June Pottage

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.

Peas and beetroot

Peas and beetroot

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.

strawberries

Strawberries on barley straw

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.

Chives

Chives

Garlic is in season, so I can use that as well.  I have sorrel in the garden, but it’s gone to seed.

Sorrel

Sorrel

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.

June Pottage

June Pottage

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.

 

 

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41 Comments

Filed under Fourteenth Century, Medieval Food

41 responses to “June Pottage

  1. Hazel Uzzell

    Medieval people would have had a pottage ‘on the go’ all the time and day by day would have chucked left overs into it. Gradually it would have thickened.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Hazel. I’ve read that, but I can’t help thinking that it would lead to food poisoning. Pottages also need to be stirred constantly to stop them sticking to the bottom of the pot and drying out.

      Liked by 1 person

      • When out free camping I used to make soup up [no meat] and leave it out of the fridge to be reheated the next night. Though the temperatures weren’t hot and we never got food poisoning. I love a good vegetable patch, one thing I miss about not having a garden, more than a flower one. Sometimes we are fortunate in housesitting where there is a good one to enjoy and not necessarily eat all the vegetables 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

  2. I keep menaing to try one of these pottages..very interesting experiments…also June Pottage sound like a lady detetective ala Marple 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Would they have made some kind of bread to go with the pottage?

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Wouldn’t there have there been turnips, radishes, mustard greens & dandelions?

    I know there were a great many spring potherbs. The seeds of turnips & radishes were tiny, & needed several thinnings before the roots could grow unencumbered. Mustard seed can mature with a lot of the leaves removed, making it a useful spring herb .

    Here in America, the European dandelion is one of the most successful invasive plants (and considered our #1 weed). People have for centuries used the spring leaves as a salad, potherb, and medicine. The flower’s petals were also edible, and used in brewing wine.

    Lettuces, carrots, violets, nettles, day lilies, and many others provided tender greens, shoots, roots & thinnings that provided the desperately needed vitamins that the long winters leached from bodies. In America, where food tended to be more abundant, if one was a good hunter, the spring greens were considered “tonics” that “thinned the blood” from a diet heavy on meat.

    Colonists suffered from pellagra and scurvy. They thought the blood was sluggish by spring, and needed the vital “thinning” to heal. While we were taught by First Americans about native greens, colonial women treasured “receipts” passed down from European grandmothers for ways to heal nutrient-deprived family. The seeds they so carefully preserved became the basis of a weed invasion that will probably never be eradicated. And why should they be? One day we may again need those hardy plants!

    Sorrels, or “sourleafs” were brought from Europe for the critical vitamin C.
    America has several native varieties, but they don’t grow as thick & full as European.

    Spring runnings of fish bulked out diets. With the abundance of waterways England is blessed with, I’m sure an occasional fish or two in the pottages helped immensely. And they could always be eaten. No dietary laws prohibited them. Oysters mattered in early spring, though by May, they were thought inedible. But there were still cockles & mussels.

    The problems collecting these foods probably lay in the overall health of the gatherers (especially when winters were long and hard), and the distances they had to travel to obtain them. Likely, with others also out gathering, there might be limits to how far one could range.

    Good luck and good foraging! I’m sure you’ll find a lot more edibles as you get acquainted with your area’s spring herbs. May your blood run thinner & freshened, but not too much! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you.
      I looked for turnips, but couldn’t find any, and I’m not a fan of radishes, although I have grown them. Dandelions are not allowed to prosper in my garden and I have no idea where to get hold of mustard greens.
      People in the UK also use dandelions in salads and wine-brewing, but they’re a weed to me. I’m not prepared to take the pottage experiment to the extent of allowing dandelions to grow in the garden.
      I’ve grown lettuce in the past and I did consider using one in the pottage, but I already had plenty of leaves without it.
      Sorrel is becoming a favourite. Mine’s a blood sorrel and this is its second year in the garden.
      I’m a vegetarian, so fish and meat won’t be appearing in my pottages. I suspect that fish wasn’t much of a success in a pottage and was probably cooked in other ways.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ll skip the pottage and join you for the strawberries and cream if that’s ok!
    What about nettles too?

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Somewhere I’d previously read about spring being a time when there wasn’t a lot of food in the past, but I didn’t realize it could happen well into June. I’d assumed it was more of a March – May phenomenon.

    I wonder how people found the strength to plant crops and weed gardens if they didn’t have much to eat at this time of the year?

    Liked by 2 people

    • To be honest, I think it would have varied and there were plants which produced food well into the spring. I was still eating homegrown leeks in March, for example. Looking at my own garden this year, though, everything is very late. We had a lot of snow in the middle of March which followed an otherwise mild winter. That meant that it took longer for the ground to warm up enough to plant seeds. That means, in turn, that there’s not a huge amount to eat in my garden yet.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. It’s interesting to think of a time when so much thought and effort had to go into sustenance.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Just to let you know April, I signed up for your free novella, and have tried several times to do so, but the confirmation OK never comes to my mailbox.
    Do you suppose it’s my e-mail filter? Does the confirmation come through Word Press or another source?

    Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. That’s very enterprising!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Enterprising is the word! I fear a vegetarian would have struggled to survive in the fourteenth century, though I’ve read of people who would eat no meat, only fish. Vegetarianism doesn’t seem to have gained much ground until the seventeenth century – and they would still have been very few in number.

    I wonder about the availability of fish, unless you lived by the coast, or in a religious establishment with its own fish ponds. Otherwise, mightn’t the local lord have claimed ownership of the local waterways and their contents?

    There were, of course, always snails.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Most people didn’t have much access to meat and fish wasn’t as easy to come by as you’d think, so I would have been fine. If you were more than half a day’s journey inland you were only going to be eating salted fish, unless, as you say, you had a fish pond or the right to fish in a river or lake.

      I don’t know how many edible varieties of snail there are in England, but I’ve seen few snails large enough to make it worthwhile. If there were any in the fourteenth century, you can be certain that people were eating them.

      Liked by 2 people

      • By meat, I was thinking more of fowl, including small wild birds. (I assume most hare and rabbits were also claimed by local lords.)

        I just got curious about the whole snail thing, and went and looked at the two “traditional” cookbooks I own. One, a collection of 17th century recipes doesn’t mention them. The other, more modern, book says that they were eaten ‘for many centuries’ in the west country, and gives a recipe. Apparently, garden snails are the ones to use, and very tasty. I’m not tempted.

        Like

        • I did eat escargots when I was a student in France many moons ago. I found them chewy. They probably reminded me too much of mussels, which I never liked.

          Small birds were eaten. There are pictures of people netting them. Again, not much flesh, but it would add something to the pottage.

          Liked by 1 person

  11. Some of the cloistered orders had varying levels of vegetarianism

    It was understood & accepted in medieval days, I think, more then than in the 20th century.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Losing the Plot

    Leonardo Da Vinci was Vegetarian all be it in Italy with plenty of fruit and veg.

    Something you could have thickened your portage with is Sweet Chestnut flour. We really don’t use it here any more, they still do in the North of Italy, and I believe that was the whole point of introducing them here (by the Romans)

    In reply to a comment above, nettles were used extensively, they are full of iron, which is important if you aren’t eating much red meat. Also the fibres were stripped and spun, giving the most gorgeous silky, hardwearing material.

    Dandelion root is edible, it can also be roasted and ground up to make a coffee substitute

    Amazingly, despite the availability, turnip wasn’t widely used, it was thought of solely as animal fodder, which I can’t get my head around if food was scarce

    Liked by 2 people

    • I remember that in parts of Europe, long after new world foods were introduced, that maize was considered animal fodder, and not particularly sought after for human consumption.

      When in England in the early 1980’s, I told my hosts about eating corn on the cob. The dear folks were a bit startled & the hostess asked, “As pigs do?”

      Have things changed? I know international foods are huge in England, but I sure never see sweet corn used as an ingredient on “The Great British Baking Show” or other British culinary programs. Corn is often just for polenta and hispanic foods.

      It’s super yummy. Many summer repasts consisted of nothing but sweet corn, sliced tomatoes, and cucumbers and onions dressed in sugar and vinegar. Mmmmmmmmemories!!!!

      Liked by 2 people

    • Italy is such a great place for veggies.

      I’ve never come across chestnut flour, but it sounds like something I’d like. I don’t think the pottage needed thickening. I think I should either have let the liquid reduce entirely, or just lifted the leaves out.

      They might have fed turnips to the animals because the could be kept through the winter. They had to feed them something and it was probably going to be something they could eat themselves.

      I didn’t know that nettles had fibres that could be spun. I’m still trying to come to terms with how people worked out that flax could be spun.

      Liked by 2 people

  13. Pingback: July Pottage | A Writer's Perspective

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