November was always going to be a tricky month in this experiment. It’s the month when the pigs were killed in the Middle Ages. Most people kept pigs and they would be killed in November. Neighbours would stagger the slaughter and share around the meat that couldn’t be salted and had to be eaten immediately. The rest would be salted and eaten throughout the winter.
Since I’m a vegetarian, and I’m not going to be putting a piece of pork in my pottage, I thought I’d try something completely different. This month’s pottage isn’t really a pottage, but frumenty. It’s a bit like porridge. For the wealthy, it was a side dish made with meat stock and saffron. For the poor, it was made with water. Sometimes they could add milk or egg yolks. I decided not to use milk, as it was probably more useful being turned into cheese, but, like most fourteenth-century housewives, I’ve got chickens, so I’m sticking an egg in.
I followed a recipe from The Medieval Cookbook. It’s very simple. I boiled some cracked wheat in water for 15 minutes, then let it stand for 15 minutes. After that I was supposed to add meat stock, but I added more water, some sage and parsley from the garden and some salt. I thought I could allow myself some salt this month since there would be salt around for the pigs. When the water was absorbed I stirred in the egg yolk over a low heat until it thickened a bit. The recipe suggests adding saffron, which is still very expensive today. Even though I know that saffron can be grown locally, my fourteenth-century housewife would not have grown it for her own use. Each plant only produces three stigmas, which have to be handpicked and dried. It takes thousands of plants to make one ounce of the spice.
More than anything, once it was in the bowl, it reminded me of homemade fried rice. It was very tasty and very filling.
If you’d like to see a meaty pottage being prepared, here’s a video from English Heritage. It’s a Saxon pottage and it’s made with hare, not pork, but it will give you an idea of how it might have been done.