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

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.

 

 

 

Almond Milk the Medieval Way

When I first discovered that every medieval cookbook calls for almond milk, I’ll admit I was surprised. Almond milk is a regular part of my diet but I suppose I always assumed it was a newer alternative food for people on restricted or health-conscious diets. Turns out almond milk was an extremely popular and necessary part of medieval life!

dsc_0029There are two major reasons why almond milk was such a huge deal during the Middle Ages:

  1. Cow’s milk wasn’t particularly safe. Unless the family had a cow and used its milk right after milking, dairy was risky.  There was no refrigeration or pasteurization, so milk would have to be used immediately. If a person were to purchase milk at the market there was no way to know for sure how fresh it was or whether it had been watered down by a dishonest vendor. Medieval folks weren’t dumb, so they relied on safer and more dependable milk alternatives.
  2. Fish Days. The Church had strict rules about which days of the week a person was allowed to eat meat. Meatless days basically prohibited anything that came from a warm-blooded animal: milk, eggs, meat, dairy. When a huge chunk of a person’s life is spent begrudgingly avoiding dairy and meat, the result is having to eat a LOT of fish. Hence the nickname Fish Days. Almond milk quickly became a household staple because it was used in place of cow’s milk 2-3 days every week.

There are a number of old manuscripts that contain recipes for almond milk. I found three versions from cookbooks that interest me: Le Viandier de Taillevent (c. 1300), Du Fait de Cuisine (1420), and Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery Books (1430-1450). I will eventually try them all, but first I will begin with the most basic and the oldest of the three, from Le Viandier de Taillevent.


The Recipe

“Take peeled almonds, crush very well in a mortar, steep in water boiled and cooled to lukewarm, strain through cheesecloth and boil your almond milk on a few coals for an instant or two.”
– Le Viandier de Taillevent

Original manuscript

The manuscripts have been translated from French into English by Terence Scully and combined into one cookbook attributed to Guillaume Tirel (1310-1381), the Master Chef to King Charles VI. There’s reason to believe Tirel didn’t write all of the recipes in these manuscripts and they were in fact written as early as 1300 by someone else.

All you’ll need is 1 cup of almonds, 2 cups of water and a cheesecloth.

Step ONE- Prep the Almonds

“Take peeled almonds, crush very well in a mortar”

You could use whole natural almonds or blanched almonds to make this milk. The benefit of using blanched almonds is a milk that is lighter in color and easier to sieve (no skin residue). Blanching is recommended but not mandatory. If you don’t want to blanch them yourself you can buy them pre-peeled.

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I used 1 cup of natural almonds and pulverized most in a blender and crushed the rest with the mortar and pestle. The goal was creating flour (almost a paste) without any hard chunks. If you want to do it the authentic way by hand, certainly feel free to use the mortar from start to finish. It’s much quicker to use the blender or a spice grinder and the results are pretty much the same.

Step TWO- Boil and Steep

“Steep in water boiled and cooled to lukewarm”

In researching almond milking methods, I’ve found the standard ratio of almonds to water is 1:2. So I boiled 2 cups of water and poured it over the almond powder/paste. Let it steep until lukewarm, around 10 minutes.

Step THREE- Strain

“Strain through cheesecloth and boil your almond milk on a few coals for an instant or two.”

I strained half of my milk through a cheesecloth to remove the almond grains, or at least as much of it as I could. The almond pulp was very thick so this took a little while and wasn’t a very smooth process considering this was my first attempt at milking almonds. Make sure you squeeze your cheesecloth to get all of the liquid out before you throw the pulp away (or use for something else if you’re so inclined). Let it boil on the stove for a few seconds if you want it to thicken. The longer you heat it, the thicker and creamier your milk will be.

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For the other half of the milk, I decided to follow the redaction created by A Boke of Gode Cookery and blend it rather than strain. I blended it up until all the grains appeared to be absorbed. This is not a step in the original recipe for obvious reasons, but ultimately we’re going for creating something that tastes good.

The result was two distinctly different almond milks. The strained version had a great milky texture, almost like the store-bought stuff but not as flavorful. The blended version was richer and tasted better, but was still very grainy. It would be excellent in a recipe or blended up in a smoothie but I don’t recommend drinking it straight like regular milk. There is no reason you couldn’t sweeten your milk with sugar or honey. In fact, you may really want to. I’ll be recreating a 15th century sweetened almond milk recipe in the near future, so stay tuned!

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Homemade almond milk can be stored at room temperature for about a week, and around three weeks in the refrigerator. No wonder medieval cooks always had some on hand!

There is very little about this recipe that is different from any modern version. The same basic rules apply, though modern recipes usually call for soaking the almonds and adding a wider variety of flavors like vanilla and nutmeg.

It’s very easy to make, but it does take a little bit of work to make homemade almond milk. There is a lot of room for experimentation so once you find the right version for your tastebuds you may never want to go back to the commercial products! Not only can you now tell your friends that you know how to make 14th century almond milk, but you can give yourself an extra pat on the back for avoiding all of those preservatives. Well done! Continue reading →