Stewed Mushrooms

Nimm duerre Schwammen / wasch sie sauber auß etlichen Wassern / setz sie zu mit Erbeßbrueh unnd klein geschweißten Zwibeln / mach es ab mit Essig / Pfeffer / mit Saffran und Saltz / laß miteinander ein stundt oder zwo sieden/ so wirt es gut und wolgeschmack. Marx Rumpoldt, Ein new Kuchbuch CLXIIIr (1581)

Take dried mushrooms, wash then several times until they are clean and place them on the fire with pease broth and small fried onions. Season it with vinegar, pepper, saffron and salt and boil it together an hour or two. Thus it will be good and tasty.

The text and translation of the recipe can be found in Volker Bach’s excellent collection of medieval period recipes that can be cooked in a camp setting, Plain Fare, which is available for download here.

Mushrooms had a somewhat dubious reputation in medieval times. Some medical writers regarded them as dangerous and advised never to eat them (Scully, 1995, 76), and the dangers from poisoning were quite well known (Bach, 2016, 43). However, there are recipes for mushrooms in many medieval manuscripts, and they were readily available for sale throughout Europe (Scully, 1995, 13), though the varieties sold would have depended on what was available. A German selection would probably include chantrelles and morels, which are named in some recipe collections (Bach, 2016, 43).

If you check out Plain Fare on the link above, you will see Bach has interpreted this recipe as a soup (and he might well be right in that, given he is an expert on medieval German food, and a native German speaker, and I’m definitely not either). However, because this recipe uses dried mushrooms which are cooked for around “an hour or two,” I chose to interpret this as a mushroom stew. This dish was so delicious two confirmed carnivores went for second helpings over second helpings of perfectly cooked roast lamb, and might even choose it over other meat dishes. We’d love to try it as a pie filling.

Ingredients

70g mixed dried mushrooms 50mL vinegar
1 onion 1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
500mL vegetable stock pinch saffron

Method

  1. Finely dice the onion and fry in olive oil, or some other fat such as butter or lard.
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients to the pan, and stir well to combine.
  3. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer.
  4. Cook for at least an hour; two or more is preferable. Stir occasionally, and top up the cooking liquid if needed.
  5. Test to see if you need salt before serving; you probably won’t need it.

Notes

  • To make this up we used a mix of roughly equal parts of button mushrooms, Swiss brown mushrooms, porcini and chantrelles. The mushrooms you use will probably depend on what you can find available for sale, but you should definitely use dried mushrooms as they turbocharge the final flavour. If you have access to a dehydrator it will certainly increase the range of mushrooms you can use. Ideally, if you know what local mushrooms are edible, forage and dry your own mushrooms, as would have been done in period.

Mushrooms

Further Reading

Click on the links below to buy direct from The Book Depository.
Bach, Volker (2016). The Kitchen, Food and Cooking in Reformation Germany.
Scully, Terence, 1995. The Art of Cookery in the Middle Ages

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4 comments on “Stewed Mushrooms

  1. Volker Bach says:

    The recipe is grouped in the chapter on soups (Suppen), which leaves little doubt there. However, the boundary between a soup and a stew is much clearer in modern English than it would have been in sixteenth-century Germany. German then had no word for a stew, and the modern one – Eintopf – is still paraphrased as Suppe. Your interpretation of proportions is certainly not implausible. You could serve this over sops just fine.

  2. Phil Troy / G. Tacitus Adamantius says:

    That sounds wonderful! I’m curious about the frying in olive oil, though. I am sure it adds a dimension of Maillard reaction / browning / umami that would be beneficial, and since the onions are fried, we can’t really say for sure those chemicals don’t belong. Still, if the original cooks had wanted to fry the mushrooms they could easily have done so. And is olive oil a really typical German cooking fat (as opposed to butter or lard or a nut oil, say)?

    I’m not really questioning the decision — I can think of several reasons why it’s a good idea, and it always depends on what you’re trying to achieve. Mostly I think it may affect the color and texture of the mushrooms (depending on type), and while you can argue that the specified fried onion also adds a caramel dimension, simmering in aquafaba for 1-2 hours probably goes a long way toward leveling the field. So mostly I’m curious about your reasons. And I’m not necessarily unhappy with “I just felt like it.”

    • The original recipe specifies the onions need to be fried, but your point about using another fat is well made – I’ve amended the recipe. I haven’t found any references to frying in butter in German sources, but I don’t have many in English. However I have found references to olive oil used in cooked dishes; I believe the olive oil trade never truly expired after the fall of the Roman empire, and it was a known, and quite coveted commodity. It was my first choice here because it’s what I’m used to, and I was trying to keep the dish vegetarian/vegan. I’ll be using this dish at a feast in a few months where there are going to be a few vegetarians and possibly at least one vegan.

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