Lent podcast episode 2: Fish & Humours

In this episode we look at the history of Lent: When was it enforced? What were the rules? That sort of thing. Neil looks at how the belief in the four humours shaped what we ate in Lent, and how they caused illness and changed our moods throughout the year.

This week – the first full week of fasting – is an Ember Week. There are four Ember Weeks throughout the year – one for each season – and this is the spring one.

Neil then goes to the beautiful John Ryland’s Library in Manchester to see an early manuscript of the Forme of Cury, the earliest cookbook written in the English language, to find and cook from it ‘a tart for Ember Day’ which he cooks for his friends Kate and Pete with mixed results (recipe below).

A huge thanks to the staff of the John Ryland’s Library, who were very helpful indeed, and to Kate and Pete for letting me assault their taste buds.

Most of all, thanks to you for listening – if you have anything to add about anything you hear, feel free to post a comment, tweet me (@neilbuttery) or email me at neil@britishfoodhistory.com.

Please listen, like and subscribe.

Scroll down to see a list of photos and links all about the things discussed in this episode. See you next week!

If you like the blogs and podcast I produce, please consider treating me to a virtual coffee or pint, or even a £3 monthly subscription: follow this link for more information.

British Food a History: Lent was produced by Beena Khetani and is a Sonder Radio production

Extra bits:

More on the four humours: https://www.nlm.nih.gov/exhibition/shakespeare/fourhumors.html

The story of how King Alfred burnt the cakes: https://britishfoodhistory.com/2018/10/25/king-alfred-burns-the-cakes/

A blog post all about Forme of Cury: https://britishfoodhistory.com/2018/08/10/favourite-cook-books-no-3-the-forme-of-cury-part-i/

…and another with some recipes: https://britishfoodhistory.com/2018/08/14/favourite-cook-books-no-3-the-forme-of-cury-part-2-recipes/

Forme of Cury online: https://archive.org/stream/theformeofcury08102gut/7cury10.txt

The John Ryland’s Library website: https://www.library.manchester.ac.uk/rylands/

Not a tart! A biog of Eleanor of Aquitaine: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Eleanor-of-Aquitaine

The mediaeval cinnamon bird: http://bestiary.ca/beasts/beast242.htm

A recipe for ‘a tart for Ember Day’:

Shortcrust pastry made with 400 g flour

1 medium onion

2 tbs parsley, chopped

1 tbs mint, chopped

1 tsp sage, chopped

A handful of raisins

150 g blue cheese, grated

Pinch of saffron

2 tbs hot milk

10 eggs

75 g melted butter

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp sugar

  1. Roll out the pastry and use it to line a 10-inch flan ring. Prick the base and place in the fridge to firm up
  2. Preheat the oven to 220°C and bake the case lined with greaseproof paper and filled with baking beans for 30 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, peel the onion and simmer in salted water for 20 minutes, then drain.
  4. Remove the beans and paper and return the pastry case to the oven  for 7 or 8 minutes to crisp the base.
  5. Turn down the oven to 160°C
  6. Sprinkle over the base the herbs, raisins and cheese, chop up the onions and scatter those too.
  7. Steep the saffron in the hot milk for five minutes, then beat with the eggs, butter, salt and sugar
  8. Pour the eggs over and bake until set, around 45 minutes.


Filed under Britain, cooking, Easter, Festivals, food, history, Mediaeval Age, Podcast, Recipes, Uncategorized

9 responses to “Lent podcast episode 2: Fish & Humours

  1. Christopher Monk

    Enjoyed listening to this. Just a correction: it reads ‘brede’ not ‘brese’. So bread, not cheese.


    • Hey…thanks for listening. That’s one translation of brese/brede. A book i used to help with translation said it was ‘brese’ and that it is green cheese. The ms i read deffo said brese. This is the issue with these recipes. Sometimes were just never gonna know what some of the recipes really are! There are many different translations of the books, often by people who were not cooks so unusual ingredients or methods crop up….


      • Christopher Monk

        Just to expand a little: ‘grene chese’ appears in one version (older than the Rylands copy). The word in both the Rylands and the British Library is ‘brede’. You are misreading the ‘d’ as an ‘s’; ‘brese’ doesn’t appear in any manuscript copy, I’m afraid. ‘Grene chese’ means ‘young cheese’, so a freshly made curd cheese might work nicely. You’re right that there are variants and errors in transmission that occasionally complicate things for us modern readers. The Rylands copy is probably the earliest and is considered to be the ‘best’ copy. This was recognised by one of the editors of the 1980s edition by the Early English Text Society; she was at the time unaware of the existence of the Rylands copy but later wrote a paper which clarified that the Rylands copy would have been the base text had she known about it. I’m presently working on a new edition and translation based on the Rylands copy so if at any time you want to chat about any of the recipes, feel free to contact me. You’re doing a great job bringing these medieval recipes alive.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Well that is odd. I’m annoyingly away from my books today so can’t check the ref i used, but thanks for the information. It really very tricky, especially going by modern tastes. If we didn’t know if it was brese or brede, my modern brain would go for cheese over bread in a tart any day! Adding bread makes it more like a Manchester pudding affair. I will deffo run future pnes by you. Cheers!


  2. That’s a fantastic tart – almost half quiche, half pudding.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ember tart sounds very like a quiche, though I have never put raisins in quiche.
    Onions and cheese, yes.

    Did you specify blue cheese because of the recipe or personal preference?


    • Hello. Well I used blue cheese because the recipe called for ‘green cheese’, which I took as blue. However, what I should have used was fresh cheese!


      • Please check before you cook a ‘green goose’ or ‘green lentils’ because if either of these is actually blue, it may be harmful to your health.


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