The Hitchhiker's Guide to Ancient Cookery

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Alexandre Lerot d'Avigné
Jeff Berry
(Number 40 in the Series, March 2007)

Cooking Classes and More Lenten Experiments

Once again, my wife and I are attempting something that resembles ar to try and do a medieval Lenten observance, as an exercise in what I've started to call "Medieval Foodways." Once again, I was able to schedule a cooking get-together.

I had actually scheduled a cooking thingie late in 2006 and as a result of feedback, had prepped for this one by choosing recipes in advance that folks could look, and possibly try their hand, at. I gave them four to look at, but a number of last minute conflicts arose and we were fewer than I had expected, so we restricted ourself to just two.

From Le Ménagier de Paris, c. 1393 (Eileen Power translation)

TAILLIS to serve in Lent
TAILLIS to serve in Lent. Take fine raisins, boiled milk of almonds, cracknels, galettes and crusts of white bread and apples cut into little squares and boil your milk and add saffron to colour it and sugar and put all in together until it is thick enough to be cut. It is served in Lent, instead of Rice.
TO MAKE A TART (TOURTE), take four handfuls of beets, two handfuls of parsley, a handful of chervil, a sprig of fennel and two handfuls of spinach, and pick them over and wash them in cold water, then cut them up very small; then bray with two sorts of cheese, to wit a hard and a medium, then add eggs thereto, yolks and whites, and bray them in with the cheese; then put the herbs into the mortar and bray all together and also put therein some fine powder. Or instead of this have ready brayed in the mortar two heads of ginger and to this bray your cheese, eggs and herbs and then cast old cheese scraped or grated on to the herbs and take it to the oven and then have your tart made and eat it hot.
Here are the same recipes from the Janet Hinson translation.
TAILLIS to be served in Lent.
TAILLIS to be served in Lent.Take fine grapes, boiled milk of almonds, scalded, cakes and crusts of bread and apples cut in small cubes, and boil your milk, and saffron to give it colour, and sugar, and then mix it all together until it is stiff enough to be cut. It is served in Lent instead of rice.
TO MAKE A TART, take four handfuls of beet-leaves, two handfuls of parsley, one handful of chervil, a bit of turnip-top and two handfuls of spinach, and clean them and wash them in cold water, then chop very small: then grate two kinds of cheese, that is one mild and one medium, and then put eggs with it, yolk and white, and grate them in with the cheese; then put the herbs in the mortar and grind them up together, and also add to that some powdered spices. Or in place of this have first ground up in the mortar two pieces of ginger, and over this grate your cheeses, eggs and herbs, and then throw in some grated old pressed cheese or some other such on to the herbs, and carry to the oven, and then make it into a tart and eat it hot.
Interestingly enough, last year I made Taillevent's Taillé in Lent, so I had something to compare with Le Ménagier's TAILLIS to serve in Lent.

When the folks arrived we discussed the recipes a bit and then got to work. The TAILLIS was the most interesting adventure of the day, for me at least.

We began by making almond milk, grinding a couple of cups of almonds finely in the food processor, then covering them with boiling water and letting them steep. I had made bread earlier in the day, and we toasted several cups of small cubes, then mixed it with the strained milk, a diced apple and a handful of raisins. Perhaps a quarter cup of sugar went into the mix as well. The whole thing was heated and stirred over a low flame until it was pretty stiff, then it was left to cool.

When served alone, it was a little bland and, frankly, not too tasty. Sprinkling a little more sugar on top of it helped a lot, and brought it more in line with Taillevent's Taillé, (see HHGtAC 39.) But I found myself intrigued by the reference to serve it instead of rice. I had asked my guests before we started if they thought we were looking at a sweet or a savory dish. Most thought sweet, and so did I - based partly on my experience with Taillevent.

The more I thought about it, though, the more I wondered. Many modern stuffings contain fruit, so why not serve this as a starch with savory dishes - in fact, as one might serve rice. So I braised up some meat for dinner and we ate with the meat and broth served over the TAILLIS. It worked a treat.

The TART was also pretty straightforward. We went heavy on the greens and light on the eggs and cheese, although it failed to be Lenten in any case. This gave a denser texture than some versions of this recipe than I have had in the past.

The main point of interest here was that reading Le Méenagier, and as this recipe illustrates, convinced me that in general when ancient authors wrote concerning beets, they meant beet-greens and not beet-root. This was suggested to me by Magistra Rufina and Master John in the context of the Roman feast I served at Coronation a year or two ago. (HHGtAC 30). I am now firmly of their opinion which means my beets at that feast are a bad redaction. Sorry. (There's another wart for you ...)

Until next time ...

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Alexandre Lerot d'Avigné, Jeff Berry,

Copyright Jeff Berry
Originally webbed: 12 April 2007
Last modified: 12 April 2007