April Pottage

April Pottage

April is a bit of a sparse month with regard to vegetables. There’s nothing in my garden that would form the centrepiece of a pottage, so I bought a head of spring greens from the greengrocer. As the names suggests, they’re in season and the cabbage that a medieval housewife would have had available at this time of year was more open than the tight heads that we have now, so they resembled spring greens.

What my garden does have, as you can see from the photograph below, is a few herbs.  From left to right there are chives, parsley, savory, blood sorrel and lemon balm. Thanks to my single parsley plant going mad producing seeds after last year’s hot summer, there’s a lot of parsley, so I picked some of that as well as some chives to take the place of onions as flavouring.

Herbs (2)

I thought the medieval housewife might have run out of barley by now, so I just used the leaves I had. As usual, there’s no pepper or salt and no stock. The leaves were wilted in the pot, as I didn’t want the pottage to have any liquid.

I did eat some bread with it to give it a bit of body, but the pottage itself was very tasty. I can’t say that it was particularly filling. Lent’s over, though, and the medieval family is able to eat eggs, cheese and meat, if they can get any.


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 Fourteenth Century, Medieval Food, Medieval Life

34 responses to “April Pottage

  1. Do you think they would’ve had this with some eggs or cheese then?

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Oh dear, that doesn’t sound very filling – especially as I assume April would have been a busy month for most. It must have been difficult to get enough calories in to match calories out.

    Liked by 3 people

    • We’re in the time of year called the thin time. There wasn’t much to be harvested, but there were eggs and whatever meat or fish they could get. I have a suspicion that milk and cheese where seasonal, but I haven’t been able to find out much about that.

      Liked by 3 people

      • Some cheeses keep well. Perhaps they could be stored? I wonder about the supply of milk, too. Nowadays dairy cows are “dried off” but if a household kept a milk cow and managed to feed her well enough over winter would they have been able to keep milking her?

        Liked by 2 people

        • I don’t really know what sort of cheese was made. So far the medieval dairy world is a closed book to me. It might not even be the case that they had cheese at this time of year. I’m on safer ground with eggs as our sole non-hybrid chicken started laying again last week.

          Liked by 2 people

        • Dairy cattle are dried off to help the udders avoid mastitis. ( It’s also necessary for them to come into season for mating. ) Mastitis was often fatal for cattle, or could cause a teat(s) to wither permanently. High grain diets in modern dairy cattle causes a great deal of pressure on udders, and mastitis vulnerability increases.

          It’s unlikely medieval cattle ate much grain, but mastitis can be exacerbated by trying to wring every last drop of milk, damaging or tearing teats, or exposing them to bacteria in meadows infected with pathogens. Dried hay (the most common winter feed in medieval times) has considerably fewer nutrients, and cows cannot produce milk, be healthy enough for mating, or even stay alive if they don’t get enough nutrition.

          Cheese was a solution for the times of plenty, but a lot of milk is required per pound of cheese. And there was butter to be churned from the milk-fat. Jerseys, Guernseys, Shorthorns, Holsteins, & such were far in the future.
          Bossie could only give so much!

          Medieval milk cattle had to be hardy & serve many purposes. They were also much smaller than the enormous beasts of today. Most were the size of Jerseys, small cattle by modern standards, but without the incredible udders & fat-rich milk of the breed.

          Cheese was precious, almost always served with grain products, to extend the commodity. Serving a cheese & fruit course was reserved for the tables of the wealthy. Thrifty goodwives could eke it out, but a late spring would be hard on any supply. In addition, cheeses had to be protected from mold and mildew. Not all molds make Stilton or Bleu!

          England’s moist & chilly medieval climate could be rough on cattle and milkmeats.

          Liked by 2 people

  3. In other words, we should count our blessings as we look in the fridge.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Are dandelions plentiful? Europeans imported the seeds to America. Colonists prized early dandelion greens as a tonic, and ate them raw or cooked. Blossoms were brewed into wine.

    The plants were too successful in their new environment. They’re considered America’s #1 weed. Too bad colonial thrift was lost to most of their progeny.

    As they’re bitter, greens were cooked in two or more changes of water, leaching many nutrients. Raw greens are good, though varying in bitterness. Our Amish love dandelion greens; I’ve observed an entire family casing lawn & garden for their prizes.

    Petals are quite pleasant in salads. Remove from center by grasping a bunch between thumb & fingers & gently plucking from the bitter hub.

    As a sour nut, I could happily make a meal of your sorrel & chives, but suppose most palates would not tolerate the puckeriness.

    Violets are another spring tidbit. Do not confuse them with African violets. They come in a riot of hues, especially the familiar purple. I’ve cooked them, but only for jellies. Cooking reduces them considerably, so a peck might make a dish for 2 people. Their cousins, pansies, are also edible, as are the greens of both.

    New strawberry leaves work in salads. Only take about 1/4 of them, so as not to weaken the plant’s ability to nourish berries.

    Fresh salads were consumed by 17th century colonists, so I’m thinking they just copied the eating habits of their medieval forebears. Many salad plants were probably tossed in pottage.

    Liked by 2 people

    • We do have dandelions. My grandmother’s generation ate the leaves, but they’re a weed in my garden. I don’t know if they were common in the Middle Ages.

      At some point this week I’m going to have a sorrel omelette with eggs from our chickens. I love it when I can make a whole meal from the garden.

      Liked by 3 people

  5. I love parsley and chives. This sounds like a tasty (even if not filling) dish!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I love using herbs from the garden too, that does sound tasty!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Herbs always take a dish up a culinary level. I couldn’t do without them. It is fun making meals from your own backyard.

    Liked by 3 people

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