Archive for the 'medieval' Category

The Historic Ingredient: Verjus

verjuice2Long Island’s Wolffer Estate Verjus, a tart coking ingredient made from the juice of unripe grapes.

This is the third is a series of posts I’m doing about Medieval cooking; I’ve already eaten dishes from the earliest known English cooking manuscript; and dabbled in Martha Washington’s historic recipes; now, I want to focus on an interesting medieval ingredient: verjus, verjuice, or literally “green juice.”

The History

A byproduct of the wine industry, grape vines are thinned midway through the season, producing a haul of unripe grapes which can be pressed for their juice. Before lemons were imported into Northern Europe after the crusades, verjus added sour and acid flavors into food. Tartaric acid, better known as cream of tartar when used in baked goods, is responsible for its flavor; poured over ice and drunk straight, verjus is a refreshingly tart grape juice. I’ve read it can also be pressed from windfall apples and other unripe fruits and can be bottled and kept for up to a year.

Winemakers are trying to reintroduce verjus to a contemporary market; I found my bottle in a cheese shop, Formaggio Essex, on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The New York Times wrote about verjus in 2010, suggesting it as ideal for saucing up a chicken (also a very traditional use) and replacing the lemon in “lemon bars” with verjus, for a dessert.

I scoured the internets for period-appropriate verjus recipes, and cooked up a dinner party to taste test the results!

The Recipes

I hosted my dinner on a Friday night, so I decided to a go a little Medieval-Catholic-ee and observe a “fast day,” meaning no meat. All my offerings were veg, starting with a squash soup from Libro de Arte Coquinaria (The Art of Cooking) written c. 1465 by Martino da Como.

verjuiceA Squash or Pumpkin Soup, 1465.

The translated recipe for this dish can be found in The Medieval Kitchen: Recipes from France and Italy. I used two butternut squash, sliced and cooked in a homemade vegetable stock that was heavy on the onion. I pureed to softened squash, and blended it with egg yolks, grated asiago cheese, and saffron. I plated each serving with a tablespoon of verjuice, and topped it with two kinds of black pepper, cloves, fresh grated nutmeg, and a dash of cinnamon. My diners were pleased with the recipe: they loved that the results were lighter and less sweet than a typical, contemporary squash soup. Get the full recipe here.

On the side, I served Green Poree for Days of Abstinence, a medieval French recipe of chard cooked with verjuice and finished with butter. I had picked this recipe to round out my menu, but this simple dish ended up being the favorite of the night. The verjus made the slow-braised Swiss chard sweet and bright. Everyone agreed it was not only the best Swiss chard they had ever eaten, but it was also a pleasure to eat: even my husband cleaned his plate.

verjus4Swiss Chard with Verjuice: The Best!

Swiss Chard Braised with Verjus
Adpated from The Medieval Kitchen: Recipes from France and Italy

This recipe is enough for one head of swiss chard, which would feed 1-2 people. I recommend preparing one head of chard per person; it cooks down substantially.

1 head Swiss chard, washed, dried, and tough stems removed.
1/4 cup verjuice
1/2 cup vegetable stock
2 tablespoons butter (or to taste)
Salt (to taste)

In a large pot, add chard, stock, salt and verjuice. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer 20-30 minutes until tender. Stir in butter and serve with toasted bread.

 verjuice3Verjuice dessert bar.

For dessert, I took the New York Times’ suggestion and baked Ina Garten’s Lemon Bar recipe, replacing the lemon juice with verjuice. I wasn’t sure if I should still add the lemon zest, however. I didn’t and I found the results to be too subtle and flavorless. Most of of diners enjoyed the slightly tart taste of the custardy bars; I took the leftovers to a party, and everyone gorged themselves. By the way, when making this recipe, I realized I didn’t own a 9×13 pan, so I dumped the batter in a much smaller pan and told myself it would be fine. As a result, the extra thick verjus bars didn’t set properly in the middle, and were a bit runny when I sliced into them. But thems the breaks, and no one seemed it mind.

The Results

Verjuice is awesome. I would buy it and try it again; I would even attempt to make it myself after I move out of New York have some outdoor work space. I think it’s a great thing to keep in the kitchen and I’m really curious to try it to deglaze pans and make sauces for meat. I’d love to use it with more cooked vegetables; I think the flavor complements greens better than lemon juice. And one of my dinner guests pointed out it would be a great mixer for drinks; she envisioned gin, which would make an excellent summer cocktail.

If you’re interested in giving verjus a try, there is an entire cookbook devoted to Cooking with Verjuice. You can also buy it online if you haven’t seen it in any nearby stores.

The possibilities are endless. The flavor is incredible (even if you hate grape juice, like I do!). Try it.

History Dish: Martha Washington’s Ale and Apple Fritters

fritter1One little fritter.

Fried. Apples. Beer. This recipe appealed to me for obvious reasons. But, interestingly, it also goes along with the medieval theme of my last dinner party. Read on for Mrs. Washington’s link to Queen Elizabeth.

The History

Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery and Booke of Sweetmeats, the source for this recipe, is not a collection of Martha’s own recipes: they were transcribed by an unknown person in the 17th century and were given to her during her first marriage to Daniel Custis in 1749, perhaps as a wedding present.  Widowed at 25, she was Martha Custis until she met George, and together they raised Martha’s two children from her previous marriage; and later, two orphaned grand-children. Interestingly, Martha gave birth to no more children during her marriage to George.

The cookbook was passed down to one of the Custis grandchildren and the recipes themselves had likely been a family heirloom for generations before. Food historian Karen Hess writes “Many of the recipes must have seemed old-fashioned to Martha…the cuisine of the manuscript is that of Elizabethan and Jacobean England.” That’s the 1550s-1620s, which means many of these recipes are considered to be part of a late-medieval mode of cooking.

Put yourself in Martha’s shoes and imagine trying to make dinner from a 200-year-old cookbook. So who can say if Mrs. Washington ever cooked any of the recipes in this manuscript, but some of them definitely seem a bit more modern than others.  Take, for example, the two recipes for apple fritters: one combines nutmeg, clove, ginger, mace, cinnamon, saffron and rosewater–a startling amount of spices much more reminiscent of the Forme of Cury than a modern recipe.  But the other fritter only calls for nutmeg, cloves, and mace–and a little cinnamon sugar strewn on top. Simpler, its likely a later addition to the recipe collection.

The more modern fritter recipe also contains ale, probably added to make the batter light with yeast and carbonation. A beer-battered, fried apple sounded pretty fucking good to me, so I decided to give this recipe a shot.

fritters2Cut yr apples about yay big.

The Recipe

To Make Fritters

Take a pint of very strong ale, put into it a little sack & warm it in a little scillet; then take 8 youlks of eggs & but 2 whites, beat them very well; yn put to them a little flowre & beat them together, yn put in yr warme ale; you must put noe more flowre to ye eggs after ye ale is in. Yr batter must be noe thicker then will just hang on ye apples. Season batter with ye powder of nutmegg, cloves, and mace; then cut your apple into little bits & put them into ye batter; yn set on ye fire a good quantity of tryed suet or hoggs lard, & when it is very hot drop in yr apples one by one with yr fingers as fast as you can. When they are fryde, lay ym on a cleane cloth put over a cullender, yn lay ym on trencher plates, & strow on ym sugar & cinnamon.

Ale & Apple Fritters
Adapted From Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery and Booke of Sweetmeats

1 large egg + 2 yolks
1/2 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup ale (I used Guinness, it’s what I had on hand)
1 tablespoon brandy
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp mace
1/8 tsp clove
4 med-large cooking apples
Oil for frying

In the microwave, warm beer one minute on high. With a fork, whisk together eggs, flour and salt. Add beer and brandy, and mix until blended. Add spices. Set aside in a warm place from 30-60 minutes.

Meanwhile, peel and pair the apples, slicing them into one-inch chunks. Heat oil for frying: you can use lard in a cast iron pan, like the original recipe suggests, or vegetable oil in a FryDaddy, like I did.

Put apple pieces into the batter, mixing them to coat. Drop into hot oil using your fingers or a spoon. Fry until golden brown, turning once. Remove into a colander lined with paper towels, over a plate. Allow to cool slightly, then sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon. Toss fritters in the colander to coat, then serve.

fritters3Strown with cinnamon and sugar!

The Results

The results were unexceptional. Technically, the recipe came out well: the apples slices were cooked, the coating thin but crispy. But the fritter batter was almost flavorless, and there was no satisfying contrast between the apples and the coating.  There was nothing interesting going on with the taste or the texture. Perhaps I should have fried them in lard.

I’m disappointed since it seemed like this recipe had a lot of potential.  What do you all think? How can this fritter recipe be improved?

Party Time Reenactor: A 14th Century Feast for Your 21st Century Table

14thc_1Dishes from the Forme of Cury, the oldest English cookbook. Photo by Will Heath.

Furmente wyth Porpays,” is a wheat and milk gruel/drink mixed with slivers of porpoise. Why would you want to eat Furmente wyth Porpays? Well, you’re rich, and its a fast day, and it happens to be 14th century England.

This recipe comes from the oldest cookbook written in English, The Forme of Cury–“cury” being a Middle English word for cooking.  The document is believed to be compiled in 1390 by the master cooks of King Richard the II; one of the oldest and best copies of this extraordinarily rare manuscript is on display RIGHT NOW at the Morgan Library & Museum. I stopped by the Morgan because I was determined to revive 14th century recipes that could be served, and enjoyed, at a 21st century dinner party.

The History

Curator of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts, Roger Wieck, took me into the library where the manuscript is on display. He casually pointed out the document was on display across from “…One of our Gutenberg bibles.” The collection has several. The Gutenberg was printed about the same time the Morgan’s copy of the Forme of Cury was written; one book to feed to the spirit, the other to feed the body.

The cooking manuscript is written in navy blue ink on animal-skin vellum, which looks soft and semi-translucent.  It’s rolled in a way that reminds me of a Torah, the top and bottom having to be coiled and adjusted to reach each recipe. Wieck choose to display a recipe for coneys–or rabbits, the origin of the name of Coney Island–and another for Blanc Mange, a tribute to his love of Monty Python.

Middle English, on first glance, looks closer to Klingon than English. Luckily, the University of Manchester Library, has not only digitized their version, but offers a transcription of each page, which I referenced to plan my 14th Century Dinner Party.

Prepping for a Medieval Dinner

The manuscript contains about 200 recipes, many of them fascinating in more subtle ways than sea mammal stew.  One dessert is delicately flavored with hawthorn flowers, a blossom I wasn’t aware was edible–I’ll have to give it a try in the spring.  Another is made with cherries, and uses ground cherry pits for flavor, a technique that would have delivered a gentle almond flavor, as well as a gentle dose of arsenic.

I emailed a few friends, inviting them to a “14th Century Dinner Party,” and set about selecting a few recipes that were within my abilities to prepare. I skipped the arsenic and the dolphins and decided to start with Appulmoy, an applesauce-based pudding.  Pared and cored cooking apples went into a pot with a bit of water and were cooked until soft.  The original recipe says to push them through a strainer, but I took a 2013 shortcut and used an immersion blender. To the hot apple mush, I added one cup each rice flour, honey, and almond milk as well as 1 tsp salt and 2 tsp “powder fort,” or strong spice.

Strong Spice is a medieval spice blend that may have been sold pre-mixed; there are very few recipes on how to make it. A 14th century Italian cooking manuscript, Libro di cucina, recommends a blend of black pepper (I used half “smoked black peppercorns” to try to emulate some of the flavor of cooking fires), long pepper (and Indian spice that fell out of favor in Europe after the American chili pepper was introduced), cloves and nutmeg.  I put the first three ingredients in my pepper grinder and cracked them into the Applemoy, and then grated half a nutmeg into the dish.

One of the most significant aspects of this cooking manuscript is the lack of herbs and the prominence of spices. Spices screamed wealth, as they were extremely expensive to import, and the rich covered everything with copious amounts of spice.  One of my guests would comment on the strength of the flavors in the food, when one would might expect bland cooking from the medieval era.

I slowly simmered the thickening Applemoys. Dense and gluey, it popped and bubbled like a witch’s cauldron, and tasted only of the heat of black pepper. I stirred in a pinch of saffron and put it in the refrigerator, hoping the flavors would mellow by the next day.

I decided my main dish would be Cormarye, a roast pork loin, so I washed and pricked two pork tenderloins and rubbed them in two tablespoons of the powder fort mixture, with the addition of a tablespoon each coriander, caraway, and garlic powder.  I placed them in a plastic bag and added a quarter bottle of wine, and set them away to marinate overnight.

14th Century Dinner Party

Although no one arrived in costume, I’m sure they would have if I had given them more time.  Wine was uncorked and my guests chatted as I finished cooking the meal. After being removed from their overnight stay in the fridge, the applemoy was golden from the saffron and the pork was purple from the wine–Medieval cooks loved to play with color. I reheated the applemoy and consulted a modern recipe to finish the tenderloin.  I seared it in olive oil (the Form of Cury is the first English cooking document to mention it), then added the marinade as well as chopped mushrooms and leeks before placing it in a 450 degree oven.

Another remarkable aspect of the manuscript is the quantity of vegetable recipes. The inspiration to add mushrooms and leeks to the pork was taken from a recipe for “Funges.” Another, called “Salat,” describes a fresh dish made from garlic, onions, fennel, sage, mint, borage and other leafy herbs. One recipe, titled “Aquapates,” is for boiled garlic colored with saffron.  The English, contrary to most Europeans at the time, liked the taste of garlic, and it appears fairly frequently in the manuscript. However, it was likely also served with regard to its medicinal abilities.

The food hit the plates steaming hot, and was DEVOURED. I selected recipes I thought would go well together, but the results were above and beyond my expectations. Strongly flavored, but not overly seasoned, the intense sweet and savory sensations seemed different, but not foreign, and wholly modern. Earthy, rich, salty and spicy, even the appulmoy had magicked into a tart and sweet polenta-like starch. It was sincerely enjoyed by all.

Who knew a medieval document could provide food suitable for a typical Sunday dinner? Recipes from my party are below, but I encourage the adventurous among you to explore the Forme of Cury online to seek out more dishes. Catch the manuscript in person at the Morgan Library & Museum, on display through October 7th.

14thc_2Appulmoy, Cormarye, and Funges. Photo by Will Health.

Recipes

Cormarye

Tak colyanndre. careaway smal gro(u)nden. poudo(ur) of pep(er) & gar-lek y gro(u)nde & rede wyne. medle alle þes to gider and salt hit. tak loynes of pork rawe & fle of þe skyn and pryk it wel wiþ a knyf & lay it i(n) þe [sew] sause. rost þer of what þou wolt & kepe þat þat falliþ þ(er) fro i(n) þe rostyng& seeþ it i(n) a possynet wiþ fayr(e) broth & s(er)ue it forth w(i)t(h) þe rost ano(n).

Pork Tenderloin with Mushrooms and Leeks

1 Pork Tenderloin
Spice Rub: 1 tablespoon each cracked whole coriander, cracked caraway seeds, cracked black pepper, garlic powder and salt.
8 oz red wine
2 cups each sliced mushrooms and leeks
1 cups chicken or vegetable stock

The night before: rinse and dry tenderloin; prick the surface all over with a fork. Rub with spice blend, seal in a ziplock bag. Place in the refrigerator for 12-24 hours, turning over once.

Remove pork from refrigerator and bring to room temperature. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Heat 2 tb olive oil in a cast iron or steel skillet over high heat; sear tenderloin on all sides, about 10 minutes total. Add marinade, mushrooms, leeks, and stock; place in oven for twenty minutes or until a thermometer stuck in the thickest part reaches 137 degrees. Remove from oven and set meat aside; place skillet back on stove top and bring to a boil. Boil until sauce reaches desired thickness. Slice meat and serve with sauce and vegetables.

Appulmoy

Tak applen & seeþ he(m) i(n) wat(er). drawe he(m) þorow a strayno(ur). tak alma(u)nd mylke & hony & flo(ur) of rys. safro(u)n & poudourfort & salt. & seeþ it stondy(n)g.

Spicy Apple Pudding

6-8 cooking apples (I like to mix several varieties)
1 cup honey
1 cup rice flour
1 cup almond milk
2 tsp Spice Blend: 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves, 1 teaspoon each cracked black peppercorns, ground long pepper, and grated nutmeg
1 tsp salt
Pinch saffron

Pare, core and slice apples; add to a large pot with 1/2 cup water.  Cook over medium-high heat until extremely soft. Puree. Ad remaining ingredients and cook over low heat, stirring reguarly, until it thickens, about 15-25 minutes. Serve hot, or refrigerate overnight to allow flavors to matures, before reheating.

History Dish Mondays: Bazmaawurd, Mulahwajah and Juudhaab

Bazmaawurd ready to be rolled.

A few weeks ago, I mentioned the article Cooking with the Caliphs, which analyzed a medieval cookbook from the court of 10th century Baghdad:

“A little over a thousand years ago, an Arab scribe wrote a book he titled Kitab al-Tabikh (The Book of Recipes)… The book has come down to our time in three manuscripts and fragments of a fourth—and what a treasure it is. These are the dishes actually eaten by the connoisseurs of Baghdad when it was the richest city in the world.”

Yesterday, I had a few friends over, and we tried some of these 1,000 year old dishes.

To begin, I presented Bazmaawurd: chicken, walnuts, fresh herbs and lemon (it was supposed to be citron, but I couldn’t find one fresh) rolled up in a Lavash.  I think this was everyone’s favorite.  The flavors were so fresh, light and zesty.  I found it to be a little dry–but it went nicely with some labneh.
Next I dished up a seasoned lamb dish called Mulahwajah, of which I neglected to take any photos (tipsy).  I stewed lamb meat with leeks, onions, a cup of water, and a fascinating spice blend:  coriander, cinnamon, caraway, pepper, and galangal.  The latter is a spice with a light, flowery, almost citrus taste.  And this recipe calls for a lot of spice: 5 1/2 teaspoons for a 1/4 pound of meat.  It covered the meat completely, but lamb has such a pungent flavor it stands up well to heavy spicing.  The result was a dish that blurred the boundary between sweet and savory with flavor unfamiliar to western tongues.
Lastly, I made Juudhaab: “The supreme roast meat dish was juudhaab (or juudhaabah), where the meat was served on a sweet pudding which had been baked at the bottom of the tannur to catch its dripping juices.”   This dish is vaguely similar to Yorkshire Pudding, in that a soft bread is cooked using fat from the meat it is served with.  But the resemblance is remote; in fact, I have never heard of a food prepared quite this way before.
***
Juudhaab
From Kitab al-Tabikh by Abu Muhammad al-Muzaffar ibn Sayyar, approx. 945 AD

Translated by Linda Dalai Sawaya for Cooking with the Caliphs.

1 whole chicken
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons rosewater
ground saffron
1 pound dried apricots
2 fresh lavashes, pitas or other flatbreads, 12″ in diameter (or more, if smaller)
½ cup brown sugar

1. Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Place apricots in small saucepan, add water to cover apricots by ½ inch. Bring to a boil and stew until apricots are soft and the water has reduced to a thin syrup, about 15-20 minutes.

2. In a baking pan or bottom of a broiling pan, place one lavash.  Strew with apricots in syrup, sugar and 1/4 cup rosewater in which pinch of saffron has been dissolved, then cover with remaining lavash.  Cover with a wire rack or top of the broiling pan.
3.  Wash chicken and pat dry. Mix 2 tablespoons rosewater with pinch of saffron and rub on chicken, inside and out. Place on rack or on broiling pan.
4. Bake at 500 degrees for 20 minutes, then turn heat down to 325.  Roast until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reads 160-165.
5.  Carve chicken and serve in slices over the lavash and apricot pudding.
***
The result was interesting: I wasn’t thrilled with the slightly greasy taste and texture of the sweet pudding.  But my guests tore into it with grunts and “mmm”s.  The lone vegetarian was mortified.  But we still love her.

Check out all of these recipes and more in the original article here.