Red Cherry and Rose Torte; or, an Interlude

I’m taking a short break from the ongoing reporting on my Roman feast to bring you this seasonal pie – cherries are available only briefly and for the rest of the year you just can’t get them, so better torte while you can.

The receipt comes from Maestro Martino of Como, a 15th century Italian chef who left us with a collection of his dishes, the Libro de Arte Coquinaria. The work has been translated into English and the beautiful edition even comes with a selection of modernized receipts.

This torte has also been included as a modernized version, but that version left out the aged cheese and spices so I decided to just go for the Maestro’s original.

The ingredients I used were:

  • 500g cherries, pitted
  • 1 tsp rose water
  • 250g ricotta cheese
  • 100g gruyere cheese, grated
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • a little pepper
  • 2/3dl sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • pre-made pie dough (yes, from the freezer isle. Don’t judge me. Martino of Como would have done the same, given the chance)
  • 2 tsp sugar and 1 tsp rose water for sprinkling
Not pictured: pre-made pie dough of shame.

Now, these proportions are entirely spurious. But I’ll get back to that in a moment.

I masticated the cherries in a food processor. Then I just mixed in all the other ingredients.

Now, the original recipe calls for roses to go into the mix. Cherries may be in season right now, but roses certainly aren’t – all of mine finished blooming weeks ago. I didn’t want to buy any because the ones sold at flower stores aren’t meant for eating and so you never know if they’ve been sprayed with harmful pesticides. The proprietor of my local flower store is lovely and I’ve asked her about organically grown roses, but ultimately I feel that my once-a-year cooking something that requires roses doesn’t warrant her making an enormous effort to procure edible roses. So, I put in rose water instead. Like my list of ingredients says.

To get back to the amounts. I have a large pie dish (30cm in diameter) and so I attempted to end up with enough filling to fill my pie.


You might have a smaller pie dish, though, so scale down the amounts if you think half a kilo of cherries will be too much. Ultimately the amounts are up to you. Mix and taste, and add ingredients as you go. I ended up with a pie that was not very sweet, so if you want sweet you might want to add more sugar. The rose flavor was very faint and in hingsight I could have put in more rose water. The main point is, start with the cherries and then taste your way forward.

And don’t forget the cheese! I was suspicious of the aged cheese, but encouraging comments from historic-foods-Twitter caused me to re-think and I ended up choosing a Swiss gruyere. I figured that was fairly close to the author in geographic terms.

When you’re happy with the balance of flavors in your cherry mix line your pie tin. Pour in the mixture and, if you want, decorate with lattice work or other decorations. The filling is quite runny so keep your decorations big enough not to sink in. Bake your pie. I had it in 150 degrees C for 50 minutes.

It was, and I will pat myself on the back here, exceptionally beautiful.

This torte was great with a cup of tea. Not terribly sweet. The texture from the ricotta was nice and soft, and the gruyere gave it a savory bite enhanced by the spices. The pepper and ginger gave it a light afterburn but wasn’t overpowering.

Another cumin sauce; or, a Roman Feast, part 2

In my previous post I began a series on Roman food. For a detailed account of my sources, please refer to that post.

Since I was unsure of how everything would taste I decided on a tried and tested method for a main course: prepare meat separately, and make sauces and such from the old receipts. That way if the sauces are off-putting you at least have a meat dish to serve.

Another method is to order a pizza when all else fails, but I’ve never yet had to do that.

Anyway, onwards. So, I had a couple of whole chickens that I tossed in the oven, and then I prepared sauces and side dishes. The first sauce is somewhat confusingly called “Another cumin sauce”, but you can take that up with Apicius.

Pepper, lovage, parsley, dry mint, plenty of cumin, honey, vinegar and broth.

That’s it. That’s the instructions. Well, there’s probably lots of ways you could go with this. I went for a very straightforward interpretation. Oh, and I made up the amounts on the fly, then taste-tested my way to a finished dish. In the end I used:

  • 2 tbsp cumin
  • 3 tbsp honey
  • 2 tsp vinegar
  • 1,5 dl broth
  • pepper
  • lovage
  • parsley
  • mint
Lots of pretty green things. I like summer.

Crush the cumin in a mortar. I toasted mine a bit in a dry pan because that gives it a nice deep flavor. Put all the ingredients in a container. If you want to go old-school you can grind everything together in a mortar, otherwise use a hand blender.

I used fresh mint because I had some. I also had fresh lovage, which may be tricky to come by. Try to find dried if nothing else, but a word of warning – go very, very easy on it.

Lovage is a very old aromatic herb. Obviously it was used by the ancient Romans, but it also used to be a common herb in Finnish gardens. Forgotten for a long while, it has come back into fashion and can be had in larger supermarkets. I got a plant of my own from a helpful neighbor. Lovage has a wildly pungent aroma that does amazing things to a dish, but in small quantities. You can always add more, but you can’t take it away once it’s in there.

Anyway, whizz your ingredients into a sauce. The only thing giving this sauce any thickness is the greens, so don’t skimp on the parsley.

Lovely green!

This is a nice, sharp sauce that went well with chicken, and it’s really easy to make.

A Harmless Salad; or, a Roman Feast, part 1

My latest cooking extravaganza squeezed a lot of juice out of me, but now I’m ready to start publishing articles inspired by it. For the foreseeable future I will be detailing the numerous dishes I cooked for A Magnificent Roman Feast. We shall begin with “A Harmless Salad”.

Now, a word about my sources. First and foremost among them is De re coquinaria, a Roman cookbook probably dating from the 1st century AD. It as also known as Apicius because the book has commonly been attributed to known gourmand Marcus Gavius Apicius, but then on the other hand its quite probable that he did not in fact write it, and that’s a whole big classicist rabbit hole I’m not ready to dive into, so I’ll just say it’s really neat that we have this amazing collection of receipts from that time period and leave it at that. I will refer to the book as “Apicius”. Obviously De re coquinaria is in the public domain but it’s in Latin so get thee a translation. I’m using a free one from Project Gutenberg, which has its own problems but never mind them now.

My other sources are “Cooking Apicius” by Sally Grainger, a food historian and experimental archeologist, and “Ancient Roman Cooking” by Marco Gavio de Rubeis, a nom de plume for a gastronomic history project behind the excellent YouTube channel “Historical Italian Cooking”. Both books give a selection of receipts and a great deal of practical advice concerning ingredients, cooking methods and the like.

So, my first receipt is for what Apicius calls “A harmless salad”.

Pinched from the Project Gutenberg version, these are the instructions:

2 ounces of ginger, 1 ounce of green rue, 1 ounce of meaty dates, 12 scruples of ground pepper, 1 ounce of good honey and 8 ounces of either Aethiopian or Syrian cumin. Make an infusion of this in vinegar, the cumin crushed, and strain. Of this liquor use a small spoonful. Mix it with stock and a little vinegar. You may take a small spoonful after the meal.

So what’s going on here? And why harmless? Completely harmless, or just mostly?

I interpreted it as a sort of salad sauce that you could have either with the salad or after eating it. For dinner it’s obviously nicer to have it on the salad. As for harmless, some people find salad difficult to digest. Many old cookbooks advise you to cook vegetables to make them easier to digest, and this could be something along the same lines. Mrs. Hindle has no digestive issues, but salad with sauce is nice so that’s what we’re going with.

The receipt speaks of infusing the ingredients. I made this a few days in advance, which seemed to be enough infusion time.

  • 50g ginger.
  • 25g rue.
  • 25g dates
  • 15g ground pepper
  • 25g honey
  • 200g cumin
  • vinegar

Now, a word on the ingredients. Did Romans have access to fresh ginger? I don’t know. Maybe I should’ve used dry for historic accuracy. Next – rue. Apparently bitter and somewhat poisonous, and extremely difficult to find here. Also, how poisonous is somewhat poisonous? I couldn’t get an answer to that and really didn’t want to use my guests as Guinea pigs, so no rue. I picked oregano from my garden instead. Black pepper is fine, though I’ve recently been introduced to long pepper and I used that. And finally, that’s a lot of cumin. Feel free to use less.

Crush the cumin in a mortar. Chop up your ingredients, pop them in a bowl and pour in enough vinegar to cover. Let infuse for a day or two. Strain however you prefer – I used a funnel and a paper towel. Squeeze all the liquid out of the mush.

Now chop up your salad ingredients, whatever they are. In a cup mix a dash of your infusion, a splash of vinegar and a slosh of the stock of your choice. I’m being purposefully vague here – ultimately the right amounts are down to your personal preferences, so mix and taste, adding one ingredient or another until you have a mixture that speaks to your taste buds.

Believe it or not, this is a really nice salad dressing. It’s light and fresh, enhancing the flavor of the salad rather than overpowering it with oil or other goop. Heartily recommended!

Apple Sauce; or, Mommy’s Magic Ingredient

Mrs. Hindle has been cooking but not writing these last few weeks. Mrs. Hindle has also been cross-stitching, preparing a podcast and applying for jobs. Tidying up should also be happening, but isn’t. Let’s see if I can at least do something about the receipt backlog.

What to bring along when invited to a waffle brunch? I turned to what has become something of a trusted source of tasty recipes, The Picayune’s Creole Cook Book. I’m using the second edition published in 1901.

Waffle toppings isn’t something that historical cookbooks tend to cover, but people used to eat puddings and pour a variety of tasty sauces on those, so luckily the Picayune had a section just for pudding sauces. Presumably puddings came into turn-of-the-century Creole cuisine from an Anglo-Saxon direction. English puddings were traditionally boiled, but in the Picayune the puddings seem to be baked in the oven. Unlike in modern usage, the Picayune refers to both sweet and savory dishes as puddings.

Anyway, the first sauce recipe is this simple little number.

  • 6 apples
  • 1/2 liter water
  • 1/4 of a lemon
  • 230 grams sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1,2 dl brandy
What you’ll need.

This is very straightforward and doesn’t require any modifications.

See? Simple.

Peel and chop the apples and boil them in water with the lemon quarter. Why a whole quarter and not juice or grated peel? I’m not sure, but if nothing else this is easier than juicing and grating and once you’re done you can just fish out the lemon piece.

Puré the apples. You can use a mixer, but I did it with a spoon and a colander. Old-school but requires a bit of elbow grease. Put the puré back in the pot with sugar and cinnamon, and go look for brandy.

Now, brandy is something of a magic ingredient. Brandy is a distilled wine, aged in casks and served as a digestif. All cognac is a brandy, but not all brandy is cognac. Why do I call it a magic ingredient? Well. I don’t believe anyone actually drinks brandy. I certainly don’t. And I don’t buy it. And yet, every time I need a splash for a recipe, I find a splash at the bottom of a bottle somewhere. Magic!

The effect brandy has on this apple sauce is also magic. This will be your favorite apple sauce from now on. Pour the brandy into the pot, let your sauce simmer for a little while longer, and you’re done!

Decant, but keep in mind that the sauce will thicken as it cools and bottles, while pretty, are not ideal for a viscous apple sauce.

The sauce went great with waffles. I have also tried it on cereal, in porridge and on cookies. This sauce can do no wrong. Go on. Eat it with a spoon. You’ll want to.

Inkiwäärijuoma; or, May Day the Finnish Way

A week from now is May Day, and I just know you’ve all been dying to celebrate it the way we Finns do. I know, I know, we’re not known as particularly festive, exuberant or ebullient. But May Day is special. May Day is the beginning of spring (though traditionally the weather is usually awful), May Day is a day of balloons and streamers and picnics after a long, dark and dreary six-to-eight months.

Oh yeah and somewhere in there is a celebration of the proletariat, and equality, and education, but we tend to forget about most of it. Although May Day is the one day a year we pull out our white hats that prove we’ve completed secondary academic education. No longer the feat it was 150 years ago. Mrs. Hindle’s hat is a tad small and tends to result in a headache.

An integral part of May Day celebrations are deep-fried donuts and a drink we call “sima”. Sima is… well, it’s like mead but it’s not mead. It used to be mead, a fermented honey drink, but then sugar became readily available and now it’s made with sugar and lemon. The Hindle household loves ginger and we add a good dose to our sima, and behold my joy when one of the oldest Finnish cookbooks in my collection, Aunt Hilda’s Cookbook from 1878, had a ginger-version of sima called Inkiwäärijuoma.

Ginger drink.

“1,5 pounds sugar, two lemons cut, 2 lots ginger are put in a stone pot. A pint of boiled water is poured on after which the pot is covered and placed aside until it is cool after which the contents are poured into a clean container and diluted with four pitchers of wellwater, along with three tablespoons of good yeast are whisked in. Then it may ferment to the second day when it is poured into bottles through a cloth. The bottles are corked and sealed and kept in the cellar. Already in a week’s time the drink will be ready.”

The trick with sima is that you have to remember to make it five or so days in advance. Not an easy feat for someone as detached from reality as Mrs. Hindle.

Now, I made a half batch of this because we had our regular recipe puffing away in a bucket already. What you’ll need then is:

  • 320 grams sugar
  • 1 lemon
  • 13 grams ginger
  • 7 dl water
  • A small piece of fresh yeast, about the size of a pea
  • 4 liters water (I actually put a bit less because my bowl was too small)
Only after I finished this did it hit me that the recipe might refer to powdered ginger rather than fresh. Maybe I’ll try that next.

I’m sure the “stone pot” in the text has to refer to an earthenware jar. But a plastic bucket will work just as well. Slice the lemon and ginger, put in a bowl with the sugar and pour boiling water on top.

Not the most practical container, but it’s so pretty and I don’t use it often enough.

Let the mixture cool a bit, then add the rest of the water and the yeast. Make sure the water is lukewarm so your yeast stays alive. Cover with some plastic and let stand until the next day.

And that’s where I am now. Today is day two and if the yeast has done its magic the mix should be a bit frothy. Tonight I will strain the drink into bottles. I use plastic bottles and don’t fill them all the way up because the drink will keep fermenting and that builds up pressure. I once gave a bottle of my sima to my sister and it exploded in her kitchen. Lesson learned.

Five days is enough to give you a sugary, fresh-tasting beverage that goes great with traditional May Day picnic fare – sausages, potato salad and donuts. Now go forth and party like Finns! Bathe in a fountain if you can find one.

Solid Sillabubs; or, Wow What A Mess

Looking to make a nice dessert to end a nice meal with, I was inspired by Max Miller’s Tasting History to make a syllabub, a popular dessert that I’d seen mentioned in lots and lots of old cookbooks.

Now what’s a syllabub, you ask? Well, it’s a sillabub. A sullibib. No wait, it’s a solybubbe. A sullybub. Whatever. You know how it’s said that Shakespeare wrote his name in a dozen different ways? This dessert gives him a run for his money. There’s no established correct spelling and the etymology is unknown, which drives Mrs Hindle nuts because she likes to know where words come from and what they mean.

The best we can do is say that it’s apparently an English (possibly Cornish) dessert that’s been made for at least 500 years. Samuel Pepys had one at Commissioner Peter Pett’s place on 12.7.1663 and he reported that it was good. And if it’s good enough for Samuel Pepys (and Max Miller), it’s good enough for Mrs Hindle.

Not wanting to copy Max entirely, and not owning a copy of Hannah Glasse’s book anyway, I grabbed a recipe from Elizabeth Cleland’s 1755 book A New and Easy Method of Cookery, also known as Mrs Cleland’s Scottish Cookery. Cleland’s book is the second Scottish cookbook ever to be published. It borrows heavily from the aforementioned Glasse as well as from Eliza Smith, which is completely normal for the time, but it also includes clear Scottish elements. This dessert isn’t one, though, but there is something Scottish about it which we’ll see in a moment.

It’s also messy! But we’ll get to that in a moment. Here’s the recipe.

That’s 0,8 liters of thick cream, about 4,2 dl wine, the seat of one lemon, the juice from two oranges and sugar to taste.

The measurements reflect the Scottishness of the source material. A chopin is derived from the French measurement chopine and was not used in England. France and Scotland had close ties for centuries and when Cleland published this book it had only been nine years since Bonnie Prince Charlie had emerged from exile in France only to have his face rubbed into Drummossie Moor.

We don’t really have the option of picking bitter oranges, it’s basically go to the shop and take what you can get. I did find Málaga wine though!

Once you’ve got your ingredients, plop them in a bowl and start mixing. Whisk for fifteen minutes, then thank your maker that you have an electric whisk and aren’t doing it by hand, then whisk some more. You can’t whisk this too much.

Then clean your kitchen. Turns out mixing wine and cream and then putting a whisk to it will spray EVERYWHERE. Seriously. I’m going to have to wash the window. Wear an apron! Cover your hair! I should probably have said that at the beginning.

Syllabubs seem to have different concistencies depending on the recipe. Your syllabubs could be whipped, solid, or everlasting. This one is, as the name indicates, a solid syllabub and doesn’t need to be served right away. The recipe says to skim it with a spoon and put in glasses, but when I was done it was all solid and there was nothing to skim. So I put it in glasses as it was. Whipped syllabubs are served on top of a glass of wine, and everlasting syllabubs can be stored for several days without changing consistency.

The glass is crooked, that’s why it looks like that. They were a wedding present. They confuse people.

However, I found that after the syllabub had stood for a while it separated a bit and there was some liquid at the bottom. But it didn’t matter, this Málaga syllabub was very nice. The citrus were a fresh note that pasted well with the muskier flavor of the Málaga. Don’t make this if you don’t like strong wine.

I actually did make a smaller batch with lingonberry juice for the kids and that turned out good too. So you can make a non-alcoholic version but it may require an acidic juice.

Or then you can make this other syllabub from the same book. But you’ll need a cow.

Sauce zu Lammfleisch; or, Sauce the Third

The third sauce in my collection of accompaniments for a leg of mutton, oven-roasted, comes from a German cook book, an 1891 edition of Praktisches Kochbuch written by Henriette Davidis and edited further by Luise Holle. Davidis passed away already in 1876 but her book continued to be immensely popular and kept getting edited and republished in dozens of editions. Henriette Davidis is the first cook book author I’ve heard who has her own museum, so well done there!

Look at that nice clear golden font on the cover. It’s a lie! Just wait and see.

I’ve had this book for a few years already but have been hesitant to use it – partly because my German is rusty, and partly because in accordance with German printing tradition, the whole book is printed with Fraktur font. I was worried these two factors would form a perfect storm of incomprehensibility.

But now I had Lammfleisch, so better dive in, right?

It turned out I could pull it off quite nicely after all! Here is a transcript of the text:

“Sauce zu Kalb-, Lammfleisch oder Suppenhuhn. Man läßt für 6 Personen 2 Teelöffelvoll feinstes Mehl mit einem Stück frischer Butter anziehen, gibt dazu reichlich 1/4 l kräftige Hühnerbrühe, Muskat, etwas Zitronensaft und Salz, läßt die Sauce kochen und rührt sie mit 3 Eidotter und einem Stück frischer Butter ab. Man kann den Eidottern 1 Teelöffel sehr fein gehackte Petersilie beimischen oder auch 1 – 1 1/2 Eßlöffel Kapern hinzufügen. Die Sauce muß so gebunden sein, daß sie am Fleische haften bleibt.”

In English it says: A sauce for veal, mutton or chicken. For six people take two tsp of fine flour mixed with a piece of butter, add 250 ml of strong chicken broth, nutmeg, a bit of lemon juice and salt. Let the sauce boil and stir in three egg yolks and a piece of butter. You can add a tsp of finely chopped parsley or 1-1 1/2 tbsp of capers to the egg yolks. The sauce must be thick enough to stick to the meat.

I wasn’t that particular with the amounts, so there’s a bit of winging it involved.

Make a roux with flour and a lump of butter. When it’s cooked for a bit, add stock, spice to taste with salt, nutmeg and lemon juice. Stir rapidly when adding the stock to keep your sauce smooth.

Now, adding the egg yolks will thicken the sauce. What you’re supposed to do is whisk the yolks a bit in a separate bowl and carefully pour in a little bit of your sauce, stirring briskly to stop the yolks from setting, then you’re supposed to add that mixture carefully to your sauce. I of course forgot all about this rule so I tossed the yolks into the pot and stirred briskly. Not a disaster, but I think I may have cooked the eggs and thickened the sauce too much. It was less a sauce and more a custard.

German sauce on the right, before the fatal egg yolk addition.

Finally, parsley or capers are optional. I didn’t have any parsley, and I don’t like capers. What to do? Well, I served capers on the side for those who wanted to try them. Faithful to my adage of trying anything once I mixed a few capers into my portion of sauces, and you know? It was actually a delicious and necessary addition. Without the capers this sauce was very mild and, sitting as it did between a crazy medieval spice sauce and an umami-rich gravy, even a bit bland. But the capers gave it a nice zing.

Rather thick German sauce top right.

This concludes my sauce trilogy. Tune in next time for a messy dessert!

Sauce for a Shoulder of Mutton; or, Sauce the Second

My last post began a three-part series on sauces. From the medieval spice mixture of Salsum Dominorum we now move to late 18th century London, and an extensive tome on cooking called The London Art of Cookery, by John Farley.

A salubrious reminder that, Colin Firth notwithstanding, Mr. Darcy may well have sported little roly-poly side curls.

The London Tavern was a food-and-drink establishment located in Bishopsgate, London, and though similarly named eateries exist today, the kitchen that John Farley presided over was torn down in 1876. The tavern was a popular place to arrange meetings, and the sauce in about to present may have been served at a dinner to raise money for the nascent Colombian Republic, or at the first fundraiser for the Thames Tunnel. Heady stuff, people. Wingbeats of history.

I tweaked this a little.

So, I was roasting a leg of mutton, and this seemed like an appropriate second sauce. I roast my mutton in an oven dish with a bit of oil, honey, water and spices and then I baste it with the liquid every ten-fifteen minutes. Now though, so as not to adulterate the flavor of this sauce, I just salted-and-peppered the meat and then basted it with with oil and a bit of water. Then I collected the drippings from the oven dish to use in this sauce.

You’ll need drippings, wine, butter, onion, anchovy and nutmeg, and vinegar which I forgot to include in the picture.

Mince the onion and anchovy and put all the ingredients into a pot. Simmer merrily. The recipe gives rather approximate measurements so taste your way through here.

Current sauce picture front left.

Once the sauce has simmered for a while strain it through a sieve. I found the sauce to be too runny for my taste so I returned it to the pot and thickened it up with some corn starch. Possibly to the most historically accurate choice, but dinner was waiting.

Now, I found the anchovy to be an interesting ingredient here. Not a fish commonly used in Finnish cooking, and one that is not… well, I won’t say it’s hard to find, but you have to know where to look. Anchovies were an integral part of the Roman fish sauce garum, so this sauce has a vague but interesting connection to some very old cooking traditions. The strong flavor comes from the process of curing the fish for storage.

Interesting fact: the biggest producer of anchovies in the world is Peru. That’s not very interesting, actually, but what IS interesting is that anchovies have apparently been an important trade item on the Peruvian coast since the Norte Chico culture some 5000 years ago.

Anchovy-and-mutton sauce front and center.

Sauce number two was absolutely bursting with umami. It worked great with the mutton and I recommend that you try this if you ever find yourself confronted by a haunch of red meat and aren’t sure what to do with it. Plop in an oven dish, baste vigorously, use the drippings to make this sauce. Your guests will thank you.

Salsum Dominorum; or, Sauce the First

Today’s post is the first of a series of three. Looking for something interesting to do with a shank of lamb, I resolved to roast it in the oven and pair it with a range of sauces from different history books.

In order of age, the first sauce I will present is salsum dominorum, or a sauce for the lords. It comes from the same source as last week’s chicken pasties: the 13th century Libellus de arte coquinaria, and specifically from codex K held in the Royal Library of Copenhagen. This sauce could perhaps have graced the table of Valdemar II the Victorious or Erik IV Ploughpenny – as you will see in a moment, this was not a dish for the common villein.

Actually, that’s misleading. Denmark didn’t have villeins, they had varnaþer, and that legal term does not yet exist in the 13th century. Let’s just say this isn’t a dish for poor people.

Look, it’s a salsa!
That’s… a lot of spices.

Yes, that’s six different spices in this here sauce, and if you have even a passing interest in history, you’ll know that this sauce would have been exorbitantly expensive. Cloves and nutmeg come from the Moluccas, cardamom from India or Nepal, pepper and cinnamon likewise from India, while ginger is more wide-spread but would at this point probably have come from India as well. Every spice in this sauce would have traveled at least 6000 km to reach the lord’s table.

The goods would have changed hands multiple times, traveling from southeast Asia to perhaps the great trading hubs of Constantinople and Venice, and from there with merchants along coasts and rivers to the far north of Scandinavia. And at each leg of the journey, the price would have gone up.

Behold! A king’s ransom.

This recipe is actually quite unusual for the time in that it gives precise measurements – a must, I suppose, when dealing with such valuable ingredients. Take an equal amount of all the spices, and as much cinnamon as all the other spices together. Then as much toasted bread as all the spices together. Easy!

I’m pretty sure the original text speaks of “weight” in this context, so I pulled out my kitchen scales. Not looking to make a large amount of this sauce I measured about 3 grams each of the spices, and then cinnamon and bread to match.

It’s sauce, Jim, but not as we know it.

Now it was time to blend in the vinegar, and I got scared. What sort of vinegar? How strong? How much? I tried delving into the history of vinegar. Perhaps it wasn’t vinegar that was called for, but verjuice? But no, the original text says aedykae, akin to modern Swedish ättika, which is vinegar. Except it sort of isn’t, because vinegar is vinäger and ättika is white vinegar! Oh, the confusion.

In the end I figured, you know what? They probably would’ve used whatever vinegar was on hand, and maybe our modern vinegars are stronger? I don’t know, I’m guessing. So I grabbed an apple vinegar I happened to have and diluted it half and half with water. I’m going to say, blend to taste. I ended up adding a bit more bread because I turned out to have a bit less sauce than I thought I would.

There’s nothing in the text about cooking the sauce, but the next recipe says to them take this sauce, boil it up, and add meat to it, so I decided to give it a simmer and serve hot.

The small pot at the back holds our medieval status symbol sauce.

Now, one could ask, what is the point of this sauce? There is a misconception that spices were used to mask the taste of spoiled meat, but that’s nonsense. If you can afford this sauce you certainly don’t need to eat spoiled meat. I called the sauce a status symbol just now, and I’m sure that was an aspect as well – an easy way to show off your wealth to your dinner guests. And since another recipe says to put meat into the sauce, there may have been a slight preservative effect with the vinegar.

But you know what else is the point of this sauce?

It wasn’t half bad.

Medieval sauce in the smaller jug. Coming up in the next post: contents of the larger jug.

Yes, believe it or not, I found this unholy alliance of spices and vinegar surprisingly tasty. Not in large quantities, I certainly wouldn’t want my roast lamb submerged in it, but as a condiment it was refreshing like a good pickle, and somehow all the spices worked together even though cinnamon was obviously the prevalent taste.

Next time you’re serving a nice meal to your friends or family, why not impress them with a sauce for lords? It will definitely serve as a conversation starter.

Pullus in pastello; or, semi-viking hot pockets

This week’s recipe might just be the oldest ones yet on this blog, possibly but not necessarily predating Haïs.

“Libellus de arte coquinaria” is a compilation of four medieval manuscripts containing recipes, wonderfully translated and edited by Rudolf Grewe and Constance B. Hieatt, one of the world’s foremost experts on medieval European cooking. The oldest manuscript of the Libellus, held in Copenhagen, can be dated to ca. 1300. The other three – in Copenhagen, Dublin, and Wolfenbüttel respectively – are more recent but all of them are copies of an older, now lost, original manuscript. The editors estimate that the urtext would be from 1244 at the latest, so it could potentially be older than the “Kitab al-Ṭabīḫ” from 1226.

Anyway. This is the sort of stuff that interests me, but not necessarily others, so I’ll move on. What’s fascinating about the Libellus is that it might be the closest we have to a written account of food served at viking courts – at 1300 the oldest manuscript is still a few centuries younger than the traditional end of the viking period, but since that is not the original the time periods might match up a bit better. If, that is, the urtext is Scandinavian. The editors posit that the original may have been German. Whatever the case, it may be that this is the first European cook book (after Apicius, I guess) written in the vernacular.

Okay, now I’ll really move on. Let’s take a look at our recipe.

Manuscript K is the oldest of the four, written in old Danish. I kind of understand what it says, but since the editors already translated this I won’t bother.

Oh! Another interesting thing here. The recipe uses the personal pronoun “man“. In English that’s like saying “one” – “one shall take a young hen and cut it in half”. Ponderous and old-fashioned. In Swedish, though, it’s still a perfectly normal way of constructing a sentence.

Oh, sorry, there I went again. Back to the recipe!

Nice, simple recipe, isn’t it! The editors say that pasties like these were a common type of street food in medieval England, and the finished dish bears that out.

Your ingredients. Chicken, bacon, pastry and sage.

The recipe doesn’t go into detail about the dough. One of the younger manuscripts says “hwetae deegh“, wheat dough, and I believe you could just work some flour, butter and water into a passable dough. I was lazy, though, so I bought a packet of puff pastry from the shop and went with that. I’m sure the cooks of yesteryear would forgive – nay, applaud – me.

I also did not cut a young hen in half. I just bought some chicken filets from the shop. Mea culpa.

In hindsight I could’ve taken a photo of a symmetrical sheet of dough.

This is super easy. Roll out your dough, plop a chicken piece on it, add salt and pepper, sage leaves and bits of bacon, roll it up and pop into the oven. I baked mine in 175C for maybe half an hour, I’m not sure, there was wine and good company involved, I lost track of time. You’ll be able to tell when they’re done.

If there are people in your party who don’t go for pig, leave out the bacon and mark which ones they should avoid.

One thing that hit me later that I could’ve done better was rolling the pasties. I put all the stuff on a piece of dough, folded the pastry up and flipped it on a baking tray so that the bacon ended up on the bottom. Don’t get me wrong, these were delicious.

Honestly. These were the best thing on a cold January evening.

The chicken was moist, sage is a wonderful herb that I just don’t use often enough, and the bacon added a touch of fat to the chicken, rounding out the flavor nicely. Next time, though, I will be sure to turn them so that the bacon ends up on top of the chicken rather than the bottom. It may just be possible to improve on perfection.

As the recipe says, you can do this with other meats too, and why not vegetables? A nice big mushroom, some bacon and sage? Sounds good to me.