Stewed Stekes of Venson or Motoun (Venison Braised in Beer)

Stewed Stekes of Venson or Motoun
Cut venson or moton smale lytell thynne leshys & put them in a fryyng panne with ale by wese & boyle them welle tylle they be ny tendour. Then take them & fry them in butter tylle they be tendur; than make a syryp for them. Take rede wyne, vynegyr ynouh, and butter & put them in a put them in a pote to stew tylle they be halfe consumed; and then fors them up with synamom, ginger, & suger, and coloure hit with saforne.
Bodleian Library, MS. Rawlinson D 1222, 281.

Cut venison or mutton in small little slices and put them in a frying pan with ale and boil them until they are nearly tender. Then take them and fry them in butter until they are nearly tender; then make a sauce for them. Take red wine, enough vinegar, and butter, and put them in a pot to stew until they are half evaporated; then season them with cinnamon, ginger and sugar, and colour it with saffron.

The text of this recipe can be found in Constance Hieatt’s A Gathering of Medieval English Recipes, a wonderful collection of lesser known manuscripts and recipes of medieval English cookery. She mentions that this particular recipe is recorded in a different hand to the rest of the manuscript, and appears to be a later addition (Hieatt, 2007, 90).

Venison was the status meat of medieval Europe. It was associated with the noble pastime of hunting; to serve venison was an indication of status, as it meant a lord had been granted exclusive rights to the hunting in a particular area (Wilson, 1973, 92). It might also be given as a gift, and to avoid waste, venison was also sold in towns for the luxury market (Hammond, 1993, 39).

Venison would have been the high point of any feast; it was traditionally served with frumenty (Hieatt et al, 1996, 47), a porridge-like dish made from grains, which would have soaked up the meat juices.

Ingredients

500g venison 350mL wheat ale or beer 100g butter (for frying)

The Sauce:

250mL red wine 1/2 tsp cinnamon
60mL vinegar 1/2 tsp ginger
100g butter 40g sugar
1/4 tsp saffron

Method

  1. Soak the saffron in some boiling water until it turns a deep orange.
  2. Put the wine, vinegar, butter and saffron water into a saucepan and bring to the boil, while stirring gently. Leave the sauce to gently boil until it has reduced by half.
  3. Meanwhile, slice the venison into thin strips.
  4. Put the venison in a frypan, then add the ale or beer and bring it to the boil. Cook until the venison has changed colour, and most of the ale or beer has either evaporated off or been absorbed by the venison.
  5. Remove the venison from the pan and drain it, then put the butter for frying into the pan. When it has melted, return the venison to the pan.
  6. Stir the cinnamon, ginger and sugar into the sauce, then pour over the venison in the pan.
  7. Transfer the venison to a serving plate, and serve with frumenty (recipe here).

Notes

  • Venison is a very lean meat, and tends to be better suited to roasting or quick frying. Stewed venison is rather unusual; however, this venison is not stewed for long, and as the alcohol is slightly acidic, it breaks down the fibres in the meat and helps to keep it tender.
  • If possible, try and get whole dried ginger that you have to grate yourself, rather than the ready powdered stuff. It smells and tastes much stronger.

Venison braised in beer

Further Reading

Click on the links below to buy direct from The Book Depository.
Hammond, Peter (1993). Food and Feast in Medieval England.
Hieatt, Constance (2007). A Gathering of Medieval English Recipes.
Hieatt, Constance, Hosington, Brenda and Butler, Sharon (1996). Pleyn Delit.
Wilson, C. Anne (1992). Food and Drink in Britain.

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Stekys of Venson (Venison Steaks)

xxxj. To make Stekys of venson? or bef – Take Venyson or Bef, & leche & gredyl it vp broun; þen take Vynegre & a litel verious, & a lytil Wyne, & putte pouder perpir þer-on y-now, and pouder Gyngere; & atte þe dressoure straw on pouder Canelle y-now, þat þe stekys be al y-helid þer-wyth, & but a litel Sawce; & þan serue it forth. MS. Harleian 279, Leche Vyaundez, xxxi.

To make steaks of venison or beef – take venison or beef, and slice it and fry it brown; then take vinegar and a little verjuice, and a little wine, and put powdered pepper thereon enough, and powdered ginger; and at the dresser strew on powdered cinnamon enough, that the steaks be all covered therewith, and but a little sauce; and then serve it forth.

Venison was the status meat of medieval Europe. It was associated with the noble pastime of hunting; to serve venison was an indication of status, as it meant a lord had been granted exclusive rights to the hunting in a particular area (Wilson, 1973, 92). It might also be given as a gift, and to avoid waste, venison was also sold in towns for the luxury market (Hammond, 1993, 39).

Venison would have been the high point of any feast; it was traditionally served with frumenty (Hieatt et al, 1996, 47), a porridge-like dish made from grains, which would have soaked up the meat juices.

Ingredients

500g venison 40mL wine vinegar 1/4 tsp pepper
20mL verjuice 30mL wine 1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp cinnamon Salt to taste

Method

  1. Separately grind or grate the spices
  2. Slice the venison into fine strips.
  3. Heat some oil or fat in a pan, and quickly fry the venison strips until they are browned. Transfer to a serving plate.
  4. Mix together the vinegar, verjuice, wine, pepper and ginger. If desired, heat the sauce briefly.
  5. Sprinkle the venison with the cinnamon, then drizzle the sauce over the top.
  6. Serve with frumenty (recipe here.

Notes

  • Venison is a very lean meat, and although there are recipes for venison pottages (stews), I find venison is better suited to quick frying recipes such as this, or roasting, where the meat can be constantly basted to keep it moist.
  • The cinnamon that is sprinkled over the steaks was the recommended accompaniment for slices of venison (Brears, 2008, 454).
  • If possible, try and get whole dried ginger that you have to grate yourself, rather than the ready powdered stuff. It smells and tastes much stronger.

Stir fried venison

Further Reading

Click on the links below to buy direct from The Book Depository.
Austin, Thomas (ed.). Two Fifteenth Century Cookbooks
Brears, Peter (2008). Cooking and Dining in Medieval England.
Hammond, Peter (1993). Food and Feast in Medieval England.
Hieatt, Constance, Hosington, Brenda and Butler, Sharon (1996). Pleyn Delit.
Wilson, C. Anne (1992). Food and Drink in Britain.

Brawne in Peuard

Brawne in peuard.
Take wyn, pouder of Canell, drawe hit thorgh a Streynour, set hit ouer the fire, lete hit boile, caste there-to Maces, cloues, powder of Peper; take smale onyons hole, parboyle hem, caste there-to; lete hem boile togider; then take Brawne, leche hit, but not to thin; And if hit be saused, let stepe in Hote water til hit be tender, then cast hit into þe siripe; take Saundres, Vynegre, and caste there-to, And lete boile al togidre til hit be ynowe; then take powder of ginger, caste thereto; lete hit not be thik ne to thyn, butte as potage shulde be; And serve hit forthe.
MS Harleian 4016, 14.

Pork in Pepper.
Take wine and powdered cinnamon and pass it through a strainer. Set it on the fire and let it boil. Add mace, cloves and pepper. Take small whole onions, parboil them, and add them to the pot. Let them boil together then take pork, slice it, but not too thin. And if it be salted and pickled, let it steep in hot water until it is tender, then cast it into the syrup. Take sandalwood and vinegar and add it to the pot, and let it simmer together until it is (cooked) enough. Then take powdered ginger and add it to the pot. Let it not be too thick or thin, but as pottage should be, and serve it forth.

“Brawn” typically refers to any sort of meat, though in this case it most likely means wild boar, which is more likely to be salted and pickled (Hieatt, 2013, 50); but you could make this dish with chicken if you want. It is a typical meat pottage, and variations on this dish are found in most medieval cooking manuscripts. However, because this one specifies pepper in the name, the sauce should be particularly peppery.

Ingredients

2 kg pork meat 1 tsp powdered cinnamon 1/4 tsp crushed cloves
1kg small onions, peeled 1 tsp crushed black pepper 45 mL wine vinegar
1L red wine 1/2 tsp crushed mace 1/4 tsp sandalwood
1 tsp powdered ginger Salt to taste

Method

  1. Remove any skin and excess fat from the pork, and cut it into bite sized pieces. Set aside.
  2. Add the powdered cinnamon to the wine and pass through a strainer, to remove any sediment from the wine and clumps from the cinnamon. Put into a large, heavy bottomed sauce pan and bring to the boil.
  3. When the wine is boiling, add the cloves, mace and pepper, and stir well.
  4. Meanwhile, add the onions to a pan of boiling water and cook until they are slightly tender. Add them to the spiced wine and return it to the boil.
  5. Add the pork to the pot, and return it to the boil. When it is boiling, add the sandalwood and vinegar, then reduce the heat to a simmer (there should be slight bubbles rising to the surface, but it should not be still).
  6. Cook the pottage, stirring regularly, until the wine is reduced and the pork is tender. Generally, the longer it cooks, the more tender the pork will be, though cooking times will vary depending on the cut.
  7. Just before serving, add the ginger and salt to taste and stir well.
  8. Serve immediately.

Notes

  • The cooking time will depend on the cut of pork. I like to use shoulder, which is quite fatty and has lots of connective tissue (it also tends to be a quite cheap cut). It is a cut that needs at least 2-3 hours cooking.
  • Onions contain an enzyme called synthase, which is what makes you cry when you cut them up, and gives them their distinctive flavour. Parboiling the onions breaks down this enzyme, so it doesn’t release into the stew and change the flavour. The onions will also be quite sweet.
  • Sandalwood was added to dishes for its rich colour and lovely scent. When buying it today, make sure you get it from a reputable seller, as there are many synthetic sandalwood replacements which can be toxic. In general, the more expensive the sandalwood, the better the quality. I get mine from an Indian grocer where the sandalwood is kept in a locked display case.

Pork in Pepper Sauce

Further Reading

Click on the links below to buy direct from The Book Depository.

Two Fifteenth Century Cookbooks
Hieatt, Constance (2013). The Culinary Recipes of Medieval England

A Roast Pig’s Head (named Bernàrd)

At a recent feast I ran, I decided to serve a pig’s head breathing fire as a spectacle at a feast. I had never cooked a pig’s head before; and I wasn’t sure how it would be received. However when I mentioned it to people they got very excited so I decided I had to go ahead with it.

The first issue I had was obtaining a pig’s head. They aren’t commonly asked for, after all. However the butcher I go to for events was able to source one, and didn’t give me too weird a look; it’s not the strangest thing I’ve asked him to get for me.

The word got around the event that there would be a pig’s head and a few people came to meet it, which is how the head acquired the name Bernàrd.

I’ve never cooked a pig’s head before, and in the end I decided roasting was my best option. I knew how to roast pork, and I figured a head would roast pretty much the same. But I honestly didn’t think anyone would want to eat it – I just thought people would simply look at it, enjoy it, and that would be it. So I didn’t pay too much attention to the preparation. I simply gave Bernàrd a wash and patted him dry, then rubbed him with a commercial barbeque sauce to give him some colour.

Bernard from the oven

Unfortunately the spill I had prepared to stick in his mouth and light, so he appeared to be breathing fire, became too damp and simply smouldered. So he was sent out nibbling on some parsley.

And he came back with no meat left on his bones – virtually everyone at the feast wanted to try a piece of Bernàrd, and the queue went out of the hall. There were even fights about who got the last of the cheek.

I will certainly be serving a roast pig’s head once again. However next time I will be using a more period appropriate glaze, such as a Lumbard Mustard.

If you want to cook a pig’s head, you will probably need to order one specially from the butcher (be prepared for some strange looks). Make sure you specify you want it whole, with the ears, cheeks and snout attached. They roast just like normal pork, but take longer than a boned, rolled joint, as the bone acts as a heat barrier. I would also wrap the ears and nose with foil during the cooking, because as you can see Bernàrd’s wound up getting a little too crispy.

And probably get someone else to carve, because a pig’s head ain’t the easiest thing to carve.

Bernard

Sauce Persley

Sauce percely. Take perceley, and grynde hit wiþ vynegre & a litel brede and salt, and strayne it þurgh a straynour, and serue it forþe. Ashmole MS. 1439, Sauces, Recipe 14.

Parsley Sauce. Take parsley, and grind it with vinegar and a little bread and salt, and strain it through a strainer, and serve it forth.

This is an excellent recipe to have around for those terrifying occasions when you are running a feast, extra people show up, and you realise the food you’re preparing won’t serve everybody. Parsley is easy to get hold of, and you will probably have the other ingredients to hand. Purchase some ready roasted chickens (like the one in the photograph below), and you should be OK.

It’s also really tasty, so it’s a great one to include in any feast anyway.

Ingredients

1 cup/bunch parsley leaves approx. 150mL wine vinegar
approx. 20g breadcrumbs Salt to taste

Method

  1. Using a mortar and pestle or blender, pulverise the parsley, salt and vinegar to form a paste. Add more vinegar as necessary.
  2. Add the breadcrumbs and continue to pulverise to mix everything together.
  3. If you used the mortar and pestle, push through a rigid, fine mesh strainer to ensure the sauce is smooth.
  4. Serve at room temperature. It goes well with any poultry or fish.

Notes

  • This is a recipe where using a mortar and pestle can actually be easier than a blender, and the end paste is generally mushy enough that passing it through a strainer is relatively easy (and results in a much smoother sauce). If you prefer to use power tools, I would recommend a stab mixer – the parsley tends to spin away from the blades of a blender too quickly.
  • If you find the taste of the sauce too sour from the vinegar, you can add more breadcrumbs, or honey or lemon juice. Honey is sweet and will counteract the sourness. Lemon juice is also sour, but has a different flavour profile which also counters the vinegar. Don’t add water, which will just make the sauce runny without doing a thing about the vinegar. However, remember it’s going to be served with meat, and the extra tartness from the vinegar pairs well with most meats.

Sauce Persley

Further Reading

Click on the links below to buy direct from The Book Depository.

Austin, Thomas. Two Fifteenth Century Cookery Books.

Custard Lumbarde (Fruit and Custard Tart)

Custard lumbarde.

Take good creme, and ffoiles of (Note: The MS. has “parcelly crossed through.”) and yolkes And white of egges, and breke hem thereto, and streyne hem all thorgh a straynour till hit be so thik that it woll bere him self; And take faire Mary, And Dates, cutte in ij. or iij. and prunes, and put hem in faire coffyns of paast; And then put the coffyn in an oven, And lete hem bake till thei be hard, And then drawe hem oute, and putte the licoure into the Coffyns, And put hem into the oven ayen, And lete hem bake till they be ynogh MS. Harleian 4016 27.

Custard lumbarde.
Take good cream, and yolks and white of eggs, and break them thereto, and strain them all through a strainer until it be so thick that it will bear itself; and take fair bone marrow, and dates, cut in 2 or 3 (pieces) and prunes, and put hem in fair coffins of pastry; and then put the coffin in an oven, and let them bake until they be hard, And then draw them out, and put the liquor (custard) into the coffins, And put them into the oven again, and let them bake until they be (cooked) enough.

The Lombardy region in northwest Italy was an important trading and agricultural region in medieval Europe.  Its major cities, particularly Milan, had a great impact on culture, and there are a number of English recipes of this period that feature “Lumbard” in the name.  Presumably this gave them an extra exotic cachet.

Ingredients

1 quantity shortcrust pastry
100g pitted prunes 300mL cream
60g dates 2 eggs, well beaten
50g bone marrow 30g sugar

Method

  1. Chop the dates and the prunes into small pieces. Chop the bone marrow into small pieces too.
  2. Roll out the pastry to approx. 4mm thickness and line a greased pie plate with it.
  3. Prick the bottom of the tart shell. Sprinkle the bottom of the shell with the chopped fruit, then dot with the bone marrow.  Bake the tart shell for approx. 12 minutes in a 200° oven. Remove and leave to cool.
  4. Whip the cream until it becomes stiff. Add the beaten eggs and mix well to combine.
  5. Pour the custard into the tart, over the fruit. Sprinkle the custard with the sugar.
  6. Reduce the oven temperature to 180°, and bake the tart for approximately 40 minutes, or until the custard has set.
  7. Serve cool.

Notes

  • Bone marrow is obtained from the inside of leg bones of cows, and in my opinion is THE BEST part of the cow (I really love beef). Many butchers sell these bones cheaply for pets (lucky pets!); ask if they will saw the bones up for you, as they are quite a pain to split without power tools.

Lumbarde custarde

Further Reading

Click on the links below to buy direct from The Book Depository.

Two Fifteenth Century Cookbooks

Gyngerbrede

Gyngerbrede.
Take a quart of hony, & sethe it, & skeme it clene; take Safroun, pouder Pepir, & throw ther-on; take grayted Bred, & make it so chargeaunt that it wol be y-lechyd; then take pouder Canelle, & straw ther-on y-now; then make yt square, lyke as thou wolt leche yt; take when thou lechyst hyt, an caste Box leves a-bouyn, y-stykyd ther-on, on clowys. And if thou wolt haue it Red, coloure it with Saunderys y-now.
MS. Harleian 279, Leche Vyandez, 35.

Ginger Bread.
Take a quart of honey and seethe it and skim it clean. Take saffron, powdered pepper, and throw thereon. Take grated bread and make it so stiff that it will be cut in slices. Then take cinnamon powder and strew thereon enough. Then make it square as though thou wouldst slice it. Take, when thou have sliced it, and cast box leaves above, stuck thereon in cloves. And if thou will have it red, colour it with sandalwood enough.

Gyngerbrede is a very well known recipe from medieval times; it was regarded as a luxurious treat to give to honoured guests, being packed with expensive spices. However, as with the recipe above, some recipes don’t actually contain ginger! It may be implied by the name, or this recipe may be a variant on others that contain ginger. I have chosen to add the ginger.

Ingredients

500 ml honey ½ tbs cinnamon
500 g bread crumbs (approx) ¼ tsp white pepper
1 tbs fresh or powdered ginger (optional) Pinch saffron
½ tsp sandalwood (optional)

To garnish:

Branches from a box tree Whole cloves

Method

  1. Bring the honey to a boil and skim off any scum.
  2. Keeping the pan over very low heat, add the spices except the cinnamon, and sandalwood if using, adjusting the quantities to suit your taste.
  3. Slowly beat in the bread crumbs. Add just enough bread crumbs to achieve a thick, stiff, well-blended mass You will know you have enough bread crumbs when the mix becomes hard to stir; this may take more or less bread crumbs than the amount specified.
  4. Remove from the heat and turn the mixture onto a lightly greased shallow baking tray. Press the gingerbread evenly out into the pan.
  5. Leave to cool in the fridge. When cool, sprinkle with cinnamon.
  6. Gently ease the ginger bread out of the tray, and cut into small squares.
  7. To serve, garnish with sprigs of box, and whole cloves.

Notes

  • “Box tree” refers to plants of the Buxus genus. The wood of this genus is very dense, and can be used in woodturning. Other Gingerbread recipes suggest to serve it in boxes made from box wood. (Renfrow, 2003, 264).

IMAG0947

Further Reading

Click on the links below to buy direct from Amazon.

Austin, Thomas (1856). Two Fifteenth Century Cookbooks.
This contains two complete fifteenth century cooking manuscripts, including Harleian 279, and excerpts from others.
Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery-Books: Harleian Ms. 279 (Ab. 1430), & Harl. Ms. 4016 (Ab. 1450), with Extracts from Ashmole Ms. 1429, Laud Ms. 553, & Douce Ms. 55
 
Renfrow, Cindy (2003). Take a Thousand Eggs or More.
This contains easy to follow recipes taken directly from the manuscripts above, and also has an excellent glossary.
Take a Thousand Eggs or More