Strawberye

Strawberry Pottage

Old pottage is sooner heated than new made. –Old German Proverb

Pottages were one of the genres of dishes that were found in the late-medieval cook’s standard repertoire.[1] Pottage derives from the French word potage and can vary from a thick soup, to porridge as well as stews. Pottages are a primitive kind of cookery that reached a great level of complexity by the time this recipe was originally recorded. Pottages were one of the few foods that were consumed by anyone, regardless of station.[2] This Strawberry Pottage is found in the Harleian MS 279 manuscript under the section for diverse pottages.[3]

Original Recipe[4]

Translation[5]

Strawberry Take strawberries and wash them in time of year in good red wine; then strain through a cloth, and do them in a pot with good almond milk, mix it with wheat starch or with rice flour, and make it thick and let it boil, and do therein currants, saffron, pepper, sugar great plenty, powdered ginger, cinnamon, galingale; sour it with vinegar, and a little white grease put thereto; color it with Alkanet, and drop it above with pomegranate seeds, and then serve it forth.

The Ingredients

Wild strawberries are indigenous to both the Old and New worlds, with the European and Asian wild strawberry of the temperate zones are known as Fragaria vesca. Strawberries are a member of the rose family. These strawberries are not grown commercially because of their small fruit and low yield, but are considered the most delicious of all the varieties. Strawberry cultivation began by the 14th century, but progressed slowly. The current variety that is cultivated commercially is a hybrid of North & South American varieties.[6]

Almond cultivation was known to occur in the south of France and Spain as early as the 8th century B.C.E. The oldest mention of its cultivation is in the bible. Almonds are in the same family that includes apricots and cherries.[7] Almond milk was used in many medieval recipes as a replacement for milk during Lent. It was also prized by its ability to keep longer than milk from animals.[8]

Currants are tiny raisins made from a small grape first grown at Corinth in Greece. They can be found in both savory and sweet recipes.[9]

The spices ginger, galingale, pepper, cinnamon, sugar and saffron were imported into Europe from Asia. Spices were very expensive because of the cost to transport them. The cinnamon mentioned here is known as “true cinnamon” or “Ceylon Cinnamon”. Cassia, which we modernly call cinnamon is also known as “Saigon Cinnamon.” Both these cinnamons are the bark of the plant that is ground down to a powder for using in recipes. Ginger & galingale are closely related and are from the rhizome of the plants. They can be used either fresh or a powder can be made from the dried rhizome. Pepper, or Black Pepper was the most important spice of the spice trade. Sugar was primarily extracted from sugar cane which is native to India. It was only in the late 16th century that sugar was extracted from sugar beets. Saffron is the most expensive of all the spices and is contained in the orange-red stigmas of the crocus flower.[10] Ounce by ounce, it can be as expensive, if not more so than some precious metals.[11]

Alkanet is a member of the borage family and creates a red or brown dye. It was used not only in the coloring of food stuff, but fabrics as well. It is still used in modern times as a food coloring.[12]

Cooking Methods

Pottages are one of the easiest types of recipes to cook as the concept is everything is cooked in a single pot. The pot could be made of clay (pottery) or forged from metal. Then the pot was placed as close to coals from the fire as needed to bring the ingredients to the desired temperature. The source of heat would vary depending on the type of wood or coal being used. A system of hooks or tripods, or a combination of both would be used to expose the pot to the needed amount of heat.[13]

My Redaction

Ingredients

2 lb. Strawberries 1 cup currants 1 tsp. powdered ginger
2 cups red wine 2 pinches saffron ¼ cup lard
4 cups almond milk ¼ tsp. ground black pepper ½ cup red wine vinegar
1 cup rice flour 1 tsp. ground galingale 30 drops food coloring
1 cup sugar 1 tsp. ground Ceylon cinnamon  

Instructions

Combine strawberries & wine in a blender and blend until smooth. Line a strainer with a flour sack cloth and pour in strawberry puree over a cooking pot. Squeeze as much of the liquid out of the cloth as possible to be captured into the pot. Add the almond milk and bring it over a medium heat, stirring occasionally as to avoid scorching the bottom of the pot. When the mixture is starting to boil, slowly whisk in the rice flour a spoonful at a time. Add the remaining ingredients and continue to stir until thick. Pour into serving bowl and garnish (preferably with pomegranate seeds). Serves 16.

Notes[14]

I was limited to resources I had to cook with at home and due to my work situation (which is 160 miles from home), which included no means to cook over an open fire. The galingale and cinnamon were both freshly ground using a coffee bean grinder. The sugar is cane sugar that was purchased at the local store. The rice flour was also purchased at a local store.

The almond milk was made from boiling whole almonds in water to blanch them. The skins were removed and 2 cups of almonds were blended (in two batches) with 5 cups of boiling water. The almond puree was then strained through a flour sack cloth to extract the milk. It yielded 4 cups of almond milk.

I chose a blended wine from the Bordeaux region of France for this recipe.

Since I decided to cook this recipe but a week ago, I had no opportunity to secure alkanet. Food coloring was used instead to bring the pottage more red than brown after the addition of the spices.

Bibliography

Austin Thomas Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery Books [Book]. - Bury St. Edmunds : Oxford University Press, 1888. - Unaltered Reprint 1996. - This is an edited edition of Harleian MSS 279 & 4016 from the British Museum and Extracts from Ashmole MS 1439, Laud Ms 553 & Douce MS 55.

Davidson AlanThe Penguin Companion to Food [Book]. - New York : Penguin Books, 2002. - An extensive compendium of food stuff including both biological and historical information.. - ISBN 0-14-200163-5.

Scully Terence The Art of Cookery in the Middle Ages [Book]. - Woodbridge : The Boydell Press, 1997. - Paperback. - A compendium on practically all aspects of the art of cooking and dining in the middle ages, the lore and logic of the medieval kitchen is very fully explored in this book.

End Notes

[1] (Scully, 1997), Pg 110

[2] (Davidson, 2002)

[3] (Austin, 1888)

[4] (Austin, 1888)

[5] This is my own translation using the glossary found in Two Fifteenth-Century cookery Books.

[6] (Davidson, 2002)

[7] (Davidson, 2002)

[8] (Scully, 1997)

[9] (Davidson, 2002)

[10] (Davidson, 2002)

[11] This is from personal experience when comparing the ounce price of saffron sold by Spice Islands to the price of Gold circa 1995.

[12] (Scully, 1997) & (Davidson, 2002)

[13] (Scully, 1997)

[14] These notes are particular to having entered this dish in an Arts & Sciences competition; having made the decision to enter the competition a week before the event