Bowres (Duck Braised in Beer and Sage)

xv. Bowres.
Take Pypis, Hertys, Nerys, Myltys, an Rybbys of the Swyne; or ellys take Mawlard, or Gees, an chop hem smal, and thanne parboyle hem in fayre water; an þan take it vp, and pyke it clene in-to a fayre potte, an caste þer-to ale y-now, & sawge an salt, and þan boyle it ry?th wel; and þanne serue it forthe for a goode potage.
 MS. Harleian 279, Leche Vyaundez, xxxi.

Take lungs, hearts, ears, spleen and ribs of the pig; or else take mallard or goose, and chop them small, and then parboil them in fair water; and then take it up, and pick it clean into a fair pot, an caste thereto ale enough, and sage and salt, and than boil it right well; and then serve it forth for a good pottage.

When I first saw this recipe, I was struck by the simplicity. However, I decided I would not be using the innards of the pig; aside from the extreme difficulty of obtaining some of the bits, I was worried I’d be stuffed head first into the pot if I tried to serve it to anyone (I discovered this would probably be true when I mentioned the possibility of lung in a dish). I decided to use duck, as goose is expensive.

However, in writing up the recipe, I was suddenly struck with a thought – was the cook meant to use the innards of duck or goose, not the flesh? I decided to look for other recipes in other manuscripts. Fortunately, a quick search revealed Daniel Myers’ excellent site Medieval Cookery had already gathered all fifteenth century recipes similar to Bowres. These recipes used a variety of meats, with varying herbs and spices; the common thread was the braising in ale.

The version of Bowres in MS Harleian 279 is very plain, and uses everyday ingredients; if using the suggested pig innards, this would likely be the sort of dish cooked by a peasant or lower class urban family.


1.5 kg duck pieces bunch sage leaves
600mL beer or ale 1 tsp salt


  1. Joint the duck, and put in a pot.
  2. Cover the duck with water, and bring the pot to the boil. Reduce to a simmer, and cook the duck until the skin and meat are opaque and much of the fat has been rendered from the duck.
  3. Allow the duck to cool slightly, and then pick the meat from the bones.
  4. Transfer the duck to a clean pot, and add the beer or ale, salt and shredded sage leaves.
  5. Simmer the duck until the liquid is considerably reduced, and the meat is falling apart.
  6. Serve the duck either in its cooking liquid, or strained.


  • If you are lucky enough to find true ale (that is, brewed without hops), it will give you a more authentic result.
  • You may find this recipe works better with duck legs and thighs. Though the breast has a thick covering of fat, the meat itself is quite lean, and not well suited to long, slow cooking (it turns rubbery and is unpleasant to eat).
  • Parboiling the duck before braising it renders the fat from the duck. Modern braises would suggest frying the duck first to achieve the same purpose; you may find this easier.


Further Reading

Click on the links below to buy direct from The Book Depository.
Austin, Thomas (ed.). Two Fifteenth Century Cookbooks

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