Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Baker's Dozen: A Very Brief Wrap-Up, and a Very Big Thank You on the Unofficial 13th (and last!) Day of the 12 Days of Feasting

Fools make feasts, and wise men eat them.
Benjamin Franklin

Day 1Day 2Day 3Day 4Day 5Day 6Day 7Day 8Day 9Day 10Day 11Day 12

I know, I know: Enough with the feasting already, right?  I thought I was finished with this whole  12 Days of Medieval Feasting thing too, but much like Michael Corleone in the Godfather III ... they just keep pulling me back in.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Day 12: Caudell, Medieval Egg Nog

A man cannot make him laugh - but that's no marvel; he drinks no wine.
Shakespeare, Henry IV, part 2

It's finally here - the last day of the 12 Days of Medieval Feasting.  And what better way to end than with a fond farewell toast over a warm cup of medieval eggnog? 

To be honest, I can't remember where I saw this drink referred to as the medieval version of eggnog (though I am certain I did); it's actually frothy white wine or ale thickened with egg yolks, sugar, and saffron.  The first time I made it, I didn't get the comparison at all. For one thing, I hardly used any sugar  because I don't generally prefer sweet alcoholic beverages.  But the result, to me, tasted of strong hot wine and eggs, kind of like spiked egg beaters - not exactly the stuff that pleasant holiday memories are made of, if you ask me.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Day 11: Payne Foundow, Medieval Bread Pudding

Take bred; frye hit in grece or yn oyle.
Put hit in rede wyne & gryne hit with reysons, & draw hit.
Claryfye honye with gleyr of eyron & watyr; scome hit clene & put hit to that othir.
Do therto clovys, macez, & gynger mynced & good poudyr & salt.
Loke hit be stondyng, & floresch hit with annise in confite.
from An Ordinance of Pottage, fifteenth century culinary recipes

Even though I am not generally a big dessert person, I do have a soft spot in my heart for bread pudding, in particular Creole bread pudding souffle with whiskey sauce. After all, that's what Poppa Trix and I had for our first anniversary lunch at Commander's Palace in New Orleans this past June, a dish he subsequently recreated  (sans the souffle part) for my birthday. So when I came across this fifteenth-century recipe for medieval bread pudding - payne foundow - I was naturally curious to try it.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Day 10: Fish in Erbage, Whole Snapper Stuffed with Oysters & Herbs in a Red Wine Butter Sauce

He hath eaten me out of house and home; he hath put all my substance into that fat belly of his.
Shakespeare, Henry IV Part I

I have a confession to make: This is likely not the most perfectly historically accurate dish I have presented during the 12 Days of Medieval Feasting.  For one thing, the fish is supposed to be a pike, a popular fish in the Middle Ages, not a red snapper, but a whole pike was nowhere to be found.

The recipe itself is from Eating Like a King: A History of Royal Recipes, by Michelle Brown. The author says that pyke in erbage was served at the coronation feast of Queen Katherine, wife of Henry V, in 1419. That much I've confirmed - the dish was served, in fact, as a first course along with (among other things) "trought," "crabbys," and "tartys." 

Friday, December 18, 2009

Day 9: A Tart for Ember Day, a Luscious Cheese, Onion & Parsley Pie

Fasting days and Emberings be
Lent, Whitsun, Holyrood, and Lucie
old English rhyme

If I had to pick a favorite out of all the 12 Days of Feasting goodies I've made so far, this just might be the one.  After all, what's not to love about a fully-loaded quiche-style deep-dish pie?  Sure, there are some ingredients - currants, clove, and nutmeg, for example  -  that I probably wouldn't have thought to put in a savory dish before I started with all this medieval madness. But combined with the cheese, the onions, the parsley, and that buttery crust, it all works together beautifully.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Day 8: Fenkel in Soppes, or Fennel in Saffron and Ginger Sauce

Let us not forget to honor fennel. It grows on a strong stem and spreads its branches wide. Its taste is sweet enough; sweet too its smell.
from Hortulus, by ninth-century Benedictine abbot Walahfrid Strabo, trans. from the Latin by Raef Payne

I was initially attracted to making fenkel in soppes, or fennel in sauce, because I really can't think of anything else I've ever made where fennel was the center of attention. Sure, I've used fennel, most recently in my medieval salat, but I've never actually featured it as the main event.

But fennel was a big deal in the Middle Ages. Twelfth century mystic Hildegard of Bingen ascribed  medicinal properties to it, and believed it could treat coughs, colds, heart problems, and even body odor. My favorite supposed use for fennel was as an appetite suppressant and metabolism booster. I don't know about you, but after the holidays I think I'm going to eat fennel every day!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Day 7: Medieval Gynger Brede

An I had but one penny in the world, thous shouldst have it to buy ginger-bread
Shakespeare, Love's Labours Lost
You saw that this post was about gingerbread, and so you probably figured you'd see photos of cute little gingerbread men, or fancy houses with icing trim, or at the very least some nice, fluffy cake.  Well, this is medieval gingerbread, my friends, and it doesn't play like that. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Day 6: Salat, a Crisp & Crunchy Medieval Salad of Herbs & Greens

Take persel, sawge, grene garlec, chibolles, letyes, leek, spinoches, borage ... fennel and toun cressis, rewe, rosemarye, purslarye; laue and waishe hem clene.
excerpt from recipe for salat from Forme of Cury, c. 1390

"Refreshing" may not be the first word that pops into your head when you think of medieval food, but that's exactly what this salad, or salat, is. After all, it's chock full of crunchy greens like watercress and fragrant herbs like the above-mentioned persel (parsley), sawge (sage), and rosemayre (rosemary).

It's also simultaneously familiar and surprising, insofar as greens with oil and vinegar are certainly not culinary news to anyone, yet the addition of the fresh herbs along with raw fennel, leeks, shallots, and garlic are not usually found combined in a modern salad, and it gives this dish a decidedly unique, yet pleasant, bite. I suspect that all the herbs and fennel were present not only for flavor, but perhaps for their breath-sweetening properties. I realize that the addition of raw leeks may tend to undercut my theory somewhat, but having eaten this salad, I found that the fennel really neutralized the onion breath quite a bit. (Others who encountered me that day may beg to differ!)

Monday, December 14, 2009

Day 5: A Dauce Egre, Fish with a Sweet & Sour Onion Sauce

Tak luces or tenches or fresch haddock, & seth hem & frye hem in oyle doliue. & pan tak vynegre & pe thridde part sugre & onyounnes smal myced, & boyle alle togedere, & maces & clowes & quybibes.  & ley pe fisch in disches & hyld be sew aboue & serue it forth.
Utilis Coquinario, fourteenth-century English culinary manuscript

The above text represents the entire recipe for dauce egre, or fish with a sweet and sour onion sauce, from the medieval culinary manuscript Utilus Coquinaro.  So now that you've got the recipe, what do you need me for? Kidding!  I don't know what I would have done without all the many excellent translations and interpretations that are available in print and online - though I must say that Middle English is starting to look a bit less foreign to me now, and I even rather enjoy reading it. (That said, I do not see historical reenactments in my future, as much as I do love a good wimple.)

I'm not going to lie, some of these dishes I've cooked up for the 12 Days of Feasting have been a little labor intensive, and at times I really have felt like an ancient serving wench or maid. (Or is that "mayde"?) Not that it hasn't been fun and worth it! Sometimes, though, it's nice to make something fresh and flavorful that's also simple. This dish totally fits that bill,  plus it tastes surprisingly modern.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Day 4: Clarrey, Spiced White Wine with Honey

He drynketh yppocras, claree, and vernage
Of spices hoote, to encressen his corage
Chaucer, The Merchant's Tale, from the Canterbury Tales
For me, part of the appeal of making clarrey, a medieval spiced white wine with honey, was the thought that I would get to drink something similar to what Chaucer may have quaffed while writing his Canturbury Tales.  After all, he does mention clarrey - or "claree" - in both the Knight's Tale and the Merchant's Tale. If that's not bringing history and literature to life, I don't know what is.

The fact that it's alcoholic didn't hurt, either. I mean, all this medieval cooking really works up a thirst - a wench has got to drink, after all. (That said, I think this could easily be adapted if you don't drink or if you'd like to make it for kids, which I'll discuss in a bit.)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Day 3: French Iowtes, or Peas Porridge with Onions

Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot, nine days old.
Some like it hot, some like it cold, some like it in the pot, nine days old.
Nursery Rhyme, origin unknown

Don't worry - these peas are not actually nine days old! In fact, they barely lasted one evening, with a little left over for lunch, as Poppa Trix and I gobbled them up in short order - they were that good.

This is another 600-year-old recipe from Forme of Cury, as interpreted by Gode Cookery. And while I haven't been able to find a direct connection between this dish and the modern British classic mushy peas, what with the mint, mashed up peas, and onion,  I find it hard to believe that none exists.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Day 2: Tart de Bry, a Medieval Brie Tart

Doesn't a nice cheese tart seem like the perfect thing for a Medieval feast?

What could be simpler? According to the fourteenth-century recipe collection Forme of Cury, all you have to do is, "Take a crust ynche deepe in a trap. Take yolkes of ayren rawe & cheese ruayn & medle it & pe yolkes togyder."

Got it? Luckily for those of us who aspire to actually try these dishes out,  there are many translations of these old texts available in print and online.  According to Gode Cookery, while the recipe title - Tart de Bry - seems to imply that the tart should be made of brie, in fact the "cheese ruayn" referred to in the recipe is actually rowan cheese, also known as autumn cheese, a semi-soft cheese that's not quite as soft as modern brie.  Oh - and as far as I can determine, it doesn't actually exist anymore.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Day 1: Medieval Miniature Fig Pies, or Tourteletes en Fryture

Welcome to the first installment in my "12 Days of Feasting: Medieval Meals for Your Holiday Table" special series! Given my theme, I'll bet you were  expecting something along the lines of turkey legs and tankards of mead for Day 1, right?  Instead I've chosen this delicate pastry, a sweet and spicy little fig pie that's been basted in honey.

I'm no bona fide expert in the cuisine of the Middle Ages, but I have learned through my research that there was a lot more being served than huge hunks of flesh and  pitchers of frothy ale. Over the next 11 days, I'll feature authentic medieval recipes for fish, vegetables, desserts, salad, and of course, festive holiday drinks.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Thalassina me Manestra: Shrimp and Orzo Casserole, Inspired by a Great Day at the Greek Festival

It's a good thing that Brie of Brie le Grand Fromage did a fun post about her local Greek festival last month. If she hadn't, I would have completely forgotten about my own local festival. Pure tragedy!!