I had a few quinces stored in my pantry for a couple of months. Every time I went in there I’d draw the air into my nostrils to see if their unique perfume had finally broken through, telling me my quinces were ripe and ready. I must admit the last couple of weeks their floral scent had begged me to get on and do something with them. But, you know, life can get complicated and busy!
These particular quinces were an autumn gift from my friends Di and Paul Roberts, picked from their tree in Crete, where they’ve lived for the last year or so. I’d solemnly promised to turn them into a fourteenth-century quince dish and Di had said she would look forward to it.
Really? Didn’t she know this was medieval food I was talking about?
Not that I’m anything but an advocate of recipes from the Middle Ages, but at this point in time she and Paul had never sampled my medieval wares.
Unperturbed, Di went as far as to suggest, for their next visit to England in December, that we should have a taste test: her quince jelly and quince cheese versus my medieval quince delight.
And so the Great British Quince-Off was initiated. Not to be missed!
You can see how it all went at the end of the post. But right now let’s take a look at the original medieval recipe I had in mind. It’s found in King Richard II’s cookery book:
Connate, Fourme of Cury, Manchester, John Rylands Library, MS Eng 7 (c.1390), folio 18r.
Image by permission of the Special Collections, University of Manchester.
Connate. Take connes & pare hem & pyke out þe best* & do him in a potte of erthe; do þerto white grece þat he stewe þerinne; & lye hem vp with hony clarified & wiþ ȝolkes rawe & with a litul almaund mylke & do þerinne poudour fort & safroun; & loke þat hit be leysched.
Take quinces and pare them and pick out the core and add them to an earthenware pot; add to this white fat so that they stew in it; and mix them up with clarified honey and with raw yolks and with a little almond milk; and add to it powder fort and saffron; and make sure that it is set [or, sliceable].*Hieatt makes the case, in the context of quinces, for Middle English best meaning ‘core’; I have followed her lead (see Hieatt 1988, p. 10 and p. 226, buyst/best).
© Christopher Monk 2021. Connate, Fourme of Cury, recipe 18. Middle English text based on the digital facsimile, above. Modern English translation is my own.
As far as I know, Connate is the earliest surviving English recipe to use quinces, a status it shares with another Fourme of Cury dish, Sauce Madame (a sauce containing quinces for roasted goose).
It is unusual, among the medieval recipes which we might categorise as quince confections, to find the instruction to stew the fruit in ‘white fat’, i.e., lard. In Chardequince, for example, a kind of quince preserve or paste, the fruit is boiled in water (Hieatt, 2013, p. 190) or white wine (Hieatt, 2008, p. 60), before being strained and then heated with honey to form a stiff mixture, which is subsequently spiced and allowed to set inside boxes.
The corresponding Old French recipe for ‘condoignac’, found in the late-fourteenth-century Le Menagier de Paris, likewise directs that the quinces be first cooked in wine, though, in fact, ‘en bon vin rouge‘, rather than white wine (Brereton & Ferrier, pp. 269-70).
The only other recipe I’ve come across which uses lard is a fifteenth-century English recipe called ‘Cold leche viaund’, meaning a ‘cold sliced dish’, which reads rather similarly to Connate even though it doesn’t share its name (Hieatt, 1988, pp. 9-10, 70 and 181)
My quinces from Paul and Di’s garden in Chania, Crete © 2021 Christopher Monk
Among later quince confection recipes, one of the most striking is the fifteenth-century dish called ‘Chared coneys’ (a corruption of Anglo-Norman chardecoins, meaning a quince preserve) (Austin, pp. 106-07).
In this, quinces are stewed in ‘wort‘, which is either unfermented ale or an infusion of honey and water, as used in mead production. It’s then ground in a mortar and strained through a sieve.
Next, this purée is cooked together with a rather spicy honey mixture – the recipe uses three ounces (approx. 85g) of powdered pepper to one quart (roughly a litre) of honey! We can only assume the pepper had lost some of its punch during its journey from India to the English kitchen.
The finished confection is then allowed to cool and set, before being presented in a box and sprinkled with powdered ginger and cinnamon.
It’s possible that something similar was intended with the Fourme of Cury recipe, above, though I have my doubts. There is no specific instruction there to grind or strain the quinces, though it may have been assumed that this would be done. But more curious is the use of egg yolks and lard which I think, based on my experimentation, leads to a softer, creamier texture than that of any of the quince preserves discussed above.
How would Connate have been eaten?
We cannot be clear-cut about this. There is, however, a quince dish called ‘connaunce’ (perhaps a variant spelling of connate) which may shed some light on the matter. This shows up on a late-fourteenth-century English menu for ‘Pentecost flesh days’, i.e., for the non-fasting days during the week-long religious festival of Pentecost (see Hieatt & Butler, p. 41).
Since Pentecost fell in early summer, we must conclude one of two things: either someone had very carefully stored whole quinces for six or seven months (somewhat unlikely, I’d suggest) in order to make the dish in the summer, or Connaunce was prepared from younger stored quinces and itself preserved and stored for several weeks or even months.
This could point to Connaunce being something like the boxed confection of the aforementioned fifteenth-century recipe, possibly something that had been preserved using a large ratio of honey or perhaps sugar.
Intriguingly, the menu states that the dish was served ‘as a potage with hastelettes’, hastelettes most likely referring to a kind of kebab of spit-roasted dried fruits (figs, raisins, dates) and almonds, a recipe for which is found in Fourme of Cury.
The meaning of potage in Middle English is, at its most basic, ‘food prepared in a pot’, so it doesn’t always convey what we might today think of as pottage, essentially a soup or stew.
This definition of ‘potage’ does, then, allign with the description of the method in Richard II’s recipe, so there is perhaps some comparison to be made here. Indeed, the quinces are to be stewed in an earthenware pot.
It’s difficult, though, to know for sure the actual nature of the ‘connaunce’ that appears on this contemporaneous menu; but there remains the possibility that the Connate of Richard II’s cookery treatise may have been eaten in a similar manner, with roasted dried fruits and nuts.
In my own experiment, below, I didn’t make any accompanying fruit-n-nut ‘hastelettes’, though I do have plans to make some of these in the future, now that I’ve come up with a fiendish way of getting around the problem of thredding almonds onto skewers – but that’s for another time.
No, rather, I first served my Connate simply with a few unsalted nuts, before later inventing a Monk’s Modern Medieval special, quince crème and fig tartlets. More on that below. But for now…
To the Connate experiment!
My first Connate recipe
Below are listed the ingredients I actually used. Because this was an experiment, not a fully developed recipe, there is room for you to tweak things, should you wish to have a go at making Connate yourself. You can always tell me how you get on; I’d love to know.
A few things to note:
Quinces are getting more difficult to get hold of, now it’s almost January, so you could substitute pears (choose a firm variety) or a mixture of pears and apples; but just be aware that these won’t take anywhere as long to cook as quinces. Wardens, cooking pears, were sometimes a substitute for quinces in medieval recipes.
The lard I used is very good quality stuff, from an organic farm that I support. It’s also known as leaf lard. If you’re a little reluctant to use lard, don’t be put off. Leaf lard is not the same as the cheaper, standard stuff you buy in supermarkets: it has a very clean, non-porky, smell and flavour and is very smooth in texture.
I can’t speak for how standard lard would work, but since there isn’t a huge amount of lard in the recipe, you may decide to give the ordinary stuff a go. Alternatively, you could substitute vegetable shortening (e.g., Trex, Cresco, Cropho) or perhaps clarified butter (ghee), but I’ve not tested either of these out myself.
Now, as a medievalist, I feel obliged to confess that I substituted my regular, modern almond and rice drink (I use it to make my morning porridge) for the almond milk of the original recipe. I will do the appropriate penance at some point, but, honestly, life’s too short to be making up my own almond milk every time a little is called for in a recipe.
However, if you’re really into authenticity, I’ve included a recipe for “medieval” almond milk, below. Alternatively, I’d suggest using cow’s milk; I’d have used it myself but I tend to steer clear of real milk as much as possible as I’m lactase deficient.
Lorna J. Sass’s Almond Milk*
30g / ½ US cup blanched almonds
235ml / 1 US cup boiling water
1½ teaspoons honey
Grind the almonds in a blender or mortar, adding a few tablespoons of ice water during the process to prevent the paste from becoming too oily. Make sure to pulverise them. Transfer to a bowl.
Dissolve the honey and salt in the boiling water and then pour this over the almonds. Allow to soak for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Strain out the almonds to obtain a smooth-textured milk.* I’ve slightly modified the almond milk recipe found in To the King’s Taste by Lorna J. Sass, which is no longer in print, though second-hand copies may be available via online book sellers. Well worth a read, if you can get a copy.
Ingredients for Connate
400g (14oz) quinces, peeled, chopped small (this was the weight after preparing them)
Juice of half a lemon in a few tablespoons of water
50g (2oz) organic lard (leaf lard)
3 tablespoons dark Spanish honey
3 large organic egg yolks
6 tablespoons Rude Health Organic Almond Drink
½ teaspoon powder fort mix
generous pinch of saffron (about 20 strands)
When preparing the quinces – quite a slow, laborious task – I put the pieces into a bowl containing a little water and lemon juice and kept tossing them. This prevented discolouration of the fruit.
I put the prepared quince pieces into a saucepan along with the lard. Over a medium heat, I melted the lard and gave the quinces a good stir to thoroughly coat them. I put the lid on the saucepan, reduced the heat a little, and began the process of ‘stewing’ the fruit. The lard was just gently simmering.
I kept checking the quinces, giving them a stir now and then to prevent the fruit from sticking to the bottom of the pan. It took about 35 minutes before these small pieces were tender. I tried a piece to make sure the quinces were cooked.
I have been told that when you stew quinces in water (as for quince jelly) the colour of the quinces changes quite dramatically from pale yellow to a rosey pink colour. That’s how you know they’re ready. This didn’t happen with mine. The reason could be: 1) I didn’t cook them long enough, or slowly enough; 2) cooking them in lard inhibits the colour change; 3) my quinces were a little past their peak; or 4) a combination of the above.
Anyway, once the quinces were tender, I started adding the honey – one tablespoon initially, but three by the time I’d finished. This did not make it overtly sweet, so if you have a sweet tooth, add more.
Off the heat, allowing the quinces to cool just a little, I added the egg yolks, two at first, but then I added a third. I also added the saffron.
Now, saffron! I do find saffron a capricious ingredient. Sometimes, a few strands can go a long way, easily giving you a bright yellow colour (e.g., saffron rice or paella), but at other times it seems not to want to do its job!
I actually added the saffron in its dry state, but I think I should have pre-soaked it for ten minutes or so in a little hot water, then added this infusion to the pan. My Connate may then have ended up more vibrant, but I’m not convinced. At any rate, the saffron did give the mixture a delicate primrose-yellow hue. The flavour of saffron was only slight.
After this, I decided it was time to give the quinces a good whizz with my stick blender. Although there is no clear indication in the original recipe that the texture of the Connate should be smooth, I decided that since other quince recipes do grind and even strain the quinces, I should attempt to replicate this with my modern tool.
I then added my powder fort spice mix, tasting the quince mixture until it suited my palate. The spiciness was quite subtle in the pan but gave a delayed kick of intriguing and complex pepperiness when I tasted the finished Connate at the GB Quince Off, as you will see.
For convenience, you could simply use a pinch of ground black pepper and a little ground nutmeg, though I do think it’s worth making up some powder fort.
My own powder fort mix is actually based on a fourteenth-century Italian recipe for specie negre e forte, ‘black and strong spices’. It includes black pepper, long pepper, cloves and nutmeg. Surviving medieval English cookery works don’t include a recipe for powder fort, so the contemporaneous Italian recipe is the next best thing, I’d say.
You can make up a small batch of it and and store it in a jar. It really adds a quintessentially medieval spice note to all sorts of foods, being particularly good with pork-based dishes.
Once I was happy with the smoothness of my quince mix – I ended up whizzing it for about 2 minutes in total – I spread the mixture into two small baking trays (20cm x 14cm; 8 x 5½ inches), which I had already lined with baking parchment. Allowing them to cool, I then tightly wrapped the trays in foil and refrigerated them. Lining them with foil may have been a better choice, as I found the paper went a bit soggy overnight.
Taste and texture
My friends and I explore the taste and texture in some detail in the second half of the video below, during the Quince-Off. But here are some other thoughts about my rendition of this delightful medieval recipe:
The flavour of my Connate had a delicate quince fruitiness. As a consequence, it didn’t really go with cheese, so you need to dismiss any idea of it being like membrillo, or quince cheese. It was good with unsalted nuts; and, as I said above, I’d like to develop the idea of Connate with the medieval fruit n’ nut kebabs.
The final dish wasn’t as set as I thought it would become, even after three days in the fridge. The consistency reminded me of thick crème pâtissier and so was more like a smooth, softly-set custard. As such, it did require a fairly delicate hand to create something that could be termed a slice.
Now, I mention ‘slice’ because the Middle English word used to describe the finished dish – ‘leysched’ – which I’ve translated as ‘set’, has the more literal sense of ‘sliced’, deriving as it does from the verb lechen, ‘to cut (food) in strips or slices’. It really means something like ‘sliceable’ in this context.
So, could I have made it more leysched? Perhaps. I do wonder now if I should have used more honey and further cooked it for a while at the point of adding the honey, to bring it to a higher temperature (this would potentially thicken it), before then adding the egg yolks and almond milk. But there is no clear instruction to do this; we’re simply told to ‘lye hem up’, i.e., mix up the stewed quinces, with the honey, egg yolks and almond milk.
I think using less almond milk or adding another egg yolk may have also firmed it up a touch. I have also wondered if I should have used a little less lard, which does seem to create the creaminess, but have concluded (for now) that any less lard and it becomes difficult to think of the cooking process as stewing the quinces. It just becomes frying.
To be honest, I loved the texture as it was. And, actually, I ended up using some as a kind of crème pâtissier, filling some sweet shortcrust tartlets, made from the remnants of dough I happened to have left over from baking a tarte au citron.
And so here are my modern-medieval quince crème and fig tartlettes – I will most definitely be further developing the recipe for these, as they were rather moreish:
Quince crème & fig tartlets
I filled some buttery shortcrust tartlet cases with a little fig fruit spread and Connate, my quince crème. Then I drizzled honey over, followed by a sprinkling of powder douce (ground cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and Indian bay). Yum!
© 2021 Christopher Monk
Great British Quince-Off
Finally, last but not least, it’s time to reveal the result of the Great British Quince-Off. Below you’ll find my latest video which, in the first half, shows you my Connate experiment and, in the second part, dives into the wondrous world of quince-ing it!
It’s best watched in YouTube.
If you like the stuff I do, please think about supporting me as an independent researcher and creator. This will help to defray some of the cost of producing the videos. Many thanks.
Brereton. Georgine E. Brereton & Janet M. Ferrier (eds.), Le Menagier de Paris (Clarendon Press, 1981).
Hieatt 1988. Constance B. Hieatt (ed.), An Ordinance of Pottage (Prospect Books, 1988).
Hieatt 2008. Constance B. Hieatt (ed.), A Gathering of Medieval English Recipes (Brepols, 2008).
Hieatt 2013. Constance B. Hieatt (comp. & trans.), The Culinary Recipes of Medieval England (Prospect Books, 2013).
Hieatt & Butler. Constance B. Hieatt & Sharon Butler (eds.), Curye on Inglysch (Early English Text Society; Oxford University Press, 1985).
Lorna J. Sass, To the King’s Taste (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1975).