Fruit Mus Two Ways

I am sorry for falling so abruptly silent again, but I ended my birthday with some unpleasant cold symptoms and a COVID diagnosis. Things are improving rapidly, it looks like a very mild case, but right now I am still missing my sense of smell and playing catch-up with the world around me. Before the virus got me, I had prepared a few experimental recipes for my birthday party and two of them were Mus. To be precise, one from the Mondseer Kochbuch:

Clockwise, bramble Mus, cherry almond milk Mus, and a fig in jelly

1 A spoon dish of almond milk, cherries, and rice

You shall take a pound of almonds and pound them to milk, and cherries one libra, and pass them through a sieve and add the milk to it. Take a fierdung of rice, that shall be pounded to flour, and add that to the milk. Then take pure fat or bacon and melt that in a pan, and add to it half a mark of white sugar, and do not oversalt it.

The other one was from the Kuchenmaistrey, the 1485 cookbook whose English translation by me is just now coming out.

Item make a spoon dish of blackberries or of tart cherries thus. Pound the blackberries or tart cherries in a mortar. Add white bread and pass it through a cloth. Then take milk and flour and stir them well together. Mix it together in the pan, set it over the fire and, stir (tür) it well and do not oversalt it. This will be a brown spoon dish. Serve it and strew ginger on it. The pan should be greased, or add fat so that it does not burn. If it is too thick, add milk to it.

An unsteady hand with the ginger jar…

I decided to go with blackberries, for variety, because I really like them, and because I was curious about the colour. Both turned out very nice.

Mus is generally thought of as a boring category of food, and I tend to harbour the same prejudice though I try to combat it. Modern cuisine is leery of anything that is too highly processsed, and a mushy, spoonable consistency – the one shared characteristic of all things Mus – is suspicious, if anything. That can cause us to miss some interesting flavour and textures. Medieval Mus dishes have the capacity to surprise, though admittedly some are bland.

The first one was a striking success, but I had expected it to be. It is also quite close to modern expectations of a sweet pudding or custard, so it is likely to workk well with today’s diners. My main uncertainty was the thickness of the almond milk used. In the end, I opted for commercial almond milk (Mandeldrink) to ease the process. I mixed it with the pureed cherries and the sugar, then added rice flour mixed with a little of the liquid and boiled the whole. It worked out well, the colour came out quite striking and it tasted delicious.

Deep red and fruity (the cakes in the background are modern, lemon and vanilla hazelnut)

The second one had me worried. It is described specifically as a brown dish after all, and with so many medieval foods being brown or beige, that seemed a strage qualifier. With no guidance on proportion, I opted to go with a heavy emphasis on the fruit: 300g fresh blackberries, pureed, mixed with about a tablespoon of white breadcrumbs and a cup of milk, and bound with about two tablespoons of wheat flour. I ended up needing another cup of milk to stop it from sticking and burning, but I was rewarded with a spoonable, firm dish of a strikingly purple colour. Serving it with ginger as per the recipe gave me pause, so I provided sugar on the side because I expected it to be quite inedible to modern tastes. Nobody used any sugar. It may not have been the most popular dish of the day (that was the chicken), but it was an unexpected success. Both Mus dishes were fruity and refreshing, not at all like what we stereotype medieval food as.

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