Tag Archives: 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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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:

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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.

 

 

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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.

 

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Pottage – Again

Barley and pea pottage

Barley and pea pottage

Last week I wrote about my first experiment with pottage. Now that I have ripe peas in the garden I wanted to make pottage with them. The intention was to make two – a thicker one and a thinner one. As with last week’s pottage, I would not use salt or pepper, but only a stock with herbs for seasoning. This time I left the celery out of the stock, as I wasn’t sure that the celery from the supermarket was very much like the celery available in the fourteenth century.

For the thicker fresh pea pottage I had to find something to thicken it. In the fourteenth century this would have been a grain or bread. In poorer households it was more likely to have been grain, as using it for pottage rather than for bread was a way of making it go further.

Fresh peas

Fresh peas

I used pearl barley as the thickener. A couple of years ago I accidentally and unwillingly grew barley in the garden when seeds from the barley straw I put round the strawberries germinated. I dug up the barley sprouts, but, on the principle that I could have grown barley if I hadn’t considered it a weed, barley was what I used. The pearl barley from the supermarket is a lot more refined than anything eaten in the Middle Ages, so the taste and texture would be different. This meant that I didn’t have to soak it to soften it, which would have been necessary for a fourteenth-century housewife. She would also have had to make grain stretch from one year’s harvest to the next, so she probably would not have used the same generous quantity for one person as I did.

Pearl barley

Pearl barley

Around this time of year I usually make a few pea risottos, so I was expecting the pottage to taste a bit like that, but without the oil and salt. To some extent it did, although the barley was chewier than rice.

The recipe:

I rinsed the pearl barley and boiled it on its own for 10 minutes, then I let it simmer for 30 minutes. While the barley was simmering, I chopped the onion and garlic and boiled them. I drained the barley and added it to the stock. Finally I added the peas and herbs and let them simmer for a couple of minutes.

There weren’t as many peas as I had hoped, but there must have been days when the fourteenth-century housewife had to make her fresh vegetables go further than expected.

It was definitely filling. That was down to the barley. It was not terribly tasty, but I think that might have been because there were too few peas to hold their own against the barley and the onion. I also think it’s the boiled onion which causes the odd aftertaste.  Drinking a mug of ale would probably have helped with that. This is not a version of pottage that I would particularly want to eat again.

pea pottage

Pea pottage

Yesterday I finally had enough peas to make a thin pottage with them. I boiled the onion and garlic for 20 minutes, then added the peas, chives and marjoram. They simmered for a very short time. I had expected that this pottage would be the least interesting, but it was very tasty. It wasn’t terribly filling, but it was enough to stave off hunger pangs for the afternoon. I think it would be most useful as a summer dish on a day when little work was required to be done in the fields.

Trying to make something that resembles a medieval pottage has raised many questions.

The process of cooking it on my gas hob was, of course, much faster than it would have been on an open fire in the fourteenth century. This raised two questions. The first was whether or not this would make any difference to the taste. The second was to wonder how an army on the move would have coped. In my novel Beloved Besieged an army crosses Aquitaine. There are too many men to stay in inns, so they would have slept in tents or in the open air, making camp each night. It would have taken a long time to cook for an army of thousands of men over open fires. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find out anything on this subject. The Black Prince’s armies were renowned for covering great distances in a day, which would have meant even less cooking time.

Quantities is another problem. My helpings were fairly large, as I was not afraid of the barley running out, nor was I trying to make dried herbs last until spring. Would a poor person in the fourteenth century have been able to eat the same amount? I don’t know.

What I have learned is that pottage did not have to be bland, even without salt and pepper.

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