Tag Archives: Medieval Pottage

May Pottage

May Pottage

This post completes the year of pottage. I had planned to stop here anyway, but I can’t get dried peas in the supermarket any longer and, having discovered that I’m allergic to raw peas (probably), I don’t want to grow my own. Most of the fun in growing peas is opening a pod in the garden and eating the contents still warm from the sun.  It’s not worth a swollen face, though. Without dried peas to add flavour during the winter months, pottage would be very bland.

We’re very much in the thin time of the year in May. There’s nothing in my garden to be eaten except herbs. I have lots of blood sorrel, parsley, chives and sage. They’re all very tasty, but I wouldn’t want to have to live on them. There are also dandelion leaves, if you let them grow, which I don’t.

So, what did my fourteenth-century housewife cook in May? Towards the end of the month, peas might be available. Lettuce is coming up. Spinach is another possibility, although mine is only a couple of inches tall. In some parts of the country you might be able to pick beetroot by now, but mine has only just germinated. If I grew them, radishes would be worth eating, but I wouldn’t want to make a pottage with them.

In the end I decided to use spring greens, as I did last month. Someone pointed out recently that I haven’t used mushrooms in a pottage, so I put some in this one. They wouldn’t be at their best at this time of year in the fourteenth century, but they would have been available. I have managed to grow a few mushrooms, but I suspect the medieval housewife would have gathered them from the wild. I bought mine from the supermarket.

I cut up the spring greens and put them in a large pot with a bit of water. Then I added parsley and chives from the garden to give it a bit more taste. Once the spring greens had wilted, I added the quartered mushrooms. It probably would have been better if I’d sliced them.

I have to confess that this pottage was not a great success. The mushrooms were fine, but the spring greens were very chewy. It was edible, but it would not have provided much nourishment.

It’s been an interesting experiment over the last twelve months. Although a lot of what I ate was tasty, I think it would be very monotonous for a modern person not used to being restricted to what was available at a particular time of the year. My fourteenth-century housewife would not have dreamt that food could be available out of season, but might still have felt that she couldn’t face another cabbage by this time of the year.

 

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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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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March Pottage

pease pottage

I’ve come up in the world a bit for my Lenten pottage. It’s got sugar, salt and oil in it. That’s because I’m following a recipe. I did baulk, though, at the saffron for which it also calls. Even today it’s too expensive for anything other than a special occasion.

The recipe comes from The Medieval Cookbook and is a very basic pea pottage. It’s March, so my medieval housewife is using things from her stores. Since it’s also Lent and no meat is allowed, the meal is completely vegetarian.

The two main ingredients are dried peas and onions. I soaked the peas overnight and boiled them in fresh water for half an hour before I added the onions.  They boiled together for an hour, then I removed them from the heat and mashed them. They could also be sieved. I added small amounts of oil, sugar and salt, then simmered for another ten minutes. In the Middle Ages, the thicker a pottage was the better it was considered to be, and none of my pottages so far have been very thick. This one was.

When I poured it into the bowl it looked like mushy peas, which is basically what it was, except for the onion. I doubt many people realise they’re getting a medieval dish when they have mushy peas with their fish and chips.

Not only was it very tasty, but it was also very filling. It’s not the most attractive pottage I’ve made, but it’s one I’d make 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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February Pottage

March

This month’s pottage is another one that’s pleasing to the eye. Fortunately, my taste buds were also rather happy.

In February there would probably still be plenty of food from last year’s harvest, if it had been stored correctly. As far as my pottage is concerned, that’s the barley, carrots and garlic. I picked the leeks and parsley from the garden a couple of hours before I ate them.

A medieval housewife would have had to soak her barley overnight, but modern technology has spared me that. It still has to boil for an hour and fifteen minutes, though. As you can see from the photograph, I used too much barley. I’m still not used to how much bulk it gains in the pot.

After twenty minutes or so I added the carrots, garlic and parsley. The parsley hasn’t been deterred by the snow we had a couple of weeks ago, but I think a few frosty nights have thwarted its plans to take over the herb garden. Its growth spurt is over until the warmer weather.

The leeks were added with twenty minutes to go, so they still had a bit of crunch in them when I ate them. As usual there was no pepper or salt. All the flavour came from the vegetables themselves and it was tasty.

Sadly I didn’t have a young child to sit and stir the pot for me, and some of the barely stuck to the bottom because I hadn’t put enough water in. A medieval housewife would never have allowed that to happen. Cooking pots were far too precious to allow them to be damaged like that.

A medieval housewife might have had some salted pork left and some of that might have gone into the pot. There were other things that were available that I haven’t mentioned, such as mushrooms. I’m sure people in the Middle Ages had more knowledge than most of us today about which ones it was safe to eat.

 

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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January Pottage

20190125_125358

The ingredients for this month’s pottage were easy enough to choose. The only vegetables growing in my garden at the moment are leeks. They’re not very big, which I think is due to the very hot summer we had. In my cupboard I had some barley and there’s some sage and bewildered parsley in the garden. The early part of winter was so mild that the parsley thought it was spring and has been growing everywhere. The sorrel has also been fooled into producing leaves early. These things aren’t usually available in January, but I thought a fourteenth-century housewife wouldn’t waste them, so they went into the pot.

When I went to the cupboard the evening before I was going to make the pottage I realised that I didn’t have much barley. Fortunately I still had some marrowfat peas. I soaked the peas overnight and boiled them for three quarters of an hour before I added the barley and the garlic. The peas gave it a bit more taste. About twenty minutes after the barley I added the leeks and the leaves. They boiled together for about fifteen minutes.

It was tasty and satisfying meal. I made the pottage fairly thick, as the liquid can often be disappointing.

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Christmas Pottage

Christmas Pottage

Christmas was a feast, so I doubt that pottage would necessarily have been part of the main meal, but this is a series about pottage and that’s what I made. Many people celebrated the feast in the hall of the lord of the manor and that probably means that they ate the lord’s meat.

I’m a vegetarian, so meat isn’t an option for me, but I wanted this month’s pottage to be a bit of a celebration. Since whatever the people sitting in their lord’s hall ate was probably made with meat stock, I allowed myself vegetable stock in my pottage.

Sonya from Losing the Plot sent me some soup mix from Northern Ireland which is rather pottage-like in its makeup. It contains pearl barley, red split lentils, green split peas and yellow split peas. Medieval Gardens tells me that lentils weren’t commonly available in the Middle Ages and I thought that would make them something suitable for the Christmas feast.

I soaked the dry ingredients overnight, rinsed them and boiled them for 10 minutes. After that they simmered for 40 minutes. I rinsed them again and added them to some vegetable stock together with some leeks from the garden and some carrots. That cooked for another ten minutes.  It was very tasty and had the advantage over some previous pottages of looking nice in the bowl.

For poorer people who didn’t get to eat at their lord’s table, ham probably featured in their more humble Christmas feast. It’s a tradition that continued at least into my childhood. One of the smells I associate with Christmas is a ham boiling in the pressure cooker on Christmas Eve.

 

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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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.

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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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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.

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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.

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