A very British stoup

One of the things I love about winter is the endless bowls of warming soup. Solid, honest food that wraps you in a fleece blanket and puts the fire on as you eat. Dried pulses, root veg and aliums seem to be grown for this form of cookery and you can almost feel it doing you good whilst you slurp out of a big heavy mug.

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The next choice for the Healthy Eating from History series is not so much a recipe as a flavour profile from a particular time and place. The 9th century to be exact, the Anglo Saxon / Viking era and the place is Yorvik. Archaeological finds have discovered small amounts of evidence regarding our diet and there is much documentation as to farming methods, in addition to knowledge regarding edible native plants.

Beans and peas have formed an important part of our diets for centuries, and it is believed to be the broad bean which was most commonly seen in Anglo Saxon England. Grown as a field crop they would be dried on the plant and stored throughout the year. Out of necessity, meals were meat free and beans provided an excellent source of protein in addition to complex carbohydrates. There is something ancient and nutritious about eating dried beans and other pulses and I am inevitably drawn to throwing them in my stoup. Mine were recently picked up from a Newcastle deli and are British grown by Hodmedods in the south.

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The second main ingredient for today is leeks. Anglo Saxons are thought to have eaten a lot of wild aliums, the family including leeks, garlic and chive. They would also have access to carrots and parsnips, both would be thin, woody and white in colour as orange carrots had not reached the shores of England. My recent vegetable bag from Goodness contained a combination of white and yellow carrots so I chop them up and toss them in too.

Last but not least I look to archaeological evidence from the dig sites in York’s Coppergate area for inspiration with flavourings. Samples of plant finds confirm the use of both coriander and dill in seed and probably leaf form. As dill is excellent with leeks and carrots I take this gently aniseed route. I also cheat with a vegetable stock cube, bay leaf and seasoning.

NB: In the photographs below you will have noticed a lamb bone peeking out of the top of the stoup. It was left over from a roast the day before and any viking cook would never let such a flavourful addition go to waste so neither did I. It was an added bonus and obviously should not stop you from having a go in the absence of a juicy bone!

Ingredients

250g dried broad beans or split peas
4 medium leeks
2 tsp dill seeds
2 carrots
Vegetable stock cube
2 small bay leaves
Optional: random left over bone

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Method

Place the beans in a large pot and cover with plenty of water. Soak overnight.

The next day wash and slice the leeks. Fry gently in a large pan. Do not brown.

Whilst the leeks are cooking, chop the carrots and add to the pan along with the dill seed.

Cover the contents of the pan with one litre of water and stir in the vegetable stock cube and bay leaves. Bring to the boil then simmer for about an hour.

Towards the end of cooking time use a spoon to press and break up the broad beans. This releases the starch and thickens the stoup as you stir. Serve in whatever vessel you prefer.

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Healthy Eating from History – Erbolate

Welcome to the second instalment of the Healthy Histories series. We kicked off 2015 with the toothsome pudding from Turkey called Asure. Today I share with you a dish of baked egg and herbs. A simple supper made for Richard II, Erbolate appeared in one of the earliest cookery books in England, A Forme of Cury from 1390.

Duck, Old Blue Cotswold and modern speckled brown chicken egg.

Duck, Old Blue Cotswold and modern speckled brown chicken egg.

From peahen to the much prized turtle, mankind has eaten eggs throughout culinary history. Extraordinary Roman chef Apicius, thriving in 25Bc, is thought to have invented many familiar egg recipes. He is the first to document a sweet baked egg custard. By the Middle ages eggs accompanied fish and almond milk as suitable alternatives to meat during fasting.

Many herbs from this period are no longer easily available and when they are found it is often in the context of herbal therapies. Indeed, many of the plants noted in this ‘receipt’ were likely included for their medicinal qualities.

Take and grind parsel, mynthe, sauery, sauge, tansey, veruain, clarey, rewe, ditaiyn, fenel and southernewood and grinde hem fyne.

Rue, Dittany and Southernwood are all extremely bitter tasting leaves which are toxic and should be used with extreme care. They were all believed to be beneficial to the digestive system as many bitter herbs were. In actual fact, Southernwood is the Mediterranean relative of Wormwood, infamous ingredient of absinthe and containing neuro-toxins. Tansy is another which should be used sparingly but will impart a unique aromatic flavour not dissimilar to nutmeg or clove. Tansy can be found growing wild across England if you are a confident forager.

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Tansy – photographed on a guided foraging trip last year.

Clary, otherwise known as Clary Sage, was utilised by the Romans to make an eyewash and is believed to be good for easing muscle spasms. This is still in modern culinary and herbal use as is Vervain. Better known as Verbena, Vervain is thought to be one of the 38 plants used to make the tincture for Bach flower remedy.

The challenge when recreating Erbolate is matching the flavour profile with ingredients which are both flavoursome and easy to source. We are not as accustomed to bitter leaves here in Britain, though other parts of Europe still value them as part of a wide ranging diet. Frisee and dandelion leaves were excellent possibilities, along with the chicory and rocket I eventually decided upon. Parsley, Mint and Sage were obvious enough and I chose to add a little thyme to echo the qualities of the Dittany and Savoury. Finely, a little nutmeg grated sparingly over the top will do in the absence of Tansy.

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Erbolate

or Baked Herb Omelette

Ingredients

  • 1 handful of rocket leaves
  • 1 chicory head
  • small amount of each fresh – thyme, parsley, mint, sage, fennel or tarrogan
  • 3 duck eggs
  • salt and nutmeg for seasoning

Method

Serves two with salad

  • Preheat the oven to 175C.
  • Take a small baking dish and grease lightly with butter.
  • Gently tear the rocket leaves up and place them in the bottom. Break 2-3 blades from the bulb of chicory and lay them on top as seen in the picture below.

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  • Finely chop the herbs and scatter on top of the chicory. Start with around about a loose teaspoon of each once finally chopped. You can then adjust according to personal taste if you wish.

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  • Whisk the eggs and pour them over the herbs. Press everything down so that the chicory is coated and is less likely to catch in the oven. Chicken eggs could also be used, but I went with the more robust nature of duck eggs to stand up to the strong flavour of the other ingredients. Grate a little nutmeg over the top before placing in the oven. Bake for 20 – 25 minutes depending on how you like your eggs and the depth of your dish. Remove and serve. Leftovers can be eaten at room temperature the next day.

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Healthy Eating from History – Noah’s Pudding

NOAH’S PUDDING

Asure (ash-oo-ray)

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There are times when a new recipe develops through hours of research. Others flash into life from a simple word, smell or taste whilst I’m thinking of something completely unrelated. Then, like this one, inspiration visits me via someone else. Noah’s Pudding appeared in a novel my husband was reading, the main character prepared and served the dessert for dinner guests. The description included grains, pulses and dried fruits combined in a sweet, porridge like consistency. John thought it sounded tasty and the name itself had me hooked. It also served as the prompt for this new series of posts as we begin 2015. Healthy Eating from History aims to share a number of recipes which should help in the age old New Year quest of resetting our constitutions.

The story behind the dish makes Asure one of the oldest desserts in history. Legend tells that, in the last few days of life on the Ark, with waters receding and food stocks running low Noah himself threw everything in a pot and hoped for the best. Every cook has at some point found themselves in a similar situation and will understand the trepidation that comes with impromptu cooking. As it happens the Asure was a hit and provided tasty sustenance until the Ark found dry land on Mount Ararat.

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Back in the 21st century, Asure is now a sweet dessert eaten on the day of Ashura during Muharram. Ashura is a day to remind Shia Muslims of the sacrifices the Prophet’s family made for the sake of mankind. In Turkey it has come to represent diversity, peace and friendship and it is customary to make a large pot and share it amongst neighbours and friends.

There is no standard recipe for Asure, although there are a number of ingredients which form the initial building blocks. These include wheat, pulses, dried fruit, nuts, sugar or honey to sweeten and aromatics such as rose, orange blossom or lemon peel. It is a perfect way of satisfying the sweet cravings of a cold day and uses up many of the store cupboard leftovers from Christmas. The following recipe is The History Girls version of Noah’s Pudding.

Noah’s Pudding

Ingredients

  • 130g pearled spelt
  • 100g tinned chickpeas
  • 70g pudding rice
  • 250ml skimmed milk
  • 350ml water
  • 1tbsp honey
  • 11/2 orange blossom water
  • small pinch ground cinnamon
  • 60g of a mixture of walnuts, pistachios and hazelnuts
  • 5 dried dates
  • 3 ready to eat figs
  • 20g sultanas

Almond slices, pomegranate seeds and pomegranate molasses to serve

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Method

  • Pour the spelt into a large container with just enough water to cover. Leave to soak overnight.
  • The following day combine the spelt, chickpeas and pudding rice in a medium sized pan with the milk and water. Stir well and bring to the boil. Simmer carefully for 10 minutes, covered, stirring regularly to help release the starches.
  • Whilst the grains are cooking, finely chop the nuts, dates and figs.
  • After 10 minutes check the pan and stir in the honey, orange blossom water and cinnamon. Simmer for another ten minutes stirring regularly until the spelt and rice is cooked through. Add a little more water if you wish the texture to be thinner.
  • Take everything off the heat and fold in the dried fruit and nuts. Taste for sweetness, using a little more honey if desired.
  • Serve at room temperature in small bowls. Scatter with almond slices and the tart pomegranate seeds and molasses

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