This is re-posted from my old blog.
When I was in the throes of my pie crust research last year, one of my most significant stumbling blocks was sorting out how to replicate medieval flours using what I could get in a modern world. I lamented greatly that I could not simply walk down to the store and buy some bolted stone-ground flour made entirely from heirloom “landraces” of grain.
Well, it’s the year 2015 and we have this thing called “global e-commerce” now. It turns out that you can, in fact, special order flour that is outstandingly close to the flour medieval bakers would have used, produced by Lammas Fayre Mills:
Lammas Fayre flour by John Letts at Heritage Harvest is a very special range of heritage and ancient English organic flours available online exclusively from BakeryBits.
The product of over a decade of sweat and academic rigour, John Letts has collected an extensive range of historically and botanically authentic cereals. All grown organically on farms in Buckinghamshire and Wiltshire, John grows them the traditional way, that is, in mixed populations (strains) that are well suited to local growing conditions.
I might have literally cried a little with excitement when I read that (I get emotional about ancestral foodways sometimes! don’t judge!) then, naturally, I ordered a whole bunch of flours to play with. Bakery Bits (the UK company that is the exclusive source for Lammas Fayre flour) has been a delight to work with, and shipping, while understandably expensive, was also fast and relatively painless. I’ve made pies using two of the blends I ordered (expect a full report on that in the next week or so, once I can get pictures uploaded). I’m planning to finally get back to my artisan medieval bread experiments, too, although that may have to wait until the summer.
I thought other medieval cooks interested in using these flours may find it helpful to have a guide as to which of these flours will work for which applications, and how they align with what we know about available grains and flour in high medieval England (which is my personal specialty — I’m hoping others can round out this guide for other time periods). Here are my thoughts on four of the Lammas Fayre products, with links to my past research.
A mix of wheat, rye, barley, oats, broad beans, and peas. This is a wholemeal flour, meaning it has not been bolted/sieved.
From the Bakery Bits description:
“Lammas Fayre’s Medieval peasant’s flour is milled from a blend of heritage wheat (Triticum aestivum), rye (Secale cereale), barley (Hordeum vulgare) and oat (Avena sativa) varieties. In time of scarcity, medieval peasants and serfs also mixed roasted broad bean (Vicia faba) and pea (Pisum sativum) flour into their flour to make a hearty, and flavourful loaf rich in protein. Our cereals are grown organically at Colling’s Hanger Farm in the village of Prestwood in Buckinghamshire, and at Sheepdrove Organic Farm in Wiltshire. As in the past we grow mixtures of varieties that are well adapted to local growing conditions. The grain is stoneground on the farm to produce a unique, and delicious, dark brown flour ideal for baking artisan-style bread, particularly sourdough – the staple bread of the medieval period.”
Quoting my own bread research here:
“In addition to maslin loaves, peasants and servants ate a wide variety of breads. Serfs and free peasants were required to work on the lord’s land during harvest time, and were entitled to boons in exchange, typically bread (this obligatory work was thus called boon-work) (Bennett). Boons given during harvest time were often composed of maslin and rye (so, both the wheat and rye that had been grown together and some more rye flour), rye and barley, or just barley, however, this is probably not representative of what peasants ate the rest of the time (Woolgar et al). The famuli (servants) on demesne farms received mixed grain breads, which may be more representative of the typical peasant diet; one late 13th century household provided bread made from a mix of rye, barley, and bulmong (oat mixed with bean and pea) flours (ibid). This type of coarse mixed-grain bread was also called horsebread as it was also fed to horses, and it is possible that wheat bran, presumably left over from the production of wastel, may have been used as well (Hammond). … The late 13th century household record mentioned above provided bread for the famuli composed of 45% rye, 33% barley, and 22% bulmong (Woolgar et al).”
Mixed grain flours were typically made from grains grown together in the field, such as maslin (see below), dredge (barley and oats), or bulmong (see above), so this mix would appear to be made from a mix of all three of these common mixed crops. The Lammas Fayre peasant blend is in line with general trends in peasant grain consumption, as you can see above. If you are recreating bread produced for servants, eaten by peasants, or the least expensive bread available from professional medieval bakers, this is a perfect option. I would not use this to recreate recipes out of extant medieval culinary manuscripts, as those are all from high-status contexts.
I made a long-fermented sourdough loaf from this flour mix, and the result was heavy, but delicious and very filling.
From the Bakery Bits description: “Lammas Fayre’s maslin flour is milled from a blend of over 200 heritage varieties of winter-sown bread wheat (Triticum aestivum) and rye (Secale cereale) grown organically at Collings Hanger Farm in the village of Prestwood in Buckinghamshire, and at Sheepdrove Organic Farm in Wiltshire. As in medieval times, we grow genetically diverse mixtures of varieties that are well adapted to local growing conditions. The grain is stoneground and sieved to remove the coarsest bran, creating a delicious, light brown flour ideal for baking artisan-style bread, particularly sourdough, the staple loaf of the medieval period.”
Again quoting from my bread research: “Maslin, wheat and rye grown together in the same field, was an extremely common crop during this period and thus maslin bread was widely consumed –one record from the turn of the 14th century shows a Bishop receiving payments from peasants for the grinding of 158 bushels of maslin compared to only two bushels of wheat (Woolgar et al). Maslin bread was most likely consumed by an incredibly broad spectrum of the population, including peasants, workers and other town-dwellers, servants in manor households, and was used by the gentry for trenchers (Hammond).”
I would posit that, for most of the population, maslin was a staple food. I’d be curious if Letts / Lammas Fayre has research to support the sieving of maslin, as that is not something I have ever seen reference too; in all of my research, the only type of flour to undergo bolting was pure wheat flour in high-status contexts. If you are willing to let that slide, this is an excellent choice for recreating the food of commoners, such as bread or pie crusts; again, I would not use maslin to recreate high-status food. If I dive back into my street food research and make some plausibly historical “medieval fast food” pies, I will use this flour.
I made some sourdough bread from this mix as well. It was slightly lighter weight than the horsebread loaf, but still dense and hearty. My somewhat picky wife liked the flavor better than the horsebread.
Norman Blend: Rivet Wheat Flour
My total inability to find any rivet wheat at all last year made me the saddest baker, so finding this particular product made me go a little wild with glee.
From Bakery Bits: “Lammas Fayre’s rivet wheat flour is milled from a rare species of wheat (Triticum turgidum) that was first grown in England in the Norman period, and became popular because of its high yield and exceptional nutty flavour. Our rivet wheat is grown organically from a mixtue of rivet varieties at Collings Hanger Farm in the village of Prestwood in Buckinghamshire, and at Sheepdrove Organic Farm in Wiltshire. The grain is stoneground and sieved to produce a creamy white flour with a unique texture and flavour that is ideal for biscuits, crêpes, pizza, pasta and artisan-style bread.”
This time I’m quoting my pie crust research: “The most abundant grain in these samples [from medieval roof thatching samples from Southern England] was bread wheat, although this study does not specify any specific recognizable varieties of bread wheat or characteristics such as grain color, etc. One significant difference between modern wheat crops and the evidence from roof thatching is the presence of rivet wheat among the medieval samples. Although rivet wheat is no longer grown commercially on any significant scale, 60% of the roof samples contained at least some rivet wheat. (Letts) Rivet wheat tends to produce high quality thatching straw, so it is possible that it was of greater importance historically for this reason. As many of the roof samples are composed of threshed straw and threshing waste, it is reasonable to conclude that these samples accurately reflect food crops.”
Fun fact: the citation in there should indicate why I was so excited to find these flours; the Letts I cite is the same John Letts behind Lammas Fayre. I suppose citing his work to validate the authenticity of his flour is kind of circular, but I view his extensive research as evidence that this guy really, really knows his stuff.
But I find myself in a bind here: Letts’s own findings seemed to suggest that bread wheat and rivet wheat were grown and presumably used together, but this blend contains exclusively rivet wheat. I think to recreate medieval wheat flour, it would be more appropriate to use a blend of both rivet and bread wheat flours; so if you are going for very strict authenticity, this may not actually cut it on its own. I have absolutely no regrets in purchasing this flour and I plan to use it as a “novelty” more than anything; I think there’s some rivet wheat sourdough in my near future!
While you could certainly sully this beautiful heirloom flour with some modern bread wheat flour, Lammas Fayre has a much better solution:
From Bakery Bits: “Lammas Fayre’s manchet flour is milled from a blend of heritage bread (Triticum aestivum) and rivet wheat (Triticum turgidum) varieties that were grown in the Elizabethan period for making fine white ‘manchet’ bread for special occasions and the high table. Our manchet flour is grown organically at Collings Hanger Farm in the village of Prestwood in Buckinghamshire, and at Sheepdrove Organic Farm in Wiltshire. The grain is polished, stoneground and sieved to produce a creamy white flour with a unique texture and flavour that is ideal for all baked goods, including pastries and artisan-style bread.”
Although billed as Elizabethan, I actually think this is the best choice in flour if you want to recreate high-status medieval English baked goods. It contains a mix of bread and rivet wheat flours, and it has been stone ground and sieved (bolted) to remove the bran and yield a “white” flour. This is exactly the type of flour that my research supports for both bread (see my notes on wastel bread specifically in my bread research) and pie crusts. If you want to make a fritter recipe out of Forme of Cury (and don’t we all!), this manchet blend is perfect. Basically, if I could only have one Lammas Fayre flour for medieval cooking, this is what I would pick.
I know a couple of other people who have purchased flours from Lammas Fayre, mostly in pursuit of bread making. If you have played around with these flours and have further recommendations for recreating historical foods using these products, please leave a comment or a link!