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  • Writer's pictureTastes Of History

The Recipes: a Mediæval Joust

After several years of wishing we could be involved a chance encounter while “pirating” in Scarborough has led to Tastes Of History’s first performance at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds, Yorkshire. We were delighted to offer a taste of mediæval food to spectators at the live-action International Jousting Tournament over the Easter bank holiday weekend.

From Friday 29th March to Monday 1st April the museum’s impressive jousting arena resounded to the cheers of crowds and the clash of lances on armour, as knights battled it out in an authentic mediæval jousting tournament. A truly international event, this year teams from the United Kingdom, France and Italy competed for honour and trophies in this iconic mediæval sport.

The museum opened at 10 am and there were two tournament shows per day starting at 11 am and 2 pm, featuring knights and their horses, plus plenty of pomp and pageantry. There was also a full programme of events and activities in and around the museum, including jesters, minstrels, blacksmiths, have-a-go pool-noodle jousting and the chance to try some mediæval-style food. Talking of which, that’s where we came in.

The following selection of recipes drawn from mediæval sources were available for museum visitors to sample. Some are old favourites, but there were a couple of new dishes which we hope you may be inspired to try at home. Bon appétit!

Payn Perdew We begin with Payn Perdew, or “Pain perdu” if you prefer, also known as French toast. This delightful dish's name literally translates as “lost bread” in English because instead of letting stale bread go to waste resourceful cooks found a way to revive it. By soaking the slightly stale bread in what is effectively a spiced custard batter and frying it, they created a delicious treat still popular today.

Girdle breads As the name may suggest “girdle” is an alternative, older spelling for a griddle. From the earliest times the griddle was a simple flat stone heated by a fire that served as a means to cook flatbread. Later a skillet, or frying pan, would replace the stone and the dish became known as “girdle” or “griddle” bread, a staple food for many living in the old kingdoms of England, Ireland, and Scotland. The addition of saffron is both indulgent and a sign of wealth since in the Mediæval period saffron was “worth its weight in gold”.

Green Pancakes Also known as “Tansy cakes” from the use of the rarely seen bitter herb of the same name. Today these pancakes can use almost any green leafy vegetable. Indeed, one recipe does specify “spinage” but if you are looking for something closer to the flavour of tansy then sorrel or other more bitter greens would suffice.

Braised Spring Greens Modern spring greens are probably closer in taste and texture to mediæval spinach, but this recipe is equally good made with either. While we have suggested using vegetable oil you could replace this with olive oil for a more regal mediæval flavour. The Forme of Cury (“The Method of Cooking”) is the first known English cookbook to mention ingredients such as cloves, olive oil, mace, and gourds. Indeed, many recipes contain what were at the time rare and valuable spices, including nutmeg, caraway, ginger, pepper, ‘canell’ (cinnamon), and cardamom. This should not be surprising as this extensive 14th-century collection of medieval English recipes is believed to be the work of “the chief Master Cooks of King Richard II”.

Black Porray A dish of fried bacon and greens whose name, “porray”, is derived from the Latin porrum meaning “leak(s)”. In the mediæval period it meant a pudding or stew of leeks and other vegetables, sometimes with meat as in this case.

Meat Farts The English borrowed the word farce from French with its earliest English usage dating to the 14th-century. The word was used as a synonym for forcemeat, that is “finely chopped and highly seasoned meat or fish either served alone or used as a stuffing”. Being English, farce became “fart” in mediæval recipes.

Chicken in Cumin Otherwise known as “Hennys in Bruet”, Chicken in Cumin is an English variation of a popular dish in western Mediæval Europe. In France it was known as “Cominée” indicating the characteristic seasoning with cumin.


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