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

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.

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