not the seeds. It is also worth mentioning that there is another version of this same recipe in the manuscript that also calls for spinoches, violettes, and prymos (spinach, violets and primrose). My replication of this recipe will be a combination of the two.

Ingredients

  • Arugula or Spring Mix
  • Parsley
  • 1 small onion or 2-3 shallots
  • 1 scallion/green onion
  • 1 fennel bulb
  • 1 leek
  • Garden cress or watercress
  • Sage
  • Rosemary
  • Chives
  • Mint
  • Edible flowers
  • Vinegar or verjuice
  • Olive oil
  • Salt to taste

*Additional ingredients for the avid gardener/advanced forager:

  • Borage
  • Rue
  • Garlic scapes
  • Purslane

*These ingredients are difficult, perhaps even impossible, to find in U.S. grocery stores. Out of necessity I substituted arugula for purslane (a similar leafy green) and chose shallots over onions to make up for the missing garlic scapes. Borage and rue were left out, which most likely had little to no effect on the flavor.

Step ONE: Rinse and Prep

“Take parsley, sage, garlic, chives, onions, leek, borage, mint, scallions, fennel, garden cress, rue, rosemary, purslane, rinse and wash them clean…”

I started by rinsing all of the ingredients and patting them dry. If you’re like me and you have never worked with leek or fennel before now, check out the following links: 

How to Clean and Slice Leeks
How to Cut Fennel

I thinly sliced all of the alliums- leek, shallots, scallions and fennel- and set them aside.

 

“Pick them pluck them small with thine hand…”

I then chopped up a few sprigs of the rosemary and chives and a generous bunch of parsley. As for the sage and mint, I just plucked a handful of leaves and removed the stems. I strongly suggest chopping these up as well. Only use fresh herbs.

  • If you have managed to find borage (also sometimes called Bugloss or Starflower) or you grow it in your garden, you can use the leaves or the flowers. Borage was used medicinally as an anti-inflammatory, among other things. Its seeds are still used to make borage oil, which is found in health food stores.
  • Rue is probably better left out even if you do know where to find it. It was used medicinally for stomach problems, flatulence and coughs. Rue is actually a very effective bug repellant and has also been known to induce labor so it is probably best to avoid ingesting it entirely.

For the greens I used a package of arugula and a bag of “Cress,” which is a combination of garden cress and watercress or other closely related plant. “Towne Cressis” in the recipe is likely referring specifically to garden cress, but watercress is so similar that it won’t make much of a difference flavor-wise. Spinach would also be an acceptable addition.

 

Step TWO: Mix

I started by mixing the arugula, watercress and parsley in a big bowl. Once thoroughly combined, I added the vegetables and herbs. Mix them well to distribute the flavors evenly.

Finally, I topped the salad with some beautiful little edible flowers.

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Flowers were a very common salad ingredient in the Middle Ages. The flowers suggested by the Master chefs for this particular salad are primrose and violets. Many grocery stores do sell packs of edible flowers alongside packs of fresh herbs. The box I found was a blend of nasturtium, pansies, marigolds and hibiscus. Nasturtiums and marigolds were actually very popular salad flowers.

 

Step THREE: The Dressing

“Mix them well with raw oil. Lay on vinegar and salt and serve them forth.”

Once everything seemed pretty evenly distributed, I drizzled some olive oil over the top and tossed it all together. “Raw oil” refers to an oil that hasn’t yet been used for cooking. It was common practice to save and re-use cooking oil, especially for those without extra money to burn.

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For the dressing I poured some verjuice into the bowl, being very mindful of just how much I was using. It took tossing and tasting the salad to get the right amount of acidity without making the flavor too strong. Wine vinegar is also acceptable here; verjuice and vinegar were used pretty interchangeably back in the 14th century.

Finally, season with salt to bring out all those flavors!


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This salad was surprisingly refreshing and would have paired perfectly with Egredouncye! The pot-herbs and vegetables really blended well with the peppery flavor of the greens. The fennel, in my opinion, was the highlight of the dish. I will definitely be eating more raw fennel! My biggest regret was not chopping everything into smaller pieces, particularly the sage and mint. It is a necessary step to ensure all those strong herbs are distributed evenly.

If you want to make your own simplified, medieval-inspired salad at home, don’t be intimidated by the long list of ingredients written above! All you really need at the end of the day is a peppery green, some vegetables from the allium family, some chopped fresh herbs, an optional fruit (apple or strawberry) and/or edible flowers. Never use Iceburg lettuce, sweet peppers, potatoes or tomatoes- they did not exist in Europe until after the 16th century. Top it with salt, oil and vinegar and…voila!

Enjoy!


Photography by Nathan Berry