I love discovering the meanings behind the names given to medieval dishes. Call me scholar, call me nerd, I just can’t help myself.
Many of the recipe titles in Richard II’s official cookery book, Forme of Cury (c. 1390), have bamboozled antiquarians and academics for centuries, so I get a kick out of working out what they may mean. It’s not always possible to be absolutely sure about some of my conclusions, and sometimes I simply reach a dead end, but with a spirit of persistence, I am finding more of these names are indeed making better sense.
In this, my fourth Language of Cookery note, I am looking at the name ‘Bursews’, one of the last recipes in Forme of Cury.
The Middle English Dictionary (MED), though often so very useful, doesn’t yield up much help in this case; it simply states that burseu (the singular form) was a ‘dish of minced meat’. That much is self-evident from our ‘Bursews’ recipe, one of four the MED refers to as examples. Here’s my edition of the text from the John Rylands copy along with my translation:
Take pork, seeþ hyt & grynde hyt smale wiþ soden ayroun, do þerto gode poudours and hole spyces & salt wiþ sugur, make þerof smale balles & cast hem in a batour of ayroun, & wete hem in flour & frye hem in grece as frytoures & serue hem forth.
Take pork, simmer it and grind it finely with boiled eggs; add to this good powders and whole spices and salt with sugar; from this make small balls, and cast them into a batter of eggs, and roll them wet in flour, and fry them in fat as fritters, and serve forth.
This week I take a look at the problem of visual aesthetics when reconstructing two of Richard II’s recipes
During the last two weeks I finally got back into some recipe development. It’s easy to become preoccupied with writing about the recipes of Richard II’s cookery book and not actually cooking them. Don’t get me wrong, I do love reading from and translating medieval manuscripts (even digitised versions thereof) and I like researching around the text, in this case finding out more about medieval food and cooking, but there is nothing quite like bringing history to life than, well, cooking it up!
However, it isn’t always as straightforward as I’d like it to be. As many of you know, medieval recipes are often sparse on detail, and invariably don’t include quantities of ingredients or timings for cooking. And so it takes time to work things out, patience to get something that tastes good and not just interesting – which might as well be a curse to the aspiring, or is that deluded, medievalist MasterChef contestant.
And, then, there is the problem of looks.
There is, alas, no visual inspiration to direct my artistic eye, no glossy photos or pretty watercolours, not even a crude sketch in the 14th-century manuscript I work with, Forme of Cury – most inconsiderate of Richard’s master cooks, don’t you think? And being as I’m neither professional chef nor “food designer” (I will try not to cough derisively, here) my own attempts at prettifying food sometimes are way down low on the Gastronomic Aesthetics Scale.
This unpardonable lack was much in evidence in the two dishes I’ve been exploring these last two weeks: Grewel Forced (Enriched Gruel) and Mounchelet, a mutton stew. But I will do my best to ignore the voice in my head, with its distinct Klingon accent, shouting Gagh, and present to you my research and development of these two recipes.
For to make grewel forced
Take grewel & do to þe fyre with gode flesch & seeþ hit wel, take þe lyre of pork & grynd hit smal and drawe þe grewel þorow a straynour & colour hyt wiþ safroun.
How to make enriched gruel
Take gruel to the fire with good meat and simmer it well; take the meat of pork and grind it small and pass the gruel through a strainer and colour it with saffron.
Exploring the linguistic influences on medieval English cuisine
Medieval English recipe names are frequently odd. And sometimes, as a translator, I’m led down a dodgy etymological path by a name that looks like a mangled concoction of Middle English and Old French or Anglo-Norman, only for it to turn out to be something quite different.
A good example of this is from my early days of translating Forme of Cury, Richard II’s famous cookery book. I came across Buknade – a stew of either chicken, rabbit, or veal – looked it up in the Middle English Dictionary, which suggested a possible derivation from Old French buquet ‘bucket’, and leapt at the rather exhuberant, if not endearing, translation, ‘bucket of stew’!
Fortunately, I was saved from eternal embarrassment by the editors of Curye on Inglysch, an edition of various fourteenth-century cookery texts, published by The Early English Text Society in 1985. And so Constance B. Hieatt and Sharon Butler brought to my attention the fact that the root buk- signifies the meaning of ‘veal dish’; the very smart ones amongst my readers will recognise the etymological link to the famous Italian veal shank dish ossobuco.
There are occasions, however, where I’ve had a hunch about a particular recipe name that turns out to be surprisingly sound. And the example I’m going to give you is another Middle English name which shows Italian, rather than French, influence: papdele.
Hares in papdele
Tak hares, perboile hem in gode broth; cole þe broth & waische þe flesch, cast ageyn togyder; tak obleys oþer wafrouns in defaut of loseyns & couche in disches; tak poudour douce and lay on; salt þe broth & ley onoward and messe hit forth.
Hares in pappardelle
Take hares, parboil them in good broth; cool the broth and wash the meat, return together again; take oblées or wafers, as a substitute for lasagne, and lay into dishes; take and lay on powder douce; salt the broth and lay it over, and serve it forth.
The image above shows, on the right-hand folio, the opening recipe to Richard II’s famous cookery book, Forme of Cury. Immediately following the red text, or rubric, which is written in Latin (‘Incipit forma’ = ‘[Here] begins the method’), we can see the Middle English title for this first dish: ‘For to make grounden benes’.
Now, we would be forgiven for thinking this means, ‘How to make ground beans’, since the Middle English word grounden is indeed the past participle of the verb grinden ‘to grind’, and so does indeed mean ‘ground’.
However, the sense from the instructions is that these beans are prepared in order to be suitable for grinding. This recipe is, in effect, the essential how-to for all bean recipes that follow, whether they use ground or unground beans — essential for the medieval cook, I should add.
As we can see, the beans in this recipe are not actually ground up. Rather, they are dried in an oven so that they can be hulled; that is, their husks, or outer skins, are removed; and then these husks are winnowed out, leaving just the beans, which are then washed.
The final product of this whole process is actually what we today call split beans. The variety of bean used back in the fourteenth century is essentially the same as today’s fava bean (also know to Brits as the broad bean). When they were prepared as the recipe directs, the beans would have naturally split into two.
The modern process for creating split beans is rather different, as a heat-drying method to loosen the outer skins is not used. Instead, fully mature fava beans, which actually dry in the pod, are harvested by combine, which removes them from their pods, before they then go into a grain store in which they receive some light drying, provided by forcing air through the store’s ventilated floor. Once this is done, the husks or skins are removed by mechanical abrasion, which results in the bean splitting into its two halves.*
In the Forme of Cury‘s opening recipe, the beans are simply cooked in a good broth and eaten with bacon. They are not ground up. In a later recipe, however, known as Makke, the cook is told to take ‘grounden benes’ and cook them in water, before casting them into a mortar in order to ‘grynde hem al to doust tyl þey be white as eny mylke’ — ‘grind them all to dust until they are as white as any milk’. A little heated red wine is added to form a purée and the dish is garnished with browned onions. I think it is screaming out for garlic!
A final observation on the medieval method of drying ‘grounden benes’: I attempted to replicate this in my own oven; and though I found I could, with a dregree of grumpy resentment, crack and remove the husks from my oven-dried favas, I was left in no doubt that life really is far too short to be making my own split beans. So I heartily recommend the shortcut of purchasing ready split ones!
*My thanks to Nick Saltmarsh, Managing Director at Hodmedod, for passing on his knowledge about split fava bean production.
I hope you all have had a lovely time over the Christmas holidays. If not, or if Christmas is a tough time for you, all I can say is well done for getting through it.
Of course, the one big thing on everyone’s mind over this holiday has been the answer to my last post, ‘Ten things about me (one is a lie)’, which I set a few days before Christmas.
I jest, of course. But for those of you who were kind enough to indulge my vanity by providing me with their answer/viewpoint/opinion, here are the truthful things, followed by the big lie:
NINE TRUTHFUL THINGS:
1. I have three times made myself ill cooking for Monk’s Modern Medieval Cuisine.
Yes, I really have done this. Unforgiveable, you might think.
In the first instance, I experimented with the recipe Tart de Bry, from Forme of Cury (Richard II’s cookery book) and, because I am gluten intolerant, I substituted sorghum flour for wheat flour to make the pastry, as sorghum is gluten free.
Now I had never used sorghum flour before. I thought I was being very careful. Alas!
I won’t go into detail about the aftereffects, but suffice it to say that it was decidedly unpleasant and extremely painful. At first, I blamed it on some poppadoms I’d eaten at a restaurant, assuming wrongly that the waiter had fibbed about the poppadoms being gluten free. But when I repeated the recipe experiment a week later, the exact same symptoms occurred.
I followed up my discovery of intolerance to sorghum flour by doing a little research, which confirmed that some people with wheat intolerance unfortunately react badly to sorghum, too. Lesson learnt.
The third time I made myself ill was consuming a large quantity of a fava bean purée, again based on a recipe in Forme of Cury, which though not causing quite as severe a reaction as the sorghum experiments, nevertheless had me cursing my luck with the discovery of another new medieval method of torture!
2. I drank cocktails with Sir Lancelot.
Yes, it is true. I sipped cocktails at a party with Sir Lancelot du Lac, also known as actor Gareth David-Lloyd!
Gareth, pictured below with his wife Gemma, is the voice actor for Sir Lancelot in the video game Dance of Death: Du Lac & Fey. I was invited to the party in London to celebrate the launch of the game, for which I was one of the historical consultants.
3. I started a pastry fight in my cookery class at school.
Well, I should first thank all the folk who responded to this by saying that I’m much too peaceable to get up to such a wicked act of violence.
But, alas, it is true. Though rather an angelic child in general, at times the halo slipped. Fortunately, I was the teacher’s pet. So when Mrs Rollings (what a great name for a cookery teacher) returned after absenting herself briefly from class, she took it all in good humour.
The kitchens were scattered with balls of shortcrust dough, served, I might add, with varying degrees of accuracy by me and my fellow students using our sieves. Perhaps ‘pastry tennis’ rather than ‘pastry fight’ is a fairer description of what I started.
Anyhow, I confessed immediately to being the instigator and was forgiven, in part I think because I was the first ever boy at our school to take an O Level in cookery (these were the days of strict gender stereotyping), and Mrs R didn’t want to throw me out the class. Aww!
4. I have held in my hand the oldest copy of King Richard II’s cookery book.
Of course I have! I’ll just leave this picture as evidence.
(For Mary: generally speaking, medieval manuscripts are best handled with clean hands, rather than with gloved hands, so I did actually have skin contact with the book as I handled it at the Rylands Library. And we can call it King Richard’s cookery book, rather than the book of his cooks, because the preamble to the recipes states that it is the king’s official record. Hope that explains I’m being honest here!)
6. I have been in a pop video drinking bubbly.
Yes, I get about a bit!
I had the great pleasure of working with the brilliant musician-singer-songwriter, Ben McGarvey, better known as Minute Taker. I can be found, I think, four times (totalling about 5 seconds of fleeting fame) in his video for the 2019 single Hearts (We’ll Never Know). In the screenshot below, Ben pushes past me as I’m drinking a glass of bubbly.
This event happened by chance about five or six years ago in the American Airlines executive lounge at Chicago O’Hare Airport. I was sitting down eating olives and a gin and tonic, and who should walk in and sit herself in the adjacent armchair but the terrifying Jadis herself!
8. I have dined at a MasterChef winner’s restaurant.
True! In fact I’ve dined in this restaurant twice.
The place is Wood, in my hometown of Manchester, and the chef-patron is Simon Wood, who won MasterChef in 2015. The food is superb!
9. I have eaten medieval cheesecake.
Obviously I have not eaten cheesecake that has survived since the medieval period, but I have eaten my own reconstruction of the fourteenth-century recipe known as Sambocade, a rosewater and elderflower curd cheese tart (see image below).
I made the curd cheese from scratch and reported on this experiment on my other website, The Medieval Monk: Making cruddes (curds).
10. I have eaten 14th-century French tarts whilst dressed in an authentic 11th-century English monk’s habit.
This is related to No. 1. During the filming of my experimention with making Tart de Bry, a recipe that, as the name implies, orginated in Normandy in medieval France (Bry=Brie, the French cheese that seems to have originated in eigth-century Meaux), I decided to appear as an English Saxon monk snaffling the goodies.
5. I once dressed as Queen Wealhtheow, serving mead, whilst teaching Beowulf at the University of Manchester.
And so no one worked out the fib. Not even my partner of 19 years!
It is true that I once dressed as a make-shift Queen Wealhtheow in a Beowulf class -— I made her long locks of plaited hair out of wool and her crown out of shiny gold card — but this was during my own undergraduate studies at the University of Manchester. And it is also true that later I taught Beowulf at this same university. But, come on! Serve mead to my students? I’d have got the sack!
Hope that was at least mildly entertaining. And, once again, a big thank you to all those who responded on Facebook, and to Kay who responded conscientiously in the comments section on here xxx.
Wishing you all a great 2020. See you all in the New Year.
Tak flour of payndemayn and gode wyne & drawe it togyder; do þerto a grete quantite of sugur cypre or hony clarified, & do per to safroun; boyle hit & whan it is yboyled alye it up with ȝolkes of ayroun & do þerto salt & messe hit forth, and lay þeron sugur and poudour gynger.
Take flour of pandemain [fine white flour] and good wine and blend it together; add thereto a great quantity of Cyprus sugar or clarified honey and add thereto saffron; boil it and when it is boiled mix it with egg yolks and add thereto salt, and serve it forth, and sprinkle on sugar and powder of ginger.
This experiment is of the moment, we might say, inspired by a post I read this morning in a Facebook medieval history group to which I belong. A tutor, teaching Chaucer to 15/16-year-old students, wanted some advice on contemporaneous cookery; she was looking for a ‘medieval dessert’ for the students to try.
I had a quick think about it and, notwithstanding the need to substitute grape juice for the wine, came up with Caudel ferry from Richard II’s cookery book, Forme of Cury, which, having been written about 1390 is spot on for Chaucer enthusiasts.
I’m not sure whether this will end up being suitable for the teacher; but, hey, I fancy Caudel ferry for breakfast! I got together my ingredients and my mobile phone and shot a few pics and shaky, one-handed videos to record the experiment.
Let me know what you think…
The ingredients used were:
white wine, small bottle, 187ml. (I used sauvignon blanc, you could use something sweeter; substitute the same amount of white grape juice if you don’t want alcohol.)
2 level tablespoons of fine wheat flour (I used gluten free, which is great for blending into liquid as it’s largely rice flour; rice flour was used in fourteenth century England!)
3 tablespoons of clear honey (you could substitute sugar)
few strands of saffron
2 large egg yolks, preferably free-range organic
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon sugar (I used golden granulated)
¼ to ½ teaspoon of ginger powder (½ teaspoon is very gingery, so beware; you could substitute cinnamon if you prefer it)
Stage 1: Blend the wine and flour in a pan; mix in the honey and saffron.
Stage 2: Gradually bring the pan to a gentle bubble, stirring constantly. To cook out the floury taste you need to simmer it for about 6 or 7 minutes; again, keep stirring throughout. This cooking will also remove the alcohol.
In the video I point out that a ‘caudel’ (usually spelled ‘caudle’ in modern English) is essentially a drink, but in some medieval recipes, caudles are thickened. In a slightly later recipe, the method for this same recipe makes it clear that it should be ‘stondynge’, that is very thick, thick enough in fact to serve it in ‘leches’ – slices. My version is not as thick as that; it’s essentially like a thick custard.
Stage 3: Remove the pan from the heat, allow to cool for a couple of minutes, then add the egg yolks, fully blending them in. Return to the heat and gently cook for a further two minutes, stirring constantly. Add a small pinch of salt and stir in; this creates a counterpoint to the sweetness, something commonly done in medieval cookery.
Stage 4: Place the mixture into a bowl, sprinkle with the sugar and ginger powder. And eat! It’s quite rich and spicy, so you could always share this with someone you love.
As I work my way through translating the recipes of Forme of Cury, Richard II’s official cookery book, I sometimes come across words that have shifted in meaning from how they were originally used. In this first of a series of ‘Language of cookery’ notes, I take a look at one of these words: smiten.
The Middle English verb smiten, literally ‘to smite’, has numerous meanings, primarily associated with inflicting blows or striking with a weapon, but also afflicting with death or suffering. [see note 1]
Our modern, though often archaic, use of the derivative verb smite still carries some of these associations: we might smite our enemies, for example, or our family may be smitten with the flu.
In a culinary context, however, smiten essentially means ‘to cut up’, as you can see with these examples from Forme of Cury:
smyte hit on smale morcels ‘smite it into small morcels’: from the recipe for Roobroth (re. boar or roe deer meat), image above.
smyte hit to gobettes ‘smite it into gobbets’: from Mounchelet (re. veal or mutton)
smyte hem on pecys rawe ‘smite them raw into pieces’: from Egredouce (re. rabbits or kid)
smyte hem onto pecys ‘smite them into pieces’: from Conynges in grauey (re. rabbits)
tak oynouns perboyle hem, smyte hem smal ‘take onions, parboil them, smite them small’: from Hares in talbotes
The intriguing thing is that Middle English smiten derives from Old English smitan, which does not carry any of the senses above but, rather, means ‘to daub, smear, soil, pollute or defile’. [see note 2]
So, I imagine, someone in pre-Conquest England would have looked rather bemused if they were told to smear their onions or defile their rabbits!
 Middle English (ME) is the name we give to the English language from the period, roughly, 1175-1500. For a comprehensive definition of ME smiten, see the Middle English Dictionary online.
 Old English (OE) is the name we give to the English language from the period, roughly 600-1175. The definition here for OE smitan is from A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary by J. R. Clark Hall. We should note that there are a small number of examples of where the original OE sense survives in the Middle English period: see note 1, above; follow the dictionary link, no. 11.
This is just to let you know I’ve written a new blog post on my mother website, The Medieval Monk, about the use of herbs in early England before the Norman Conquest (1066).
I take as the basis for the piece Erbolate, a recipe using eleven herbs found in Forme of Cury, Richard II’s cookery book, and then dig into some Old English medical texts to explore how these eleven herbs were used during the pre-Conquest period.
So, please enjoy reading it (I write in persona as a slightly mad 11th-century monk). Just follow the link below:
Tak almaundes yblaunched & drawe hem up sumdel thykke wiþ gode broth oþer with water & set on þe fyre & seeþ it, cast þerto ȝolkes of ayroun ydrawe, tak pynes fryed in oyle oþer in grece & do þerto white poudour douce, suger & salt, & colour it with alkenet a litull.
Pine nut custard.
Take blanched almonds and mix them up to a fairly thick consistency with good broth or water and set on the fire and simmer it; add to it strained egg yolks; take pine nuts, fried either in oil or fat, and add thereto white powder douce, sugar and salt, and colour it with a little alkanet.
At first sight, the fiftieth recipe in the fourteenth-century Forme of Cury — Richard II’s cookery book — might seem to have an identity crisis. With both the inclusion of sugar and salt, are we meant to interpret it as a sweet or a savoury dish? Or somewhere in between?
Moreover, the instructions appear to leave out some necessary details: how do you mix almonds with broth into a ‘thick consistency’; what do you do once you’ve spiced and seasoned the pine nuts; and just what is ‘white powder douce’?
Well, wherever there is mystery and confusion, I feel obliged to investigate and illuminate through research and experimentation. So, here’s what I’ve found out so far:
Pynnonade has previously been identified by other scholars as a sweet dish. In their glossary for their edition of Middle English recipes (Curye on Inglysch), Constance B. Hieatt and Sharon Butler lump together Pynnonade with other pine nut dishes, which they label as ‘sweet dishes’ [see note 1]; and, indeed, these are evidently sweet fare. Here are the other pine nut dishes mentioned, each (as with our Pynnonade) incorporating the Middle English word for ‘pine nut’, i.e. pine or pyne, in its name:
Pynade #1, which uses both honey and ‘a quantity of brown sugar’ to make a kind of spiced toffee; the mixture is boiled at length and then placed on a wet board to cool and set [see note 2];
Pynade #2, another dish using a ‘third part’ (a sizeable quantity) of sugar or honey to make a boiled confection using wine, pears and spices [see note 3];
and Pynite, a pastry filled with a spiced ginger toffee, made by boiling wine and sugar, and also incorporating honey [see note 4].
The problem is that Pynnonade is not remotely similar to any of these other pine nut dishes: it contains egg yolks which the others do not; there is no fruit or honey; and no boiling is involved, just simmering.
But the most significant difference lies in the quantities of sugar used. In the three recipes above, it is clear that sugar is a primary ingredient; whereas, in Pynnonade, sugar is listed along with salt and spices, added to enhance the fried pine nuts; it is not the basis for making a toffee mixture.
Pertinently, a ready-made confection known as pinionade (variously spelt), evidently some kind of sugar and pine nut combination, was imported into England from the Mediterranean during the late medieval period, arriving in boxes and pots. The spiced, salty-and-sweet fried pine nuts of our Pynnonade seem likely to be taking their inspiration from this luxurious treat [see note 5].
As titles for medieval English recipes quite frequently incorporate the name of a core ingredient, it seems fair to conclude that our Pynnonade is doing the same. Our dish is not this pinionade, but nevertheless a pine nut confection of sorts is its most distinctive component.
Sugar as spice
An earlier English collection of recipes, written in Anglo-Norman and dating to around 1320-40, sheds some light on the use of sugar in medieval cookery, and will help us further contextualise Pynnonade:
Let d’alemaundes, flurs d’aubespyne moillez en let d’alemaundes, e qu’il eit bon flaour des flurs; e de amydoun, char grosse, gyngivre triee, sucre pur abatre la force de le gyngyvre, blaunche flurs planté desus.
Hawthorn blossom pottage.
Almond milk, hawthorn flowers soaked in almond milk; perfume well with the flowers; wheat starch; beef, pork, or mutton; choice ginger, sugar to balance the ginger, white blossoms set on top.
[From Constance B. Hieatt and Robin F. Jones, ‘Two Anglo-Norman Culinary Collections Edited from British Library Manuscripts Additional 32085 and Royal 12.C.xii’, Speculum 61.4 (1986), pp. 859-892, at pp. 867 and 878 (recipe 11); my own emphases.]
Using sugar as a spice, and not simply as a sweetener, is commonly alluded to throughout Forme of Cury and other medieval recipe books. The example above is perhaps the most explicit I’ve come across so far for explaining how sugar was used to balance other spices.
Once you realise that, when used judiciously, sugar works as a counterpoint to salt and can often enhance spices, then it seems eminently sensible to incorporate it into various dishes, even those that are, to all intents and purposes, savoury. A good reminder, then, to all those desiring to reconstruct medieval recipes, is that sugar doesn’t automatically mean ‘sweet dish’.
If I’ve not quite convinced you, or you think I’m stretching this out of context, let us just consider the recipe that immediately follows Pynnonade.
Tak þicke mylke as to fore wellid, cast þerto suger a gode porcioun, pynes, dates, yminced, canel & poudour gynger, & seeþ hit & alye it with floures of roses white & flour of rys, cole hit, salt it, & messe hyt forth, yf þou wolt in stede of almaund mylk, tak swete cremes of kyne.
Rose petal custard.
Take thick milk as directed above; add thereto a good quantity of sugar, pine nuts, minced dates, cinnamon and ginger powder, and simmer it and mix it with white rose petals and rice flour; cool it, salt it, and serve it forth; if you wish, instead of almond milk, use sweet cream of cows.
The instruction, ‘Take thick milk as directed above’, clearly shows that both Pynnonade and Rosee follow a similar method, using thick almond milk as the base for their recipes. But there is a clear difference between the two.
Rosee is intended to be a sweet dish: there is no room for doubt, here, for the cook is told to use ‘a good quantity’, or portion, of sugar. However, this is not stipulated for Pynnonade. It seems quite reasonable, therefore, to conclude that Pynnonade was not intended as an overtly sweet dish.
The Rosee recipe also helps us identify what the base is for Pynnonade — what the dish is in essence — for it describes its almond and broth (or water) mixture as ‘thick milk’. In Rosee, rice flour is added to make it even thicker; in Pynnonade, however, the thickening is done by adding egg yolks. From a modern cook’s perspective, what is made in both recipes is a type of thick custard [see note 6]: the former sweet, the latter savoury — with a little sugar from the spiced pine nuts to enhance it.
At this point it is worth noting that almond milk is frequently used in Forme of Cury as a substitute for milk from cows. It was made by blending and steeping ground almonds with either fresh water or a broth of some kind (typically a poultry or a beef broth). Note that for its thicker almond milk, Rosee specifies as an alternative ‘sweet cream of cows’, that is, ‘sweet’ or delicate in flavour, not sweetened by sugar.
Clearly, it’s not possible to make an almond milk with whole blanched almonds, as Pynnonade seems to be suggesting. So, evidently, a step indicating that the almonds should be first ground before combining with the broth has been omitted by mistake. In fact, two later manuscript versions of Forme of Cury do actually include ‘grynde hem’ (‘grind them’) after the almonds are mentioned [see note 7].
The Pynnonade recipe also omits telling the cook to add the spiced pine nuts to the thickened almond milk, or custard. But perhaps that is self-evident; it certainly seems to be confirmed by the method for Rosee, where we read that all the dry ingredients are ‘cast thereto’.
White powder douce?
Now just one final puzzle: just what is white powder douce? Those of you familiar with medieval recipes will already have heard of the spice mix known as ‘powder douce’ (literally, ‘sweet powder’). I’ve already written a post explaining the likely spices that went into this blend: cinnamon, ginger, Indian bay leaves, and cloves; and also how ‘douce’/ ‘sweet’ doesn’t indicate that sugar was commonly part of the mix, but rather that the spices were designated as ‘sweet’, as opposed to ‘strong’, in contemporary Italian culinary tradition, from which English cuisine often borrowed.
None of these spices, however, is strictly white, though at least ginger is pale, especially in its dried form. It seems, then, a fair bet to say ginger may have been a component of ‘white powder douce’. Cloves, on the other hand, are markedly dark, and cinnamon is also far from white, so perhaps these two spices were not included in the blend. As for the Indian bay leaves, they are rather green when ground, so if we’re wanting to recreate this mix, should we also leave them out? But, if we do, that would leave us with just ginger, and a single spice does not make a spice mix!
Is there some mistake, then? Did the scribe accidentally insert the word ‘white’?
Interestingly, two later copies of Forme of Cury have ‘with’ rather than ‘white’, giving us in Middle English the phrase ‘do þerto with poudour douce…’ (‘add thereto with powder douce, etc.’). Though rather clunky, and not the typical form, ‘add thereto with’ does appear a few times elsewhere in other recipes, so ‘with powder douce’ rather than ‘white powder douce’ is a possibility. A further later version uses neither ‘white’ nor ‘with’; it just uses ‘powder douce’ [see note 8].
However, both the Rylands Library copy (the oldest surviving copy and the basis of my own translation) and the British Library copy do specify ‘white’. To me, it seems deliberate: ‘white powder douce’ is a thing, I would suggest. Are there any clues elsewhere in Forme of Cury that might just help us identify this mysterious spice mix? Yes.
In the dish called Peerus in Confyt (poached pears in syrup), the syrup is made using ‘blaunche poudour, oþer whyte sugur & poudour of gynger’, that is, ‘white powder, or white sugar and powder of ginger’. It seems, then, a medieval cook could use something called ‘white powder’ (or ‘powder blanche’), which was probably purchased ready blended, or, as a substitute, make their own using ginger and white sugar.
Being as sugar was essentially treated as a spice, it seems that ginger and white sugar could be what we’re looking at for the spice mix of Pynnonade, for our ‘white powder douce’. I wouldn’t wish to be dogmatic about this. Most commentators and scholars suggest spice mixes would have varied from kitchen to kitchen. And, indeed, in my experiments below, I play around with the spices, as you will see.
Once I worked out that I was making a kind of savoury custard, combined with spiced and sweetened pine nuts, I set about experimenting. The following photos and videos (shot on my phone, so a little rough) show how I got on:
Experiment 1: Pynnonade made with water
Step 1: Making up a version of ‘white powder douce’ spice mix (not very white!). I combined 1 teaspoon cinnamon powder, 1 teaspoon of sugar, 2 teaspoons of grated ginger root, and ½ teaspoon of grated nutmeg, seen in the bowl, lower right. You can see the dried ginger root and whole nutmeg in the bowl, upper left.
Step 2: Making the spiced pine nuts. I gently fried 50g (a generous 1/3 cup) of pine nuts in a little olive oil (olive oil was imported into England during the medieval period). Once they had turned golden brown, I removed them off the heat and added the spice mix, plus a pinch of salt and a pinch of sugar. They looked like this:
I should point out that I didn’t follow the recipe instruction to add alkanet, which is a red dye obtained from the root of Alkanna tinctoria, a herb in the borage family. This is because it is no longer licensed as a food colouring in Britain (where it goes by the designation E103). I tried using mulberry syrup as an alternative, since mulberries are used as a colourant elsewhere in Forme of Cury, but let’s just say that this didn’t work, and move quickly onto step 3!
Step 3: Making the thick almond milk. I decided to try the water alternative first before going on to use broth in the second experiment. I combined in a saucepan 150g (1½ cups) of ready ground almonds and 250ml (9 US fl oz) of water and gently brought this to a simmer, before stirring for two or three minutes until quite thick.
Step 4: Thickening the almond milk with egg yolks. First, I made my egg yolks ‘ydrawe’, that is, yolks ‘drawn’ through a sieve. Notice how the yolk sac is left behind. Tip: wash your sieve straight afterwards. The cameraman-cum-dish-washer complained bitterly because I’d let the yolk dry onto the sieve. Yuck!
The egg yolks were then added and blended into the thick almond milk. I did this off the heat. I then returned it to the heat and gently simmered it for about 2 minutes, until the mixture further thickened. Then, I added the pine nuts:
Step 5: Adding the pine nuts and serving up. I ended up adding all the pine nuts, rather than reserving a few to sprinkle on the top, as I suggested I was going to do in the video below. On reflection, there needed to be more pine nuts, so in the second experiment I doubled the quantities.
I served up the Pynnonade in bowls and tested it on the cameraman, who said it was OK but needed more of an ‘umami’ or savoury flavour. I agreed. I rather liked the spices, but the cameraman thought there was a hint of “cough mixture” going on — perhaps the cinnamon, which I went on to remove from the second experiment.
I also tried it with the mulberry syrup whilst it was still hot, which I enjoyed. The next day, after refrigerating it, I had it with fresh fruit and honey for breakfast. It was a little like a thick porridge in texture. I thought it was good, but could it be better?
Experiment 2: Pynnonade made with broth — and more pine nuts!
OK, so experimenting in modern medieval cooking is all about finding what tastes really good. I think I sort of get there with this second version.
Step 1: Making a different version of ‘white powder douce’. This time, I dropped the cinnamon, but kept the other ingredients in the same quantities. I still had a few difficulties, however. I ended up tinkering about at the end, adding more ginger and more sugar to the final dish in an attempt to get the warmth of the ginger to come through. I’ll say more about this later.
Step 2: Making the spiced pine nuts. As I indicated above, I decided to double the quantities of pine nuts this time around (100g or 2x 1/3 cup). It was a good decision, giving the finished dish an improved texture and nuttiness.
Step 3: Making the thick almond milk. This is where things changed significantly, as I used a poultry-based stock/broth rather than water.
Technically, a stock differs from a broth in its primary use of bones rather than meat and/or vegetables, though you can pretty much use them interchangeably, I would suggest, or you could create a hybrid like mine [see note 9]. Alternatively, if you don’t have time to make your own broth or stock, there are some pretty decent prepared stocks or broths available in supermarkets these days, or you could even use a good quality stock cube.
I kept the ratios for the almond milk the same: 150g (1½ cups) of ground almonds + 250ml (9 US fl oz) of stock/broth.
I brought this to a gentle simmer and stirred it for a few minutes to thicken it a little:
Step 4: Thickening the almond milk with egg yolks. I followed the same procedure as before, adding the egg yolks gradually with the pan off the heat, before returning the pan to a gentle heat and simmering, whilst constantly stirring, until the mixture thickened further. I did this for a little longer this time, for about 3 or 4 minutes. This made for a slightly thicker texture than in experiment 1.
Step 5: Adding the pine nuts.
Step 6: Tweaking. I ended up adding all the pine nuts, rather than reserving any for decoration. I also added more ground ginger and a little more sugar — about a teaspoon of each — as well as a further pinch of salt.
As I suggested, above, I found it difficult to get the ginger warmth and flavour to come through. I think this may be something to do with the ginger root pieces I was using. I suspect each piece varies in strength, so it may be difficult to be consistent with this. As I develop this recipe further, I’ll try using a ready-ground ginger powder to see if that gives improved flavour.
There are no directions in Forme of Cury regarding how to eat Pynnonade, but I would say it needs to be eaten with something. The thick custard texture reminds me of other, more modern culinary traditions in which a thick starchy element is used as a foil for the main dish, the way we might eat mashed potatoes or polenta with a meaty stew, for example.
We can however be a little more precise about how Pynnonade was likely eaten in Richard II’s household, by examining a later culinary text which is included in a medieval miscellany known today as London, British Library, Arundel 334. Though dating to the second quarter of the fifteenth century, so about 35 years plus after Forme of Cury was likely penned, it is still worth looking at because it details a menu for a ‘flesh day’, a meat-eating day, in an elite household:
At the seconde course, jusse[ll], pynenade to potage, and therwithe pygge, kidde, and venyson rosted, fesaunt and hernesewes, ande chekyns rosted.
On a flesh day.
For the second course: jussel, pynenade as pottage, and with this suckling pig, kid, roasted venison, pheasant and young herons, and roasted chickens.
It would seem from the above menu that Pynnonade, here spelt slightly differently, was served as the ‘potage’ dish for the second ‘course’, or stage, of the menu, eaten alongside all sorts of fancy roast meats.
The ‘potage’ dish was not typically an actual pottage — a kind of thick soup — but could include things like rich, spicy stews of veal or rabbit, or savoury jellies, or, as you see here, a jussel, which was essentially a savoury broth thickened (and, likely, set if left to cool) with bread and eggs.
But, as it happens, I didn’t have time to roast a pheasant or a haunch of venison — and the local herons were out of bounds — so I tried my Pynnonade #2 in two ways: first with two lovely fried organic eggs from a local farm (and HP sauce!)…
… and then chilled, sliced and drizzled with Manuka honey. Now, that really was delicious!
 Curye on Inglysch: English Culinary Manuscripts of the Fourteenth Century (Including the Forme of Cury), edited by Constance B. Hieatt and Sharon Butler, Early English Text Society, Special Series 8 (Oxford University Press, 1985), p. 207, ‘pynes/penes’.
 Curye on Inglysch, p. 79 (no. 91).
 Curye on Inglysch, p. 83 (no. 3).
 Curye on Inglysch, p. 47 (no. 21).
 The household records of Dame Katherine de Norwich’s show that she acquired boxes of pinionade and other confections in 1336-7; see C. M. Woolgar, The Culture of Food in England 1200-1500 (Yale University Press, 2016), pp. 98-99.
 We should note though that ‘custard’ meant something different in the fourteenth century, essentially any dish baked in a crust, or pie. The Middle English word ‘custard’ (also spelt ‘custade’, ‘crustard’, and ‘crustade’) derives from Anglo-Norman ‘custard’: see The Middle English Dictionary online: crustade [accessed 19.08.2019]. You can search Anglo-Norman ‘custard’ at Anglo-Norman Dictionary.
 Curye on Inglysch, p. 109 (no. 52, footnote).
 Curye on Inglysch, p. 109 (no. 52, footnote).
 I added to a large pan several raw duck carcasses, which still had some sinewy meat on the bones, along with the leftover carcass of a roasted pheasant. (I freeze all carcasses, both raw and those from roast dinners, for the purpose of making stocks.) You could use chicken carcasses, of course. I also added some vegetables: mushrooms, onions, carrots and garlic (all medieval staples). I covered all this in boiling water from the kettle, added a few dried Italian herbs and a good quantity of black pepper, and then simmered this gently for half an hour. I cheated a little at the end by stirring in a couple of spoons of chicken bouillon paste (the wonders of modern food), which really amped up the desired umami taste. If not using this paste, you should lightly season with salt. Once finished cooking, I removed all the bones and vegetable matter and then strained the remaining liquid through cheesecloth. You could forego the latter step. Any stock/broth left over from making Pynnonade makes a wonderful base for a soup.