Tag Archives: forgotten foods

Forgotten Foods #6: Pease Bread

I often frequent the excellent vegan cooperatively-run supermarket Unicorn in Chorlton, south Manchester, to fill my food cupboards both at home and at the restaurant. One day, a couple of months ago, I spotted a very mediaeval ingredient: green pea flour. I had come across ‘peasemeal’ in several old books, but didn’t expect to ever see it for sale. (Another popular mediaeval ingredient is almond milk, used particularly on fasting days; it’s funny how these old ingredients are having a comeback as health foods.)

One of the mediaeval small-holder’s most important crops was his pea crop – they were not eaten as young sweet garden peas, but were left in the pods to mature and dry. The peas became starchy and packed with protein; an excellent nutritional source for the winter months. We use those dried peas today for mushy peas or split peas. Then, they were mainly used in pease porridge/pottage.

The pease were often ground to make peasemeal to thicken stews, and to make bread for cattle. People only ate it themselves in times of winter famine, and this peasebread was hated by all.

Peasebread and peasemeal stopped being produced in most of the UK, but it did live on until the mid-20th Century in the very North of Scotland and Orkneys, where very few crops can be grown in abundance (rye and oats are the only others really). Folk enjoyed pease scones, bannocks (flatbreads) and breads, but it was still associated with poverty.

Peasemeal is considered easy to digest, partially due to its lack of gluten, and is high in protein and carbohydrates. I quite like how some of these mediaeval ingredients are being re-examined during a time of vegan and paleo-dieting. It is strange to think how the poor were eating healthy vegetables with little fat, red meat, salt and sugar, considered then to have no nutritional value. Meanwhile, the bunged-up rich were chowing down almost entirely on meat, spice, white bread and sugar, in the belief they were eating properly. I bet their bedchambers sank in the morning.

I had to have a go at the derided peasebread, just to see how bad it was. I did cheat a little bit and mixed the peasemeal with some strong bread flour. It was pretty straight-forward to make, though the dough was very sticky was hard to knead. The resulting bread was dense and a little crumbly, but had a delicious sweet pea flavour, with hints of roasted peanut butter. Probably too dry to eat on its own, it was great toasted, buttered and dunked in soup.

So, here’s my recipe for peasebread. It made two flattened cobs.

(Notice all my liquid measurements are in grams rather than millilitres; for greater accuracy, it’s much easier to weigh your liquids, a tip from Elizabeth David.)

250g green pea flour

250g strong white bread flour

10g salt

10g instant yeast

30g sunflower or olive oil, or softened butter or lard

330g hand-hot water

In a wide mixing bowl mix together the two flours. To one side of the bowl place the salt, and place the yeast to the opposite side. Make a well in the centre and pour in the oil/fat and the water. Mix with your hands to form a dough. Leave to settle for ten minutes.

Spread a little oil on a work surface and knead until smooth. This is pretty tricky because it is so sticky, so use a dough scraper to help.

Oil a bowl and place in the dough inside and cover. Leave to rise until it has doubled in size, about 2 hours. Knock back the dough, divide into two pieces and form in to two taught, round cobs. To do this, roll into balls with oiled/floured hands, then tuck in the dough underneath whilst turning the ball, tautening the surface. Place on greased baking trays, flour generously and cut a cross in the centre. Cover with large plastic bags and leave to rise again for about an hour.

Place the cobs in a cold oven, then set the temperature to 230⁰C and bake for 40 minutes. Cool on a rack.

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Filed under baking, bread, Britain, cooking, food, history, Recipes, Teatime, Uncategorized

Forgotten Foods #5: Parsley Root

Every now and again I write a post on forgotten foods, and here is one vegetable that was used widely in Medieval times, but has fallen very much out of use in this country: parsley root.

We are all very familiar with the culinary uses of parsley leaves, but the root has been much ignored in Britain of late. Parsley root is what celeriac is to celery and it is still commonly used in northern Germany (hence its other name ‘Hamburg’ parsley), Croatia, Bulgaria, Poland and Russia. It is an essential element in a truly authentic borscht.

Parsley root pops up every now and again in Medieval recipes but it popped up rather more recently in Manchester from my fruit and veg suppliers Organic North. I assume it’s started to appear here because of the recent influx of Eastern European folk to the UK and demand is high!

In our old cook books, it only seems to crop up as an ingredient in pottages and the like, but seems to have been used extensively by local physicians in all sorts of tinctures to cure dropsy and scarlet fever, as well as in bladder and kidney ‘teas’ because of its supposed diuretic properties. It turns out that parsley root is very good for the liver, so they might have been on to something there.

parsley-roots

Parsley root (Photo: Harvest to Table)

Parsley roots are a pale creamy-white, like a parsnip, but less yellow, and are thin and slender like a carrot. They lack that woody part to their roots that large parsnips have, being tender all the way up like a carrot. They taste predominately of parsley, but also of celeriac and parsnip.

They can be eaten raw in salads or as part of a coleslaw; the organic ones I got hold of made my tongue go a little numb after eating a raw one!

Cooked, they can be used like any root vegetable in soups. Apparently, they roast very well and make excellent chips. Their slight earthiness marries well with fish especially shellfish. I found a great-looking recipe for scallops in parsley root milk by American chef Karen Brooks – one to try next!

If you are unsuccessful in your search to find your own parsley roots, don’t worry because they are very easy to grow, taking just 3 months from seed to harvest. They overwinter well and can be dug up, replanted in a pot, and popped on a windowsill where the leaves will regrow to give you a personal supply of forced parsley herb.

 

Roast Parsley Root Soup

The best ways to enjoy any root vegetable is to either roast it or turn it into soup. Here’s a perfect combination of the two from my chef Matt, I particularly like that – the onion aside – all the vegetables are from the parsley family, so they all work together very well, never taking focus away from our star ingredient.

parsley root soup

3 tbs olive oil

1 medium onion, sliced

6 fine parsley roots, peeled and chopped into 1cm slices

1 carrot, prepared just as the parsley root

2 celery sticks, roughly chopped

2 or 3 sprigs of thyme

2 fresh bay leaves

Salt and pepper

1 litre light vegetable stock or water

A splash of white wine or white vermouth (optional)

Chopped parsley root leaves or celery leaves to garnish.

 

First preheat the oven to 200°C and then heat the oil in a sturdy roasting tin over a hob. Tumble in the onion, parsley roots, carrot, celery, thyme and bay leaves. Season with salt and pepper then turn the vegetables over in the pan until evenly coated with the oil. Once things have picked up a little colour, place the tin in the oven for around 20 minutes, stirring at half time.

When the vegetables are cooked though place them in a saucepan with the stock or water. Deglaze the pan with the wine or vermouth, if using, otherwise use a little water and tip all those nice burnt bits into the saucepan.

Bring the soup up to a bare simmer and cook until things are very soft. Allow to cool a little bit before fishing out the herbs and blitzing in a blender.

Check your seasoning, reheat and serve in bowls with some chopped parsley or celery leaves.

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Filed under Britain, cooking, food, history, Recipes, Soups, Uncategorized

Forgotten Foods #4: Cock Beer

cockerel

Recently I have been thinking of re-igniting my interest in home-brewing. Previous attempts to make alcohol have never been successful. I have made white wine that tasted of rotten eggs, and made dandelion wine that, when bottled, exploded spectacularly in my lounge. Now I have a couple of books that spell out the process, and I am a little more confident that I can do it.

Naturally I have been hitting the old cookbooks for some historical inspiration and came across this recipe for cock-beer. In this recipe from 1780, you essentially make a giant cock tea-bag to impart its essence into your brewing beer:

Take 10 gallons ale, a large cock (the older the better). Slay, caw and gut him, and stamp him in a stone mortar. Add spice and put all in a canvas bag. Lower him into the ale while still working [i.e. fermenting]. Finish working and bottle.

That is actually a toned down receipt – many times live cockerels were used. Goodness knows how people didn’t die. Perhaps they did!

It doesn’t stop at cocks in beer, oh no, in Cornwall sheep’s blood – hot from the slaughter – was added to cider; and what did it taste like? According to Andrew Boorde, the 16th Century physician and traveller: “[it] is stark nought, looking whyte and thicke as pygges had wrastled in it.”

There were many tales of men’s heads being thrown into the hogshead along with the beer, and perhaps they weren’t just tales, because the cockerel wasn’t added to the beer for flavour (I suspect that the spices were added to mask the flavour of the bird). The idea is that the animal’s strength, courage and vigour would be imparted into the brew. So these beers were in fact more remedies than proper drinks.

King William III

William III: Cock Beer Lover

That said, two brave brewers called Chris Thomas and Adam Cusick, brewed a batch from this very recipe, obviously with a certain amount of interpretation. They did welch a little bit by using a cooked chicken. However a delicious ale was produced that was mellow and ‘shared distinct similarities with a strong Belgian ale’. Apparently, William III’s drink of choice was cock beer, and it has been noted several times through the centuries for its superior quality.

My gut feeling is that is must be foul (no pun intended), yet it gets all this praise. Well, when I become a seasoned brewer of beer, I might just give it a go.

One last thing:tantalisingly, it has been suggested that the word cocktail (a work whose origin is famously unknown) comes from cock-ale. O how I wish it was true.

 

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Forgotton Foods #3: Umbilical Cord

umbilical cord

I have been writing posts of late on the huge variety of cuts we can get from meat, whether prime cuts or more humble (or should that be umble?) cuts, but I fear I may not be able to cook you all this one!

The umbilical cords of calves born on dairy farms were often collected by thrifty farmers and turned into a dish known as ‘muggety pie’ by famers’ wives. There’s a description of it in the excellent book Food in England by Dorothy Hartley; she says:

The umbilical cord of the calf was washed, soaked in salt water, and cut into short lengths which were then split open end to end twice, and cut, so making small oblong pieces. These were then boiled, till soft, with onions and seasoning, chopped again and made into a pie, using the gelatinous stock and some milk to make the filling gravy. The whole white pie was then covered with crust and baked.

Muggety pie was popular in the West Country, particularly in Gloucestershire and Cornwall, “all jelly soft it was…it was the jelly gravy was the best part – some did put taters and a turnip and sech, but ‘twas best plain, and good cold,” told old farm-hand.

Foods like muggety pie are dishes that probably never travelled much further than the dairy or cattle farmers’ houses and quickly forgotten. It was borne out of a necessity that no longer exists, but why kill an animal for meat that can be sold on when there is good protein laying there in the hay?

So, if there are any diary or cattle farmers that have a spare umbilical cord or two hanging around, let me know and I’ll bake you a delicious pie!

Don’t worry though, you don’t have to miss out on muggety pie because it can also be made out of sheep’s intestines or a sheep’s pluck (i.e. lungs, heart and liver) that latter of which should easily be found at butchers given a little notice…

 

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Forgotten Foods #2: Verjuice

Having a crabbed face of her own, she’ll eat less Verjuyce with her mutton

T Middleton, Women beware Women, 1657

Verjuice was a very popular cooking ingredient from the Middle Ages onwards. Many old recipes ask for it and they seem to hit a peak during Tudor times. It is essentially the juice of either sour grapes or crab apples; Britain might not be the best place to grow delicious sweet grapes, but we can certainly excel in growing sour fruit! It took the place of fresh lemon juice in recipes for salad dressings, desserts like syllabubs; it was added to stews, soups and sauces as a seasoning, as well as an ingredient in marinades. It was also believed to have medicinal properties; for example, it was mixed with olive oil and blown up horses’ noses to treat colds! It was basically a necessary piece of kit in any kitchen, seeming to drop out of favour by the end of eighteenth century when lemons became more accessible.


Crushing the grapes for verjuice

The word verjuice comes from the Old French verjus, with ver-  meaning green or unripe and –jus being juice. The earliest written mention of it in British literature comes from around 1302, so we are talking old. It must have been such a useful ingredient in a place where fresh lemons will have either have been impossible to get hold of or terribly expensive.

I expected never to taste verjuice, but then as I was wandering around the excellent Global Foods Market in St Louis minding my own business, I happened upon a jar of it in the Middle East aisle of the shop. Naturally I bought some and thought I’d try some original recipes where verjuice was a main ingredient rather than just a seasoning.

17th century verjuice vinaigrette

In the 1897 volume of Good Housekeeping the subject of using verjuice in salad dressings inexplicably crops up. It takes quotes from the 17th century cook book The English Huswife by Gervase Markham. Anyway, it says that if you want to make a simple sallet then make a dressing of verjuice, sallet [olive] oil and sugar. Use it with sparagus, camphire, cucumbers, leeks, blanched carrots, purslane, with a world of others too tedious to nominate. He must have been in a bit of a mood the day he wrote that part.

It was a pretty brief recipe. Although verjuice is very tart, its underlying flavours are rather subtle so it needed quite a high ratio of verjuice to oil (much more than vinegar or lemon juice dressings).

I mixed together 4 tablespoons each of verjuice and extra virgin olive oil. To offset the sourness, I added a teaspoon of soft dark brown sugar, stirring until it dissolved. Lastly I seasoned it with a little salt and pepper. Easy and surprisingly subtle. Any leftover dressing can be stored and blown up your horse’s nose should it ever get a sniffle.

Sweet verjuice ‘scrambled eggs’ with brioche toast

I recently wrote a post about fruit curds, and I seem to have found a possible source of the preserve when looking for verjuice recipes. There is a recipe in Le Patissier François (published around 1690) that has helpfully been translated into English by Harold McGee where verjuice and salt are added to eggs in order to make them coagulate at a lower temperature, tenderising them:

Break four eggs, beat them, adjust with salt and four spoonsful of verjus, put the mix on the fire, and stir gently with a silver spoon just until the eggs thicken enough, and then take them off the fire and stir them a bit more as they thicken. One can make scrambles eggs in the same way with lemon or orange juice.

It is of Mr McGee’s opinion that a sweetened version of this recipe could be the origin of the fruit curd. Notice that fresh lemons or oranges can be used, suggesting that they are less common than verjuice.

Below is my interpretation of that recipe. I add plenty of acidic verjuice and a large pinch of salt, meaning that the ‘scrambled eggs’ actually end up thickening more like a custard. I have to say it was delicious, so if you ever do come across some verjuice have a go at this recipe:

Ingredients (for 2 people)
A good knob of butter
2 eggs
6 tbs verjuice
good pinch of salt
2 level tbs sugar
2 slices of brioche

Melt the butter in a saucepan on a medium heat. Whisk together the eggs, verjuice, salt and sugar until there is no trace of white left. Pour the egg mixture in the saucepan and carry on whisking over a medium heat. Meanwhile toast the slices of brioche. When the eggs have thickened and are just about to boil, pour them into two small pots and serve with the brioche.

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Filed under Britain, Desserts, food, French Cookery, history, Seventeenth Century

Forgotten Foods #1: The House Sparrow

The very cute Passer domesticus

I do like to see a social group of tweeting house sparrows getting into fights, taking a nice dust bath, or whatever; they are so watchable. They are one of my favourite birds. Once extremely common in Britain, their numbers have dropped sharply in last few years and nobody really seems to know why. In the past they were plentiful and were commonly served up at the dinner table. In fact many songbirds were counted as legal game and were very popular indeed. Here’s a delicious-sounding recipe from Elizabeth Raffald’s 1769 book The Experienced English Housekeeper for sparrow dumplings:

Mix half a pint of good milk with three eggs, a little salt, and as much flour as will make a thick batter. Put a lump of butter rolled in pepper and salt in every sparrow, mix them in the batter and tie them in a cloth, boil them one hour and a half. pour melted butter over them and serve it up.

Over the pond in New York, the plague of house sparrows became very bad indeed: Without question the most deplorable event in the history of American ornithology was the introduction of the English Sparrow said WL Dawson in 1903. Something had to be done! The people of the ever-trendy The New York Times encouraged folk to help rid the place of the pests, and not to let good protein go to waste, they tried to make them appear as an attractive and sought-after meat:

English Sparrows are being properly appreciated. Hundreds of them are now caught by enterprising people for sale to certain restaurants where reed birds are in demand. A German woman on Third Avenue has three traps set every day, and she catches probably seventy five a week. They are cooked and served to her boarders the same as reed birds and are declared quite as great a delicacy. This German woman bastes them, leaving the little wooden skewer in the bird when served. They are cooked with a bit of bacon. She tempts them with oats, and after the catch they are fed a while with boiled oaten meal. She sprinkles oaten meal in the back yard also, and thereby fattens the free birds. … So soon as it becomes known that the Sparrow is a table bird their number will rapidly grow less.
People don’t like to experiment, but when it is discovered that the Sparrow has been declared good by those upon whom they have been tried, no boarding house meal will be deemed in good form unless a dish of fat Sparrows adorns it. Sparrow pie is a delicacy fit to set before a king.

Unfortunately, I don’t know the date of the article – if anyone knows, please let me know.

I am not that well-travelled compared to many, but here in America, and in the African countries I have visited, the house sparrow is just everywhere. To do your part to rid these continents of the ubiquitious little bastards, may I suggest getting your hands on the Dodson Sparrow Trap:

 

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Filed under Eighteenth Century, food, Game, history, Meat, Recipes