Thursday, 3 May 2012

A Medieval Feast II - Compost

When faced with turnips, parsnip and cabbage, I'd probably just end up making a big pot of soup.  So would have most people in the middle ages too (or pottage as they called it back in the day, or frumenty with cereal, or a luxury mortrew).  Clearly this wouldn't cut ye olde mustard if you were cooking for the king .  It's time to pimp that root veg.

Compost (composed, rather than decomposing) is a kind of spicy pickle of root veg.  Bear in mind that all these spices were being shipped from the furthest corners of the world, and you realise this wasn't an everyday dish.

Take rote of parsel. pasternak of rasenns. scrape hem waisthe hem clene. Take root of parsley (I just used parsley leaf), parsnip (pasternak of rasenns  got a 'Qu' from Mr Pegge, but pasternak is parsnip) and scrape and wash them clean
take rapes & caboches ypared and icorne.  Cut up turnips and cabbages
take an erthen panne with clene water & set it on the fire. Take an earthen pan with clean water and set it on the fire. Or  in my case, take a cooking pot and put it on the gas hob.
cast all þise þerinne.   Put all the veggies in.
whan þey buth boiled cast þerto peers & parboile hem wel. When they've boiled, put in pears and boil them.  I've heard in medieval times they had some large, hard pears called warden that needed cooking.  My pears were so soft and juicy, so I felt mixing them in with the still hot veggies would be enough. 
take þise thynges up & lat it kele on a fair cloth, do þerto salt whan it is colde in a vessel take vineger & powdour & safroun & do þerto. & lat alle þise thinges lye þerin al nyzt oþer al day. When they've cooled add salt, vinegar, powder douce, and saffron, and leave all day.
take wyne greke and hony clarified togider lumbarde mustard & raisouns corance al hool. & grynde powdour of canel powdour douce. & aneys hole. & fenell seed.  Take greek wine and honey clarified together, (lumbard?) mustard and whole raisens.  Grind cinnamon powder, powdour douce and whole anise (I used star anise) and fennel seed.  I did the grinding by hand in a pestle and mortar, which was a bit too much like hard work for me. 
 take alle þise thynges & cast togyder in a pot of erthe. and take þerof whan þou wilt & serue forth.  Put everything in a bowl together and serve it forth

The recipes in the Forme of Cury have no ingredient measures or cooking times, but nearly all have instructions to 'serve it forth '- as if that was the part of the recipe you're likely to struggle with.

Having served it forth, and even eaten it, what did I think? Well, it was interesting.  There was a sharpness from the vinegar, and different spices in every mouthful.   There are no instructions to reheat before cooking, so the first day we had it cold.  I'm not used to cold root veg, and not sure I want to be.  The next day I heated some up, which made the root veg nicer, but then the vinegar didn't work as well as for a cold pickle.  All in all, I think I'll stick with the soup.  But maybe that's just the peasant in me.


  1. I did a version of this from Pleyn Delit (#60) which was the authors' version of the Form of Cury receipt. It turned out like a rich, spicy-sweet chutney and it was wonderful. I loved it cold as a little side spoonful with cooked meats. And it lasted a long time in the 'fridge, too. Mine turned out dark and juicy, unlike yours. I wonder why they were so different?

    1. I think as there are no ingredient measures and so few directions that there is a lot of scope for interpretation. It would be really interesting to try out that version for comparsison. I just wish there were a few more details in the Forme of Cury so you could really know you'd captured the flavour.