The Hitchhiker's Guide to Ancient Cookery

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Alexandre Lerot d'Avigné
Jeff Berry
(Number 39 in the Series, April 2006)

Lenten Experiments

I decided this year to try and do a medieval Lenten observance, in part inspired by an article in TI a few years ago, as an exercise in what I've started to call "Medieval Foodways." As fate would have it, I was also able to schedule a cooking get-together.

I had settled on three recipes for the evening, or possibly four or five depending on how you want to count. We would make almond milk and use it in Taillevent's Taillé in Lent and in Chiquart's Bruet of Verjuice. (Thats either two or three recipes.) Also from Chiquart we would make Sauce Piquant. The two sauces would go on top of some nice fish, tilapia, which I would cook using the method used for Coronation. (See previous articles.)

For the almond milk, we boiled some water and put a pound of almonds in the food processor. As they got chopped up, we added a little water and kept whirring until the almonds formed a smooth paste. Then they got dumped in a bowl with several cups of nearly boiling water and stirred up and left to sit for a while.

The recipe for Taillé in Lent read as follows (using the Elizabeth Bennet translation):
"Take blanched almonds, and grind well in a mortar, then have boiled water cooled to lukewarm, and dilute the almonds, and strain through a sieve, and boil your milk over a little coals, then take biscuits one or two days old, and cut into small pieces the size of large dice, then take figs, dates and raisins and cut the figs and dates in pieces, like the biscuits, and throw everything in the pot, and let it thicken like porridge, and add sugar. And boil an ounce or two of almond milk; and to color it, have saffron to color it like porridge, and salt lightly."

I put my friend Rowana to work cubing all the leftover breadsticks I had made a couple of days before, enough to maybe half fill a 4 quart pot - with no packing down of the bread, of course! Then she diced up about 1/2 pound each of dried dates and dried figs. Those were added to the pot, along with perhaps a cup of raisins. The almond milk we had made got tossed on top, without straining although the recipe calls for it - I just decided that using the almond meal would be OK for the first pass and would save me having to throw out the almond meal, which seemed wrong in this frugal season. There wasnt quite enough liquid so we added some water on the theory that our almond milk was too thick. True or not, it sounded good at the time.

Margarita, meanwhile, ground up a good couple of tablespoons of grains of paradise in the mortar and pestle and we made the two sauces from Chiquart.

Chiquart #36, (Elizabeth Cook translation)
"And to give understanding to him who will make the sauce piquant take onions and prepare them very well and cut them into fair slices and mince them very small; and then let him have his very well refined oil and then saute the onions in it well and properly, and then drain off the oil, which should not remain at all. And then take a fair and clean pot and then take very good wine and put it in according to the quantity of fish which he is frying; and then take his spices: ginger, grains of paradise, saffron, pepper -- and put in all these things in measure according to the quantity of fish which is to be eaten with the said sauce piquant; and let it taste of vineger well and gently, and of salt also."

The sauce piquant was made as follows:
1 cup or more minced onions
1 cup white wine
olive oil
ginger, grains of paradise, pepper
vinegar, I used red wine vinegar

Saute the onions in olive oil until soft. Remove from the oil and drain or pat clean. Put in a small saucepan with about a cup of white wine and your spices. Start with perhaps a teaspoon of each spice and add more if you need (or use less if that sounds excessive), bring to a simmer. When it has been simmering for a while, add a few tablespoons of vinegar or more to taste. It should have a little sharpness to it and the vinegar will help cut the bite of the grains of paradise and black pepper. (The original calls for saffron as well, but I didn't have any, and also for salt, but I didnt think it needed any.)

The bruet of verjuice is Chiquart #39.
"To give understanding to him who will make this bruet of verjuice, let him have good almonds well brayed, and let him him have good white bread and remove the crust well and put to soak in good white wine and verjuice according to the quantity of potage which he is making; and then take his well-brayed almons and his spices, good white ginger, grains of paradise and a little pepper -- and all of these things in reason -- and strain all this through a strainer and put to boil in a fair pot. And when it is time to dress it carry it to the sideboard and check the salt; and then arrange your fish on fair serving dishes and throw the broth on top."

The bruet of verjuice was made as follows:
three slices of bread, crusts removed, I used a French style sandwich loaf
1 cup of white wine
1/2 cup verjuice
ginger, grains of paradise, pepper
1 cup almond milk

Put the bread in to soak with the white wine and verjuice for five or ten minutes, and then mash it through a strainer a couple of times. Take the liquid and whatever solids you can force through the strainer and add the almond milk. Add the spices, again start with perhaps a teaspoon of each and add more if you like. Put the sauce on to simmer and let simmer for ten minutes or longer.

The almond milk used in the bruet of verjuice was our second batch, and that batch we did strain through cheesecloth. We then added more water to the solids and made some second run almond milk as well.

We all tried the foods and talked and drank California Zinfandel. I thought the bruet of verjuice didnt turn out too well, the heat from the pepper and grains of paradise was a little overpowering. If I make it again, Ill try adding more verjuice to give it a little more bite.

The sauce piquant was wonderful, Sunday night my lady wife Eularia and I had leftover tilapia with leftover sauce piquant with some homemade pickled cabbage that our super's wife gave me Friday night when I was taking the trash down.

The Taillé was also very good, the fruit gave it a nice sweetness even though we didn't add any sugar or honey. After it cooked a while it thickened up like porridge, as it was supposed to and made a very nice dessert. And I had some for breakfast Sunday as well. Ailith, who had come with her husband Eric, dropped me an email the next day to say that they had already tried the Taillé in Lent again, using almond flour and water instead of making their own almond milk and that it worked just fine.

And best of all, all the dishes are perfectly Lenten!

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

Copyright Jeff Berry
Originally webbed: 12 April 2006
Last modified: 14 April 2006