An anti-miserabilist approach to historical cooking

Tag: 15th Century (page 1 of 1)

Two Medieval Fruit Purees

In May, in between lockdowns I was able to attend my first medieval event in about four years, and it has inspired me to finally post some of the medieval recipes I’ve been working on. When we camp at events in the fourteenth-century ‘village’ breakfast is always a problem. Evidence for breakfast is patchy during the medieval period.

Woman in medieval clothing stirring a pot over the fire, in a medieval encampment

We know that some people certainly ate in the mornings but with ‘dinner’ the main meal of the day eaten mid-morning it can be difficult to know if references to breaking the fast refer to a separate meal or simply the first time people ate during the day i.e. at dinnertime. The first reference to breakfast in English recorded by the Oxford English Dictionary in 1463, when Sir John Howard recorded “exspensys in breffast” on a trip around Suffolk and Norfolk.[1] By 1478 the draft ordinance for the king’s household allowed for “a large breakfast” for the king, queen and anyone waiting upon them.[2]


Even for hard-core re-enactors, getting up at 5am to start cooking in order to serve the main meal of the day at 9 or 10am is a hard ask on a weekend. At public events, when one of the main goals is to show people medieval cooking techniques, it is also counter-intuitive to finish most of the cooking before the public have arrived on site. As a result, we normally eat our main meal later in the day, and our hungry peasants definitely require something to keep them going until then.


Then there is the issue of what foods to serve. I have searched high and low for breakfast in the late 14th and early 15th centuries but with limited success. The Franklin in Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales (written c. 1387-1400) loves a “sop in wyn” in the morning – this is bread soaked in wine, possibly sweetened and spiced. The edition of household accounts of Dame Alice de Bryene from 1412-1413 translated by Marian Dale lists breakfast as a separate meal every day[3]. The accounts for breakfast are not separated from the other meals, but daily lists of ingredients suggest it would have been made up of bread, fish (fresh and preserved), meat, and ale/wine.


Across the 14th and 15th centuries, the most commonly mentioned foods for breakfast include salt fish, bread, beer and cheese. Fish and beer might work for some people but it is a hard sell for modern tastebuds, and difficult to make work for the range of modern dietary requirements we have on site.


One of the ways we deal with this is to make 14th century recipes that are more familiar as breakfast to people today, even though they were not necessarily eaten as breakfast in the past. This can include things like tostees dorees (often interpreted as an early version of French toast), pancakes, gruel or porridge.


Pour faire Tostees dorees, prenez du pain blanc dur et le trenchiez par tostees quarrees et les rostir ung pou sur le grail; et avoir moyeulx d’oeufz batuz et les envelopez tres bien dedans iceulx moyeulx; et avoir de bon sain chault et les dorer dedans sur le feu tant qu’elles soient belles et bien dorees et puis les oster de dedans la paelle et mettez es platz, et du succre dessus.[4] – Le Viandier de Taillevant (from a 15th century version, but the original was written c. 1300)


To make golden toasts, take hard white bread and slice it into squares and toast it a bit on a grill, and have beaten egg yolks and coat the toasts well. And have good fat hot and cook them in it on the fire until they are beautiful and golden, and then take them out of the pan and put them on plates, with sugar on top.


All of these dishes can also be livened up a bit with accompaniments. I’ve been playing around with some different fruit dishes to make breakfasts more interesting and to give some variation. Below you can see medieval crespes (crispy pancakes) with the chardewardon.


pancakes with pear puree on a shallow plate with a spoon

The Recipes


I’ve picked two recipes for stewed fruit to play around with. The nice thing about these is that they are very easy, but also scalable and pretty flexible when it comes to the type of sweetener, thickener and spices.


The first recipe for chardewardon, comes from a mid-fifteenth-century cookbook but appears in a number of versions in different texts. I have made it as a kind of applesauce, but with pears, so it is still quite runny. Some of the other versions mention cooking it in a coffin (pastry crust) to make a kind of pie, or making it like chardequince which is commonly understood to be more like quince paste, so there are lots of different ways you could make this. I made this a little too sweet, so have reduced the amount of sugar and honey here but sweeten it to taste.


Chardewardon – Take Pere Wardonys, an sethe hem in Wyne or in fayre water; þan take an grynd in a morter, an drawe hem þorwe a straynoure wyth-owte ony lycoure, an put hem in a potte with Sugre and clarifiyd hony, an Canel y-now, an lete hem boyle; þan take it fro þe fyre, an let kele, an caste þer-to ȝolkys of Raw eyroun, tylle it be þikke; & caste þer-to pouder Gyngere y-now, an serue it in manere of Fysshe;*. [For Rys; see Douce MS. No. 53, and the end of this recipe. A. also reads fische.] an ȝif if it be in lente, lef þe ȝolkys of Eyroun, & lat þe remenaunt boyle so longe tylle it be þikke, as þow it had be temperyd wyth þe ȝolkys, in þe maner of charde quynce; an so serue hem in maner of Rys.[5]


Take warden pears, and boil them in wine or in fair water; then take and grind them in a mortar, and strain them through a sieve without any liquid, and put them in a pot with sugar and clarified honey and enough cinnamon, and let them boil. Then take it from the fire and let it cool, then add raw egg yolks, till it be thick, and cast thereto powdered ginger, and serve it in the manner of fish [this seems to be a mistake, because the recipe continues with how to make it during lent and instructs you to serve it in the manner of rice]. And if it be in Lent, leave out the egg yolks, and let the remaining boil so long that it it is thick, as though it had been tempered with the egg yolks, in the manner of chardequince, and so serve it in the manner of rice.

chardewardon (spiced pear puree) in a wooden bowl with a spoon.

For the second recipe, I chose a potage of prunes from Harley MS 5401 which is another fifteenth century manuscript with copies of fourteenth century recipes. Even though it is called potage of prunes, the instruction to rub/squeeze them well to wring out the juice makes it clear that we are dealing with plums and not prunes (dried plums) in the modern sense of the word. This came out beautifully, and had a lovely tartness to it in addition to the gorgeous colour. I will definitely be making this again.


Potage of Prunes. Recipe prunes & wesh þam clene & frote þem wele in a cop tyll þe juyse be wele wrong oute; þan do it in a pot & put þerto whyte grece & hony or sugure, & boyle it togyder, & þyk it with þe floure of rise or of wastylls. And when it is sothen dress it up in dyshys, & cast þeron powdyr of galingal, & serof it forth.[6]


Stewed Prunes. Take plums and wash them clean, and rub them well in a cup until the juice is well wrung out; then put it in a pot and put thereto white grease and honey or sugar, and boil it together, and thicken it with rice flour or breadcrumbs. And when it is softened put it into dishes, and cast thereon powdered galangal, and serve in forth.

bowl of stewed plums with a spoon

[1] “Breakfast, n.,” in OED Online (Oxford University Press), accessed June 28, 2021,

[2] Alec Reginald Myers, The Household of Edward IV (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1959), 204.

[3] Vincent B. Redstone, ed., The Household Book of Dame Alice de Bryene of Acton Hall, Suffolk : September 1412 to September 1413, with Appendices, trans. Marian Dale (Bungay: Paradigm, 1984),

[4] Thomas Gloning, “Taillevent, Viandier (Manuscrit du Vatican),” Justus-Liebig-Universität Gießen, August 20, 2000,

[5] Thomas Austin, Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery-Books : Harleian MS. 279 (Ab 1430), & Harl. MS. 4016 (Ab. 1450), with Extracts from Ashmole MS. 1439, Laud MS. 553, & Douce MS. 55 (London: Published for the Early English Text Society by N.T. Trubner & Co, 1888), 12,

[6] Sam Wallace, “MS Harley 5401,” Justus-Liebig-Universität Gießen, September 4, 2011,

The Redactions


1 pear

Enough white wine to simmer

1 tsp honey

1 tsp sugar

1/4-1/2 tsp cinnamon, or to taste

1 egg yolk

1/4 tsp ground ginger, or to taste


Peel, core and chop the pear then simmer it in just enough white wine to cover it. When it is very soft, mash it in a mortar then push it through a sieve (or use a food mill). Put back in the saucepan with honey and sugar to taste (I would start with about 1 tsp of each and go from there), and ground cinnamon, bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and allow it to cool (you don’t want to scramble the egg), then whisk in the egg yolk. Return it to the heat and cook gently until it is as thick as applesauce, then stir in the ground ginger.



Stewed Plums

5 plums, ripe but still tart

A large knob of butter

1 tbsp honey (ish) (or sugar)

2 tsp riceflour (ish) (or breadcrumbs)

Ground galangal and/or cinnamon/cloves/ginger


Wash the plums, then cut them in half and remove the stones. Mash the plums as best you can, then put them with their juice into a pot and add the butter and honey. Boil it together until the plums are very soft and falling apart (continue mashing as you go). Take a little bit of the liquid and whisk it into the rice flour, then stir this mixture into the rest of the plums. Bring to the boil and allow to thicken slightly. Season to taste with the spices you are using.






Tarte Owt of Lente


Tarte Owt of Lente, 15th century pie recipe from Turnspit & Table

I know that a lot of the HFF bloggers are doing the Future Learn course ‘A History of Royal Food and Feasting’ and seem to be really enjoying it. The basic premise is that each week covers a different monarch and a different Historic Royal Palace, with a loose focus on a particular event; last week that event was Edward VI’s christening at Hampton Court Palace. They then offer a few redacted recipes which you are invited to try out.


I thought it was a bit disappointing that they chose to focus on an event for which there is very little evidence of the food served, and that they then chose three recipes which were totally unrelated. Why not give a recipe for the spiced wafers that they know were served on the day?


The three recipes that they did give were Tarte Owt of Lente, Fylettys en Galentyne and Ryschewys Close and Fryez. You can watch videos of these recipes being made in the Hampton Court Kitchens, and get redacted recipes on the website.


Since its Pie week for the HFF I decided to kill two birds with one stone by making Tarte Owt of Lente. The name tells us that it is a recipe for a pie which is inappropriate for Lent; it’s full of cream and eggs and cheese and so can only be eaten ‘out of Lent’. The original recipe comes from Gentyllmanly Cookere c. 1500:

“Take neshe chese and pare hit and grynd hit yn A morter and breke egges and do ther to and then put yn buttur and creme and mell all well to gethur put not to moche butter ther yn if the chese be fatte make A coffyn of dowe and close hit a bove with dowe and collor hit a bove with the yolkes of eggs and bake hit well and serue hit furth.”[1]

Tarte Owt of Lente, 15th century pie recipe from Turnspit & Table 

The first thing to decide in this recipe is what type of cheese to use. In the Hampton Court video and redaction they suggest Cheshire cheese, but the first step is to ‘take neshe chese’ or ‘take soft cheese’ which to me suggests a fresh cheese. In the comments to the recipe they actually mention this, saying that it is probably referring to a curd cheese like ricotta or cottage cheese. And yet, the next instruction is to ‘pare hit’ or ‘pare it’. That suggests removing a rind, or at least cutting the cheese up small. So, is it a soft, fresh cheese or a harder cheese with a rind? The jury is out, but either seems to work well.


I decided to go with ricotta, and that meant that I had to change the proportions of other ingredients quite a bit so that the mixture wasn’t too liquid. The first tart I made, I kept quite close to the suggested redaction with 100g ricotta, 1 egg, 60 ml cream, 30g butter and seasoning, but when I put it in the oven I found that it burst it’s base. I’m still giving the amounts though, because it tasted very good and was my housemate’s favourite version. The trick, I think, would be to use a hot water pastry instead of a shortcrust pastry. There’s a recipe for hot water pastry in my post about chewets.


My second try worked a lot better because I increased the proportion of ricotta and reduced the liquids. I was a bit worried that the mixture would be too bland so I also added some grated parmesan to this version. That was very tasty, but is totally optional.

Tarte Owt of Lente, 15th century pie recipe from Turnspit & Table

The Recipe

A Tarte Owt of Lente

For the pastry:

110g flour

Pinch of salt

50g butter, cold and cut into 1cm cubes

Cold water


For the filling:

140g ricotta

15g butter

1 egg

1 tbsp cream

30g grated parmesan (optional)

Salt and pepper


1 beaten egg


  1. To make the pastry place the flour in a mixing bowl and stir in the salt. Add the butter and rub it into the flour with your fingertips until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add cold water, a tablespoon at a time, until the mixture comes together as a firm dough. Be careful not to overwork it. Cover in clingfilm and refrigerate while you make your filling.
  2. Cream together the butter and the ricotta in a bowl. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Preheat the oven to 220°C.
  3. You can see a video of this method of shaping the pastry here. Remove the pastry from the fridge and separate about 2/3 of the pastry to make the base. Roll it out until about 3/4cm thick and use a plate or bowl as a template to cut out a circle. Working about 1.5cm from the edge, place your left thumb on the pastry and use your thumb and index finger on your right hand to push the pastry up against your thumb, and to pinch it into a ridge. Work your way around the pastry to make a self-supporting pastry base. Roll out the other 1/3 of the pastry to make a lid. Place the base on the pastry and cut around it to get the right size.
  4. Place your pastry base on a baking tray and pour in the filling. Brush a little beaten egg around the rim of the pastry and put the lid on top, pinching the edges to seal. Make a little hole in the top of the pie, and brush the top with beaten egg.
  5. Bake the pie for 40 minutes, or until golden brown.


The Round-Up

The Recipe: A Tarte Owt of Lente (available here).

The Date: late 15th century

How did you make it? See above.

Time to complete?: 1.5 hrs.

How successful was it?: It was good hot or cold, although as I said the first filling didn’t quite manage to stay in its pastry case. I was kind of surprised that it set so well, but I did like the addition of a bit of parmesan just to add some extra saltiness.

How accurate?: The big question is what type of cheese to use, and I still don’t have a strong feeling either way. I suppose the other option would be to use something like a brie or camembert which is both soft and can be pared. That might be worth a try.


[1] James L. Matterer, “Gentyll Manly Cokere. Culinary Recipes from MS Pepys 1047.,” Gode Cookery, 2009,

Tarte Owt of Lente, 15th century pie recipe from Turnspit & Table

Roasted Milk


So catching up on missed challenges, here is my HFF entry for ‘Roasts’. Of course, I couldn’t just do a normal roast could I? and so I present to you a recipe for Roasted Milk.


Yes, you read that right, I said Roasted Milk. You may be wondering, as did I, exactly how one roasts milk. Well, it turns out it’s not really roasted at all, but you make a kind of set custard, slice it up and fry it. The trick of course was to get the right proportion of milk to eggs to make custard when there are no amounts given in the original recipe.


The recipe comes from the 15th Century MS Harley 5401 which I’ve used before when I made chewets. This manuscript contains two very similar recipes for roasted milk. The first says:


“To rost Mylk. Recipe swete mylk & do it in a pan, & swyng egges Perwith, & colour it with saferon & put certo flour; han set it on he fyre & let it boyle, & strene all Pise to gydyr & cast it agayn into pe pan. Pen take hard 3olkes of egges & breke ham small, & do Pam in De mylk tyll it be right thyk. Pen set it down & let it kele, & lech it & roste it on a gyrdyren, & cast berto sugur, & serof it forth. go Frutowr for Lentyn. Recipe flour & almondes mylk, & temper ham togyder; han take fyges & rasyns of corance & fry ham with he batour with oyle & tyrne [Pis] & sero”[1]


“To roast Milk. Gather sweet milk and put it in a pan, and stir eggs therewith, and color it with saffron and put thereto flour, then set it on the fire and let it boil, and strain all this together and cast it again into the pan. Then take hard yolks of eggs and break them small, and put them in the milk until it is quite thick. Then set it down and let it cool, and slice it and roast it on a gridiron, and cast thereto sugar, and serve it forth.”[2]


While the second omits the flour and the sugar, and uses the whole raw egg:


“Mylk Rostede. Recipe swete mylk & do it in a pan, than take pe egges with be whyte & bete bam togyder, & do it to he mylk, & colour it with saferon; & boyle it tyll it be thyk, and strene it & do kerin; take bat pat levis in Pe strenerour: presse it on a borde with a lever, & when it is cold lard it & sheve it on shyves, & rost it on a gyrdyryn, & serof it forth.”[3]


“Roasted Milk. Gather sweet milk and put it in a pan, then take eggs with the white and beat them together, and put it in the milk, and color it with saffron, and boil it until it is thick, and strain it and put it in; take the leaves (what remains?) in the strainer: press it on a board with a lever, and when it is cold lard it and shave it in slices, and roast it on a gridiron, and serve it forth.”[4]


I primarily used the second recipe, but I did end up sprinkling my milk with some sugar, as recommended in the first.


This file comes from Wellcome Images, a website operated by Wellcome Trust, a global charitable foundation based in the United Kingdom. Refer to Wellcome blog post (archive).

As is often the way with these things, recipes for roasted milk appear in many other manuscripts. The Medieval Cookery website has five alternative versions from: The Noble Boke of Cookry (England, c. 1468), Liber Cure Cocorum (England, 1420-1440), Ein Buch Von Guter Spise (Germany, c. 1345), Two-Fifteenth Century Cookery Books (England, 15th C) and the Forme of Cury (England, c. 1390).


The English recipes are all very similar. You cook together eggs, sweet milk (as in, not sour), and a little saffron. Once the mixture has thickened you strain it and leave it to cool and set, often with a weight upon it. Once the mixture has set it is cut into slices and then grilled (except in the case of the Noble Boke of Cookry which is served cold without grilling). It can be sprinkled with some sugar at the end.


The German recipe is different, and worth consideration because of that. It is made without eggs, just with curdled milk. The milk is strained and pressed overnight before being sliced and roasted on a spit. Rather than being sprinkled with sugar it is sprinkled with salt, pepper and butter or fat (on meat days). It would be interesting to see how this recipe compares to the English versions.

[1] Hieatt, “The Middle English Culinary Recipes in MS Harley 5401: An Edition and Commentary,” 65.

[2] Wallace, “MS Harley 5401.”

[3] Hieatt, “The Middle English Culinary Recipes in MS Harley 5401: An Edition and Commentary,” 58–59.

[4] Wallace, “MS Harley 5401.”


The Redaction

2 cups milk

4 eggs, beaten

Pinch of saffron

Oil to fry in


  1. Whisk the eggs and milk together over medium heat. Once it is warm add the saffron. Whisk constantly until it comes to the boil and thickens (the consistency is somewhere between scrambled eggs and cottage cheese).
  2. Line a colander with clean muslin and strain off the liquid. Place the mixture in a rectangular mould (I used a tupperware container lined with baking paper), place something heavy on top like a tin or a plate to weigh it down, and refrigerate overnight.
  3. Remove the mixture from the mould and slice it thinly. Heat a frying pan (or gridiron) with a little oil. Grill the slices until golden brown on each side, it should look like French toast. Sprinkle with sugar if desired and serve hot.


The Round-Up

The Recipe: Roasted Milk from MS Harley 5401 (available here).

The Date: 15th century

How did you make it? See above.

Time to complete?: 30 mins, plus setting overnight.

How successful was it?: I was really please that this actually set, because I wasn’t at all sure that it would. The flavour is somewhere between custard and the eggy part of French toast. It’s quite bland, and at first I didn’t like it but a little bit of sugar really improved it, and once you began eating it it was surprisingly moreish.

How accurate?: The hardest part to figure out was the proportions of egg to milk. I went with the proportions for a modern custard which seemed to work well enough but I don’t know how accurate that is. I also wasn’t sure how much saffron to add, so perhaps the colour was not as pronounced as it should have been.



Hieatt, Constance. “The Middle English Culinary Recipes in MS Harley 5401: An Edition and Commentary.” Medium Aevum 65, no. 1 (1996): 54–69.

Wallace, Sam. “MS Harley 5401.” Translated by Constance Hieatt. Corpus of Culinary & Dietetic Texts of Europe from the Middle Ages to 1800, April 9, 2011.


‘Pies, hot pies!’

15th century chewets

I’m still catching up with some of the challenges from the Historical Food Fortnightly, but I’ve cooked all but the bonus challenge and the Celebratory Food from back in December so I’ll get them written up as soon as I can.

This recipe is for the Snacky Snackables challenge, and it’s something that I’ve been wanting to make for a while now – chewets. Cheap, fully self-contained for low mess, good for using up off-cuts and leftovers, easily bulked out with some veg and no cutlery required – pies make the perfect on-the go lunch or quick snack. Chewets are just a type of small pie, something like a modern pork pie, and they appear in many of our earliest English cookbooks.

A page from Ulrich von Richental's 15th century The Chronicle of the Council of Constance. Note the oven on wheels, that's real fast food! See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A page from Ulrich von Richental’s 15th century The Chronicle of the Council of Constance. Note the oven on wheels, that’s real fast food! See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Pies were sold piping hot and ready to eat by street-peddlers from at least the 13th century. According to Martha Carlin, cookshops and street vendors primarily served the poor in large, over-populated towns where cheap lodgings didn’t always have a fire for cooking, let alone an oven for baking.[1] The cries of the peddlers, tempting their customers in, are recorded in collections or in literature, such as the following from Piers Plowman:

“Cooks and their knaves cried ‘Pies, hot pies!
Good pork and good goose! Come, dine! Come, dine!’

Taverners unto them told the same tale:
`White wine of Alsace red wine of Gascony,
Wine of the Rhine, of Rochelle to help settle your meat!’”[2]


The Recipe

The recipe that I used comes from MS Harley 5401, a 15th century manuscript. It is a very simple recipe which uses left over chicken, but it is a bit unusual because the chewets are fried instead of baked.

Chewets, before being fried. As you can see, I made two different shapes to see which one worked better. I liked the flatter shape better, but it was harder to form and had more of a tendency to fall apart during cooking.

Chewets, before being fried. As you can see, I made two different shapes to see which one worked better. I liked the flatter shape better, because it cooked faster and more evenly, but it was harder to form and had more of a tendency to fall apart during cooking.

“Chewets. Recipe pe draghtis of capons or of hennes & shop pam small. Take & cast powdyr of gynger & cloes, pepyr & salt, & put pam all in a lityll cofyn & close it abowne, & fry hym in fresh grece, & serrof pam forth .ij. in a dysch.”[3]

The filling was simple to do, just mix some shredded chicken with spices, but the pastry was more problematic. There are several different camps among food historians and re-enactors when it comes to medieval pastry. Some people think that the pastry was simply not eaten, others that it was made only from flour and water but was still eaten, others that it must have included fat or eggs. The problem is that recipes from the time assume that people know how to make pastry and only mention diversions from the norm e.g. using chestnut flour or adding saffron. You can see two different interpretations of the evidence here and here.

For my pastry I used one of Eulalia Piebakere’s redactions for a boiling fat pastry, which is itself based upon Savouring the Past’s recipe for a Standing Paste Pie Crust. Not having done enough research myself (although I do mean to do more) I haven’t really made up my mind about the fat/no fat issue, although I do think that at least some of the crusts must have been eaten, otherwise why add chestnut flour or saffron? I also think that it makes more sense if hot pies being sold as street food had edible crusts. It’s hardly a convenience food anymore if you have to remove the crust and scoop out the insides.

The Redaction

100g plain flour

30g wholemeal flour

21g of butter

21g of lard

1/4 cup water


1 chicken breast, cooked (or any bits of cooked chicken left over from a roast or boiled chicken)

Pepper and salt

1/4 tsp ginger and cloves

Lard, to fry

  1. Put the butter, lard and water in a small saucepan and heat until it is just about to boil.
  2. Place the fat and a pinch of salt into a bowl and make a well in the middle. Add the hot fat and water, then mix it until it comes together as a ball.
  3. Knead the dough until it is smooth, and split the dough in quarters. From each quarter remove a walnut sized piece for the lid, then shape the chewet cases using either this method or this method (the first is probably easier to make, but you will need more fat to get it to cook properly, the second is a bit more fiddly but give a flatter pie that is easier to cook).
  4. Shred the chicken breast and stir in the spices. Season to taste. Share the filling between the pie cases. Roll out the lids and, using a little water to moisten the edges, place on the chewets and pinch around the edge to seal.
  5. Heat the lard in a frying pan, saucepan or wok. The amount of lard needed will depend on the shape of your pan, and the height of your chewets. Essentially the melted fat should reach about halfway up the chewet. Test that the lard is hot enough by putting a little pastry in the pan and see if it sizzles. When the fat is hot, add the chewets and cook until golden brown. When the bottom is done, flip the pies over very carefully and fry the other side.
  6. Drain the fried chewets on kitchen paper and serve hot.

15th century chewets

The Round-up

The Recipe: Chewets from MS Harley 5401 (available here)

The Date: 15th century

How did you make it?: See above.

Time to complete?: About 1 hour.

How successful was it?: Very tasty, and it was much easier to make the cases and to fry the pies than I was expecting.

How accurate?: The biggest issue is the pastry, and without doing a lot more research I’m not sure how accurate it was. There are a lot of different opinions about medieval pastry amongst historians and re-enactors, including a basic divide over whether it was eaten or not.

[1] Martha Carlin, Food and Eating in Medieval Europe (Bloomsbury Publishing, 1998), 31–51.

[2] William Langland, The Book Concerning Piers the Plowman, ed. Rachel Attwater, trans. Donald Attwater and Rachel Attwater (London: J.M Dent & Sons Ltd., 1957), 6.

[3] Constance Hieatt, “The Middle English Culinary Recipes in MS Harley 5401: An Edition and Commentary,” Medium Aevum 65, no. 1 (1996): 58.


Carlin, Martha. Food and Eating in Medieval Europe. Bloomsbury Publishing, 1998.

Hieatt, Constance. “The Middle English Culinary Recipes in MS Harley 5401: An Edition and Commentary.” Medium Aevum 65, no. 1 (1996): 54–69.

Langland, William. The Book Concerning Piers the Plowman. Edited by Rachel Attwater. Translated by Donald Attwater and Rachel Attwater. London: J.M Dent & Sons Ltd., 1957.

Orange You Glad

Chicken with Orange SauceI felt that for the next Historical Food Fortnightly challenge, which was to make something with oranges, I wanted to do something that was a bit earlier in date. Flicking through ‘The Medieval Kitchen’ by Redon, Sabban and Serventi I stumbled across Chicken with Orange Sauce which sounded promising and was very budget friendly.

The recipe is a translation from Maestro Martino’s ‘Libro De Arte Coquinaria’ which was composed before 1465 (one of the versions is dedicated to his patron who died in that year).[1] Martino was the official cook for several important Italian gentlemen in the mid fifteenth century, and something of a celebrity chef. He was a part of an international network of courts that shared recipes and tastes, ‘De Arte Coquinaria’ shows affinities with Catalan manuscripts in particular.[2]

The Recipe

“Roast Chicken. 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.”[3]

What I soon discovered though, was that oranges in this period were not the sweet oranges which we are familiar with today. Originating in an area comprising north-eastern India, northern Myanmar and southern China, the bitter orange was brought to Europe via Islamic Spain.[4] Bitter oranges were used to give a sour taste to dishes, especially sauces, and could be used as an alternative to verjuice. Although there are some mentions of sweet oranges in the 15th century, it wasn’t until the 16th century that they were cultivated in Europe. It may be that it was the introduction of a new variety from China by Portugese traders that was the impetus for eating oranges as a fruit, rather than using them just for their sour juice (in much the same way as we use lemons today).[5] That the oranges called for in our recipe were bitter oranges is clear from the option to use verjuice instead.

By Franz Eugen Köhler, Köhler's Medizinal-Pflanzen (List of Koehler Images) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Citrus Aurantium by Franz Eugen Köhler, Köhler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

As an interesting aside, one of the other results of the introduction of the orange was the invention of the colour ‘orange’. Mark Morton has pointed out that before the orange was being consumed in Europe, there were few things that were genuinely orange, and that anything that was orange-y could be described as ‘red’, ‘scarlet’ (both of which described a wider range of colours than now), ‘tawny’, or ‘brusk’.[6] It wasn’t until the 17th century that ‘orange’ was accepted as an adjective.

The Redaction

There are no quantities called for in the recipe, but as the authors of ‘The Medieval Kitchen’ provided a redaction of their own I saw no reason not to use their recipe, with one major exception. In the book, the authors say to use either bitter orange juice, or to use verjuice with rosewater. Having looked at the translation provided and, as much as possible with my basic Italian, the original recipe, I see no reason to read it as:

juice OR verjuice and rose water PLUS sugar and cinnamon

instead of:

juice OR verjuice PLUS rose water, sugar and cinnamon.

I also chose to add a bit of butter to the chicken, but that is a personal preference and you can certainly do as they suggest and use no fat. Of course, the original recipe calls for the chicken to be roasted, that is cooked in front of a fire, rather than baked in an oven, but if, like me, you don’t happen to have an open fire available then the oven will have to do.

Chicken with Orange Sauce from 'Libro de Arte Coquinaria'

Chicken with Orange Sauce

Adapted from ‘The Medieval Kitchen’ by Odile Redon, Francoise Sabban and Silvano Serventi.

1 chicken

Butter (optional)

Juice of 3 Seville oranges (or 2 sweet oranges and 1 lemon and omit the sugar) or 10 tbsp verjuice

1 tbsp rose water

1/2 tsp of sugar

1 pinch of ground cinnamon

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 200C. Place the chicken in a pan and, if desired, dot with pieces of butter. Bake until the chicken is golden and the juices run clear, basting frequently with the pan juices.
  2. Mix together the other ingredients in a bowl. Pour over the chicken and serve on a platter, or serve as a sauce with the chicken.

The Round-Up

The Recipe: Chicken with Orange Sauce from Maestro Martino’s ‘Libro De Arte Coquinaria’, translation in ‘The Medieval Kitchen’[7].

The Date: before 1465

How did you make it?: See above.

Time to complete?: The chicken took about an hour, the sauce itself was very quick.

How successful was it?: I liked the sauce, I was worried it would be very sweet but it wasn’t. It was a bit watery though, and I think it could have been even sourer. I would be interested to try it with Seville oranges if I can find them in season. It also made a lot of sauce for just one chicken, although it might not seem as much if you poured if over the chicken.

How accurate?: Well, I couldn’t get Seville oranges, I added a bit of butter, and I used an oven so it was really baked rather than roasted, so it could definitely be better.

Chicken with Orange Sauce from 'Libro de Arte Coquinaria'

[1] Nancy Harmon Jenkins, “Two Ways of Looking at Maestro Martino,” Gastronomica 7, no. 2 (2007): 97.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Odine Redon, Francoise Sabban, and Silvano Serventi, The Medieval Kitchen: Recipe from France and Italy, trans. Edward Schneider (Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press, 1998), 115.

[4] Frederick G. Gmitter Jr. and Xulan Hu, “The Possible Role of Yunnan, China, in the Origin of Contemporary Citrus Species (Rutaceae),” Economic Botany 44, no. 2 (1990): 267–77; Clarissa Hyman, Oranges: A Global History (London: Reaktion Books, 2013), 7–13.

[5] Hyman, Oranges: A Global History, 13–17; Herbert John Webber, The Citrus Industry …, [1st ed]. (Berkeley, 1948), 12–14.

[6] Mark Morton, “Hue and Eye,” Gastronomica 11, no. 3 (2011): 6–7.

[7] Redon, Sabban, and Serventi, The Medieval Kitchen: Recipe from France and Italy, 115.


Gmitter, Frederick G., Jr., and Xulan Hu. “The Possible Role of Yunnan, China, in the Origin of Contemporary Citrus Species (Rutaceae).” Economic Botany 44, no. 2 (1990): 267–77.

Harmon Jenkins, Nancy. “Two Ways of Looking at Maestro Martino.” Gastronomica 7, no. 2 (2007): 97–103.

Hyman, Clarissa. Oranges: A Global History. London: Reaktion Books, 2013.

Morton, Mark. “Hue and Eye.” Gastronomica 11, no. 3 (2011): 6–7.

Redon, Odine, Francoise Sabban, and Silvano Serventi. The Medieval Kitchen: Recipe from France and Italy. Translated by Edward Schneider. Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press, 1998.

Webber, Herbert John. “History and Development of the Citrus Industry.” In The Citrus Industry …, edited by Herbert John Webber, [1st ed]. Berkely: University of California Press, 1948.

Got the Blues

Sky-Blue Sauce

This fortnight’s challenge “Something Borrowed, Something Blue” was one of the hardest challenges to find something to make. I really wanted to do something blue, but blue foods are always a bit thin on the ground. The exception seems to be the Middle Ages when a range of colourants were used to dye foods: saffron or egg yolk for yellow, alkanet, blood or berries for reds, ground toast or liver for browns and blacks, spinach or parsley juice for green and almond milk and chicken for white.[1] To make blue medieval cooks had a range of options: ground lapis lazuli (don’t try this at home!), cooked carrot peel, blackberries, cherry or grape juice, or the rather enigmatic turnsole[2].


Many of these ingredients were used in jellies or leaches (milk jellies) to produce fanciful, multi-coloured dishes. Another popular use was coloured sauces, The Medieval Kitchen: Recipes from France and Italy lists white, green, yellow, pink, black, blue and camel-coloured sauces.[3]


The Recipe


The pleasant-sounding ‘Sky-blue sauce for summer’ (I’ve also seen it translated as ‘heavenly’ which I think is even nicer) seemed promising. I don’t speak Italian so I used an English translation (from The Medieval Kitchen) but an Italian version is available here called ‘Sapor celeste de estate’.


“Sky-blue sauce for summer. Take some of the wild blackberries that grow in hedgerows and some thoroughly pounded almonds, with a little ginger. And moisten these things with verjuice and strain through a sieve.”[4]


Unfortunately, as you may have guessed from the pictures there was a major problem with my version, it’s not blue. To add insult to injury, it also tastes pretty awful (it somehow managed to be both too watery and too sour at the same time). Because of these rather major faults I won’t be giving a redaction (if you want to try it you can find the redaction from the book here). I used similar proportions, although I halved the recipe and used slightly less verjuice. I do wonder if that was the problem, although having had a look at some other blogs it seems that no-one has really succeeded at turning the recipe blue, let alone “a lovely midnight-blue”[5].

Sky-Blue Sauce

The Round-up

The Recipe: Sky-blue sauce for summer from Libro de Arte Coquinaria by Martino de Rossi (available here in Italian)

The Date: c. 1465

How did you make it?: I mashed 2 cups of blackberries then added the 2 tbsp of ground almonds, 1/2 tsp of ground ginger and 1/4 cup of verjuice before straining the mixture.

Time to complete?: About 20 mins.

How successful was it?: Well it didn’t turn blue and didn’t taste good so it failed on pretty much all counts. Whether the taste was correct but just not my thing I’m not sure. As to not turning blue, I wonder if either I didn’t add enough verjuice or it wasn’t acidic enough. Epulario by Giovanne Roselli has a nearly identical recipe but he uses mulberries instead, would this work better?

How accurate?: I wonder what medieval verjuice was like, something to investigate further.


[1] Terence Scully, The Art of Cookery in the Middle Ages, 5th ed. (Suffolk and Rochester: Boydell Press, 2006), 114–116.

[2] Turnsole is a dyestuff that yields a colour that varies from red to purple to blue depending on the PH level of the liquid it is mixed with. It has been identified as several different plants, although the most likely is chrozophora tinctoria.

[3] Odine Redon, Francoise Sabban, and Silvano Serventi, The Medieval Kitchen: Recipe from France and Italy, trans. Edward Schneider (Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press, 1998), 165–178.

[4] Ibid., 168.

[5] Ibid.



Redon, Odine, Francoise Sabban, and Silvano Serventi. The Medieval Kitchen: Recipe from France and Italy. Translated by Edward Schneider. Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press, 1998.


Scully, Terence. The Art of Cookery in the Middle Ages. 5th ed. Suffolk and Rochester: Boydell Press, 2006.

Run, run as fast as you can! You can’t catch me, I’m the gingerbread man!

Gingerbread recipe c. 1430

The Historical Food Fortnightly Challenge for this fortnight was to make a dish that still exists, even if it is in a very different form. For me this was a great opportunity to try out a recipe which has intrigued me for a while now, gingerbread! But before you think “Oh but I make gingerbread all the time”, let me assure you, you’ve never had gingerbread quite like 15th century gingerbread.

The history of gingerbread is extremely complicated and as far as I can tell there is no clear evolution. It probably developed from Roman honeycakes, but in different ways in different regions of Europe. In France gingerbread is called pain d’epices, literally spice bread, but it is really a spiced cake like parkin from Northern England. In Scandinavia there are pepper cookies, and in Switzerland biber are filled with marzipan. Perhaps the most familiar are the spiced biscuits which are still made in Germany and Poland. Called lebkuchen and pierniki (you can see Sabrina Welserin’s lebkuchen recipes from 1553 here) these biscuits were produced by official guilds from about the 13th century.

The biscuit type of gingerbread is often shaped using detailed moulds, such as this one which I saw Volkskunde (Folklore) Museum in Bruges, Belgium. This mould is unusual however because of its scale, it is at least a metre tall!

The biscuit type of gingerbread is often shaped using detailed moulds, such as this 20th century mould which I saw Volkskunde (Folklore) Museum in Bruges, Belgium. This mould is unusual however because of its scale, it is at least a metre tall! To see more gingerbread moulds, check out my Pinterest board.

In England you can now find both types of gingerbread, but the earliest recipes are for a kind of candy made with honey, breadcrumbs and spices. One of the most popular recipes among re-enactors is the recipe from a manuscript written around 1430[1]. It is made from warmed honey and fresh breadcrumbs, and flavoured with spices but no ginger! It’s hotly debated whether leaving out ginger was deliberate or a mistake by the scribe.

A similar 14th century recipe calls for ginger, long pepper, sanders and cloves[2] while later recipes, such as ‘To Make Culler’d Ginger Bread’ from Martha Washington’s cookbook (which probably dates to 1650 or even earlier), use even more spices: cinnamon, ginger, cloves, mace, nutmeg, liquorice, sanders and aniseed[3]. These heavily spiced confections hark back to a medieval understanding of digestion. Based on Classical sources, doctors explained that cooking was the first step in digestion, and that the cooking process continued in the stomach. In order to discourage overcooking in the stomach it was important to eat things in the correct order, ideally following a series of steps:

  1. An aperitif to open the stomach and kick-start your digestion e.g. wine, fruit, nuts or spices candied in sugar or honey, fresh fruit and salad.
  2. Moderately warm and moist foods (according to the humours) which are easy to digest e.g. boiled and stewed foods, cereals, chicken and kid
  3. Foods that are difficult to digest e.g. cheese and other dairy products, venison, beef and pork.
  4. A digestif to close the stomach e.g. wine, nuts and candied spices (extra points if you can combine these in one recipe like hypocras, a spiced red wine)[4]

In this sense, serving gingerbread at the end of a meal showed your understanding of the latest medical advice, and that you were concerned for your guests’ welfare.

George Flegel, Still Life with Bread and Confectionary, 17th century, [Public Domain]  via Wikimedia Commons.  Here you can see comifts, spices which have been covered in layer after layer of sugar, wine and a moulded biscuit, perfect for rounding off the meal.

George Flegel, Still Life with Bread and Confectionary, 17th century, [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons.
Here you can see comifts, spices which have been covered in layer after layer of sugar, wine and a moulded biscuit, perfect for rounding off the meal.

It wasn’t until much later that baked gingerbreads came to England, maybe as late as the mid 1600s, but they quickly acquired magical connotations. Miriam Hospodar claims that gingerbread figures were “originally prepared by crones for lovesick women”[5], explaining that women infused the biscuits with ginger because it was believed to be an aphrodisiac and then gave the man-shaped biscuits to the lucky (or unlucky) lover, thereby enslaving his heart forever. Helen Ostovich has also studied the symbolism of gingerbread and witchcraft in Early Modern theatre. Gingerbread in human shapes had especially strong magical associations and Puritans in particular feared their potential for enchantments and their similarity to idols. It’s not a huge leap from the contemporary trials of witches accused of crumbling clay figures of their victims to worrying about similar magic being performed with gingerbread, a substance that was already dangerously tempting and seductive[6].

The Recipe

Gyngerbrede. – Take a quart of hony, & sethe it, and skeme it clene; take Safroun, pouder Pepir, & throw there-on; take gratyd Brede, & straw there-on y-now; then make it square, lyke as thou wolt leche yt; take when thou lechyst hyt, an caste Box leves a-bouyn, y-styked ther-on, on clowys. And if thou woult haue it Red, coloure it with Saunderys y-now.[7]

The recipe is surprisingly straight forward, considering its age. It of course doesn’t give many quantities, but you can essentially spice it to taste. As to whether you should include ginger or not, I think that it’s a matter of personal preference, or you can do as I did and add ginger to half the recipe. I haven’t tried using sanders to colour the paste but it seems to be available online, or you can substitute it with a little food colouring.

I didn’t boil the honey very much at all, I think that the boiling and skimming was probably in order to get rid of any impurities and if you are working with honey that has already been processed then you don’t need to worry about it. Just bring the honey up to simmering point so that it’s nice and liquid in order to absorb the breadcrumbs.

 Gingerbread recipe c. 1430

The Redaction


1 cup of honey

A pinch of saffron

1/2 tsp pepper, finely ground

Approx. 270g of fresh breadcrumbs (remove the crusts slices of slightly stale bread and whizz the bread in a food processor for a couple of seconds at a time until you reach an even consistency, or rub pieces of bread between your fingertips to do it the old-fashioned way)

1 tsp cinnamon, finely ground

1/2 tsp ginger, finely ground

Cloves and bay leaves to decorate*

  1. Heat the honey in a saucepan until it is just simmering. Dissolve the saffron in a little hot water then stir it into the honey with the pepper and cinnamon. Add the breadcrumbs and stir until the mixture has become a coherent mass. The honey should dissolve the breadcrumbs to form a mouldable paste, if it seems too wet add more breadcrumbs.
  2. Use wet hands to spread the paste into a baking tin lined with greaseproof paper or mould into small shapes. Leave in a cool place for several hours to harden up slightly.
  3. Turn the paste out onto a board and cut into squares or diamonds. You can decorate them with bay leaves and whole cloves. Make sure you remind people to remove the decoration before eating.

* The original recipe calls for box leaves but I used bay leaves instead as box leaves are poisonous.

The Recipe: Gyngerbrede from Harleian MS 279 in Two Fifteenth Century Cookbooks, edited by Thomas Austin (available here)

The Date: c. 1430

How did you make it? See above.

Time to complete?: 30 mins + cooling time.

How successful was it?:  It was very different from modern gingerbread, more like a sweet than a baked good. It was very sweet so you can’t eat too much at a time, but it was pleasantly flavoured by the spices and quite chewy.

How accurate?: It’s hard to tell how much of each spice to put into the mixture, but I was quite happy with the amounts that I used. Next time I would like to experiment using sanders to colour the mixture, and it would be interesting to see how different types of bread change the texture.

Gingerbread recipe c. 1430

[1] Thomas Austin, ed., Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery-Books: Harleian MS. 279 & Harl. MS 4016 with Extracts from Ashmole MS 1429, Laud MS. 553, & Douce MS. 55 (London: Printed for the Early English Text Society by N Trubner & Co., 1888), pg 35.

[2] Constance B. Hieatt and Sharon Butler, eds., “Goud Kokery,” in Cury on Inglysch, English Culinary Manuscripts of the Fourteenth Century (London, New York and Toronto: Published for the Early English Text Society by the Oxford University Press, 1985), No. 18, pg 154.

[3] Karen Hess, transcriber, Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery and Booke of Sweetmeats (New York and Chichester, West Sussex: Columbia University Press, 1995), pg 345–346.

[4] Terence Scully, The Art of Cookery in the Middle Ages, 5th ed. (United Kingdom: The Boydell Press, 2005), pg 126–136.

[5] Miriam Hospodar, “Aphrodisiac Foods: Bringing Heaven to Earth,” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture 4, no. 4 (Fall 2004): 85.

[6] Helen Ostovich, “Gingerbread Progeny in Bartholomew,” in Magical Transformations on the Early Modern English Stage, ed. Lisa Hopkins and Helen Ostovich (England and USA: Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2014), pg 203–14.

[7] Austin, Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery-Books: Harleian MS. 279 & Harl. MS 4016 with Extracts from Ashmole MS 1429, Laud MS. 553, & Douce MS. 55, pg 35.

Austin, Thomas, ed. Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery-Books: Harleian MS. 279 & Harl. MS 4016 with Extracts from Ashmole MS 1429, Laud MS. 553, & Douce MS. 55. London: Printed for the Early English Text Society by N Trubner & Co., 1888.

Hess, Karen, ed. Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery and Booke of Sweetmeats. New York and Chichester, West Sussex: Columbia University Press, 1995.

Hieatt, Constance B., and Sharon Butler, eds. “Goud Kokery.” In Cury on Inglysch, English Culinary Manuscripts of the Fourteenth Century, 147–56. London, New York and Toronto: Published for the Early English Text Society by the Oxford University Press, 1985.

Hospodar, Miriam. “Aphrodisiac Foods: Bringing Heaven to Earth.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture 4, no. 4 (Fall 2004): 82–93.

Ostovich, Helen. “Gingerbread Progeny in Bartholomew.” In Magical Transformations on the Early Modern English Stage, edited by Lisa Hopkins and Helen Ostovich, 203–14. England and USA: Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2014.

Scully, Terence. The Art of Cookery in the Middle Ages. 5th ed. United Kingdom: The Boydell Press, 2005.