Monthly Archives: October 2012

Makerel in Sawse and Haedus in Alio

I was pleasantly surprised by discovering there was no assignment on my online course this week, which meant that most of the day was available for cooking. And cooking there was.

I had bought a half leg of lamb on special offer on Friday, so it was just a matter of fitting it in the menu. Hieatt et al’s Pleyn Delit (second edition, 1996, recipe 102) conveniently offered a recipe for Haedus in Alio, lamb with garlic and rosemary. It was then just a matter of finding other things to go with it. I settled on recipe 40, Cariota, roasted carrots, and 41, Benes Yfryed, fried beans. I also intended to cook cauliflower and broccoli according to a recipe from Gode Cookery, but as I will note later, I ended up not following it through.

We still hadn’t had lunch, though, and I fancied fish. Another browse through Pleyn Delit produced a very reasonable looking recipe 18, Makerel in Sawse. This is obviously poached mackerel in broth.  So off to the supermarket with me for various ingredients.

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Tesco have started to stock what they call ‘rainbow carrots’ of various colours. I was amused to see that a single (mostly) purple one was clearly included as a curiousity, as though people would be too afraid to cook it. Even it was orange inside.

The mackerel recipe comes originally from The Forme of Cury 109. You poach mackerels in a broth of water and, according to the original recipe, verjuice [1], but in the lack of the latter I substituted white wine vinegar and a dash of unsweetened cloudy apple juice. The broth is flavoured with plenty of fresh mint and ‘other erbes’. The adapted recipe suggested parsley and scallions; I used both of these and added some dried dill. I would not have thought previously that mint would go with fish, but the result was absolutely delicious, a savoury mojito of sorts. As salads and cooked greens of all sorts were well known, I served the fish on a bed of little gem leaves and steamed spinach. The original recipe suggests you ‘colour it grene or yelow’ before serving the fish forth, so I achieved this by simply piling on top of the fish the herbs cooked in the pot. Unmentioned by this recipe, but as a combination supported by many others such as this fish pie, I toasted some pine nuts and scattered them on top.

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I started cooking dinner almost as soon as we were finished with the late lunch, but that was expected and fine. Both the lamb and the carrots are originally taken from Platina’s On Right Pleasure and Good Health (De honesta voluptate et valetudine). In the original, the lamb is roasted in a spit, but we must content ourselves with an electric oven. Initially, the meat is rubbed with garlic cloves and, according to the original recipe, lard. As I wasn’t sure about getting enough of the garlic on the flesh, I pushed two cloves into cavities by the bone. I did cover the meat with lard, and noted that in her European Peasant Cookery, Elisabeth Luard gives almost an identical treatment of a lamb leg (1986, p. 194). The purpose of the lard obviously is to protect the meat from drying out. During the roasting, the meat is regularly basted with a mixture of ground saffron, garlic, rosemary and pepper mixed with egg yolks, verjuice again and juices of the meat. I ended up making the baste too liquid, using too much vinegar and apple juice, which meant it was difficult to make stick, although the heat thickened it and helped turn the surface of the lamb yellow. Platina suggests you baste with a sprig of rosemary, which is much more fun than the modern version’s pastry brush. I consulted several modern sources to find out a suitable cooking time for the lamb, but most of them indicated very short times, with dire warnings about overcooking lamb. In the end, the meat was nonetheless very rare, so after we had had our portions, I had to chuck the rest of the roast back in the oven for a bit. Something to watch for in the future. The glazing looked good, but I’m not sure whether it actually added anything substantial to the meat.

In the original, the carrots are roasted whole on hot coals. I will certainly try this on the barbecue next spring/summer, but I didn’t think it was very practical to do so in the oven. I simply cut them into thick juliennes and roasted them as you would for a Christmas dinner. Instead of applying butter on them, when done, I here did in fact follow the recipe and tossed them in a mixture of white wine and white wine vinegar and dried marjoram and tarragon. The slight sourness from the wine and vinegar was interesting and reminded me of the Finnish Christmas salmagundi.

The beans are also from The Forme of Curry, 189. The original calls for onions and garlic to fry them with, but as I had already used plenty of garlic for the lamb, I decided to omit it here. Instead I used black pepper, dried sage and basil. Hieatt notes that the beans available in Period would have been fava (broad) or kidney beans. The supermarket did not have broad beans – although it occurs to me now I should have checked the chilled section – and I didn’t fancy kidney beans, so I cheated and used butter beans instead.

All this was already beginning to be quite substantial, so I decided against making a dairy-based sauce for the broccoli and cauliflower, although my plan had been to heat a mixture of milk and cream for them. In the original, the cauliflower is steamed in milk, but I wasn’t sure what that would do to the broccoli. (And at this point I had to go rescue my husband and dog from the downpour they’d ended up in during their evening walk). So I simply steamed them and applied butter on top.

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I was reasonably happy with the meal overall, although the beans could have benefited from a gravy or a sauce. I must look into the various popular options.

 

[1] According to Larousse Gastronomique and various SCA sites, verjuice is a cooking liquid made from unripe green grapes or crab apples. There is a good discussion about it here. I decided that white wine vinegar would procude the necessary sourness, with a little bit of apple flavour added by the juice. Hieatt and others sometimes substitute it with lemon juice, but I’m not certain the citrusness would go in place of the crisp tartness of the grapes.


My Period cooking philosophy

I am a member of the SCA. This means I occasionally like to go away for a weekend or so with my friends, dress in Medieval clothing and live an idealised, romanticised version of the European Middle Ages, with, however, a fairly solidly historically researched basis in everything that we do. When we in the remark that something is ‘Period’ we mean “the arts, skills, and traditions of pre-17th-century Europe”. This blog will be mostly about Period cookery, with occasionally other crafts thrown in.

I am also a PhD student with a scholarship and a mortgage. Although my husband works in a good job, we don’t have vast quantities of money. Therefore, if I want to cook Period, my choices tend to be dictated by 1) what is already in the house 2) what can be got at a reasonable price at a supermarket or a farmers market. Let’s just say that venison or the like does not tend to feature a lot, and even lamb does so rarely (as it happens, today I am cooking lamb). However, this is great practice for cooking SCA event meals, as I aspire to do! I am also very interested in peasant food, which may be thought of as less nutritious or generally poorer than the diet of nobles, but which also had to sustain them for little or no money through hard work. I do beans and lentils a lot. To complicate things further, we like to avoid quick carbs in our diet, which means that I only sadly rarely make bread, pies or other similar delicious things. This is a pity, as I love baking and eating bread, but it just seems to be better for our health.

In my Period cookery, I will not use non-period ingredients, beyond modern commercially prepared versions of the originals, where necessary. However, I believe that throughout all times adaptation, creativity, managing with what you have and imagination have been the highest virtues of all the best cooks. Therefore there will be (many) times when I will not stick to a Period recipe, or indeed will devise my own using Period ingredients. We only have a limited amount of primary material from the Middle Ages, and even that material leaves out a lot of things that we would take for granted in modern cookery books, such as cooking times, amounts of spices and things that “everyone” knew how to cook. Accounts and other similar documents do not necessarily mention foodstuffs that did not need to be bought in, such as vegetables and fruit. My opinion is that in order to truly understand the experience of the times, we too must exercise the same cookly virtues in our cooking, and not simply be slaves to our recipe collections, refusing to try out anything outside those boundaries. My cooking is informed by A) What ingredients did they have? B) What methods did they use? and C) What examples exist? in that order. 

My particular interest is in Scandinavian and particularly Savonian-Karelian (south-east Finnish) cooking, as that is where both my own roots and my SCA persona’s roots come from. There is little material available on this, particularly as literacy came to those areas very late, which means that I will be dependent on later records, secondary scholarship, tradition and archaeology. However, I don’t think that I should let this prevent me. That said, I will, of course, work on well known Southern and Western European material, particularly when I don’t feel like putting in a lot of research to document what I’m doing. 

All the above factors should make for interesting combinations, and it’s likely that I will only rarely be able to follow all of them at once. However, I intend to follow my most important principle: Period cooking needs to be fun, and ideally produce a delicious result.