I have been preoccupied with ancient grains since writing our post on Ethiopian grain Teff last November. Our healthy eating series in the new year included Noah’s Pudding and today we revisit that recipe’s main ingredient, spelt.
A member of the farro family and descendent of ancient wheat Emmer, Spelt has formed a staple part of the human diet since the Bronze Age when it spread through central Europe. In the Iron Age spelt became the main wheat species in southern Germany and Switzerland, finally landing in Southern Britain around 500 BC. It continued to be popular until 1786 when Scottish engineer Andrew Meikle invented the threshing machine. Sadly the tougher husk of the spelt could not be removed by this new work saving device and it gradually fell out of favour.
200 years on and spelt was adopted by the organic food movement as it requires fewer fertilizers, although lower yield and a lengthier preparation process make it a pricier alternative for consumers. With a lower G.I. rating, higher levels of phenolic compounds and decent amounts of sulphur, potassium, niacin, B6 and beta-carotene – it is now being hailed as the latest ‘superfood’ and takes centre stage in a recent trend for heritage ingredients.
Spelt has a flavour reminiscent of peanut butter and a wonderfully crumbly texture. Classically matched with honey it sits perfectly alongside oranges, walnuts, hazelnuts and the darkest of dark chocolate. I have combined it with a standard white flour to lend a lighter quality. This recipe makes around 12 rock cakes ideal for an afternoon tea break.
- 220g white self raising flour
- 110g wholemeal spelt flour
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 150g butter
- 120g chopped dates
- 1 orange
- 3 tbsp honey
- 1 egg
- 3-4 tbsp milk
- Preheat oven to 200C. Grease/line a baking tray.
- Combine the two flours and baking powder. Rub in the butter to fine breadcrumb texture. Stir in dates and the zest of your orange.
- In a large jug whisk 1tbsp of juice from the orange with the honey, egg and 3 tbsp of milk. Add to the dry ingredients and mix to a stiff dough. Use a little more milk if necessary.
- Pull of small, golf ball size pieces and space out on the tray. Bake for 20 – 25 minutes until golden brown and cooked through. Will keep for up to a week in a tin.
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.
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.
- 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
- 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
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.
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/