Category Archives: Medieval Food

November Pottage

Frumenty

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.

 

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.

Available now:

TheHeirsTale-WEB

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amazon

22 Comments

Filed under Medieval Food

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.

Available now:

TheHeirsTale-WEB

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amazon

21 Comments

Filed under Medieval Food

September Pottage

dulse.jpg

Dulse

Last month Sonia Boal, from Losing the Plot, told that I had forgotten something very important when I was making my pottages: I live on the coast. That means there was probably edible seaweed here in the fourteenth century and it might have added saltiness to pottage. We don’t have much of a tradition of eating seaweed in Hampshire, but they’re very keen on it in other parts of the country. Sonia very kindly sent me some dulse from Northern Ireland.

I can’t tell you how wonderful dulse is. It’s salty and chewy and it goes down very well with cold beer. It’s a lovely colour and it’s a wonder there was any left for the pottage experiment. My photograph doesn’t quite capture its deep purple colour.

According to Wikipedia, dulse contains a lot of protein, trace elements, minerals and vitamins. Sadly, it only grows on the northern coasts of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, so would not have been available to someone living where my house is in the fourteenth century. There probably was some kind of edible seaweed here, however, so it seemed to be an experiment worth trying.

I wanted to find out whether the saltiness of the seaweed would add something to a pottage, so I chose some straightforward ingredients that would have been available at this time of year: peas and barley. I could have dried some of my own peas, but I enjoy them fresh too much to have saved any. I had to use supermarket marrowfat peas. These have to be soaked overnight and then boiled for an hour and a half. There’s also grain this month.  My pottage contained barley, garlic, onion, peas and seaweed. There were no other herbs or flavourings. As you can see from the photograph below, I went for a thicker pottage this month.

september-pottage.jpg

September Pottage

Somewhat surprisingly the seaweed disintegrated while it was cooking, turning an offputting browny-green colour in the pan. By the time the peas were cooked (almost an hour and a half) the seaweed had disappeared completely and the colour was a bit more appealing.

Last year I made a pottage with similar ingredients. Even with a lot of herbs it didn’t taste particularly nice. This one was lovely. The seaweed did make a difference and it was definitely worth throwing some into the pan.

 

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.

Available now:

TheHeirsTale-WEB

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amazon

21 Comments

Filed under Medieval Food, Medieval Life

August Pottage

leeks-and-beetroot.jpg

The Vegetarian Society tells me that August is the month for :Aubergine, Beetroot, Blackberries, Blackcurrants, Broad Beans, Broccoli, Carrots, Cauliflower, Cherries, Chicory, Chillies, Courgettes, Cucumber, Damsons, Fennel, French Beans, Garlic, Greengages, Kohlrabi, Leeks, Lettuce, Loganberries, Mangetout, Marrow, Mushrooms, Parsnips, Peas, Peppers, Potatoes, Plums, Pumpkin, Radishes, Raspberries, Redcurrants, Rhubarb, Rocket, Runner Beans, Samphire, Sorrel, Spring Greens, Spring Onions, Strawberries, Summer Squash, Sweetcorn, Swiss Chard, Tomatoes, Watercress.

I’ve crossed out the many things that have come to England since the fourteenth century to show you how much more choice we have now in our own gardens before we even need think of imported food.  In my own garden I’m overrun with courgettes (zucchinis) and my aubergines (eggplants) are filling out very nicely. Unfortunately, neither was available 700 years ago. My beetroots are doing well and I’m trying for a second crop of peas while it’s still very warm.

As you can see in the picture above, my leeks are tiny, but need thinning. I decided to try leeks and beetroot.  I also managed to find a few beetroot leaves that the caterpillars hadn’t eaten. As usual, there’s no pepper or salt.

beetroot

I know this is almost the same as I had last month, with the exception of the carrots, but that’s the way of it when you eat food you grow yourself in season. I’ve been eating courgettes every other day for what feels like weeks now and the chickens are laying two or three eggs a day whether I want them or not. If you have a recipe that uses both, I’d love to hear from you.

When I saw the pottage in the bowl I was less than impressed and it tasted as bad as it looked. Last month small pieces of hot beetroot went very well with carrot. On their own they were unpleasant. I had to eat something else to take the taste away. Then I had to have a glass of homemade strawberry wine.

The experiment is proving to be a bit hit and miss and this was a definite miss.

Sources:

Medieval Gardens – Anne Jennings

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.

Available now:

TheHeirsTale-WEB

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amazon

41 Comments

Filed under Fourteenth Century, Medieval Food

July Pottage

Trug

In June I started a project of making a seasonal pottage each month, using things that would be available to a medieval household at the lower end of society. As far as possible I’m using things from my own garden, although this exercise makes me realise how many of the things I grow were not available here in the fourteenth century.

One of my gardening friends told me a couple of weeks ago that his onions and garlic were ready, which was a bit of a relief. I like garlic and it does give food a bit of a kick when you’re not using salt or pepper, which were beyond the means of most people.

Correlating my list from the Vegetarian Society with the guidance of Medieval Gardens about which vegetables were available in the Middle Ages, I worked out that I could use:  Beetroot,  Broad Beans,  Carrots,  Garlic, Lettuce, Onions, Peas,  Radishes, Sorrel, Spring Greens, Turnips and Watercress. That’s quite a long list, but not all of those are things that I’d particularly want in a bowl together.

I’ve long wanted to try beetroot leaves, so I thinned the beetroots intending to add the leaves to the pot. Since the thinned plants included a few decent-sized roots, I threw those into the pot as well, along with the stalks. As you can see from the photo above, there were rather a lot of leaves, but not all of them were in a good enough condition to be eaten. Blackfly has been a major problem in the garden this year and they have taken to the beetroot.

I also thinned the leeks. At this stage of the year they look a bit like tiny spring onions, but they do have some taste and I thought a medieval housewife would probably be frugal enough to use them. Since there weren’t many, I added some chives as well. I bought a carrot and put that in with some garlic.

I used very little water, remembering how unpleasant the liquid had been in last month’s pottage.

July pottage

This is what it looked like and it was very tasty. I don’t know if it was a combination eaten in the fourteenth century, but I enjoyed it. It was much sweeter than I expected and even the liquid was good. I didn’t miss salt and pepper and I definitely want to try beetroot leaves again.

 

 

42 Comments

Filed under Fourteenth Century, Medieval Food

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.

 

 

41 Comments

Filed under Fourteenth Century, Medieval Food

Beekeeping In The Middle Ages

800px-27-alimenti,_miele,_Taccuino_Sanitatis,_Casanatense_4182.

Last week Robyn, from Big Dreams for a Tiny Garden, asked a question in the comments section about honey in the Middle Ages and I had to admit that I have avoided tackling the subject. Not because I’m afraid of bees; I’m not and I love seeing them in the garden.  It’s because, if I think too much about them, I might be tempted to get a hive and turn out to be very allergic to bee stings.

Despite all this, bees and their products do deserve a post of their own, so here it is.

In the fourteenth century bees were kept in skeps – upside-down conical baskets with a small hole allowing bees to enter and exit. Skeps were usually kept in a sheltered place, since bees don’t like bad weather. As a means of keeping bees, skeps were far from perfect as they could not be examined for wax or honey without disturbing the bees.

Bees produce two things much in demand in the fourteenth century – honey and wax. You might think that honey was the more important of the two, but you’d be wrong.

Until sufficient sugar cane could be grown outside of the eastern Mediterranean to make it affordable for most people, honey was the main source of sweetness in food. Wax was the more valuable product, however, and theft of skeps was a perpetual problem. They were small enough to be portable and there were usually several of them kept together.

Honey was extracted from the wax by pressing it. The wax had to be washed to remove any remaining honey before it could be put to one of its many uses.

Honey was a versatile product. Its most important use was as a food flavouring. It was used to flavour ale and to add sweetness to the porridge with which many people started the day. This is certainly my favourite use for honey. Honey has antiseptic properties and was used to help wounds heal. This use of honey is definitely going to make an appearance in one of my novels. It was used in bread making and was also rubbed onto horse’s legs when they were sick.

Wax was much more important than honey. Both were imported into England as well as harvested here, but it wasn’t worth transporting honey long distances, because merchants could not make as much money from it as they could from wax.

The most obvious use for wax was for candles. Beeswax gives a pure and odourless light. This was particularly important in monasteries and churches. Monasteries kept bees in order to collect wax for candles, but they could not always collect enough. Wax was imported into England to meet the demand for wax candles by royalty, monasteries and nobles. Most of it was imported into London. Edward I bought a large amount of imported wax from John of London, a merchant living in Southampton.

Like honey, wax had medicinal uses and was included in a remedy for an abscess in the throat, amongst other things.

Pilgrims left wax images at shrines they visited as a sign of gratitude or as a reflection of their prayers.  Wax could be shaped as something relevant to the saint or to show the reason for pilgrimage.

The king and his nobles had another use for wax. They mixed it with a resin, melted it and attached it to documents, then they put their seals into it to show their agreement to whatever was in the document.

Seal of Gilbert de Clare, earl of Gloucester and Hertford c 1218 to 1230

Wax was imported from Spain and Eastern Europe, mainly from Russia. Some also came from North Africa. The main African centre was Béjaïa, whose name gave the French their word for candle – bougie. France imported greater quantities of wax than England.

 

Sources:

Power and Profit: The Merchant in Medieval Europe – by Peter Spufford

The Medieval Cookbook – Maggie Black

Medieval Southampton – Colin Platt

The Medieval Cook – Bridget Ann Henisch

Tudor Monastery Farm – Ruth Goodman, Peter Ginn, Tom Pinfold

The Time-Traveller’s Guide to the Fourteenth Century – Ian Mortimer

 

20 Comments

Filed under Medieval Food, Medieval Life, Medieval Medicine

Winter Pottage

leeks

I know that it’s not quite winter, but I thought I’d make my winter pottage before I use up all my leeks. They’re the only winter vegetable I have in my garden.

As with the summer pottage I’m assuming that I have garlic and onions available. The leeks and sage are from my garden. I’m also using marrowfat peas. I grew peas in the summer and did let some stay in the pods to dry. There weren’t very many, though, because who can resist eating fresh peas from the pod? For the pottage I used marrowfat peas from the supermarket. I also added barley (again from the supermarket) to give the pottage a bit of body.

The peas were soaked overnight. A medieval housewife would have had to soak her barley as well, but mine just needed washing. I boiled some water with an onion and some garlic. I added the peas, barley and sage for half an hour, then added the leeks for ten minutes. All of this would have taken longer over an open fire.

Pottage

If you kept pigs in the fourteenth century you would be killing one about now. Most of the meat would be salted to last the winter, but you might add a bit to the pottage. It might not necessarily be a part of the pig that you’re familiar with. I’m a vegetarian, so it’s not something I’m going to try.

You might also have a carrot or two to add to the pot. Carrots don’t grow terribly well in the clay pit that passes for my garden, but they would have added some flavour.

Talking of flavour, it wasn’t too bad. I ate it all without feeling the need to add salt or pepper. I probably made it more interesting than it would have been in a fourteenth-century home by adding two things to give it bulk and texture – the peas and the barley. As always, I can only guess at the quantities that would have been available. It was probably less than I used, since I don’t have to make my ingredients stretch for another six or seven months until next year’s crops start to grow.

Chickens

What else can you eat at this time of year? Three out of our four chickens are laying at the moment. Medieval chickens were probably not such prolific producers of eggs as our modern hybrids, but a medieval housewife probably had more than four chickens. She probably had a cockerel as well. Spare eggs could be sold at market or swapped for food that the family didn’t grow.

 

27 Comments

Filed under Fourteenth Century, Medieval Food