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Saturday, November 27, 2010

Yuletide Cooking : One Laird’s Attempt to Cook at Christmas

Originally written for a medieval journal, Dec 2002.

The weekend before Christmas, Thorfinna and I opened our doors to celebrate Yule and the Winter Solstice, which fell on the Saturday night. As part of the festivities I decided to try my hand at five period Christmas dishes. As I don’t have any period cookbooks of my own as yet, I got all these recipes from the inter-net, so cannot vouch for their accuracy. Most are modern renditions of period recipes, substituting modern ingredients for those hard (or impossible) to come by.

I have a bit of a reputation as being a bad cook (just ask my brothers) so this experiment was quite a departure for me. (I marked this very solemn occasion by wearing chef’s whites and a Santa hat, and calling myself Iron Chef Christmas while I cooked.)

Pie in a Pipkin

This 16th century Italian stew is basically a meat pie without the crust and was extremely easy to make. Due to its lengthy cooking time I prepared it first, and made the other dishes while it simmered.

Ingredients
3 lbs stewing beef
2 medium onions chopped
cooking oil
½ cup raisins
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon cloves
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon mace
¼ teaspoon pepper
½ water
1 tablespoon vinegar
salt

As neither Thorfinna nor I like cloves, and find that they overpower any food they’re in, I cut them from my ingredient list.

Directions
Brown the meet in a skillet, then pour the meat and the juices into a pot. On the skillet, sauté the onions until clear, then put them into the pot as well. Add the raisins, water and the spices and simmer for 1 ½ - 2 hours stirring occasionally. I cooked it for the full two hours. You are supposed to add the vinegar and salt when the meat is almost done, but I accidentally added them at the same time as the spices, raisins and water. Fortunately this did not seem to affect the flavour.

Results
This dish was enjoyed by all and had a nice tart flavour. It was beautifully aromatic.

Drepe

Drepe is an almond milk chicken dish from 14th century England. It was originally made from three whole game hens but I used cut chicken breasts. In the early afternoon, before beginning to cook, I prepared the almond milk as it is supposed to sit for an hour before use. I used the directions in my source recipe, which gave me just under two cups of milk. When it came time to make the Drepe I discovered that it needed 4 cups of milk so had to quickly whip off two more cups. Again, I was afraid this variance would ruin the flavour, but it did not. It did create a mess of my kitchen as the bottom of the blender came half-off, spraying almond milk everywhere.

Almond Milk Ingredients (for 4 cups)
1 cup almonds (I used shaved, though you can start with whole)
1/2 cup water (for grinding)
2 cups water, broth, wine or combination (I used 1 cup water, 1 cup chicken broth)
4 tablespoons sugar
pinch of salt

Directions
If you are using raw almonds you need to boil the almonds in water for three minutes. Drain, rinse and cool. Then squeeze off the skins. By using pre-cleaned and cut almonds I got to skip this step.

Grind the almonds in water in a food processor. In a saucepan over low heat dissolve sugar and salt in the water/broth/wine. In a bowl combine the ground almonds and the sugar water and whisk until smooth. Cover and let stand for an hour. Stir before using.

Drepe Ingredients
3 lbs chicken (I cut eight breasts in half)
4 cups water
4 cups almond milk
2 medium onions chopped
1 teaspoon hot mustard powder
salt
butter for sautéing

I couldn’t find hot mustard powder, so used regular mustard powder. Make sure you use butter and not margarine for the sautéing. You could really taste the butter in the flavour and margarine would have ruined this.

Directions
In your skillet brown the chicken in butter, then put chicken into a pot with water and boil for twenty minutes. Drain water.

While the chicken is boiling, sauté onions in skillet with butter until transparent. Combine onions with drained chicken and add almond milk, salt and mustard powder. Boil, then simmer for ten minutes stirring frequently. The recipe said to remove the chicken from the sauce, and combine them again only upon serving. I served right from the stove so did not do this.

Results
This was my favourite of the night, and a lot of other people agreed with me. The chicken was tender and was saturated with the almond milk. This was very easy to make and would be a good recipe for a feast as the ingredients were not that expensive.

Cherry Syrosye

This is a 14th century French dessert, which my source attributed to the Goodman of Paris.

Ingredients
2 lbs cherries (fresh of frozen)
1 ½ cups red wine
¾ cup sugar
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup breadcrumbs
edible flowers or whole cloves
1/3 cup coarse white sugar
pinch of salt

Edible flowers can be found in certain health food stores, though I did not go to the effort of tracking any down as they are a decoration and not really part of the ingredients at all. (I didn’t use those evil cloves either.)

Directions
Wash and pit cherries, then puree with ½ cup wine and the sugar. Melt butter in a saucepan and add cherry mixture, breadcrumbs, remaining wine and sugar and pinch of salt. Stir and simmer until thickened. Pour into a bowl, cover and cool. Before serving decorate with flowers or cloves.

Results
Cherries, fresh or frozen, weren’t in the budget so I used cherry pie filling and did not add any sugar. I don’t know if this attributed to this dish’s lack of popularity or not. The pie filling was thick and my blender had a hard time mixing it. I had to continually stop it, stick in a wooden spoon and loosen things up. The fruit mixture heated up quickly on my stove and burned a bit on the bottom.

When served only four people were brave enough to try it. Thorfinna and I did not like it, while Berend and Mahault thought it was all right and would perhaps make a good side dish for a pork entrée.

Sop D’Orre
My source did not give a place or time period for this dessert, though from its name I’m guessing France.

Ingredients
½ cup ground almonds (I used sliced)
1 cup white wine
1/8 teaspoon saffron
1 tablespoon honey
½ tablespoon salt
4 slices bread
butter
¼ teaspoon ginger
½ teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon cloves
1/8 teaspoon mace

Again, I did not use the cloves.

Directions
Combine ginger, cinnamon, sugar and mace and set aside. Boil the almonds in wine for seven minutes, then add saffron, honey and salt. Simmer for another two minutes, then keep warm until use.

While the wine is boiling, cut bread into fingers and butter on both sides. Cook the bread in the oven until its toasty, then place on serving tray. (The level of toastiness is left up to you.) Sprinkle spice mixture on the bread, then drench with the wine mixture.

Results
A very easy recipe that was met with a lot of compliments. (Although they were hard to understand, what with all the full mouths). This dish should be eaten while it’s still hot, and before the wine completely soaks into the bread. Though I did end up eating one piece after it had been sitting for a while and it was not as soggy as I was expecting.

Wassail Brew
I got this recipe out of a book on the winter solstice. Though wassailing was indeed a Saxon (and later English) tradition, I don’t know exactly how traditional this recipe is.

Ingredients
6 bottles beer
½ cup sugar
¼ mixed spice or allspice
3 small sweet apples, cut
1 ¼ cup pineapple juice
1 ¼ cup orange juice
2 lemons
8 cinnamon sticks
cream

Next time I make this I may not use the allspice to avoid the cloves in it. I would instead make my own mixed spice from ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon and mace. For the beer I used the Ealdormerean favourite—Waterloo Dark.

Directions
In a pot heat the beer until warm, then add sugar, spice, apples, juice and cinnamon sticks. Squeeze the juice from the two lemons into the pot. Heat to a boil, then reduce heat to a low simmer. Add the cream (I wimped out and used a spray can of whipped cream) and serve.

Results
After brewing, we all filled our cups and went out into the back yard. I poured one cup at the base of our old maple tree and we all cried, “Wassail!” (Traditionally you would wassail fruit bearing trees, but we work with what we have.) I’m not much of a beer drinker, but as I threw back my cup I found that I actually enjoyed this quite a bit. However, myself and at least one other person found that some of the spices did not dissolve and we got a shot of straight spice down the throat. This necessitated the drinking of much water. You may want to strain it before drinking. This drink was well received and was nice and warm while we stood out in the cold night.

Conclusions

Period cooking does not have to be difficult. I mean, my gods, I did it and it came out edible. (Well, except for the Syrosye.) I do believe at Pennsic I’ll be picking up some spices and a couple of cookbooks. Stomachs of Ealdormere beware, there’s a Scot loose in the kitchen.

Sources

How to Cook Medieval Christmas Feasts http://www.godecookery.com/how2cook/howto06.htm

Recipe Source http://www.recipesource.com/misc/medieval/

Shire of Vanished Woods’ Medieval Desserts http://hometown.aol.com/vanishwood/guild/desert.htm

The Winter Solstice, John Matthews. Godsfield Press: Wheaton, IL, 1998.

Further Reading

A Book of Gode Cookery http://www.godecookery.com/godeboke/godeboke.htm

Medieval Feasts: Frumenty http://www.bitwise.net/%7Eken%2Dbill/medrcp09.htm

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