Yesterday, I was making a few revisions to one of the chapters in the book I’m writing, which at the moment has a working title of Sugar and Spice: The Cookery of Richard II.
Whilst changing the font and the layout of the commentary sections – fiddling really – I came to the dish with which I experimented a few months ago, Pynnonade, and was reminded that it was meant to be coloured red.
… & colour it with alkenet a litull.Pynnonade, Forme of Cury (c.1390)
Alkanna tinctoria, alkanet. Also known as dyer’s alkanet and dyers’ bugloss.
Photo: © Jean Tosti 2005. Licensed via Wikimedia Commons; click on image for further details.
I rather liked my pynnonade – very moreish in fact. But as you see, below, red it was not. But before you chastise me for my dreadful disregard for authenticity, let me explain.
Pynnonade, ‘version 2’: a kind of thick savoury custard with sweetened and spiced pine nuts. Quite delicious… but not red!
Photo: © Christopher Monk 2019
At the time, I didn’t fancy using the ingredient in the recipe: alkanet. It wasn’t that I couldn’t be bothered to find it; it’s easy enough to buy online; but, rather, in the UK it is not licensed for food use. If I were dyeing clothes or making soaps, well maybe I would avail myself of some alkanet – though red really isn’t my colour.
So what exactly is alkanet? It is a herb in the borage family; its Latin name is alkanna tinctoria, and it is also known as Dyer’s bugloss or Dyer’s alkanet, and several other names besides. It is native to the Mediterranean, so it is perhaps unlikely to have been grown in English gardens of the fourteenth century.
It is the root of alkanet that provides the red colour Richard II’s cooks – and presumably the king himself – admired so much, and it would have been imported dried along with other ‘spices’, including sanders (a variety of sandalwood), which was also used to colour food red. They did like other colours for their food besides red, but that’s for another post.
Just to finish off my snippet of research, I’ll leave you with the full list of dishes in Forme of Cury, Richard II’s cookery book, that alkanet appears in. And, if you like, you can tell me (in the comments here or on Facebook) which appeals the most to you and, who knows, I may experiment with the recipe in the next few weeks or so. But I won’t be using alkanet: it’s beetroot powder for me.
The dishes of Forme of Cury coloured with alkanet:
Brewet of Almayn (Broth of Germany): a stew of rabbit or kid meat with spices and thickened with rice flour.
Pynnonade (Pine nut custard): a thick, savoury almond milk and egg yolk custard with sweetened and spiced pine nuts. [I could always make this again!]
Fonnell: a rich, cinnamon-spiced stew of roast lamb, stuffed ‘small birds’ (think blackbird, starling, thrush, cuckoo or lark!), decorated with cinnamon-coated hard-boiled eggs.
Sauce sarȝyne (Sauce Saracen): a spicy rosehip sauce, made with almonds, rosehips, ‘good red wine’, and adorned with pomegranate seeds; ideal on ‘flesh days’ with shredded capon.
Vyaund cypre of samoun: essentially the very best salmon, poached and pulverised, with spices.