I wrote this for another medieval blogger a few years back but he has since taken his site down so I thought I would repost it here!
I have always longed to travel backwards through time particularly wishing to visit the middle ages or the Tudor period. In the innocence of childhood my friends and I discussed the joy of wearing long float-y dresses with trumpet sleeves and living in castles. As I grew up and met with some of the grimmer aspects of life-in-the-past it was too late; History had got a hold on me and continued to captivate my very soul with it stories, characters and mysteries. As an adult my yearning for a time machine remains unabated.
With no TARDIS forthcoming, what’s the next best thing? Well, thanks to the recipes featured on the Pure Medievalry blog, I can at least taste the Middle Ages. Hurrah! One step closer. I decided the time had come to literally force history down the throat of my family! I would prepare for my three children, two step-children and boyfriend a three course ‘Medieval Feast’, using the recipes I had found.
Gourdes in Potage
Tartes of Flesh (Yes! Despite the name, we’re having it.)
I began to assemble the ingredients in my boyfriend’s kitchen. He looked on with an open mind, although I could sense, with his being Italian, waves of anxiety at the lack of olive oil!
I opted for butternut squash for use in the starter as I thought it would work beautifully with the sweet spices. It was quite a simple soup to make.
The only small fear I had with this dish was that I would be unsuccessful in blending the egg yolks carefully enough to result in the soup thickening correctly. As I often struggle with the instruction ‘do not let it boil’ the safest course of action was to switch the heat off completely and still leaving the saucepan on the hot ring, as I stirred in the blended yolks and stock. Fortunately, this was a success, resulting in a smooth consistency.
Earlier, shopping for ingredients at my local farm shop had previously resulted in my selecting two small, whole partridges for the main course. I had questioned the sense of expecting my young children to cope with small partridge bones. I then saw a pack of ‘Wild Game Pie Mix’. This is a selection of diced meat that included; pigeon, partridge, pheasant etc. No bones. As it also, possibly, contained rabbit, hare and venison was it still authentic? I dithered and then purchased both!
I assumed a basic short-crust pastry appropriate and so made and chilled the required lb. Again, this recipe was very easy to follow and by now I’d made a firm decision to use the diced, safely boneless, game pie meat. Unfortunately I couldn’t roll the lb of pastry thin enough to provide a base and a lid for the pie, so settled for a deliciously thick crust on the top only.
Where dessert was concerned luckily it was easy to find sugar-free almond milk. The recipe called for sugar and I used Demerara as I don’t generally use refined white sugar in anything. Cooking dessert was slightly more problematic than the other two courses. I think that never having made modern bread and butter pudding left me at a slight disadvantage! After buttering all the squares of toast I duly lined the earthenware dish. Butter side up. When I came to pour in the milky mixture all the bread floated to the top. I questioned myself. Should the toast have been butter side down? Or buttered both sides? I’m still not sure! I shoved it into the oven regardless, and crossed my fingers.
The preparation of all this seemed to take quite a while and required constant reference to the unfamiliar instructions. Nothing was difficult however and so long as all the prep, for all three dishes, was complete prior to any cooking at all it was easy to enjoy the meal with the rest of the family with minimal popping up and down to put things in the oven.
One of the children, quite correctly, pointed out that during the medieval period, people lived without electricity! We were obliged then, to eat by candlelight. However, the medieval music was played through the very electric sound system!
The soup was served…
It didn’t look tremendously appetizing, and unanimous agreement was reached that neither did it smell awfully inviting! We all tucked in despite this and were all surprised and delighted at how much we liked the sweetly spiced dish. As we progressed we realized this was more relief than delight as, with each mouthful it seemed, blandness increased. We caved and added a grind of salt. Now it really was delicious and eaten with gusto!
Out came the pie…
Looks wise, there was room for improvement but that was down to me not the recipe! Taste wise it was, if I say so myself, absolutely delicious. The cinnamon worked so beautifully with the pork mince and the teaspoon of salt allowed by this recipe made all the difference. We served it with peas and carrots and nobody left any on their plate at all.
Some apprehension was felt as we prodded the dessert and took note of the uneasy relationship that had developed between the milk and the wine. They appeared very, well, very separate. However we served it up. It did not go down well. The spices came through but little else. It was very bland. One victim… er, I mean child, even spat his mouthful back into his bowl!
Overall the Medieval Feast had been a complete success. Most of the food had been not only palatable but somewhat enjoyable. The medieval taste bud certainly relished sweet spices, particularly cinnamon which always carried through. In fact the house and all our clothes continued to smell strongly of it! It was odd eating so much sweetly spiced ‘savoury’ food but the oddest experience was to have a dessert that simply wasn’t sweet enough! Nor did it offer that yummy comfort factor we receive from eating a twenty-first century dessert.
One of the most wonderful aspects of enjoying medieval food with my family was the whole sense of occasion it created. The tastes and smells of the middle ages combined with the candlelight and medieval music encouraged lots of questions from the children about life hundreds of years ago. Some of these I could answer, others required speculation and discussion which made for wonderful conversation and a prolonged time at the table together.
All the recipes came from a book called, ‘700 Years of English Cooking’, by Maxime McKendry, edited by Arabella Boxer.