Cookbook Progress Update

Since posting about the cookbook project back in January, some stuff happened that was really hard and sad and I’m still processing all of it. It definitely put a damper on my dreams of testing a recipe a week for the cookbook, but I’m finally starting to feel a little human again (ugh grief is dumb). I don’t know how many recipes I’ll be able to test and add to the cookbook, but I have managed to get a small handful together since January (and it’s not like I didn’t have lots of recipes ready to go back in January, either!)

So, there will be a cookbook, it will probably mostly look like the table of contents already posted (see link), but there will also be at least a few more recipes too! I still don’t have anything like pre-order details or even how I’ll be releasing it nailed down; I’m going to just have to take that as it comes.

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Recipe: easy and delicious fresh cheese


Cheese is awesome, isn’t it? As part of my ongoing home dairying adventures, I’ve settled on a simple method for making fresh cheese that I think is historical and that produces a very tasty final product. I made some today and remembered to snap a photo before we gobbled up every molecule. 

You will need:

  • 1/2 gallon whole milk 
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk (actually the amount isn’t really that important, you could use anything from 1/4-2 cups)
  • A large container with a lid, like a giant Mason jar
  • A nonreactive pot
  • Some cheesecloth or a very clean kitchen towel
  • A colander 
  • Salt plus optional herbs or whatever else you’d like to use for flavor 

Method:

  1. In the jar, combine the milk and buttermilk. (Full disclosure: you can also do this in the pot itself.)
  2. Cover and let stand at room temperature overnight (up to 24 hours), until milk is fully soured (cultured).
  3. Transfer cultured milk (called “clabber”) to the pot. 
  4. Heat, stirring occasionally, until the clabber curdles. This happens faster than you might expect. 
  5. Line the colander with a kitchen towel or several layers of cheesecloth. If you want to reserve the whey, place the colander over something big enough to catch that much liquid. 
  6. Drain the curds by pouring the curdled clabber slowly through the lined colander. 
  7. Draw up the corners of the cheesecloth, tie loosely, and hang to drip drain. I use a wooden spoon to suspend the bundle over a pot or deep bowl. If you are impatient, you can squeeze the curds, but this makes the texture less creamy. 
  8. When the curd reaches desired dryness, add salt to taste, or use in any recipe calling for fresh cheese. 

In addition to being a perfect base ingredient for many recipes, this cheese is great spread on fresh bread. If you go that route, do experiment with adding other flavors to it. 

The Pie of Destiny

In a world of mass-produced pastry trash, one woman would rise up and fight on behalf of all pie-kind. She alone would have the strength to wield THE PIE OF DESTINY!

At WCCS, I participated in a lamb “breaking” class — cutting a lamb into primals. It was incredibly interesting. I’ve broken a pig before, but not a sheep; the anatomy is basically the same, but I always want more practice. During the same class, we also slaughtered two roosters. The lamb had been slaughtered the night before. I helped pluck the roosters and watched the gutting process. It was all incredibly interesting!

I took one of the roosters and some of the lamb meat. Later in the day, I had a coffin from the class I taught, and I decided, of course, to fill that coffin with meat. But that wasn’t quite twee enough for me, so I gathered wild herbs and greens from the site. I ended up making a pie with meat from animals slaughtered on site and plants found on site and a crust made on site — it felt like the official unofficial symposium pie.

pieofdestiny1
Photo by Wulfric. The pie is topless by this point, which is an accurate metaphor for the evening.

Directions for the pastry can be found in my pie crust class handout, linked in the previous post.

Here’s how I did the filling: First, I chopped some fatty lamb meat very small, and mixed it with salt and some very finely minced mint. Then I blanched a mix of nettles, redwood sorrel, fiddleheads, and lemon balm, chopped them finely, and mixed them with the lamb. I packed this into the bottom of the pastry. Then, I removed the breast meat from the rooster and put that on top of the seasoned lamb. Finally, I jointed the rooster and put its legs and wings above the rest of the meat and then put the coffin lid on top.

I baked this pie a looooonnnnng time — probably 4-5 hours, all told! — at 325°F. This meant that the meat got wonderfully tender, with the coffin acting just like a baking dish. To serve, I removed the top crust and let people dig in. The top crust was actually pretty tasty, even though I made the pastry thick. I would have been interested to taste the side/bottom crust, as a lot of fat and juice from the lamb had soaked into it; however, I was trying to keep things relatively tidy, and it seemed easier to just scoop out filling. I personally thought the lamb and rooster were delicious; I liked the flavor profile, and the meat was just so tender and flavorful. The rooster was what chicken wants to taste like.

I felt like this was a “bucket list” pie — making food from animals killed less than 24 hours before hand and plants I gathered. This pie made me really happy.

pieofdestiny2
Photo by Wulfric, whimsy by Eulalia

 

Repost: Lammas Fayre Flours Product Guide

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.

Medieval Peasant’s Blend 

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.

Maslin Blend

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:

Elizabethan Blend Manchet Flour

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!

All Carnevale Recipes

Food for Dragon’s Mist’s Carnevale AS L

By Mistress Eulalia Piebakere

The Vision

A melding of cuisines from Venice and Constantinople from roughly the time of the Fourth Crusade (the very beginning of the 13th century). Both of these places had independent well-developed food cultures, and each also tended to have an early sort of “fusion” cuisine as each city was quite cosmopolitan and a hub for commerce and trade. Also, in my vision we ignore the fact that crusades were nasty, awful things and that the sacking of Constantinople was objectively terrible.

Continue reading “All Carnevale Recipes”

A Basic Medieval Spice Kit

(This is reblogged from my old blog)

I could write absolute digital reams on the subject of spices in medieval cuisine. No, medieval people did not use spices to mask the taste of rotten meat (don’t get me started), but spices are an integral part of medieval cooking. While individual dishes have their own unique spice profiles, there are two indispensable spice mixes that show up again and again in medieval recipe collections from various times and places: powder douce and powder fort. My basic spice kit to take to events contains these two mixes plus salt and saffron. These four items are enough to get me through most dishes I want to prepare. Here’s some more information about each of the blends:

Powder fort: Fort in this case meaning strong. Mentioned in Italian, French, and English recipes for sure, and likely in recipe collections from other places but I am less familiar with them. So far in my reading of English recipes from the 13th and 14th centuries, I have yet to come across an actual recipe for powder fort itself. There is some evidence (mostly from the Menagier de Paris) that these mixes might have been purchased ready-made rather than prepared by a household or home cook, which offers one explanation for the lack of recipes. Additionally, it’s extremely unlikely that everything called “powder fort” was the same. Think of this as a name for a category of related spice mixes rather than a name for one specific mixture. My practical advice is that you experiment with different mixtures of strong / “spicy” spices to find something you like. Possible spices include black pepper, cubebs (tailed pepper), grains of paradise (also a hot, peppery spice), long pepper (the hottest spice known in medieval Europe), cinnamon (either true cinnamon or cassia), clove, mace, ginger, nutmeg, and galingale. My favorite mix combines approximately

  • 1 part each:
    • Black pepper
    • Cubebs
  • 1/2 part cinnamon
  • 1/4 part mace
  • 1/8 part clove

Grind to a fine powder and mix well.

I like my powder fort to mostly taste of pepper, with the other spices there for balance and complexity. I tend to leave out long pepper and grains of paradise because I think each has such a subtle flavor that they deserve the spotlight. I also generally stay away from the “weaker” spices — I just don’t think ginger, nutmeg, and galingale can hold their own against the other ingredients.

Powder Douce:Douce meaning sweet, these spices are somewhat milder than those in powder fort and more appropriate for sweet dishes. Additionally, powder douce can include sugar. All of the explanatory notes above apply equally to powder douce, except those about the desired flavor and ingredients. Powder douce is often sprinkled on egg and pasta dishes.

Possible ingredients include sugar, cinnamon (here I would stick to true cinnamon if possible), ginger, nutmeg, galingale, and possible small amounts of mace or clove.
My personal combination, again approximate quantities:

  • 1 part sugar
  • 1/2 part ginger
  • 1/2 part cinnamon
  • 1/4 part nutmeg

Grind to a fine powder.

I generally leave out mace and clove as the strong flavors can quickly overpower the other spices. Remember, if you want strong spices, choose powder fort.

I store my powder fort and powder douce in the earthenware jars pictured above, which were made by Mistress Morgaina. As mentioned above, I round this out with saffron and good sea salt. For longer events I often add more to my stash, but these are enough to get me through most camp cooking projects.

Period Food is Yummy: What to Bring to an SCA Potluck

This is reposted from my old blog on Blogger.

Let’s start with the basics:

  • Keep in mind the scope of the SCA:
    • The SCA is officially recreating pre-1600 Western Europe, with some wiggle room for “cultures that would have had contact with Western Europe.” This can help you figure out how to focus your research into cooking, and this is what I (and most SCAdians) mean when using the shorthand of describing something as “period.” So while saying something is period is kind of a bad sloppy habit we have (when we should say “Item X is historical for time period Y in place Z”), it is an easy way of delineating “SCA acceptable” from “outside our scope.” (And note that I’m not making any comment on whether or not the SCA should be more or less limiting than this.)
  • Make an attempt:
    • In the SCA, we require that everyone make an attempt at period clothing. Similarly, everyone can make an attempt at making and eating period food. Even if all anyone did was commit to not bringing blatantly modern foods to potlucks (pizza, brownies, etc.), we could significantly improve the quality of events. It is my aim to educate as many people as possible about historical (and passable) options that are achievable for people with various skill levels. You do not have to make a cockentrice right out the gate (but if you want to, go for it!) — everyone taking one step toward historical authenticity has a more powerful impact than a small minority of people taking a thousand steps and leaving everyone else behind. Take that step with me, I’ll hold your hand 🙂

Approach historical cooking with the right mindset:

  • Period food is yummy!
    • Real people really ate this food, and just as when you branch out of your comfort zone and try food from another country, trying food from another time can often result in you discovering that, in fact, the unfamiliar can often be awesome.
  • Stick to your strengths.
    •  It’s okay to stay within your comfort zone, especially at first. Love to bake? Try some 16th century cookie recipes. Can’t read Middle English, or uncomfortable just winging it with no quantities or specific cooking directions? Look for recipe translations and modernizations (stay tuned for links and cookbook suggestions).
  •  Food is sacred.
    • There’s a reason why cultural celebrations (ahem: including SCA feasts) and religious ceremonies center around food. Food is a big deal! You will spend a phenomenal portion of your life acquiring, preparing, and consuming food; why waste that time? Food can and should be more than just bare nourishment. Food is art, food is passion, food is science, food is love, food is joy. Within the SCA, historical food is a way to experience historical life. Take that opportunity, it’s worth it.

Where to start:

  • Avoid new-world and blatantly modern foods
    • Think tiny changes. If you were going to bring chocolate chip cookies to the potluck, bring shortbread instead. If you normally bring salsa and corn chips, bring hummus and pita bread.
  • Pick a culture (a specific time and place) that interests you
    • Then do some research. This can match your persona but doesn’t have to. Maybe you’re going to a potluck at an event with a theme, or maybe you just think Spanish food is tasty and you’d like to try some historical Spanish food. If you can personalize your quest for historical food a little, you’ll have more fun with the journey.
  • Find a recipe or two that looks tasty and make it
    • See my suggestions for sources below. Maybe cook something in small quantities at home to try it out before taking it to an event to get a sense of it. If your first attempt doesn’t appeal to you or doesn’t work, don’t give up; try something else.

A word on New World vs Old World foods: the conquest of the New World changed the global food landscape forever. There are a lot of foods that we take for granted that medieval people did not know about. While it’s true that some New World foods were adopted into European cuisines prior to the end of the SCA’s time period, the forms they took at first are often ones that are complete unfamiliar to us now; white potato jam is period, mashed potatoes not so much. One of the simplest ways to begin to explore period cooking is to try going without New World ingredients. Don’t despair, though: there are lots of Old World foods that are awesome in and of themselves. Here are some representative lists of New World and Old World foods; these are far from complete:

  • New World: Potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, vanilla, chocolate, tomatoes, squash (winter and summer varieties), most beans, turkeys, quinoa, pecans, cashews, peanuts, macadamia nuts, Brazil nuts, cranberries, peppers, sunflowers, avocado, agave, huckleberry, jicama, manioc, wild “rice”, yucca, green beans
  • Old World:  Barley, wheat, rye, carrots, parsnips, turnips, rice, lentils, garbanzo beans, fava beans, cows, sheep, pigs, goats, chickens, ducks, geese, deer, elk, many types of fish, millet, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, lettuce, most common herbs and greens, almonds, walnuts, chestnuts, eggs, dairy, apples, onions, garlic, leeks, bees (honey), cane sugar, artichoke, asparagus, beet, cantaloupe, citrus, cucumber, fig, garlic, grape, hazelnut, peaches, pears, radishes, pheasant, peacock, heron, mushrooms, gourds, and more
  • Totally modern: Chemical leavening agents, industrially processed foods, and many vegetable varieties (for example rutabagas and sugar beets)

Where to find recipes online:

My favorite cookbooks for beginners.

Things you can bring even if you can’t cook:

  • Desserts: candied ginger, dried fruit, shortbread cookies, dates, yogurt with honey, marzipan / almond paste, fresh whole or cut up fruit, candied nuts, baklava, candied orange peels, quince paste (sold as “membrillo”), fruit and nut “cake” (Spanish “Pan de Orejon”), butter wafer cookies (Trader Joe’s has these), tiny fruit tarts
  • Nibbles: cheese, olives, nuts, hard boiled eggs, hummus and vegetables / pita bread, salami and other cured meats, pickled mushrooms, pickled vegetables (check the New World / Old World lists above), pâté
  • Salad mix with oil and vinegar dressing
  • Rotisserie chicken, pre-cooked ham, smoked fish, sausages and mustard, pre-cooked meatballs (especially with a simple medieval sauce like any of the ones based on vinegar, spices, and bread crumbs)
  • Pasta (cheese ravioli, egg noodles, etc.) with butter and cheese

Final thought: Don’t forget that this is supposed to be fun. And historical authenticity is really fun.

Really: