Pottage

Pottage

Pottage

Following comments from two or three people on recent posts, I made pottage this week as an experiment.  I wrote about pottage here. It was the basic meal in the fourteenth century and everyone ate it, rich or poor. More or less anything could be thrown into the pot to make it, but it’s summer at the moment and I decided to use peas from the garden as the main vegetable.

The idea was to make pottage and taste it to see how bland or otherwise it was for people who could not afford spices or meat. I only used things that can be grown locally and would have been available in the fourteenth century – at certain times of the year, at least.

I have failed to grow onions and garlic, but a friend only a few streets away, has great success with them, so I used shop-bought ones with a (fairly) clear conscience. I have grown celery in the past, but I don’t have any in the garden at the moment, so the supermarket helped out there as well. I used these ingredients for the basic stock. A fourteenth-century cook might have added some bones to the stock if she had them, but I’m a vegetarian, so I didn’t.

marrowfat peas

Marrowfat peas

The peas in my garden aren’t quite ready, so I bought marrowfat peas and used them for my first pottage. These are peas which have been left to dry out in their pods in the fields, so I think they would be very like the dried peas that would have been used in the fourteenth century. I soaked them overnight. The instructions on the packet said to add bicarbonate of soda, but this would not have been an option for the fourteenth-century housewife, so I left it out.

Marrowfat peas are used to make ‘mushy peas’, so I know that they would make a fairly thick pottage without needing any other thickening agent.

The herbs were from my garden. I used sage, marjoram and chives – rather a lot of them.

Herbs

Herbs

Here’s the recipe:

I boiled an onion, two sticks of celery and some garlic in some water while I prepared the herbs. I drained the peas and added them to the saucepan, making sure that the water covered them.  They simmered for almost an hour before I added the herbs. By then the peas were soft and breaking up. I had expected them to break up more. When the peas had been on for about an hour and a quarter I poured the pottage into a bowl and ate it.

It might look unappetising in the picture at the top of the post, but it was very tasty and I did not miss the pepper and salt I usually add to my food. There was an odd aftertaste, though, which was probably due to being rather heavy-handed with the herbs. I don’t think it was due to omitting the bicarbonate of soda. A bit of internet research told me that it makes no difference to the taste. It was satisfyingly filling, but I did have a large helping.

I plan to have two more goes at pottage when fresh peas are available next week.

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18 Comments

Filed under Fourteenth Century

18 responses to “Pottage

  1. Always fascinated by medieval foods. I’d love to try this, am a vegetarian too 🙂

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  2. Excellent – I’m glad (and, of course, impressed) that you gave this a go. I’m tempted to give it a try…didn’t they leave it simmering and keep adding things to it? Strikes me as a good way of keeping the washing up to a minimum.

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    • I’ve also read about things being added constantly to the pot, but I don’t quite see how that would have worked. I can see that over a couple of days, or even three, you could throw more stuff in, but it would be going off by the third day, I should think.

      I’m not terribly keen to test this idea.

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  3. Because I’ve written a bit about alexanders (a precursor of celery), I was fairly sure what we now know as celery wasn’t available in the medieval period, and a quick search says it only began to be cultivated in Europe in the 17th century. But since a wild form was available–alexanders, now out of season–it strikes me as fair to use it.

    Carrots were available in the medieval period and would have added a good bit of taste. The bicarb is only there to keep the peas from doing what peas and beans are known for doing in the digestive system. I wonder if the medieval folks were as touchy about it as we are.
    http://www.localhistories.org/vegetables.html

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    • I did wonder how close Sainsbury’s celery was to medieval celery. I’ll leave it out of the fresh pea pottage and see how it goes.

      Yes, carrots would add a lot of taste. I won’t comment on the digestibility or otherwise of the marrowfat peas. I suspect your system gets used to it if that’s the kind of thing you eat most days.

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  4. I’m so glad you gave this a go! Now my curiosity is partially satisfied – I look forward to hearing about your next adventures in pottage, and might give this a go myself when the weather (in my neck of the woods) turns cooler.

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  5. And you thought you wouldn’t be able to make a vegetarian pottage! This is wonderful. I used to make vegetarian stews all the time, veggies only, so I thought it could probably be done. Thanks, April, and hugs

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  6. Ooh, this sounds good. What a fun experiment, too!

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  7. Interesting approach. I would have added that bone, but I’m sure this tasted pretty good with just the veggies stock. My wife and daughter both make vegetable stews.

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