The Hitchhiker's Guide to Ancient Cookery

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Alexandre Lerot d'Avigné
Jeff Berry
(Number 15 in the Series, April 2000)

Whyt Whey Commons, aka Officers Meeting for the Shire, is scheduled for tonight, and our Seneschal, Kamiilah al-Sudanii, wanted to do something other than just have a meeting. As a result, I'm going to make some food and talk about what I'm doing. This article is doing double duty as the handout for the evening.

I recently purchased Terence Scully's edition of "The Vivendier" and decided to pull something out of it for the night's festivities. Quite a few of the recipes looked interesting, but in consultation with Kamiilah, I cut it down to two. The Vivendier is in French and I will work from Scully's translation, since my French is not quite up to translating the archaic and specialized French of the recipes.

"[7. Votte lombarde]
Pour faire une votte lombarde: prenes oes frais, fin fromage fondant, gratte ou hachie menu ou par dez quarez, cresme douce et vin, canelle et chucquere; batez tout ensamble; puis ayez bure fres fondu chault, mettez dedans en retournant dilligamment qu'il n'arde."

Actually, that's pretty easy to follow even for my modern French, but here's Scully anyway.

"To make a Votte Lombarde. Get fresh eggs, fine runny cheese, grated or chopped finely or cut into cubes, with fresh cream and wine, cinnamon and sugar; beat everything together. Then get hot melted fresh butter and put this in it, stirring attentively so it doesn't burn."

Scully then notes that Godefroy says that "votte" is a variant of "volte" and gives it a general meaning of "omelette, crepe". Hmm, so that's a tertiary source, but still useful. I chose to use brie as a "fine runny cheese", and I don't want to grate it, so I'll just hack it into cubes. I like heavy cream, and I've got an open bottle of homemade Gewurztraminer to use as the wine -- white seems better than red to me in this case. For three people, I'll use about five eggs and equal parts of cream and wine to get to roughly omelette texture; I don't want this to end up runny. Let's see, perhaps a quarter pound of brie. A few tablespoons of sugar and a couple of serious dashes of cinnamon. I'd like it to be identifiably sweet but not cloying.

The second recipe we settled on was:
"[21. Brouet rousset sur tel grain que vouldrez]
Pour faire brouet rousset sur tel grain que vouldrez: prenez ognons tailliez par roelles et persin effueillie - sy le suffrisiez en beau sain de lard; prenez pain harlez deffait de bon boullon et passe parmy l'estamine, gingembre, canelle, clou, graine, vin et vergus; faictez boullir tout ensamble, et vostre grain comme desus; et soit vostre brouet roux." Scully translates:
"To make a Russet Broth for over any meat you wish. Get sliced rounds of onions and parsley leaves, and sautee this in good rendered lard; get toast distempered in good bouillon and strained, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, grains of paradise and verjuice: boil everything together along with your meat, as above. It should be a real Russet Broth." Now it looks to me like there should also be wine in this recipe. "vin et vergus". So I think I will. It mentions "as above", so ... "[20. Brouet de canelle]
Pour faire un brouet de canelle: cuisiez tel grain que vouldrez en vin et en esve, et despechiez par lopins et suffrisiez en beau sain; puis prenez amandes bien lavez sans peller, broyeez et passez, destempreez de bon boullon, gingembre, clou et graine, deffait de vergus; faictez tout boullir ensamble, et vostre grain avoecquez, une ondement seulement."

In translation,
"To make a cinnamon broth. Cook whatever meat you like in wine and water, chop it up into chunks and sautee it in good rendered lard. Then get well washed unpeeled almonds, ground and strained and distempered with good bouillon; get ginger, cloves and grains of paradise, distempered with verjuice. Bring everything just to a boil together along with your meat."

So, take any meat you want -- I thought about chicken for a while, then decided on beef as more "russet" -- and cook it in wine and water, then sautee it. For this I think red wine. I'll just simmer the meat until it's cooked through. I don't keep lard in the house, so I'll use Crisco for the sautee afterwards. The onions and parsley will also be sauteed in lard. I'm making stock right now, since I had a sufficiently full bone-bag, and I'll use that for my good bouillon. Likewise, I have about a third a load of home-made bread which is going stale. So I'll toast that and soak it in the bouillon. The bread will then get forced through a strainer. I've never had much look thickening stuff with bread crumbs like this, but I'll try again.

I also don't have verjuice, so I'll sharpen it with some grape juice and a little red wine vinegar. The spices are pretty straightforward.

As for quantities, I'll start with maybe a half pound of beef chuck, three or four small onions, half a cup of red wine and enough water to cover the meat, and 1/3 of a 1 1/2 pound loaf of bread (so, 1/2 pound of bread?). I'll use a good handfull of parsley, since I don't really want any left over. I don't have any grains of paradise, so that will get skipped. A few dashes of ground ginger, double that of cinnamon, and six or eight whole cloves.

The meat will be added to the broth after everything else is cooked and mixed, then it will be brought just to a boil to heat the meat. Oh, and I'll recycle the wine and water from the original simmer back into the broth as the "vin" of "vin and verjuice".

Stay tuned for the aftermath ...

(Time Passes -- You may insert your own musical interlude here.)

Russet Broth -- Success! I finally got something to thicken with bread crumbs! After toasting the bread, I soaked it in the broth till it was nice and mushy and then forced it through the strainer with the bottom of my ladle. The color was nice and brown, with green flecks from the parsley. The taste was lovely. There was no salt in it, other than whatever came from the stock, but it didn't seem to show the lack. It could have used a touch more bite, so I'd be tempted to add just a hair more vinegar (or verjuice, if I had any to add.) The meat was kind of bland, not surprising since it was unspiced and boiled a bit to boot.

The Votte was lovely. As it got stirred around, the brie melted and mingled, except for bits of the rind here and there, which made for a lovely surprise when eating. The texture did end up sort of like scrambled eggs, although it clung together enough that I could cut it into slices or chunks to serve. There was enough liquid in the eggs that, as I stirred, some of it separated and simmered around the eggs.

Overall, both were a success. The Votte I would leave as is. For the Russet Broth, I'd sharpen it a bit more and I'd be tempted to shred the beef or chop it very fine, just to distribute it more evenly and to make it so that one would not get a bit consisting of mostly plain boiled meat.

The Broth would probably scale up nicely for a feast, the only tricky bit being the soaking and straining of the bread. The Votte might work for a smallish feast; it was best served warm from the skillet, although edible cold or reheated, so the ratio of stovetop burners to feasters would have to be considered carefully. It might go well as an "extra" for head table or something.

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Comments are welcome.
Alexandre Lerot d'Avigné, Jeff Berry,

Copyright Jeff Berry
Originally webbed 1 May 2000
Last modified 1 May 200