DO drink the Water: Water Consumption in Medieval Europe

Food Fallacies: Medieval people drinking Ale or Wine only because the water available was not safe.

When dealing with Medieval food and food history, there are numerous fallacies out there on a variety of topics. One of the more annoying ones is the quality of safe water that was available to drink in Medieval times. I believe this idea, the thought that all water was terrible to consume, goes back further that just Medieval Europe, but this is something I am not sure about. But what is a fact is that while, I’m sure there were unsafe and stagnant waters within pre-17th century culture, that not “ALL” water was poisonous, and as such, people did, in fact, drink out of fresh streams, fresh water rivers and natural springs.

There are a number of online sources for this myth buster, but the best one I found was this link which is a book search result from Water: A Spiritual History by Ian Bradley. While the chapter mostly discusses holy wells, several pieces of his commentary go over the consumption of water in medieval times. Page 73 states: “In fact, the majority of water sources were probably seen in purely utilitarian terms, as providers of water for drinking and washing and not regarded as especially sacred.”

There are earlier examples of water being drunk as well. This goes to an article about Greek and Roman ideas about water.

There are some very good blog posts from Beer brewers and other food historians on the subject of water purity and the Ale and Wine myth. This one from Jim Chevallier has a lot of great examples of drink water references.

Myth spreading is bad. Don’t be part of the water myth! Drink up!

Pickling with Mrs Beeton

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Have a lot of cucumbers that you don’t have any idea what to do with? There is a fermentation revolution washing over the culinary world, with its kimchis, sauerkrauts, and the like.  Fermentation, or the act of preserving foods, has been around thousands of years.  If you’ve ever wanted to try to pickle something, how about trying out a few of Mrs. Beeton’s recipes for cucumbers.

PICKLED CUCUMBERS.
399. INGREDIENTS.—1 oz. of whole pepper, 1 oz. of bruised ginger; sufficient
vinegar to cover the cucumbers.

Mode.—Cut the cucumbers in thick slices, sprinkle salt over them, and let them
remain for 24 hours. The next day, drain them well for 6 hours, put them into a jar, pour boiling vinegar over them, and keep them in a warm place. In a short time, boil up the vinegar again, add pepper and ginger in the above proportion, and instantly cover them up. Tie them down with bladder, and in a few days they will be fit for use.

GERMAN METHOD OF KEEPING CUCUMBERS FOR WINTER USE.
402. INGREDIENTS.—Cucumbers, salt.

Mode.—Pare and slice the cucumbers (as for the table), sprinkle well with salt, and let them remain for 24 hours; strain off the liquor, pack in jars, a thick layer of cucumbers and salt alternately; tie down closely, and, when wanted for use, take out the quantity required. Now wash them well in fresh water, and dress as usual with pepper, vinegar, and oil.

Or how about making a vinegar with them?

CUCUMBER VINEGAR (a very nice Addition to Salads).
401. INGREDIENTS.—10 large cucumbers, or 12 smaller ones, 1 quart of vinegar, 2 onions, 2 shalots, 1 tablespoonful of salt, 2 tablespoonfuls of pepper, 1/4 teaspoonful of cayenne.

Mode.—Pare and slice the cucumbers, put them in a stone jar or wide-mouthed bottle, with the vinegar; slice the onions and shalots, and add them, with all the other ingredients, to the cucumbers. Let it stand 4 or 5 days, boil it all up, and when cold, strain the liquor through a piece of muslin, and store it away in small bottles well sealed. This vinegar is a very nice addition to gravies, hashes, &e., as well as a great improvement to salads, or to eat with cold meat.

Carrots and Leeks with Sesame Paste

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This is a nice veggie side dish for the summer months that has a cole slaw type flavor. The tahini gives it a nice nutty flavor, and the carrots have a real natural sweetness that makes this a great dish to eat on a warm day. This uses a unique spice mixture called Atraf-tib, which I created using this website as a basis of what the mix should be: http://dream-designs.net/roxalana/?cat=155

The idea of the spice mixture is use what you have. I used bay leaves, nutmeg, mace, cardamom, cloves, ginger and long pepper. What I ended up doing was mixing 4 parts of ginger powder to 1 part of all the other dry ingredients. This gave me a sweeter spice. I blended all dry ingredients into a food mill and really ground down this mixture. You can play with the different ingredients that are listed on the site, adding lavender, rose, and other items. I was fairly light handed on using this in the dish as well. It’s a unique flavoring that gives the dish a very floral freshness. If you don’t want to add this, you do not have to either. The dish stands on its own.

This is on page 66: “Get some carrots, the white part of leeks, sesame butter [tahini], wine vinegar and atraf-tib. Slice the carrots and boil them. Take the [green] tops of the leeks and boil them separately, then drain them and soften them in sesame oil. Put the tahina in a dish, sprinkle it with boiling water, and mix it by hand so that the sesame oil can express itself; then add little vinegar, honey, and some atraf-tib. Put the drained carrots and leeks in a serving dish and add the tahini. You must do [this] in such a way that the quantity of carrots and leeks suits that of the condiments.

Carrots and Leeks with Sesame Paste

½ lbs. Leeks, cleaned, washed, thinly sliced
½ lbs. Carrots, skinned and sliced thinly
1/8 tsp Atraf-tib
1 tbsp. tahina
1/3 cup honey
2 tbsp. red wine vinegar
Salt for the boiling water

Clean and slice vegetables, cutting them so the slices are uniform, both vegetables should have the same sized pieces. Put together two cook pans, adding water and some salt (around a tbsp.) to both, and bring to boil. In one boiling pot, add the cut carrots and blanch them. In the other pot, add the leeks to blanch. You want to try to keep a bit of a bite on the vegetables. Make sure when you pull the vegetables out of the water that they go immediately into an ice bath to stop them overcooking. Drain vegetables and add all ingredients into a mixing bowl and combine. Serves 6.

Medieval Cuisine of the Islamic World by Lilia Zaouali (ISBN: 978-0-520-26174-7) was used for this redaction. Recipes from the book with the donation of K, for Kanz (the original Kanz al-Fawaid fi tanwi al-mawaid which was “The Treasure of Useful Advice for the Composition of a Varied Table”) were used.

Kanz: The Period Eggplant Dip

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Another from Medieval Cuisine of the Islamic World by Lilia Zaouali (ISBN: 978-0-520-26174-7). Recipes from the book with the donation of K, for Kanz (the original Kanz al-Fawaid fi tanwi al-mawaid which was “The Treasure of Useful Advice for the Composition of a Varied Table”) were used.

Middle Eastern/Egyptian recipes have numerous examples of vegetable focused dishes. This is a good thing, especially when cooking for vegetarians and those people that wish to eat healthier over all. I’ve noticed over the years that many feasts and luncheons served within the Society for Creative Anachronism are very meat heavy. Perhaps there is pressure to create beef and chicken type dishes that are more accessible to the membership that isn’t too “scary” (i.e. different than what most people are used to). I do admit to having at least two somewhat familiar dishes when I am cooking for the non-adventurous eaters within my Barony and Kingdom, but I always try to throw some sort of culinary curve ball, and I’ve found vegetable dishes to be a great item to have people at least try with normally fairly good results.

Here is a great vegetable side dish that works well as a sauce or a dip. It is fairly similar to the modern baba ghannouj (which has tahini). This was on page 66: “Cut the eggplant into small pieces; put them in a jar for cooking [dast] together with whole cleaned onion. Add some sesame oil and oil of good quality and a little water. Reduce over a slow fire. When the ingredients are cooked, put them through a sieve and combine with a very small clove of garlic, yogurt, and chopped parsley.

Puree of Eggplant with Yogurt

1 large eggplant, peeled and diced
½ brown onion, chopped
¼ cup water
1 small clove of garlic, minced into a paste
1 tbsp. sesame oil
1 tbsp. olive oil
½ cup plain yogurt (I used Greek style0
½ cup chopped parsley
Salt and Pepper to taste

Sauté diced eggplant and onions into a large cook pot using both oils and water. Reduce over a low fire until it is fully cooked and softened. Place in blender mixture until smooth and pureed.   Use cheese cloth and drain the eggplant onion mixture on it, removing as much of the water as possible. Place in bowl and mix thoroughly garlic, parsley and salt and pepper to taste. Serves 6.

Kanz: Fava Bean in Sour Sauce with Hazelnuts

Here is another recipe in my series of Egyptian recipes that I found in Medieval Cuisine of the Islamic World by Lilia Zaouali (ISBN: 978-0-520-26174-7). The recipes were tagged K, for Kanz (the original Kanz al-Fawaid fi tanwi al-mawaid which was “The Treasure of Useful Advice for the Composition of a Varied Table”).

This recipe in particular is great for warm weather since this is very much a cold vegetable dish. It’s also a great vegan dish. It was found on page 66 under cold appetizers. Some of the comments on this: you can use all fava beans and not bother with broad beans, or all broad beans. I did this mostly for color and texture difference. Also, the atraf-tib is a mixture of fairly “flowery” herbs and spices which is made up of lavender, betel, bay leaves, nutmeg, mace, cardamom, cloves, rosebuds, beech-nuts, ginger and long pepper. It is also safe to say that you should use what you have available. Not all of these are easily available. What I ended up using was bay leaves, nutmeg, mace, cardamom, cloves, giner and long pepper. I used 4 parts of ginger, to one part of all the other ingredients, but you may want to change these up. You also don’t need to make it if you’d prefer.

Fava Bean in Sour Sauce with Hazelnuts

1 can Fava Beans
1 can Broad Beans
¼ tsp saffron threads
¼ tsp dry ground coriander
¼ atraf-tib (spice mixture)
½ cup roasted hazelnuts
2 tbs fresh parsley leaves
¼ cup olive oil
2 tbs red wine vinegar
4 tbs fresh mint leaves
2 tbs tahini
1 tbs salt

Drain beans and place in large mixing bowl. In Cuisinart, place the rest of the ingredients (not the beans) in and grind that all into a smooth consistency (can be left chunky depending on your preferences). Pour mixture over beans and combine everything so that the beans are well covered. Feeds about 6.

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Kanz: Puree of Chickpea with Cinnamon and Ginger

More from Medieval Cuisine of the Islamic World by Lilia Zaouali (ISBN: 978-0-520-26174-7). I looked over all the recipes with the donation of K, for Kanz (the original Kanz al-Fawaid fi tanwi al-mawaid which was “The Treasure of Useful Advice for the Composition of a Varied Table”).
This one is a delicious vegan recipe. I always have problems finding tasty, vegetarian friendly, dish that can be served easily at events. This one is super easy to make and it’s zippy. It is close to a hummus, but missing some ingredients.

It was found on page 65: “Cook the chickpeas in water, and then mash them in a mortar to make a puree. Push the puree through a sieve for wheat, unless it is already fine enough, in which case this step is not necessary. Mix it then with wine vinegar, the pulp of pickled lemons, and cinnamon, pepper, ginger, parsley of the best quality, mint, and rue that all have been chopped and placed on the surface of the serving dish [zubdiyya]. Finally, pour over [this mixture] a generous amount of oil of good quality.”

Puree of Chickpea with Cinnamon and Ginger

15oz (1 can) Chickpeas
1 tbs red wine vinegar
¼ cup of chopped pickled lemons (you can substitute chopped fresh lemons)
1 tbs ground cinnamon
1/2 tbs ground ginger
1 tsp ground long pepper
1 tbs chopped fresh parsley (plus extra for garnish)
1 tbs chopped fresh mint (plus extra for garnish)
½ tsp ground rue
Drizzle of Olive Oil

Add all ingredients excluding the olive oil and extra garnish herbs into a blender and grind together until smooth. Sprinkle garnish across the serving plate and add puree to the dish. Add a drizzle of olive oil across the puree and serve. Serves about 6.

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Kanz: Meat with the juice of cooked apricots

Second dish in my series of Egyptian recipes that I found in Medieval Cuisine of the Islamic World by Lilia Zaouali (ISBN: 978-0-520-26174-7). The recipes were tagged K, for Kanz (the original Kanz al-Fawaid fi tanwi al-mawaid which was “The Treasure of Useful Advice for the Composition of a Varied Table”).

This recipe was collaboration with Susan Fox. She did a lot of the figuring out on the first test.

This one has a similar version of the dish served in North Africa today.   This is a very easy, sweet stewed chicken. You could easily use other “fatty” meats, like pork, lamb or goat. It would be lovely with chicken thighs. Combining sweet sauce with sweet meats or meats that can take in sweet flavors is key for this dish. The meat that was used in the original was probably a fatty lamb. I added olive oil to the recipe since I ended up using a leaner chicken thigh.

Original was on page 85: “Cut some fatty meat into little pieces and put it in a casserole with very little salt. Cover with water, [heat over fire], and skim. Wash onions; cut them and arrange on top of the meat along with the most common spices. Take some fresh apricots, crush them and boil them well, then wash them and crush them by hand, strain them, and add the juice to the meat. Some cooks thicken [the preparation] with water flavored with safflower that has been crushed in the mortar and dissolved. This is a good idea. Leave [the casserole] over the fire until boiling, then wait until the boiling stops and serve.

Meat with the juice of cooked apricots

1 lb skinless chicken thighs
1 tbs olive oil
1 large sweet onion, chopped fine [If you want more period example, use a brown onion instead.]
33.8oz (1 Liter bottle) Apricot Juice
1 cup dried apricots
1 tbs ground Safflower
Salt and Pepper to taste

Lightly salt chicken both sides and heat up in a large pot (casserole) olive oil. Once oil is hot, add to pan and brown. Cover with water and bring to a boil, skimming any excess fat off the top. Drain water and add cut up onions, apricots, safflower and apricot juice. Bring to boil, then lower to a simmer for twenty minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serves about 6.

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Fava Beans in Sour Sauce with Hazelnuts: Kanz

Here is the second recipe in my series of Egyptian recipes that I found in Medieval Cuisine of the Islamic World by Lilia Zaouali (ISBN: 978-0-520-26174-7). The recipes were tagged K, for Kanz (the original Kanz al-Fawaid fi tanwi al-mawaid which was “The Treasure of Useful Advice for the Composition of a Varied Table”).

This recipe in particular is great for warm weather since this is very much a cold vegetable dish. It’s also a great vegan dish. It was found on page 66 under cold appetizers. Some of the comments on this: you can use all fava beans and not bother with broad beans, or all broad beans. I did this mostly for color and texture difference. Also, the atraf-tib is a mixture of fairly “flowery” herbs and spices which is made up of lavender, betel, bay leaves, nutmeg, mace, cardamom, cloves, rosebuds, beech-nuts, ginger and long pepper. It is also safe to say that you should use what you have available. Not all of these are easily available. What I ended up using was bay leaves, nutmeg, mace, cardamom, cloves, giner and long pepper. I used 4 parts of ginger, to one part of all the other ingredients, but you may want to change these up. You also don’t need to make it if you’d prefer.

Fava Bean in Sour Sauce with Hazelnuts

1 can Fava Beans
1 can Broad Beans
¼ tsp saffron threads
¼ tsp dry ground coriander
¼ atraf-tib (spice mixture)
½ cup roasted hazelnuts
2 tbs fresh parsley leaves
¼ cup olive oil
2 tbs red wine vinegar
4 tbs fresh mint leaves
2 tbs tahini
1 tbs salt

Drain beans and place in large mixing bowl. In Cuisinart, place the rest of the ingredients (not the beans) in and grind that all into a smooth consistency (can be left chunky depending on your preferences). Pour mixture over beans and combine everything so that the beans are well covered.

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Kanz – Egyptian Flair for the medieval kitchen

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Every year I try to do one major luncheon or large “meal” as it forces me to redact a bunch of new historical recipes. This year, I am doing a luncheon for the local “chapter” of the Society for Creative Anachronism (www.sca.org). My “Barony” is doing an Egyptian/Roman themed event, so I decided to try to find some Egyptian recipes since I hadn’t really done any Middle Eastern cooking myself. I figured this would make a really good change and challenge.
Urtatim Al-Qurtubiyya has been very kind to point me in the correct direction of where to look. I own a number of Middle Eastern cookbooks, but I wasn’t sure which ones would be closer to Egypt rather than more of what is typical to Middle Eastern cuisine.
The book I used for these recipes is Medieval Cuisine of the Islamic World by Lilia Zaouali (ISBN: 978-0-520-26174-7). I looked over all the recipes with the donation of K, for Kanz (the original Kanz al-Fawaid fi tanwi al-mawaid which was “The Treasure of Useful Advice for the Composition of a Varied Table”).
First recipe is Fried Meatballs, which was from page 87 of the text. The original said to boil until halfway cooked, and then fry. We tried frying all the way and boiling, and really there wasn’t much of a flavor difference. Probably best to bake these if you are doing a large batch of them at 350 degrees for 20 minutes (or until done, depending on the size of the meatball and your oven.

The original just says “meat” and not the type of meat. I chose ground beef as this was one of the cheaper meats that were ground up. Also, the original recipe calls for the onion to be roasted. Because of time limits, we sautéed the onions in a pan of olive oil, but if you wanted to roast the onion, feel free to do so.

Fried Meatballs

1 lbs. Ground Beef, 15-20% fat is good
1/8 tsp Long Pepper, ground fine
1 tsp Salt
½ tsp. Dry Coriander, ground fine
½ cup Fresh Cilantro leaves, chopped fine
1 large Brown Onion, chopped fine
Olive oil to cook

Take chopped onions and sauté in a hot pan with olive oil. Cook those until they caramelize. Once completed allow to cool, then put in a bowl and add the rest of the ingredients. Mix until all the ingredients are evenly mixed together. Roll into balls. I made them smaller (maybe an inch in diameter) for faster cook times. Place olive oil in a pan to heat up until hot. Add meatballs into pan to brown and cook thru, rotating them for even browning. Serve.

Feeds about 6.

Rumpolt Salads for Summer

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Ein new Kochbuch (lit. “A New Cookbook”), written in 1581 by Marx Rumpolt, was the first textbook for professional chefs in training. He was head cook to Elector of Mainz, Daniel Brendel of Homburg. Currently this is being translated by Sharon Ann Palmer on her lovely blog over here.

I found a few easy salads that are perfect for the Summer.

Salat 20. Schel die Murcken/ vnd schneidt sie breit vnnd dünn/ mach sie an mit Oel/ Pfeffer vnd Saltz. Seind sie aber eyngesaltzen/ so seind sie auch nit böß/ seind besser als roh/ denn man kans eynsaltzen mit Fenchel vnd mit Kümel/ daß man sie vber ein Jar kan behalten. Vnnd am Rheinstrom nennet man es Cucummern.

20. Peel the Cucumbers/ and cut them wide and thin/ mix them with oil/ pepper and salt. If they are salted/ then they are also not bad/ they are better than raw/ for one can salt them down with fennel and with caraway/ that one can keep over a year. And on the Rhine river (in the Rhine valley) one calls it Cucummern.

Cucumber Salad

3 Medium Cucumbers, English or whatever you prefer
1 Small Bulb of Fennel
1 Tbs Kosher Salt
1/4 Tsp Pepper (adjust to taste)
1/4 Cup Olive Oil
1/8 Tsp Caraway Seeds

Take skin off and then thinly slice cucumbers. Clean and slice fennel as well. Place in bowl with the rest of the ingredients. Combine everything evenly. Serve.

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Salat 33. Nimm ein rot Häuptkraut/ schneidts fein klein/ vnd quells ein wenig in warmen Wasser/ küls darnach geschwindt auß/ machs mit Essig vnd Oel ab/ vnd wenn es ein weil im Essig ligt/ so wirt es schön rot.

33. Take a red cabbage/ cut it very small/ parboil it a little in warm water/ cool it rapidly/ mix with vinegar and oil/ and when it lays awhile in the vinegar/ then it will be beautiful red.

Red Cabbage Salad

1 large Red Cabbage
2 Tbs red wine vinegar
1/4 cup Olive Oil
1 Tsp Salt

In a large pot fill with water, leaving at least 3″ from the rim. Boil water.

Get another large bowl and fill with an ice bath.

Shred cabbage.

Once water is boiling, take off heat and strain off liquid.

Drop hot cabbage carefully into ice bath. Let stand for a few minutes until cabbage is cool to touch.

Drain water. Squeeze cabbage loosely to get as much water off as you can.

Place in clean, dry bowl cabbage and add the rest of the ingredients. Toss cabbage to make sure everything is well mixed.