October Pottage

October pottage

Autumn is a good time for harvesting food from the garden and it must have been the same for a fourteenth-century housewife. This year I’ve grown a lot beetroot and it’s time to dig them up before the slugs get used to eating them. Beetroot has featured in most of the recent pottage experiments because the crop has been good. Households in the fourteenth century must also have used more of what they had freely available.

Next to my rows of beetroot is a row of leeks. They’re still small, but I thinned them and added the ones I picked to the pot instead of onion.

The internet tells me that sage goes well with beetroot, so I picked some from the garden and threw that in as well. The other main ingredient of the pottage was barley.

I cut the beetroot into chunks and boiled it for half an hour on its own, then added the rest of the ingredients. The pottage simmered for another thirty minutes. The smell while it was doing this was wonderful.

Sadly, the problem with a dish made of things boiled with beetroot is that everything ends up red and it’s far from photogenic. I’m sorry about the photograph at the top of the post, but you should at least be able to see that it’s not a runny pottage.

The final result was tasty and filling. I enjoyed it and might make it again.


April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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Filed under Medieval Food

21 responses to “October Pottage

  1. I love beetroot, and there are so many ways to use it. Makes a great chutney though I suppose that style of preserving isn’t very 14th century? The photograph gave us a good idea what it turned out like, looks eatable than others you have concocted πŸ™‚

    Liked by 3 people

  2. It looks delicious, April. I wonder if they made goats’ cheese in the 14th century. It’s a lovely accompaniment with beetroot.

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  3. I like roasting beetroot with other root veg, but even then the colour spreads.

    I often wonder how medieval people got the amount of calories they needed for the working day. There must have been many times (poor harvests, etc) when almost everyone was hungry.

    I recently read a summary of some interesting research into height fluctuations over the last 2000 years (!) in England that suggested a range of factors affected food supply/working conditions – with corresponding increases or decreases in height over the centuries. From that perspective, medieval people didn’t do too badly.

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    • Ale was a good source of calories and people did eat fish and meat, which I don’t.

      I’ve also come across the statistics showing that medieval people were more or less the same height as us, but people were shorter around the time of the Industrial Revolution. Medieval people were mostly getting enough calories, but there wasn’t anything to cushion the blow of bad harvests. In the 1310s or 20s there were a number of bad harvests and ten percent or more of the population died.

      Liked by 3 people

  4. A few years back, I read a memoir by a local man that mentioned the impact the weather had not only on the local wheat crop but on the taste of the bread they’d eat that year. I can’t reconstruct (or find) it, unfortunately, but I do remember that in a bad year you just had to eat the bread anyway because it was what you had. This isn’t natural wheat-growing country, so maybe it wasn’t as variable in better soil.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I’ve not heard that before, but it makes sense. The wheat wouldn’t ripen to the same extent and whatever it is that happens to wheat when it ripens wouldn’t happen, so the flour would be different.

      Wheat wasn’t the only cereal used to make bread in the Middle Ages, but I don’t know whether they were grown in Cornwall. I’m fairly sure one of my books has got a map showing which crops grew where, but I can’t remember which book it is.

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  5. While red dye from boiled beetroot may not be the most photogenic, I wonder if it was useful for 14th century folks for a natural dye of some sort? Maybe for textiles?

    Liked by 2 people

  6. This looks yummy, its photogenic qualities notwithstanding. I love big chunks of onion with beets or a boiled egg or goat cheese. I might have a go at this one. Thanks for sharing.

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  7. I like pickled beetroot best, in a salad sandwich! Your pottage sound nice though.

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  8. Medieval beets might haves been available in several colors. Many colors are available through heirloom sources. Ancients thought a great deal of the powers of color, odor, etc., I can see where red beets became favored over others. Red foods were supposed to be good for the blood. Some even thought the reddish bowel movements from eating beets meant that real blood was in the stool. Whether this boded good or bad was probably up to the local doctors & healers.

    Regardless of possible quackery, beets ARE very good for us, and they may be eaten with gusto!

    I think the meal looks appealing, and it would doubtless have been so to a medieval consumer. Much brighter than stodgy barley & herbs.

    About bad & good bread. Rye that sprouted ergot was a deadly, and sometimes unavoidable disaster. Keeping grain dry, especially in wet times, was frustrating, and moldy grain made nasty bread. It’s likely that many ales were brewed in an effort to save grain from fungus & mold.

    Animal feces & other filth could also affect breads, as well as bad water.
    So many things besides greedy landowners contributed to rob the peasant’s belly.

    Liked by 2 people

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