Shire Birthday Feast
cooked by Jehanne de Huguenin & assistants
2 June AS XXXVI
The recipes in this feast are mostly 14th-15th century Italian, from all over Italy rather than focusing on Venice, although the event theme was Venetian. I have used a lot of recipes from Platina, a scholar and collector of recipes who was at one time the Prefect of the Vatican Library, and whose work De Honesta Voluptate was published around 1472. Among the sources used heavily by Platina is Martino, whose Libre de Arte Coquinaria was written in the mid-15th century. I have used some Platina versions and some Martino originals, mainly because I don’t have access to a complete version of Martino. In any event, Platina makes few changes. Other recipes come from a selection of Italian sources, including the Libre de Coquina, the Catalan text Libre de Sent Sovi, and a fifteenth-century cookbook in a dialect from northeastern Italy (identified below as Libre de Cucina). The clary and hippocras recipes come from de Nola, whose cookbook is in Spanish, but who was a cook at the Catalan court in Naples.
Several of these sources are only available in collections; Redon and Santich both give redactions of the originals, but being a maddened individualist, I’ve tended to ignore their versions in favour of working out my own from the original. Many thanks to Biringeira de Navarre for making Redon available to me, and for comments on the menu composition. I’m also grateful to Vicente Coenca on the SCA-Cooks list for his translation of De Nola which he kindly sent to me, and for Mistress Jaelle’s menu advice.
Platina was as much interested in healthy diet as in recipes, so many of his dishes include warnings about their unhealthy effect. I’ve included some of these, just for fun.
Vincente Coenca, translations of Clary and Hippocras from De Nola, online at Stefan's Florilegium
Platina, On Right Pleasure and Good Health, tr. Mary Ella Milham, 1998. Tempe, Arizona: Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies
Odile Redon, Francoise Saban, Silvano Serventi, The Medieval Kitchen: Recipes from France and Italy. Chicago: University of Chicago
Barbara Santich, The Original Mediterranean Cuisine: Medieval Recipes for today. 1995. Chicago: Chicago Review Press.
Best Pork Pie
(Libro per Cuoco)
Take the meat and chop very finely and make the pastry crusts and put the meat inside, and add finely chopped onion, and sprinkle with ginger; then when it is cooked take vinegar and sugar and a little water, pour inside to boil, etc.
Take… cheese and grate it; then take some chard, parsley and marjoram: and when they are cleaned and washed, chop them very well with a knife, and mix them together with the cheese… adding four eggs and enough pepper and a little saffron, as well as good lard or fresh butter…And put this filling into a pan with … a bottom crust…
To prepare roast chicken, you must roast it; and when it is cooked, take orange juice or verjuice with rose water, sugar and cinnamon, and place the chicken on a platter; and pour this mixture over it and send it to table.
"There is an order to be observed in taking food… whatever is of light and slight nourishment, like apples and pears, is more safely and pleasantly eaten in the first course. I even add lettuce… Then there are eggs… and certain sweets which we call bellaria, seasoned with spices and pine nuts, or honey, or sugar. These are served very appropriately to guests." Platina, I 16.
To make stuffed eggs, cut each one in half when it has been well cooked and [is] thus hard. Then remove the yolk and take marjoram, saffron and cloves and vix with the yokes of those eggs; and mash it thoroughly, adding a little cheese… This done, fill the egg whites with this mixture.
Notes: I cheated on this recipe; the original specifies adding raw yolk and frying the eggs once filled, but I dislike the strange rubbery texture you get if you do this.
Mix a bit of leavening, meal and sugar with apples, boiled or cooked under ashes and mashed, with the skins and the hard core removed. Fry the fritters in oil. From the ingredients, you will certainly find these harmful.
Notes: A slightly unusual fritter batter, containing no eggs.
If you want to make the Emperor’s fritters, take egg whites and slices of fresh cheese, and beat them together with the egg whites, and add a little flour and hulled pine nuts. Take a pan with plenty of fat, bring it to the boil, and make the fritters. When they are cooked, sprinkle with plenty of sugar and keep them hot.
Notes: I used a mixture of ricotta and cottage cheese for these; the use of egg whites rather than whole eggs suggests that the intention is to make an almost white fritter.
When meal has been worked with sugar and rose water and spread out in the manner of a little crust, put in what I have described for marzapan with the same mixture. These ought to be wrapped in the manner of rolls and to be cooked in an oven with a slow fire… Some make the same rolls in little forms.
Marzapan: Grind almonds which have stood in fresh water a day and a night and which are as carefully washed as possible… If you want the best, add as much of the best sugar as of almonds. When all has been well pounded and soaked in rose water…
Notes: I made little rolls rather than large ones, for finger-food convenience.
There may be likewise a seasoned salad from lettuce, borage, mint, calamint, fennel, parsley, wild thyme, marjoram, chervil, sow-thistle, lancet, nightshade, flower of fennel and several other aromatic herbs, well-washed and with the water pressed out. They need a large dish. They ought to be sprinkled with a lot of salt and moistened with oil, then after vinegar has been poured over and when they have sat for a while, their wild toughness demands eating and chewing well with the teeth. This dish requires more oil and less vinegar.
Notes: Basic green salad with oil and vinegar dressing. The herbs are reasonably variable; I’ve used mint, fennel, parsley, thyme, marjoram, a bit of fennel and some sage.
To cook squashes, peel them as they should be, and then cook them with meat broth or water; add a little onion according to the quantity you want to make. And when they seem cooked, take them out and put them through a sieve or pound them very well and cook them in a pot with rich broth and a little verjuice. And they should be slightly yellow with saffron; and when they are cooked, remove them from the fire and leave them a while to cool. Then take egg yolks according to the quantity and beat them with a little aged cheese, and add them to the squash, stirring constantly with the spoon so that they do not stick; dress your bowls, and top with sweet spices.
Notes: Another cheat was necessary here: the actual European medieval squash is a species of Lagenaria, known variously as Italian or Chinese bottle gourd. I’ve never managed to find this in South Africa, so I’ve used butternut, which is emphatically not known in Europe in our period, but which makes a very good soup. This is a subtle flavour; I cook it in vegetable broth for the sake of the vegetarians, and the yolks and cheese are just enough to flavour and enrich it.
"But now it is time to pass on to that course which I call second and more important, for it concerns meats, which nourish better and more healthfully than any other food." (Platina, IV 21).
… It can easily be cooked on a spit or over a grill on a slow fire so that all is equally good to eat. While it is cooking, it ought to be sprinkled often with vinegar, pepper, saffron mixed together with sprigs of sage or rosemary or bay. This is of poor and little nourishment [and] digests slowly…
Notes: The Martino version of this recipe tells you to baste the pig with sprigs of herbs dipped in the vinegar/spice mix. The recipe is actually for stuffed piglet; I’ve used only the basting instructions.
Cook rosy apples, which are so called from their colour, I think, with meat stock. When they have been nearly cooked, put a little parsley and chopped mint in the same pot. The juice can easily be thickened with bread crumbs… When it has been put in dishes, sprinkle spices on it.
Notes: I’m not sure if "rosy" refers to the flesh or the skins of the apples; I’ve used red-skinned apples since I don’t know of any varieties which have rosy flesh. I’ve interpreted this as an apple-sauce, to go with pork. As before, I’ve used vegetable stock rather than meat stock, so vegetarians may safely graze.
If you want to make parsley (or green) sauce, take parsley and marjoram and sage and mint, and chop them finely, and pound well. And add two cloves of garlic, and toasted break soaked in vinegar, and hazelnuts, and walnuts, and egg yolks. And when it is well ground, add a dash of oil, and then vinegar. And add honey or concentrated grape juice to taste.
Notes: Toasted bread soaked in vinegar, wine or broth is a common thickening agent used in medieval sauces and casseroles. This is a complex and unusual flavour, and goes perfectly with the richness of the roast pork.
Season rice in the same way as groats. Some eliminate the eggs, but this should be your own choice
Groats: Cook clean, washed groats in chicken broth for a long time, and when it is cooked, transfer part to a dish. When it has cooled a little, put in three egg yolks combined with saffron, and again transfer to the pot and sprinkle with spices.
Notes: Again, I have used vegetable broth rather than chicken broth. I have omitted the eggs, since there are quite enough eggs in this meal anyway; this is simply a flavourful rice with saffron and spices.
Chicken Ambrogino (Libro di Cucina, Redon, 30)
If you want to make a chicken ambrogino, take the chickens, cut them up, then put them to fry with fresh pork fat and a bit of onion, cut crosswise. When this is half cooked, take some almond milk, mix it with broth and a little wine, and add it to the chickens, first skimming off the fat if there is too much; add cinnamon cut up with a knife and a few cloves. When it is dished up, add some prunes, whole dates, a few chopped nutmengs and a little crumb of grilled bread, well pounded and mixed with wine and vinegar. This dish should be sweet and sour; and be sure that the dates do not burst open.
Notes: This is a very rich, very delicious chicken casserole; I omit the breadcrumbs as the almond milk is enough of a thickener. The sweet of the dried fruit is beautifully balanced by the sour of the vinegar. I chose to chop up the fruit for a better distribution of flavour. I also omitted the pork fat, to make the dish accessible to non-pork eaters.
Take the garlic cloves and peel them and boil them; when they are cooked, put them to soak in cold water, and then pound them and add saffron and plenty of cheese, which should be fresh, and chopped pork fat, and sweet and strong spices, and moisten with eggs, and add raisins, and then make the torta.
Notes: Surprisingly, this is not overpoweringly garlic, but has a subtle flavour; it’s more like a mild quiche than anything else. I’ve again omitted the pork fat, substituting butter, which is an alternative Platina suggests in similar recipes.
If you want to make mushrooms with sauce, parboil them, and when parboiled drain well and fry in oil. Then make this sauce: take onion, parsley and coriander, and grind them well and combine them with spices and vinegar and a little verjuice. And then slice the mushroom; and when they are fried, add them to this sauce.
Notes: This is a wonderful way of eating mushrooms, they combine very well with the coriander and vinegar flavours.
… It ought to be cooked in rich and continually boiling broth… When it is cooked, it ought to be put in a pan with cheese, butter, sugar and sweet spices.
Notes: I’ve used egg noodles, cheddar, and the usual vegetable broth. This is a simple pasta dish, but very good.
Take the tips of cabbage, and boil them; then remove them, and fry in oil with sliced onion, and the white part of fennel, and sliced apple; and add a little stock: and then serve it in bowls, and sprinkle with spices. And you can also cook it with salted pork fat … and offer it to your Lord.
Notes: I used baby cabbage, since I prefer the flavour; I also couldn’t find fennel bulbs, so had to use the leaves. There are two versions of this on the table; the one is vegetarian, with vegetable stock; the other is non-vegetarian and uses chicken stock and bacon slices. This is a very good recipe that dresses up cabbage almost unrecogniseably!
"…what should be taken in the third course should be briefly described as a seal to the stomach, as if in conclusion. If it happens that you have eaten meat… eat either apples or sour pears" (Platina, X 68)
Course 15 (final) to a wedding banquet in Milan, 1488: "Ten different torte, and an abundance of candied spice". (Santich, 37).
Mix and cook under ashes and coals almost all those things we described for gourds, with … pears…
Gourd pie: Grind well-washed gourds as you are accustomed to do for cheese, then boil a little either in rich juice or in milk. When they have been half cooked and passed through a sieve into a bowl, mix, adding as much cheese as I described before … the same amount of butter or fat, half a pound of sugar, a little ginger, some cinnamon, six eggs, a cup of milk, and a little saffron. Cook this in an oiled earthenware pot with an undercrust, under or over a slow fire… Let Cassius not eat this because he suffers from colic and the stone. It is likewise difficult to digest and nourishes badly.
Notes: Using cottage cheese and ricotta makes this into a sort of a pear cheesecake, a rich and rather subtly flavoured dish.
Take the whitest flour you can get, three libre in quantity, and take two oncie of sugar and take a libra of almonds and thirty-six good walnuts, and half a libra of raisins, and twenty-five dates, and half a quarto of cloves; and take a good quantity of almond milk; take the flour, moistened with water to make it very thick, and take the pan and grease it well with oil; make a crust from the flour with crushed sugar and the aforementioned spices; take the walnuts, then the chopped dates and well-washed raisins, and the red cloves, and put a crust between each layer, and put a crust on top of these things to make a torta.
Notes: This specifies a simple flour and water dough, but I’ve chosen to use a standard shortcrust pastry instead, as I find the flour/water ones rather tough. A solid, crunchy nut and fruit square; you’ll find a little goes a long way. This is one of the few medieval recipes which actually gives you quantities.
Take honey, boiled and skimmed, with slightly crushed walnuts and spices, boiled together; wet the palm of your hand with water and spread it out; let it cool and serve. And you can use almonds or filberts in place of walnuts.
Notes: Not having asbestos fingers, I declined to do the wet hand spreading bit. This is almost a candied nut toffee; candied nuts are a recurring feature of the final course in a medieval meal, along with spiced wine.
Spice for Hippocras: cinnamon five parts, cloves three parts, ginger one part; half the wine should be red and the other half white, and for one azumbre six ounces of sugar: mix it all in a small glazed pot and bring it to a boil; when it reaches the boil, take it off and pass it through the sleeve enough times for it to come out clear.
Notes: Hippocras is spiced wine, usually red; I’ve used red wine entirely rather than mixing them. An azumbre is four pints, or about 2 l.
To an azumbre of water, four ounces of honey; add the same spices as the other clarea; boil the water with the honey and then add the spices off the heat.
Clarea spices: cinnamon three parts, cloves two parts, ginger one part, all ground and passed through a sieve.
Notes: Clary is a spiced white wine/honey mix; I’ve made a water clary for the benefit of those who aren’t into wine.
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