A fricassee of rabots.

Once again, the link to my most recent piece with a historical influence. If you are a fan of rabbit dishes I can highly recommend trying the dish.

I will continue to share my history related from The Greedy Wordsmith but if you are interested in reading my additional work on wider food and cookery topics please drop by my professional page and say hi!

https://greedywordsmith.wordpress.com/2015/10/03/a-fricassee-of-rabots-a-modern-take-on-a-17th-century-recipe/?preview=true

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Come on over!

Since re-branding my professional work as The Greedy Wordsmith, I incorporated all of the food history posts on my new blog. However, I see that I am still picking up one or two followers on here. So hello!

Please click the link for my recent piece following up on the work shared at York Food and Drink Festival.

It goes without saying, if you like what you read then please drop by the sister site for more articles on food, cookery and community.

https://greedywordsmith.wordpress.com/2015/10/03/the-new-black-a-breakfast-to-go-a-viking/?preview=true

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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A History Of Food In 100 Recipes – A book review

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So far I have aimed to share some of my historic discoveries and demonstrate how easily they fit into a modern cooking repertoire. Many people have enquired as to how I got started in food history and where they can go to do similiar research. As a beginner my first steps were in the world of medieval cookery, a truly exciting time of change. With the introduction of sugar and exotic spices into the stomachs of the most affluent in British society, diet often reflected many of the political and social changes of th era. There is a wealth of written information on this period, perfect for the historically curious cook.

As my understanding grew I so did my desire to learn more about how our diets evolved throughout history, rather than focusing on a single snapshot in time. So imagine my delight when my husband arrived home with the new book by William Sitwell in 2012. The arrival of a new cookbook is always greeted with boundless excitement in History Girls HQ but this was to offer the perfect combination of instruction and commentary on my favourite topic. Rather than a simple collection of receipts, ‘A History Of Food In 100 Recipes’ aims to introduce you to how one innovation fits in to it’s social context, then how one influenced the next.

William Sitwell is a renowned food writer and restaurant critic perhaps best known for his role as Editor for Waitrose Kitchen Magazine. Throughout the book his style is warm and friendly. So often history can be dry and humourless but Sitwell manages to include a lot of factual information in a manner which feels accessible to the novice reader. His experience on the topic is evident and instills the reader with confidence as he walks you through the evolution of cooking and diets within human civilisations.

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The ‘recipe’ I use most from this book is one you will be familiar with as I have shared it many times on my History Girls facebook page. Tiger nut sweets, circa 1400 bc is a tantalising story of Ancient Egyptian stone carvings and Old Testament bible stories. Made up of nothing more than dried fruits, almonds and honey it is also an excellent example of how an ancient delicacy can fit perfectly with modern trends. Pressed together the ingredients form the original high fibre, low sugar energy snack: perfect for life on the move.

If you are interested in widening your own repertoire of historic influence dishes then I can thoroughly recomend this first book by William Sitwell. In addition to confirming research I had from previous sources it was the start for a great number of research threads I am still following two years later. I hope for the arrival of another book from the author, regardless of whether it concentrates on history.

To find out more about William Sitwell and his work please visit http://www.williamsitwell.com

To explore medieval and Tudor recipes try Ivan Day at http://www.historicfood.com/

Corned Beef – that well known Irish-American-Jewish dish.

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Tinned meat has always been high on my ‘not on your nelly’ list, with corned beef sitting right at the top. However, whilst researching traditional Irish recipes I encountered corned beef brisket and have wanted to have a play ever since.

For years I have been describing corned beef brisket as a typical Irish dish, then exported to the British and American navy and finally turned into the high salt/high fat tinned meat we see today.

The name seems to originate from the ‘corns’ of salt used in the brine to preserve the dish. It is very important to make sure the basic components of this solution are correct, but with the right proportions of water/salt and nitrate the rest, as they say, is up to you. Most of the recipes found online are American and I adapted one from a Mr Alton Brown.

The science-ey bit. The salt and saltpeter in this recipe have a curing effect on the beef, changing the texture and flavour of the meat. This is NOT a method of preservation which allows long term storage and brining should always be done in the fridge. PLEASE NOTE : saltpeter is highly toxic in too large amounts and should be stored with this in mind.

Mothership recipe for brining meat

2300ml fresh water

11/2 cups of large flaked salt (I used Maldon salt)

1/2 cup of soft brown sugar

2 flat tbsp of food grade saltpeter

Any combination of spices you fancy trying. Suggestions might be cinnamon, mustard seed, peppercorns, clove, allspice berry, juniper, bay and ginger. Whole spices work best.

Mix all of the above in a large pan, bring to the boil and simmer, stirring until everything has dissolved. Take off the heat and stir in 2lb of ice. Place the whole thing in the fridge and chill right down. It can be left overnight if desired.

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And so, to the beef. This is where the cross cultural reference comes in. It seems that beef itself was expensive and in short suuply in the 18th century. If you were the average peasant-in-the-street the only meat you were ever going to get your hands on was pork. Then the opportunity came for a new life in North America and Irish citizens took their penchant for salted pork with them. Once in America Irish immigrants found themselves lacking in pork; and rubbing shoulders with Jewish neighbours who were producing a Kosher salt beef brisket. Due to a proliferation of beef herds in Ireland at about the same time, the British started producing the same product back in the Emerald Isle and so the relationship with Navy ships began!

Meat for corning

For a first attempt I decided to stick with beef, but shall be trying this process with pork next time. You need a piece of around 4-5 lb piece, cut into two. Place each piece of meat in a large resealable freezer bag and divide the brine between the two bags. Ensure the meat is totally covered and press all excess air out before sealing. Stand in a suitable container and cure for a minimum of 10 days. Give each package a good squish around everyday to keep the solution circulating about the meat.

So now you have a piece of cured salt beef! But what to do next? Cooking instructions are exactly the same as any other piece of brisket. Add whole small carrots, cabbage quarters and potatoes into the broth at the end to serve in a traditional sense. Or cool, pull apartand eat in huge doorstop sandwiches with lots of mustard for a more American twist!