A Light English Meal

Southfarthing Evening of Dance, 19th October

The Chronicler makes good her threat! Since not enough people have given me articles, herewith, as threatened, a bunch of medieval recipes. I reproduce for the Shire’s edification, and as some compensation for those who missed it, the menu from the August dance event, together with the recipes and some notes.

I’ve called this “A Light English Meal” – I tried to stick to English recipes, although I used one French one (the Menagier’s mushroom pasties) as I wanted a mushroom dish without egg. I also served sekanjabin, which is Arabic, although there’s an English version called oxymel which doesn’t have mint. The recipes come from a range of times, 13th – 16th centuries; the versions I made were mostly small tarts and other bite-sized nibbles, so that they could all be eaten in the fingers between the dances.

I have also made no differentiation between sweet and savoury dishes – all of these were served together. This follows the practice of the time; a dessert course as we know it is far more characteristic of Elizabethan cookery than of true medieval cuisine, which tends towards a final course of spiced wine, nuts and wafers.

Mushroom Pastries (Goodman of Paris, 14th century French)

Mushrooms of one night are the best, and are small and red inside, closed above; and they should be peeled, then wash in hot water and parboil; if you wish to put them in pastry add oil, cheese, and powdered spices.

Elsewhere, the Menagier gives a recipe for a fine spice powder, which includes ginger, cinnamon, cloves, sugar and grains of paradise. I made an open tart and sliced it for the dance evening, but I prefer these as little closed pies. I use a standard shortcrust pastry, and a filling with about twice the volume of mushrooms, chopped fine, to grated cheese. Spices to taste – grains of paradise are a relative of cardamom and unobtainable in this country, so I fear I leave them out.

Chawettys (Harleian MS 279, 15th century English)

Take Pork seeted, & minced Dates, and grind them small together; take yolks of Eggs, & put thereto a good heap, & green cheese put thereto; & when it is small enough, take Ginger, Cinnamon, & mix well thy mixture therewith, & put in thine coffins; then take yolks of Eggs hard seethed, and cut them in two, & lay above, & bake them; & so not closed, serve forth.

These pork and fruit tarts are a favourite of mine, and of the Shire’s, as far as I can see! I cheat like hell, and use uncooked sausage meat for Chawettys; I’ve made them with pork meat boiled and then ground small, but it’s a real pain to do that if you don’t have a food processor. I chop about a third of a packet of dates small, add it to the meat from a packet of sausages, add two egg yolks and about half a cup of grated cheddar, spice fairly heavily, mix well with a fork, and put into pastry cases made from a standard shortcrust. They are very good if you go the whole hog with the boiled egg yolks – hard boil eggs, discard the whites, cut the yolks into slices and embed in the top of the tart. These can be a bit fatty, but are very good. Some versions of the recipe include currants as well as dates.

Chike endored (Harleian MS 4016, 15th century English)

Take a chicken, and draw him, and roast him, And let the feet be on, and take away the head; then make batter of yolks of eggs and flour, and cast thereto powder of ginger, and pepper, saffron and salt, and powder it fair till it is roasted enough.

This is a fairly standard glazed roast chicken recipe – “endored” means gilded, and the egg-yolk and saffron mix in the batter does give the chicken a very golden appearance. I used drumsticks, which are easy to eat in the fingers, and used about two egg yolks to about a heaped tablespoon of flour. This makes a very thick batter – I cheated a bit and added water, which I’d usually do anyway as saffron colour comes out much better if you soak the saffron in a few tablespoons of water first and then add the water to the dish. Spices to taste – it needed quite a lot of salt and pepper. I brushed the batter on with a pastry brush, which worked very well – don’t try to dip the chicken pieces, the batter coats too thickly and then runs off into the pan, giving you unglazed chicken and an omelette. Your oven needs to be quite hot so the glaze sets quickly.

Poumes (Harleian MS 279, 15th century English)

Take fair butts of Veal & hew them, and grind them in a mortar, & with the yolks of eggs and the whites of eggs; and cast thereto powdered Pepper, Cinnamon, Ginger, Clove powder, & dates minced, Saffron, & Raisins of Corinth, and seethe in a pan with fair water, and let it boil; then wet thine hands in Raw eggs, then take it and roll it in thine hands, smaller or greater, as thou will have it, an cast it into boiling water, and let boil enough; then put it on a round Spit, and let them roast…

I used ostrich mince rather than veal; one packet of mince to a handful of currants (Raisins of Corinth are currants), about a third of a packet of dates chopped finely, one egg and the spices. I was cooking for Rinske de Ridder, who can’t eat egg glazes, so I left out the pre-cooking bit and simply made meatballs from the raw mix. These I simmered in stock for about 10 mins, then put them under the grill to glaze. Very nice flavour!

Tarte on Ember Day (Ancient Cookery, 15th century English)

Parboil onions, and sage, and parsley and hew them small, then take good fat cheese, and bray it, and do thereto eggs, and temper it up therewith, and do thereto butter and sugar, and raisyngs of corince, and powder of ginger, and of canel, medel all this well together, and do it in a coffin, and bake it uncovered, and serve it forth.

Medieval quiche! Ember days were partial fast days – eggs and cheese were okay, flesh wasn’t. I use a shortcrust tart base, baked blind. The filling is very adaptable, my favourite version is to use a tub of cottage cheese to two eggs and about half a cup of grated cheddar, but you can play with different kinds of cheeses depending on the effect you want. It makes a difference to parboil the onions rather than fry them, they end up moister; I chop the onion and herbs, cook them in a little water, drain and add the butter so it melts, then add the whole lot to the cheese/egg mix. Sugar was often used as a spice in savoury dishes – you don’t need more than about a teaspoon. Raisins of corinth are currants, I usually throw in a smallish handful otherwise the flavour is overpowering. Canel is cinnamon.

A Bake Mete (Harleian 279 , 15th century English)

Take and make fair little coffins; then take Pears, & if they are little, put 3 in a coffin, & pare clean, & between every pear, lay a gobbet of Marrow; & if thou have no little Pears, take great, & gobbet them, & so put them in the oven a whyle; then take thine mixture like as thou take to Doucetes, & pour thereon; but let the Marrow & the Pears be seen; & when it is enough, serve forth.

Doucetes: take Cream a good cupful, & put it in a strainer; then take yolks of Eggs & put thereto, & a little milk; then strain it through a strainer into a bowl; then take Sugar enough and put thereto… then colour it with Saffron; then take thine coffins, & put in the oven empty, & let them be hardened… & pour thine mixture into the dish, & from the dish into the coffins; & when they do rise well, take them out, & serve them forth.

This dish is known to my household as “Pear Thing”, and is fairly popular. It’s basically a custard tart with a pear filling; I leave out the marrow, as it’s quite difficult to obtain enough. The usual shortcrust pastry tart base, with pears quartered if it’s a large tart, or diced fairly small for the small ones I made for the dance evening. The custard is very simple, about 240ml of cream to 3 egg yolks and 2 tablespoons of sugar. Pour the custard over the pears and bake at about 350 degrees until set.

A French Dish (Eleanor Fettiplace , 16th century English)

Blanche almonds in cold water, then beat them verie smale, then take boyled rice, & beat them together with sugar, and rosewater, then mould them in flower like flat cakes, then frie them in butter & then put sugar on them, and serve them.

I didn’t really like this recipe, which is for a sort of sweet rice rissole; it uses equal volume of cooked rice and ground almonds, with a couple of spoons of sugar and enough rosewater to moisten the mix and make it stick together. I couldn’t get it to stick, and finally cheated and bound it with an egg. It’s a pain to fry, the rice grains separate off the little cakes and spit like little devils in the fat. The flavour struck me as a bit odd, and for some reason these smell like toasted cheese when they’re cooking. I’ll definitely have to tinker with this one.


The translations of the Harleian manuscript recipes are by Cindy Renfrow, from her collection Take a Thousand Eggs or More, Vols 1 & 2 (1990).

I have also obtained some recipes from Cariadoc’s Miscellany, on www.pbm.com/~lindahl/food.html

Jehanne de Huguenin