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.
Hello everyone! Just wanted to share an update on my health.
It’s good news: I’m starting to feel significantly better, and I am working right now on a new recipe experiment which, all being well, will be posted about in the next few days.
I was diagnosed with an autoimmune blood disorder known as pernicious anaemia, which means I cannot absorb vitamin B12 through food. This is because I have an antibody that attacks the stomach and stops it producing Intrinsic Factor (IF). Everyone needs IF to process B12: when it’s not there your B12 levels gradually become depleted which in turn stops you producing enough red blood cells, so you become anaemic and also develop neurological problems.
So this condition sneaks up on you; it’s insidious. I started to notice problems at the beginning of the year. By early summer I was seriously fatigued, had muscle weakness (couldn’t climb the stairs without stopping) and other neurological problems (nerve pain and numbness in my hands and feet), chest pains and palpitations, and my cognitive abilities (concentration, thinking, coherent speaking) were, well, rapidly going south! Who would’ve thought a lack of vitamin B12 could be so debilitating?
I’ve now been having vitamin B12 injections every few days for about six weeks; it’s taken that long to rebuild my B12 levels and start to feel human again. I will be tapering off the regularity of the injections over the next couple of months, and long term the expectation is that I will only need to have one every two months. But I will need to have these injections for life.
I’m not perfectly back to normal, but I have started working again — research, writing, cooking — and even managed a couple of short swims this week. So, though plans for filming the video series have had to be rescheduled, I do hope to be back fully in the swing of things before too long.
In the meantime, I’ll leave you to think about the two new photos above and the video below and see whether you can guess what’s cooking. If you have an idea, leave a comment, and I’ll get back to you.
Just a short note to apologise for the lack of new material on my website in the last few weeks. Unfortunately, I have been unwell. I’ve just been diagnosed with vitamin B12 deficiency which has left me exhausted (and somewhat impaired cognitively!).
I hope to be back to experimenting with medieval food as soon as possible. I begin B12 injections today, so hopefully this will get me skipping about the kitchen very soon.
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!
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.
For my own experiment, I decided to go with these four spices. I ground 15g (½oz) black pepper corms, 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.
Incidentally, I don’t recommend using a pestle and mortar for grinding long peppers; it’s better to use a coffee grinder, otherwise you’ll still be grinding it the following day. Black pepper corms and cloves, however, do take well to a pestle and mortar.
My in-house powder fort certainly worked well with the pork of sauge yfarced. I will be filming the recipe as part of my Patreon video series, and I look 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.
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.
Today, I’m talking about a lovely, light, poached chicken dish which I made recently, and particularly about the spicy magic that lifts the dish: powder douce.
Powder douce (poudre douce, powdour douce) is a spice mix that was used in many of the recipes of King Richard II’s household. ‘Cast thereon powder douce’, or something similar, is frequently used throughout Forme of Cury, the king’s official cookery book. I can imagine hearing it shouted by the master cook as the dishes were served forth. But what is powder douce?
There are no recipes for the mix found in medieval English cookery books, which is slightly annoying! Plenty of commentators have made various suggestions, including that it contained sugar as well as spices. Powder douce — that is, sweet powder — seems to have been taken very literally.
The fact, however, that in English recipes sugar is often given as an ingredient alongside powder douce tends to support the thesis that the spices themselves were judged to be ‘sweet’ in some sense, though we shouldn’t absolutely rule out the possibility of sugar being an element of the mix.
What might help us to identify the ‘sweet’ spices is a contemporaneous Italian cookery book known as Libro di Cucina. We know Italian cuisine influenced English food of the period; this is evident from the inclusion of a number of pasta dishes in Forme of Cury. So it makes sense to avail ourselves of the information in this Italian work, and it just so happens that it does have a recipe for ‘sweet spices’:
LXXIV. Specie dolce per assay cosse bone e fine:
Le meior specie dolze fine che tu fay se vuoi per lampreda in crosta e per altri boni pessi d’aque dolze che se faga in crosto e per fare bono brodetto e bon savore. Toi uno quarto de garofali e una onza de bon zenzevro e toy un onza de cinamo leto e toy arquanto folio e tute queste specie fay pestare insiema caxa como te piaxe, e se ne vo’ fare piú, toy le cosse a questa medessima raxone et ė meravigliosamente bona.
74. Sweet spices, enough for many good and fine things:
The best fine sweet spices that you can make, for lamprey pie or for other good fresh water fish that one makes in a pie, and for good broths and sauces. Take a quarter [of an ounce] of cloves, an ounce of good ginger, an ounce of soft [or, sweet] cinnamon, and take a quantity of Indian bay leaves* and grind all these spices together how you please. And if you don’t want to do more, take these things [spices] in the same ration [without grinding] and they will be marvellously good.
* The glossary at the end of the Arnaldo Forni edition of this book indicates that ‘folio’ in this recipe refers to malabathrum or Cinnamomum tamala, also known as Indian bay leaf.
You can imagine that I was very pleased to come across this in my research, for it gave me an authentic base for creating my own powder douce.
As an aside, though still pertinent, the mention of lamprey (a kind of eel) in this Italian recipe prompted me to check two lamprey recipes mentioned in Forme of Cury.
One was a fish pie in which lamprey was one of the fish options: it uses both powder douce and powder fort (see my post on powder fort here).
The other, Lampreys in Galentine Sauce, doesn’t mention powder douce but does use three of the four spices from the Italian spice mix, namely powder of ginger, flour of cinnamon, and powder of cloves, with the addition of powder of galangal (of the ginger family).
So, to my recipe for powder douce. And to how I used it to spice up the chicken dish mentioned at the outset.
This gives you approximately half the quantity of the medieval Italian recipe.
1 rounded tablespoon ground Indian bay leaf** (made from a good handful of leaves)
*It’s best to use Ceylon (‘true’) cinnamon rather than cassia bark (often sold as cinnamon); this is what seems to be alluded to by ‘soft cinnamon’ in the Italian recipe; the bark of Ceylon cinnamon is indeed softer and easier to break than cassia.
**Indian bay leaf appears to be implied by the Italian folio (‘leaf’); I haven’t been able to locate a copy of the edition of Libro de cucina that contains the glossary where it is identified as such, so I am trusting the translator’s note on this.
For grinding, a useful tip: use a coffee grinder for cinnamon, ginger root and Indian bay leaves, but DO NOT use a coffee grinder for cloves as the oil from the cloves will stick to and stain any plastic part of the grinder (you may be fine if you have a complete stainless steel grinder). Instead, use a mortar and pestle for the cloves. Or, if you want that authentic feeling of medieval labour, use a mortar and pestle for all the spices.
Grind each spice individually until a fine powder; sieve out any lumpy debris. Then mix the spices well and give one last grind and sieve. Store in an airtight jar. You can, of course, make more mix up than this, but spices do lose their freshness and intensity after grinding, so I think it is better to grind a relatively small amount.
Now for the medieval dish in which I used my powder douce. It goes by the Middle English name of Chykens in hocche, ‘chicken in hodge-podge’:
Chykens in hocche:
Tak chykens & scald hem, take persel, & sauge withouten eny oþer erbes, tak garlek & grapes & stap þe chykens ful & seeþ hem in gode broth, so þat þey may esely be boyled þer inne, messe hem & cast þerto poudour douce.
Chickens in hodge-podge:
Take chickens and scald them; take parsley and sage, but no other herbs; take garlic and grapes and fully stuff the chickens and simmer them in good broth so that they may be slowly cooked; dish them up and cast thereto powder douce.
I still wish to develop this dish further before releasing a definitive recipe, but here’s essentially what I did:
I took a bunch of fresh parsley and a handful of fresh sage leaves, salt and pepper, chopped garlic, and grapes and stuffed them into the cavity of an organic free-range chicken.
I placed the chicken into a large pot with organic chicken stock (I normally make my own, but for this I bought two cartons), a few Indian bay leaves, and a little more salt and pepper.
I brought this slowly to simmering point, put the lid on the pan, and then turned the temperature down to maintain a very gentle simmer (barely a bubble), cooking it for approximately an hour (my chicken was medium sized).
Once the chicken was cooked, I removed it to a carving plate and then added some powder douce (about 4 heaped teaspoons) to the stock and turned off the heat. (Do check your temperatures: recommended temperatures vary for chicken; I cooked mine so that the chicken breast at its thickest point reached 77°C (170°F); there should be no pink or red juices in evidence.)
I strained the stock and reserved some for the final dishing up (the rest was used for making a risotto). I carved the chicken breasts, put this along with the reserved stock into a serving dish and sprinkled a heaped teaspoon of powder douce directly onto the chicken breast.
I served some of the grapes and garlic from the stuffing alongside the chicken with a bowl of rice and some asparagus. I really enjoyed it. Very light and delicately spicy.
As I said, above, I am going to develop this recipe further before filming it for my video series. I think I would like to boost the spice quotient, so I will probably add whole spices to the broth as the chicken poaches: a cinnamon stick or two, a few cloves, a few slices of ginger root, and a handful of Indian bay leaves. I may also put the herbs into the broth, rather than stuff them into the chicken cavity.
So please stay tuned, and do let me know if you have a go yourself!
Please note: a version of this post appeared earlier on the previous blog of my other website.
I’ve been putting theory into practice, experimenting with different recipes for making medieval ‘paste’, the stuff which medieval cooks used for making pastries, from baked tarts and pies to fried crispels and fritters.
In this post, I report back on my experiments to make authentic medieval pastry, using both egg yolk paste and whole egg paste.
Medieval paste recipes do not list any other fat besides that found in eggs, so it seems quite evident that butter or lard, for example, were not used. You can read more about this, in my first post about pastry, here.
Egg yolk paste
I experimented first with egg yolk paste. I needed 9 medium egg yolks for 200g of flour (I mistakenly say 100g of flour in the video, below). For those of you who use ounces, that’s just over 7oz of flour. The flour I used was organic stoneground white flour. If you’re in the UK, you can buy it here.
As you see, it looks and feels like something between pastry and pasta dough. I only gently kneaded this before rolling it out to make a pastry case, or ‘crust’, as medieval cooks would have called it. It needed cooking for about 30 minutes (I was cooking it fully), at 180°C/350°F in a fan oven (= 200°C/400°F in a standard electric oven; gas mark 6).
The crust was robust, held its shape well, and was easy to remove from the ceramic dish I used to bake it in. It bore some resemblance to modern short-crust pastry, though noticeably less fragile, and was quite crisp. It would be ideal for using to make most of the tart and pie recipes in Forme of Cury (‘Method of Cookery’), Richard II’s cookery book.
I will probably use the egg yolk paste for Sambocade, the elderflower curd tart I experimented with a few weeks ago. At the time, I used my own gluten-free pastry — so that I could eat it — but it will be interesting to test it, on some willing participants, with this more authentic crust. I will be filming the Sambocade recipe for the Patreon video series, so please look out for that.
I next used the egg yolk paste to make crispels. The recipe in Forme of Cury is as follows:
Take & make a foyle of good past as thynne as paper, kerue hit out and fry hit in oyle oþer in grece, & þe remnaunt take hony claryfyed & flamme hem þer wiþ, alay hem vp and serue hit forth.
Take and make a leaf of good pastry as thin as paper; cut it out and fry it in oil or in fat; and for the rest, take clarified honey and glaze them therewith; layer them up and serve it forth.
I cut the paste into small circles and fried them in hot oil. I used peanut oil, not very medieval, I know, but nevertheless a good frying oil. (I will be posting about medieval oils and fats in a later post.)
The crispels took just seconds to fry to a golden colour. I glazed them with warmed honey. They were very delicate and crispy, and apparently tasted pretty good.
I did have enough paste left to make pasta, so I kneaded the remnant a few minutes, rolled it out very thinly, and formed a raviola, filling it with what I had to hand: cheese and homemade chutney!
The guinea pig, Ray (Camera, Lights, Action! man for the video series), said the edges were a bit rubbery, but essentially the rest tasted fine and seemed rather like modern fresh pasta.
Whole egg paste
The whole egg paste was very interesting. I used 3 large eggs to 250g of flour (the same flour as before) — that’s almost 9oz. This took a lot of kneading to get rid of the stickiness, just as it would if you were making pasta dough.
I again used the paste to make both a pastry crust and crispels. The results were intriguing.
The crust needed even longer in the oven to bake than the yolk paste version, about 40 minutes at 180°C/350°F in a fan oven (= 200°C/400°F in a standard electric oven; gas mark 6).
I wouldn’t go as far as to say the crust was indestructable, but it was very resilient! I didn’t really like it as a tart crust because the sides lost their initial height. Just like pasta dough, the paste was quite elastic and tended to shrink back.
I may have to experiment further to see if I can find a better ingredient combination, probably a ratio of less egg to flour.
The crispels on the other hand were wonderful:
I made them a little larger than the yolk paste versions, rolling out the dough as thinly as possible. I fried them until golden brown in hot, but not too hot, oil: they puffed up and grew in size, rather like poppadoms do. I drizzled them in warmed honey. These were a big hit with Ray. These crispels will likely find their way into the video series.
I still have yet to experiment with flour-and-water and flour-and-almond-milk paste recipes. Once I do, I will get back to you all on the results.
I am going to attempt a gluten-free version, too. It’s only fair!
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P.S. Thank you to Kay, one of my readers, for asking what the second pastry crust was like. Was it edible, she asked. It was. Despite it looking very tough, the texture was not detrimental to my human guinea pig’s teeth. Here, in this short video, you get an idea of how it has the snap of a British biscuit:
When I was a teenager studying cookery at high school, there was always one thing I could depend on: my short crust pastry! My meringues might have cracked and wept, and my ‘fatless’ sponges often were in need of a little elevation, but my pastry was to die for. Just the right melt-in-your-mouth, biscuity moreishness.
Even now, nearly forty years later, and despite a self-imposed hiatus of several years due to the discovery of my gluten intolerance, I still make a mean pastry. I’ve had to adapt, of course, but I have to say, a little immodestly, that my gluten-free version is now close to rivalling the very best of the pastry of my younger years.
Be that as it may, I’m just beginning to realise that my decades of experience making pies and tarts might not amount to much when it comes to recreating medieval pastry. Why’s that, you ask. Well, to put it pointedly: they didn’t leave us a proper recipe!
King Richard II’s cookery book
Forme of Cury (‘Method of Cookery’), compiled and written down sometime during Richard II’s reign (1377-1399), is not far off useless when it comes to informing us about pastry making methods. I exaggerate a little, but make a crust in a trape (‘make a pastry crust in a dish’) and make a coffyn (‘make a pastry case’) is about the extent of this cookery book’s pastry methodology.
However, there is one of its recipes that does throw a dusting of light onto the pastry board. And it provides me with a point of reference from where I can roll out my reconstructed medieval pastry techniques. Let’s take a look:
The recipe, above, Petit Parnant – a pastry dish with ginger-spiced marrow and dried fruits – contains the only mention in Forme of Cury of using egg yolks in pastry dough:
… loke þat þou make þy past wiþ ȝolkes of ayroun and þat no watur come þerto, and fourme þy coffyn and make up þy past.
… make sure that you make your pastry dough with egg yolks without any water; and form your pastry case and make up your pastry.
What seems pretty clear to me is that the instruction to ‘make sure’ that egg yolks, and no water, are used is a directive not to make pastry in the standard manner, which evidently was to use just water; though one other recipe in Forme of Cury does give ‘eggs’, presumably whole eggs, in its list of ingredients for pastry.
If you’ve made pastry with egg yolks (or whole eggs) you know that this gives a richer taste to the pastry. That seems the intent here. As one contemporary Norman poet puts it, ‘If you want to make your pastry tasty have eggs put in the pastry’ (‘Se tu veulx que du pasté taste | Fay mettre des oeufs en la paste’).
But still, this recipe from Forme of Cury doesn’t exactly provide us with a fulsome method, does it? I’m sure the pastry cooks among us, as well as wondering why there is no mention of quantities (I’m afraid this is something you have to get used to in medieval recipes), are all probably screaming right now: where’s the fat – the butter, or lard? You need fat to make pastry!
Well, the news is that there is no evidence from English cookery texts that medieval cooks typically made pastry with fat – other than the fat in egg yolks, of course. Those recipes that do actually specify ingredients for the pastry (and the vast majority give no ingredients) refer to flour and water; flour and almond milk; flour and eggs; and flour and egg yolks. Salt, sugar, and saffron are also given, depending on the recipe.
As for non-English contexts, I haven’t yet read any of the medieval Latin culinary texts that we have, so I cannot comment there, but I have looked at some medieval Italian and French texts (in translation, mostly), and so far, there, I have not come across a single mention of pastry made with fat. [See note 1]
Was it really pastry?
So, what’s going on here? Were medieval cooks really making pastry as we know it?
It might help us to understand that the Middle English word for ‘pastry’, that is, paste, is typically used to mean the uncooked dough, though it is, just occasionally, used to refer to a pie or pastry; and is also the same word used for bread dough [see note 2].
So we need to stop thinking about the tasty finished goodies we put in our mouths, and think first about the basic dough. Indeed, in medieval England, when the cook is instructed to ‘make paste’ (the pastry dough) the meaning is different from ‘make a crust’ (Middle English cruste), which is referring to the finished cooked pastry case, or pie crust (as it’s called in the USA).
What is also very clear from studying the English recipe books, is that paste is also used to refer to the dough used for making pasta dishes. Let’s have a look at this recipe from Forme of Cury to illustrate:
Tak gode broth & do in an erþen pot; tak flour of payndemayn & make þerof past with watur and make þerof thynne foyles as paper wiþ a roller, drye hyt hard & seeþ hit in broth; tak chese ruayne grated & lay it in disches wiþ poudour douce & lay þeron loseyns ysode as hole as þou myȝt; aboue poudour & chese & so twyes or þyres & serue hit forth.
Take good broth and add it to an earthenware pot; take flour of pandemain and with water make a dough, and with a rolling pin make from it leaves as thin as paper; dry it hard and simmer it in broth; take grated rowen cheese and place it in dishes along with powder douce; and layer the cooked lasagne, as whole as possible; [layer] atop [more] powder and cheese; and so [repeat] two or three [times], and serve it forth.
It’s clear, here, that pasta – dried lasagne sheets, in fact – is being described. And thus what we recognise is that there is no differentiation made between the word for ‘pastry’ and the word for ‘pasta’; it is the context that makes clear which is being referred to, and hence how a translator, like me, should translate paste.
Moreover, it should be noted that in some recipes for, what we would understand as, pasties (sealed pastries with meat or fruit fillings, not open pies, or tarts), the option is sometimes given to fry as well as bake them in an oven. If lard or butter were used in such pastry, it would, I suggest, create rather a mess when fried, for the fat would likely leach out into the cooking fat/oil; whereas, a flour and water based pastry (a pasta dough, in effect) would be ideal for frying.
When it comes to attempting an authentic medieval pastry, what we need to do, I would suggest, is put aside our modern understanding of pastry; read what is actually there in the texts; and, at least initially, resist the temptation to revert to modern methods.
Admittedly, in practice, it may be rather difficult to work out exactly the quantities of ingredients needed to recreate medieval pastry, or, indeed, fathom the actual method. When we look at what is probably the most informative ‘recipe’ in Middle English, I’m sure we can all appreciate the problem we have with medieval pastry:
Cruste rolle: Take fayre smal Flowre of whete; nym Eyroun & breke þer-to, & coloure þe past with Safroun; rolle it on a borde also þinne as parchement, rounde a-bowte as an oblye; frye hem, & serue forth.
Pastry wheel(s): Take fine flour of wheat; take eggs and break them into this and colour the dough with saffron; roll it on a board as thin as parchment, round as an oblée [a small wafer like that used in communion]; fry them and serve forth.
How well my own medieval pastry performs, I am about to find out. I will be experimenting over the next few weeks with various pastries: flour and water; flour and eggs; flour and egg yolks; and, if I have time, flour and homemade almond milk. I’ll let you all know in later blogs how I get on.
P.S. I won’t be tasting the pastry myself, because of my gluten intolerance; but I do have a guinea pig organised.
 In the French text, Le Menagier de Paris (c.1392-94), a passage on cooking wood pigeons refers to lard and pastry: ‘ou qui en veult garder, soient mis en pasté lardés’. The last two words have been translated by Janet Hinson as ‘larded pastry’ (you need to scroll down on this link, I’m afraid: look for ‘WOOD PIGEONS’) and this may be wrongly understood to mean pastry made with lard. A more accurate translation of the clause, which recognises that ‘lardés’ is plural and is qualifying the wood pigeons, not the pastry (which is singular), is given by Gina L. Greco and Christine M. Rose : ‘Or if you want to store them, put them, larded, in pastry.’ (The Good Wife’s Guide: Le Ménagier de Paris, a Medieval Household Book, trans. by Greco and Rose, Cornell University Press, 2009; Kindle Edition, section 2.5 Recipes, item 154.) The term ‘larded’ seems here to refer to one of two culinary techniques: covering the pigeon meat in fat bacon or inserting small amounts of lard into the flesh; see also ‘Lardé’ in Cotgrave’s 1611 French-English dictionary.
 There are variant spellings in Middle English, including past and paiste; compare Anglo-Norman French paste and Middle French pâte.
A version of this post appeared in the previous blog on my other website.