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.

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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

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.

Almond Milk the Medieval Way: Pt. 2

This is part two of a three-part series of medieval almond milk recipes. Part One includes some background information about the important role that almond milk played in medieval cooking. If you haven’t done so already, I highly suggest reading  Almond Milk the Medieval Way.

 

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Today’s almond milk recipe comes from a medieval cookbook called Du Fait de Cuisine (On Cookery), written in 1420 by Maistre Chiquart.

Here is a digital version of the original manuscript: Du Fait de Cuisine, Médiathèque du Valais

Lucky for us there are English translations! I relied on this translation by Elizabeth Cook.


The Recipe

“And again, flans of almond milk: according to the quantity of flans which you are making take the quantity of almonds, have them well and cleanly blanched and washed and then have them very well brayed; and take very clean fair water and let him strain his almond milk into a bowl or a cornue which is fair and clean according to the quantity of flans which he should make….” – Du Fait de Cuisine (E. Cook translation).

Don’t be fooled by Maistre Chiquart’s wording here. This method of making almond milk is almost exactly the same as the one found in Le Viandier de Taillevent (1300). This is actually an excerpt from a flan recipe that calls for almond milk, not a stand-alone recipe.

You will need:

  • Almonds (blanched)
  • Water
  • Strainer or sieve 

Step ONE: Prep the Almonds

“And again, flans of almond milk: according to the quantity of flans which you are making take the quantity of almonds, have them well and cleanly blanched and washed and then have them very well brayed;”

This time around I used blanched almonds as suggested. If you have never blanched almonds before and would like to learn how, click here.  Because Maistre Chiquart told me to use measurements calculated according to the “quantity of flans” I am making (I am making 0 flans), I just used the same ratios as last time. 1 cup of almonds to 2 cups of water.

I ground/crushed (“brayed“) them up into a floury paste. You can do this by hand with a mortar and pestle like a true medieval food enthusiast or save time by using a blender or a spice grinder.

 

Step TWO: Boil and Steep

“…and take very clean fair water…”

The directions regarding the steeping process are vague. It is likely that Chiquart would have assumed that any cooks reading his book would have had a basic understanding of almond milking. So I drew on my experience with my recreation from Le Viandier de Taillevent and the redaction by Medieval Cookery to determine exactly how I should complete this step.

I boiled two cups of water and poured it over the almond paste. I then let the almond water steep for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. It is worth noting here the use of the word fair in medieval recipes, which could mean clean, fresh or even the quantity. If referring to quantity, “fair” would be a moderate amount. In this context, “fair” probably means “fresh.”

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Step THREE: Strain

“…and let him strain his almond milk into a bowl or a cornue which is fair and clean according to the quantity of flans which he should make….”

Once my almond milk was good and steeped, I poured it through a fine strainer into a bowl. Medieval kitchens did have sieves and strainers, so we know they didn’t just use cheesecloth to strain out the almond pulp. And if you were curious, I did some research and discovered that a cornue is a small bowl with handles.

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If you are the resourceful type, you can keep the almond pulp and use it in other recipes, like marzipan or almond flour. The options are endless, really.

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Don’t throw away your almond pulp!


This almond milk was very similar to the last one, but I definitely prefer the flavor of blanched almonds over the natural. I also much prefer using a strainer instead of cheesecloth, though the cheesecloth is probably more effective. I suspect that letting the ground almond steep a few extra minutes helped infuse the flavors a bit more.

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Overall, the milk is thin (closer to water than cow’s milk in consistency) and has a stronger almond flavor than the commercial products. The texture is still a touch chalky, but I really didn’t mind it at all. If you want to sweeten it up feel free to add some sugar, vanilla or agave, whatever your preferences are.

Stay tuned for Part Three, which will be a recreation of a sweetened almond milk recipe from the 15th century.