What is powder fort?

Hello medievalists and food lovers!

Back in March, I took the recipe sauge yfarced — literally, ‘stuffed sage’— from Forme of Cury (King Richard II’s 14th-century cookery book) and brought it to the development stage. The result was pretty scrumptious.

In essence this is my version of a medieval snack: spicy pork balls coated in fresh sage leaves and a light crispy batter, suitable for dipping in one of the Forme of Cury’s sauces, such as verde sauce, a spicy and herby garlic dressing. As things turned out, I tried mine with tomato ketchup. Not very medieval, I know!

Poudre Fort
My own powder fort mix. Photograph by Christopher Monk © 2019.

When I posted about this on my Facebook page, a few people asked what was in the spice mix that in the original recipe is called poudour fort (‘strong powder’; scholars and commentators usually refer to it as either ‘powder fort’ or ‘poudre fort’).

The answer is not straight forward, as there does not exist an English medieval recipe for the mix; and, besides, most commentators feel it likely varied from kitchen to kitchen.

However, there does exist a contemporary Italian recipe for specie negre e forte per assay savore (‘black and strong spices for many sauces’); it is found in the work known as Libro di cucina (no. LXXV). The ingredients listed there are: cloves, pepper, long pepper, and nutmeg.

The spices for powder fort: left, cloves; right, from the top: nutmeg, long pepper, black pepper. Photograph by Christopher Monk © 2019.

For my own experiment, I decided to go with these four spices. I ground 15g (½oz) black pepper corns, 15g (½oz) long peppers and ½ teaspoon of whole cloves, and combined all this with ¼ teaspoon of grated nutmeg. I used 3 teaspoons of the mix for the meat I obtained from a ham hock: just about right, I felt.

Grinding long pepper with a pestle and mortar can be hard work, depending on the variety of pepper, so you may find it easier to use a coffee grinder, otherwise you may still be grinding it the following day. Black pepper corns and cloves, however, do take well to a pestle and mortar. If you decide to use a coffee grinder for all your spices, be aware that the oil from cloves may stain some plastics.

My in-house powder fort certainly worked well with the pork of sauge yfarced. I hope at some stage to film me making the dish. I certainly am looking forward to using it in other recipes, since it is commonly called for in Forme of Cury.

In the meantime, here is a picture of my dish, followed by the medieval recipe.

Sauge yfarced (‘stuffed sage’). Photography by Christopher Monk © 2019.

Sauge yfarced:

Take pork and seeþ hit wel & grynd hit smal, & medle hit wiþ ayroun & brede ygrated; do þerto poudour fort & safroun wiþ pynes and salt; take & close litull balles in foyles of sauge; wete hit with a batour of ayroun & fry hit and serue hit forth.

Stuffed sage leaves:

Take pork and simmer it well and grind it finely, and mix it with eggs and grated bread; add to this powder fort and saffron along with pine nuts and salt; take and enclose little balls [of the mixture] within sage leaves; coat it with an egg batter and fry it and serve it forth.

Edited text and translation by Christopher Monk © 2019. All rights reserved.

Published by Christopher Monk

Dr Christopher Monk is creating Modern Medieval Cuisine

6 thoughts on “What is powder fort?

  1. Yes. “Poudre fort” as translated by me (LOL!) as “strong” or “spicy”–that would make sense to me by the inclusion of black pepper. I would think of it more as a savoury thing, but just yesterday I made a delightful spice cookie that includes black pepper…so go figure.

    Liked by 1 person

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