Category Archives: 13th Century

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!

Cooking Over a Fire

One of the classes that I was able to watch a bit of at the West Coast Culinary Symposium last weekend was Baroness Tangwystyl verch Morgant Glasvryn “Cooking over a Fire.” As a potter, I’ve been making stoneware cooking pots for over 12 years now, selling pipkins, pans and a variety of cookware over the years, but I’ve never seen anyone actually use them. I knew in theory how to use them and have had clients of mine test the pots to make sure they work, but this experience was very different for me.

Alton Brown has used Earthenware pots in a number of his episodes. The ones I’ve seen have been mostly baking, but to let my readers know that ceramics were the first “dutch oven” pretty much. Ceramics were used in ancient Rome and Greece, as well as in other ancient cultures around the world. They were used for the usual things one would cook in a stainless steel pot (i.e. stews, soups, sauces, vegetables, meats, rice, etc). You can even bake bread in clay (there is a roman/greek clay cloche I found the documentation for), serve wine, prepare your items (mortars and kitchen items)… well, I think you get the picture. The thing with Alton was he usually uses flower pots to cook in. It’s nice to see the pots I’ve made being used for what I intended them for, and them being enjoyed.

Anywho, the way to use clay cookware is actually fairly simple. To avoid thermal shock, you need to make sure you evenly warm the clay vessel and slowly heat them. No open flames at all.

Usually they start with coals. If a pot doesn’t have feet (it’s a sauce pan instead of a pipkin…) then a trivet is put down on a sturdy fire proof area. Someplace dry and away from a lot of wind is an ideal spot. If your pot as feet, don’t worry about the trivet.

This woman is heating up the coals and trying to get some air into them. Bellows would be fairly helpful at this point, but not needed when skirts and lungs are had. Just be careful not to set yourself on fire.

I’ve always told to slowly warm the pots by keeping the pot next to the coals as you are building the fire (a few feet) and as the coals settle into gray, hot useable goals, slowly move the pot closer and closer to the pile. Even heat to the pot. You don’t want to drop a cold pot into a hot fire because the pot may crack due to thermal shock (think of a glass of ice and pouring boiling water into it and the usual ramifications of that).

Pans of french toast added. Cooking commences. More coals are added as cooking is done.

Here are more examples of pots and cooking with fire.

Differences in handles… the hallow handles you would use a long stick in order to help pull it out of the fire. Some of the ladies would also use a mitt in order to help steady the pot and the stick to remove the cookware from the coals.

Items that were being cooked: french toast, custard, apple fritters and a game hen of some sort in wine sauce. There were also pancakes/prizelles I believe being made. From what I ate, it was all very yummy.

13th Century Al-Andalus Cookbook: Jewish Recipes

Anonymous Andalusian Cookbook is from the 13th Century with a variety of recipes, translated by Charles Perry. My source for the cookbook was found over here complete.

With the holidays swiftly approaching, I figured now was a good time to share some Jewish recipes that may good well with the festivities.

Jewish Partridge [stuffed]
Clean the partridge and season it with salt. Then [for the stuffing] crush its entrails with almonds and pine-nuts and add murri naqî’ [use soy sauce], oil, a little cilantro juice, pepper, cinnamon, Chinese cinnamon [cassia], lavender, five eggs and sufficient salt.

Boil two eggs, stuff the partridge with the stuffing and insert the boiled eggs [shelled] and put some stuffing between the skin and the meat, and some of it in the interior of the partridge.
Then take a new pot and put in four spoonfuls of oil, half a spoonful of murri naqî’ [use soy sauce] and two of salt. Put the partridge in it and put it on the fire, after attaching the cover with dough [seal it tightly], and agitate it continuously so it will be thoroughly done. And when the sauce has dried, remove the lid and throw in half a spoonful of vinegar, throw in citron and mint, and break two or three eggs into it. Then put a potsherd or copper pot full of burning coals on it until it is browned, and then turn [the contents] around so that the other side browns, and roast it all. [After the bird has cooked, steamed, uncover it and let it brown.]

Then put it in a dish and put the stuffing around it, and garnish it with the egg yolks with which you dotted the pot, or with roast pistachios, almonds and pine nuts, and sprinkle it with pepper and cinnamon after moistening with sugar, and present it, God willing.

A Jewish Dish of Chicken
Clean the chicken and take out its entrails. Cut off the extremities of its thighs and wings and the neck, and salt the chicken and leave it.

Take these extremities and the neck and the entrails, and put them in a pot with fine spices and all the flavorings and cilantro juice, onion juice, whole pine-nuts, a little vinegar and a little murri [use soy sauce], good oil, citron leaves, and stalks of fennel. Put this over a moderate fire. When it is done and the greater part of the sauce has gone, cover the contents of the pot with three eggs, grated breadcrumbs and fine flour. Crush the liver, add it to this crust and cook carefully until the liver and the crust are cooked.

Then take the chicken and roast it carefully, and baste it with two eggs, oil and murri [use soy sauce], and do not stop greasing [basting] the chicken inside and out with this until it is browned and roasted.

Then take a second little pot and put in two spoonfuls of oil and half a spoonful of murri [use soy sauce], half a spoonful of vinegar and two spoons of aromatic rosewater, onion juice, spices and flavorings. Put this on the fire so that it cooks gently.
And when it has cooked, [cut up the roasted chicken and put it in the sauce] and leave it until it is absorbed. Then ladle it into a dish and pour the rest of the sauce on it, and cut up a boiled egg and sprinkle with spices, and ladle the preceding [pine-nut and entrails dish] into another dish, and garnish it too with egg yolks; sprinkle it with fine spices and present both dishes, God willing.

A Jewish Dish of Eggplants Stuffed with Meat
Boil the eggplants and take out their small seeds and leave [the skins] whole [hollow out the cooked eggplants].
Take leg meat from a lamb and pound it with salt, pepper, cinnamon, Chinese cinnamon [cassia] and spikenard. Beat it with the whites of eight eggs [whipped] and separate six egg yolks. Stuff the eggplants with this stuffing.

Then take three pots and put in one of them four spoonfuls of oil, onion juice, spices, aromatics and two spoonfuls of fragrant rosewater, pine-nuts, a citron [leaves], mint, and sufficient salt and water. Boil well and throw in half of the stuffed eggplants.

In the second pot put a spoonful of vinegar, a teaspoon of murri [use soy sauce], a grated onion, spices and aromatics, a sprig of thyme, another of rue, citron leaf, two stalks of fennel, two spoonfuls of oil, almonds, soaked garbanzos, some half a dirham [1 dirham=3.9g/3/4tsp] of ground saffron, and three cut garlic. Add in sufficient water until it boils several times, and throw into it the rest of the stuffed eggplants.

And in the third pot put a spoonful and a half of oil, a spoonful of cilantro water, half a spoon of sharp vinegar, crushed onion, almond, pine-nuts, a sprig of rue and citron leaves. Sprinkle with rosewater and sprinkle with spices.

Decorate the second [dish] with cut-up egg yolks and cut rue and sprinkle it with aromatic herbs. Cut an egg cooked with rue over the third pot, sprinkle it with pepper, and present it.
[This gives you two dishes of stuffed eggplants, each with a slightly different sauce, and one dish of a sauce that can be used over both dishes.]

13th Century Al-Andalus Cookbook: Bread, Crepes and Puff Pastry

The Book of Cooking in Maghreb and Andalus in the era of Almohads, by an unknown author. Anonymous Andalusian Cookbook is from the 13th Century with a variety of recipes. My source for the cookbook was found over here complete (I believe this is a reposting from David Freeman’s version, but I am not 100% sure).

Charles Perry was the translator of the text.

With Thanksgiving coming, I figured some bread and crepe recipes may be helpful to change things up in your menus:

Recipe for Folded Bread from Ifriqiyya [Tunisia]
Take coarsely ground good semolina and divide it into three parts. Leave one third aside and knead the other two well [with water].
Roll out thin bread and grease it. Sprinkle some of the remaining semolina on top and fold over it and roll it up. Then roll it out a second time and grease it, sprinkle some semolina on top and fold it over like muwarraqa [puff pastry]. Do this several times until you use up the remaining third of the semolina.
Then put it in the oven and leave it until it cooks. Remove it when tender but not excessively so. If you want, cook the flatbreads at home in the tajine. Sprinkle it with cinnamon and serve it.

You can then crumble it and with the crumbs make a tharida like fatir, either with milk like tharida laban, which is eaten with butter and sugar, or with chicken or other meat broth, upon which you put fried meat and a lot of fat.

[This sort of folded bread, heavy in butter or oil, is a common Asian bread, served with meals. It is usually made into one-person rounds, rather than a large loaf. It is made fresh before a meal, otherwise the bread stales very quickly.]

Preparation of Khubaiz [starch] that is Made in Niebla [and starch crepes]
Take good wheat, put it in a washtub, and cover it with good, fresh water. Change the water after two or three days so that the wheat softens and makes talbina [releases its starch into the water], as is done for starch.

Then remove the water and press [the wheat bran] with the feet in the bottom of a rush basket or sack, or by hand if there is only a little of it, and beat it all over so that it whitens until it forms crumbs the size of grains of wheat, or a little larger. Sieve into a bowl what [liquid] comes out of the pith. Then pour a little fresh water over the wheat bran to wash it. Squeeze it until none of the pith remains.

Put all this [liquid] in a bowl and leave it in the sun until it binds together. Strain from it the flour water that is left over, time and again, until it thickens. Then pour it in a cloth and hang it so that it drips until it dries, and expose it to the sun if you want to make starch. Leave it on the cloth in the sun until it dries. This is the recipe for starch. Do not let it get near dew or it will spoil.

When the khubaiz [starch] has been made, take some of it before it dries — it will be like yogurt — and beat it until it is smooth. If you wish, dissolve dry starch in fresh water so that it comes out according to this description. [You make a thin batter.]
Then put a frying-pan over a moderate fire, and when it has heated, smear it with a cloth soaked in oil [lightly brush with oil]. Then take some of the dissolved starch [batter] with a spoon and pour it in the frying-pan. With your hand, move it around the pan so that it [the batter] stretches out thin. When it has bound together and whitened, take it to a board or a cloth [set it aside] and grease the frying pan with oil [again, for the next one]. Pour in another large spoonful until you have a sufficient quantity. [You are making starch crepes or thin pancakes, just as the French crepes are made.]
[To make honey cheese crepes:]
Have prepared filtered skimmed honey, thickened in a pot on a weak fire. Leave it on the hearthstone so that it remains fluid.
Then put a frying pan full of fresh oil over a moderate fire. When the oil is boiling, put in fresh cheese while the oil boils. Remove it right away in a sieve so it does not burn and drain off the oil from the cheese.
Every time you take a khubaiz from the frying-pan, drain it of its oil and throw it into this melted honey [then remove it], and overturn the [cooked] cheese onto it with a spoon, bit by bit, and stir it with [the back of] a spoon until they are mixed one with the other [spread the softened cheese over the crepe slowly until it cools and become firm], it hardens and forms one mass.

Preparation of Muwarraqa Musammana [buttery, flaky, puff pastry dough]
Take pure semolina or wheat flour and knead a stiff dough without yeast. Moisten it little by little [with water] and don’t stop kneading it until it relaxes and is ready and is softened so that you can stretch a piece without severing it.

While a [frying] pan is heating, take a piece of the dough and roll it out thin on marble or a board. Smear it with melted clarified butter or fresh butter liquified over water. Then roll it up like a cloth until it becomes like a reed. Then twist it and beat it down with your palm until it becomes like a round thin bread, and if you want, fold it over again. Then roll it out and beat it down with your palm a second time until it becomes round and thin. [This process mixes the butter into the dough.]

Then put a new frying pan on a moderate fire. Then put the dough round in a heated frying pan after you have greased the frying pan with clarified butter, and whenever the clarified butter dries out, moisten [with more butter] little by little. Turn the dough around until it cooks, and then take it away and cook more [rounds of dough] until you finish [cooking] the amount you need.
[This makes puff pastry rounds, like crackers. You can sprinkle them with sesame seeds or poppy seeds.]

13th Century Al-Andalus Cookbook: Syrups

The Book of Cooking in Maghreb and Andalus in the era of Almohads, by an unknown author. Anonymous Andalusian Cookbook is 13th Century with a variety of recipes from “healthful cooking” to many things you wouldn’t think was so healthy at all. I’ll be posting a few samples from this cookbook. My source for the cookbook was found over here complete (I believe this is a reposting from David Freeman’s version, but I am not 100% sure).

Charles Perry was the translator of the text.

Some Syrups:

Syrup of Mint: Way of Making It
Take mint and basil, citron and cloves, a handful of each, and cook all this in enough water to cover, until its substance comes out, and add the clear part of it [filter it] to a ratl [1 ratl=468g/1lb] of sugar.

The [spice] bag: an ûqiya [1 ûqiya=39g/7tsp] of flower of cloves. And cook all this [the essence, the sugar, and the spice bag] until a syrup is made.

Its benefits: it frees bodies that suffer from phlegm, and cuts phlegmatic urine, fortifies the liver and the stomach and cheers it a great deal; in this it is admirable.

Syrup of Fresh Roses, and the Recipe for Making It
Take a ratl [1 ratl=468g/1lb] of fresh roses, after removing the dirt from them, and cover them with just boiled water for a day and a night, until the water cools and the roses fall apart in the water. Filter it and take the clean part of it and add to a ratl [1 ratl=468g/1lb] of sugar. Cook all this until it takes the form of a syrup.

Drink an ûqiya [1 ûqiya=39g/7tsp] of this with two of hot water. Its benefits are at the onset of dropsy [swelling from water, edema], and it fortifies the stomach and the liver and the other internal organs, and lightens the constitution; in this it is admirable.

Syrup of Simple Sikanjabîn [vinegar syrup]
Take a ratl [1 ratl=468g/1lb] of strong vinegar and mix it with two ratls [1 ratl=468g/1lb] of sugar, and cook all this until it takes the form of a syrup.

Drink an ûqiya [1 ûqiya=39g/7tsp] of this with three of hot water when fasting. It is beneficial for fevers of jaundice, and calms jaundice and cuts the thirst

Since sikanjabîn syrup is beneficial in phlegmatic fevers: make it with six ûqiyas [1 ûqiya=39g/7tsp] of sour vinegar for a ratl [1 ratl=468g/1lb] of honey and it is admirable.

Syrup of Pomegranates
Take a ratl [1 ratl=468g/1lb] of sour pomegranates and another of sweet pomegranates, and add their juice to two ratls [1 ratl=468g/1lb] of sugar. Cook all this until it takes the consistency of syrup. Keep until needed.

Its benefits: it is useful for fevers, and cuts the thirst, it benefits bilious fevers and lightens the body gently.

Syrup of Lavender [Halhâl]
Take a ratl [1 ratl=468g/1lb] of lavender and cook it in [enough] water to cover it until its substance comes out. Then take the clear part of it [filter it] and add it to a ratl [1 ratl=468g/1lb] of honey. Cook all this until it takes the form of a syrup.

Drink an ûqiya [1 ûqiya=39g/7tsp] and a half of this with three of hot water. Its advantages are in cleaning the brain and the stomach; it lightens the body and dries up black bile gently, but it contracts the breath, and it is fitting to regulate the drink with a cheering drink or cheering water.

Syrup of Lemon
Take lemon, after peeling off the skin, press it [to a pulp] and take a ratl [1 ratl=468g/1lb] of juice, and add as much of sugar. Cook it until it takes the form of a syrup.

Its advantages are for the heat of bile; it cuts the thirst and binds the bowels.