Pottage – Again

Barley and pea pottage

Barley and pea pottage

Last week I wrote about my first experiment with pottage. Now that I have ripe peas in the garden I wanted to make pottage with them. The intention was to make two – a thicker one and a thinner one. As with last week’s pottage, I would not use salt or pepper, but only a stock with herbs for seasoning. This time I left the celery out of the stock, as I wasn’t sure that the celery from the supermarket was very much like the celery available in the fourteenth century.

For the thicker fresh pea pottage I had to find something to thicken it. In the fourteenth century this would have been a grain or bread. In poorer households it was more likely to have been grain, as using it for pottage rather than for bread was a way of making it go further.

Fresh peas

Fresh peas

I used pearl barley as the thickener. A couple of years ago I accidentally and unwillingly grew barley in the garden when seeds from the barley straw I put round the strawberries germinated. I dug up the barley sprouts, but, on the principle that I could have grown barley if I hadn’t considered it a weed, barley was what I used. The pearl barley from the supermarket is a lot more refined than anything eaten in the Middle Ages, so the taste and texture would be different. This meant that I didn’t have to soak it to soften it, which would have been necessary for a fourteenth-century housewife. She would also have had to make grain stretch from one year’s harvest to the next, so she probably would not have used the same generous quantity for one person as I did.

Pearl barley

Pearl barley

Around this time of year I usually make a few pea risottos, so I was expecting the pottage to taste a bit like that, but without the oil and salt. To some extent it did, although the barley was chewier than rice.

The recipe:

I rinsed the pearl barley and boiled it on its own for 10 minutes, then I let it simmer for 30 minutes. While the barley was simmering, I chopped the onion and garlic and boiled them. I drained the barley and added it to the stock. Finally I added the peas and herbs and let them simmer for a couple of minutes.

There weren’t as many peas as I had hoped, but there must have been days when the fourteenth-century housewife had to make her fresh vegetables go further than expected.

It was definitely filling. That was down to the barley. It was not terribly tasty, but I think that might have been because there were too few peas to hold their own against the barley and the onion. I also think it’s the boiled onion which causes the odd aftertaste.  Drinking a mug of ale would probably have helped with that. This is not a version of pottage that I would particularly want to eat again.

pea pottage

Pea pottage

Yesterday I finally had enough peas to make a thin pottage with them. I boiled the onion and garlic for 20 minutes, then added the peas, chives and marjoram. They simmered for a very short time. I had expected that this pottage would be the least interesting, but it was very tasty. It wasn’t terribly filling, but it was enough to stave off hunger pangs for the afternoon. I think it would be most useful as a summer dish on a day when little work was required to be done in the fields.

Trying to make something that resembles a medieval pottage has raised many questions.

The process of cooking it on my gas hob was, of course, much faster than it would have been on an open fire in the fourteenth century. This raised two questions. The first was whether or not this would make any difference to the taste. The second was to wonder how an army on the move would have coped. In my novel Beloved Besieged an army crosses Aquitaine. There are too many men to stay in inns, so they would have slept in tents or in the open air, making camp each night. It would have taken a long time to cook for an army of thousands of men over open fires. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find out anything on this subject. The Black Prince’s armies were renowned for covering great distances in a day, which would have meant even less cooking time.

Quantities is another problem. My helpings were fairly large, as I was not afraid of the barley running out, nor was I trying to make dried herbs last until spring. Would a poor person in the fourteenth century have been able to eat the same amount? I don’t know.

What I have learned is that pottage did not have to be bland, even without salt and pepper.



Filed under Fourteenth Century

25 responses to “Pottage – Again

  1. That’s interesting re: the food for an army on the move, I had never thought about it much, though I supposed they raided livestock etc. Look forward to hearing more about it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Armies did a variety of things, depending on how their leaders felt about upsetting the locals. Usually they took food with them, purchased or taken from where the army was gathered. Sometimes they purchased food in the area where they were campaigning. Sometimes they foraged and sometimes they simply stole. I have a book which explains all of this very clearly, but doesn’t talk about how the meals were prepared. Very frustrating.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Very interesting (and tastes) experiments. I enjoyed reading your analysis. We’re still eating fresh peas (farmer’s market). Risotto sounds good.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is really fascinating – not stuff I normally think about! I did hear that Scots would take slices of dried porridge with them on campaign – I suppose a bit like bland, grey, flapjack!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. What an interesting post, April. For a long time I assumed that things like pottage probably didn’t taste that good, but now I want to try it for myself. It sounds delicious.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Excellent questions, April, and they give me even more food for thought (yes, pun intended – LOL!). Are you planning more medieval food experiments?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. It looks likes simple hearty recipe April! And you discovered raise good questions! I’m sure simmeringvivercannopen fire would have given it differences. What about trying it in a slow cooker?

    Liked by 1 person

  7. hehehe when I first read the title I thought… this is a very clever use of satire, as pottage is normally a very bland dish. I could almost here a child in the background whining “Pottage – AGAIN!”
    But I can see that your efforts to turn this medical dish around were a smashing success. Congrats!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. globalhousesitterX2

    I think the vegetables from years ago would have had a stronger taste and that has been cultivated out to suit a more sensitive palate. I notice that the food in the countryside say in Turkey that the vegetables have a real taste to them. Maybe that is because they go straight from the field onto the table at the market then into my bag, within hours instead of weeks. Good on you for trying out old recipes!!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. josypheen

    This looks pretty good. I always assumed it was a bland, non-tasty thing to eat…

    Thanks for sharing this April.


  10. This looks really good and it’s probably very healthy for you. Thanks for sharing! I appreciate it!

    Liked by 1 person

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