Having tried last year to make pottage that would resemble what ordinary people in the fourteenth century ate, I thought that this year I’d have a go at a pottage each month using only things that grow in my garden (or things that I could grow in my garden if I’d ever had any success with carrots, onions or garlic) and would have been available in the fourteenth century.
The basis of many of the pottages will be marrowfat peas and pearl barley. Marrowfat peas are peas which have been left in the pod to dry out. You have to soak them to use them. I’m fairly good at peas.
I use barley straw to keep my strawberries off the ground and one year the packers had obviously been careless, because there were seeds amongst the straw and they germinated. So I know I could grow barley. Pearl barley is just barley that’s had its hull and bran removed. Supermarkets sell it as a thickener for soups and stews. The type I buy doesn’t need to be soaked overnight.
In my garden in June I mostly have courgettes (zucchinis) and runner beans. Sadly, these came originally from the Americas, so I can’t use them. I also have peas, but a fourteenth-century housewife would leave those in their pods to dry out for stoarge. The chives are more or less at their peak and I’ll be using them to flavour my pottage.
Garlic is in season, so I can use that as well. I have sorrel in the garden, but it’s gone to seed.
I’ve used this list of vegetables in season from the Vegetarian Society to help me where I don’t grow a particular vegetable and Medieval Gardens to confirm that the vegetable was available in the fourteenth century.
Depending on the weather, June could be a bad time of the year in the Middle Ages. Last year’s grain might be gone and this year’s wouldn’t yet be ready. For this pottage I’m going to assume that there are no peas and what grain is left is used for ale.
Given that there isn’t much available in the garden I thought I would make a leafy, runny pottage, more like a soup than a stew. I used spring greens (which are leafy like medieval cabbages), watercress, chives, garlic and sorrel.
I confess that I didn’t like the sound of this combination of vegetables, but I stuck them in a pot with some water and boiled them for half an hour. While it was cooking it smelled wonderful. I had forgotten, though, that sorrel goes grey when cooked. It looked fairly unappealing.
The taste wasn’t as bad as I was expecting. The leaves themselves had a lot of flavour, but the liquid tasted as if I’d done the washing up in it. I ate a bowl. I won’t say that I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t dreadful. In retrospect, I should probably have left the liquid in the pot as the basis of the next pottage.
Since it was such a thin pottage, I wondered what would sustain a medieval person during this time of the year. Ale would provide many of the necessary calories. When I went to the chicken coop to collect the eggs one morning, I had another part of the answer. Rural households would have had chickens and the eggs could be eaten, sold or exchanged for other food.
Even though the pottage was not very interesting, I was, unlike my fourteenth-century counterpart, able to comfort myself afterwards with strawberries and cream.