Hans Staden on Cassava

Another piece from my ongoing research into buccaneer cuisine. This is from the account of the German landsknecht Hans Staden who served the Portuguese crown in Brazil in the 1550s. He spent a considerable time as a captive of the Tupinamba and made his observations during this time the centrepiece of his account which was printed in German in 1557. Staden’s account is most well known for his lurid (and possibly fictitious) descriptions of cannibalism, but his observations on life among the Native Americans are quite valuable. Here is what he says about processing and preparing cassava flour which he refers to as Mandioka.

Various Native Americans cooking and fighting, engraving by Theodore de Bry to accompany Staden’s account courtesy of wikimedia commons

Firstly they grate them on a stone to very small crumbs. Then they press out the juice with a thing made from palm branch skins called tippiti that way it becomes dry. Then they rub it through a sieve and bake thin cakes of that flour.

The thing in which they dry and bake their flour is baked from clay and shaped like a large bowl. They also take the roots fresh and lay them in water, let them rot in it, then take them out and lay them over the fire into the smoke. Let them dry. They call the dry roots Keinrima, they last long and when they wish to use them, they pound them in a mortar of wood that way it becomes as white as white flour. Of this they make the cakes called Byyw.

They also take well rotted Mandioka before they dry it and mix it with dried and with fresh and dry the flour of that. That lasts a year and is good to eat and they call that flour Vythan

They also make flour of fish and meat, they do it thus, they roast the meat or fish above the fire in the smoke and let it become all dry. Then they pluck it apart and still dry it once again over the fire in vessels which they burned for that purpose called Yneppaun. Then they pound it small in a wooden mortar and searce it through a sieve, that lasts very long. For they have no custom of salting fish or meat. Such flour they then eat with the root flour and it tastes quite good.

This is not a very detailed description – the roughly contemporary account of Jean de Lery is much more informative – but for many German readers it was the first and only exposure they had to Native American customs. It is also interesting in two regards: Firstly, it repeats the observation by several European writers that Native Americans do not use salt in their cooking. The second is the way in which it describes three modes of treating cassava in parallel, without any evident hierarchy between them. Most European observers considered the laborious method of turning cassava root into dry flat cakes by grating, pressing, drying and baking it the primary approach and refer to the others in passing if at all. I suspect this reflects their perspective more than the reality of Native American cuisine. Not only were they culturally primed to look for bread as the main food, the dried cassava flour fitted their notions of how to use an ingredient and was portable enough for sip’s supplies. It was clearly the form in which most European soldiers and sailors encountered cassava, but I doubt the same was true for the Tupinamba, the Cuni, or the Kalinago.

The reference to a flour made of dried fish or meat is also interesting and is similarly repeated in a number of sources. It makes sense since meat is difficult to preserve in a tropical climate. I find it hard to imagine what the experience of an unsalted, but highly spiced cassava porridge mixed with intensely umami meat powder would have been like, but the contrast to European habits could hardly be starker.

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The Mortar Chicken Experiment

Following up on yesterday’s recipe, I wanted to give it a try:

Mörserkuchen at its prettiest, just before it falls apart

10 A roast chicken in a mortar

Take a roast chicken and cut it up (zuo glide) small. Take white bread and prepare a thin egg batter. Pound saffron and pepper. And mix this together, and mix it well in a vat. And take a mortar with fresh fat and put it in there altogether. Scum it with a ladle and cover it with a bowl, and frequently turn the mortar against the fire so that it gets an even heat. Pour off the fat and pour it (the cooked dish) our into a serving dish and serve it.

Mashed ingredients – I suspect the intent may be to cut it finer, and it needs more saffron

I began with some defrosted leftover roast chicken, in this case from my birthday party and thus another fifteenth-century recipe. Since I was not really sure how small the ‘small’ in the recipe here means, I went with a fairly coarse chopping. After cutting up one chicken breast, I added one finely cubed slice of white bread. Again, I am not sure whether this should be dried or fresh, grated, chopped, or soaked and mashed, so I went with one option first. Salt, pepper, and a little saffron went into the mix which I then stirred three eggs into. The result was a kind of thick batter.

Did you know hot metal looks exactly like cold metal?

In the meantime, I heated up my mortar. I found this lovely piece of brass at a flea market two years ago and cleaned it up with wire brushes and metal polish, and now I finally had the opportunity to use it. Note I do not recommend actually cooking the dish this way. It is meant as proof of concept, not as a regular kitchen habit. Having pre-heated the mortar in a 200°C oven, I added a dollop of butter. I erred on the side of caution here – more would have been better and might have stopped the cake from sticking. Then I spooned in the batter and returned the mortar to the oven at 175°C.

Ready to go, already sizzling

The result was pretty good. It stuck to the sides in a few places which meant it did not come out as neatly as it was probably supposed to, but it held together nicely and tasted quite nice. The dish is not a culinary epiphany – it reminded me a little of chicken nuggets – but it went well with sweet mustard and, later, in a wrap with sliced cucumber, which is obviously not historical. I guess it should be possible to replicate it in a cast-iron skillet or something similarly less problematic.

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Mortar Chicken from the Mondseer Kochbuch

Another recipe from the Mondseer Kochbuch, one with plenty of parallels:

10 A roast chicken in a mortar

Take a roast chicken and cut it up (zuo glide) small. Take white bread and prepare a thin egg batter. Pound saffron and pepper. And mix this together, and mix it well in a vat. And take a mortar with fresh fat and put it in there altogether. Scum it with a ladle and cover it with a bowl, and frequently turn the mortar against the fire so that it gets an even heat. Pour off the fat and pour it (the cooked dish) our into a serving dish and serve it.

As a dish, this is not very interesting: Cooked chicken in a spicy egg batter thickened with bread gets thrown into a mortar with hot fat. If you cock your head sideways and squint, this could just barely be read as a breaded fried chicken, but it is far more likely a variation on the theme of Mörserkuchen, egg batters fried in heated mortars, that we find so often in German sources. Interestingly, it looks like a meeting of the standard Mörserkuchen made with bread and some chicken bits (The Königsberg MS #20 specifies that livers or feet are fine) and the dish known by the slightly enigmatic name of kungs huner that does specify not add bread at all. We have at least two parallel recipes for the latter, again from the Königsberg MS and Heidelberg Cod Pal Germ 551. It is possible that the difference in spicing – ginger in the latter recipes versus saffron and pepper in the Mondseer Kochbuch – may have been what distinguished kungs huner as such, but I doubt it. Certainly, given the degree to which the two sources depend on a shared tradition, I would want to see independent verification that ginger belongs in that dish.

The Mondseer Kochbuch is a recipe collection bound with a set of manuscript texts on grammar, dietetics, wine, and theology. There is a note inside that part of the book was completed in 1439 and, in a different place, that it was gifted to the abbot of the monastery at Mondsee (Austria). It is not certain whether the manuscript already included the recipes at that point, but it is likely. The entire codex was bound in leather in the second half of the fifteenth century, so at this point the recipe collection must have been part of it. The book was held at the monastery until it passed into the Vienna court library, now the national library of Austria, where it is now Cod 4995.

The collection shows clear parallels with the Buoch von guoter Spise. Many of its recipes are complex and call for expensive ingredients, and some give unusually precise quantities and measurements. It is edited in Doris Aichholzer’s “Wildu machen ayn guet essen…” Drei mittelhochdeutsche Kochbücher: Edition, Übersetzung, Quellenkommentar, Peter Lang, Berne et al. 1999

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A Seventeenth-Century Survival Bro

This is another story that I came across reading Jean-Baptiste Labat’s account of life in the French Antilles in the late seventeenth century. Honestly, if it wasn’t in the book, I would not believe it. Labat recalls meeting a hunter who carried with him

“…a caffetiere monacale, that is a caffetiere that you heat by spirits of wine. But since this would be entirely contrary to the parsimony that is required by his profession, he did not use anything but oil of palma Christi or fish oil. It served in, if anything, better. A small bag of manioc flour accompanied the caffetiere. Whenever he arrived at a place he wished to travel to, he would hang the caffetiere from a branch after having filled it with water from a balisier (a kind of palm) or a spring, wherever he found it. While travelling, he plucked and tasted herbs that came under his hands and killed as many anoli lizards as he felt he had need of.

Anoli lizard, illustration courtesy of wikimedia commons

Now I believe I have already said that anolis are small lizards, seven to eight inches long, whose length mostly consists of a tail much longer than their body. They are in size about half as thick as a little finger. You can judge what their bodies would look like once they were gutted and skinned, and how much fat and substance it could provide to the herbs with which it is cooked. But it must be said that those who look only for tenderness and ease of digestion in their meats will surely find this here.

About an hours before he was to take his meal, he lit his lamp and placed the chopped herbs into the caffetiere along with as many anolis as he judged necessary to give his water and his herbs the fat and juices required to turn it into a good broth (bouillon). Some crushed grains of bois d’Inde or some chili served him in place of salt and spices. When this venerable dish was cooked, he poured out the broth over manioc flour arranged on the leaf of a balisier. This was his soup (potage) which at the same time served him as his bread to eat his anolis, and since eating to fullness is dangerous in hot climates, his caffetiere served him as both evening meal and breakfast. Which both together never set him back more that two sols and six deniers. It was carnival to him when he caught a frog, and it would serve him for two days at least, such was the frugality of that man.”

I am really not sure what to make of this story. On one hand, Labat (who usually travelled with several servants and a supply of wine and liquor) surely did not actually accompany this man into the forest, so the story should be assumed to contain a degree of exaggeration. On the other hand, the precise observation of trivial details suggests it has some truth to it. Personally, I am above all fascinated by the combination of traditional Native American survival techniques with contemporary high technology. Surely, if YouTube had been invented, that guy would have had a channel.

And yes, you can make manioc porridge that way (I have) and you can eat anolis (I haven’t). And I am pretty sure there was more to the herbs than picking whatever looked appetising, but expecting that kind of knowledge to register with a member of the upper classes may be asking too much. I am grateful enough we have the story at all, for its sheer weirdness.

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Candied Ginger and the Spice Gap

Not a medieval recipe, another piece from Jean-Baptiste Labat as part of my buccaneer cuisine project. This time, the reverend father writes about treating the ginger they grew on Gouadeloupe:

Ginger, courtesy of wikimedia commons

“Spicers mix the ginger with pepper, a little cloves, and cinnamon, and after they have ground it and passed it through a sieve, they sell this under the name of sweet spices (épicerie douce), and they sell it quite dear since they make sure that the ginger, the market for which is brisk, makes up three fourths and more.

Ginger is turned into confit “…fit to serve honourable folk, you pick them long before they are mature (meur) while they are still tender, while the fibres are not yet distinct from the rest of its flesh, neither by their toughness nor by their colour, which is always stronger than that of the rest. You rub them with straw to remove the entire skin and cut them in slices … You leave them in seawater for three or four days which you change twice a day, and then for seven or eight days in freshwater which you also change twice every 24 hours. Then you let them boil in plenty of water for a good hour and put them back into fresh water for another day. After they have been taken out and drained, you place them in a weak syrup that is well clarified and quite hot, but not boiling and leave them in it for 24 hours. After that time, you take them out and let them drain, and place them in a stronger syrup than the previous, and you do this for three days in a row. You discard all these syrups as unusable because they absorb all the remaining acidity and excessively spicy (trop piquant) flavour of the fruit. Finally, you place them in a syrup of strong consistency that is well clarified. You leave them in this if you wish to preserve them wet, but if you wish to preserve them dry, as I have explained elsewhere speaking of preserving lemons and other fruit of the country. It is certain that ginger which is treated this way loses its sharp and biting flavour, but retains its warmth and its other good qualities.

You know it is well made … when you see no colour but amber, very clear and almost transparent, and it is tender under the tooth without being soft, and its syrup is quite clear.

That which the confituriers make for sale or the common people (menu peuple) for their use is brown, the syrup dark, and the fruit so strong, so harsh and biting that it is almost impossible to hold it on the tongue, at least unless you are accustomed to it like those sort of people who eat chili peppers like you eat a pear or an apple.”

This section from Labat’s travel account contains three interesting points. The first, and probably the least surprising, is the sale of pre-mixed spice blends. These are found in most medieval culinary sources, though they show up later and less often in the German ones than in either French or Italian. This épicerie douce is very similar to medieval poudre douce, a familiar flavour profile.

The second is that people in the Caribbean imported quite sophisticated cooking techniques and made the most of the easy availability of inexpensive sugar. As an aside, this also confirms Labat is quite the food snob. We enounter his judgemental voice repeatedly throughout his work. As a member of the French upper class, raised in Central France and well known for enjoying his food, we should not expect anything else.

The third is that not just Native Americans, but also some Europeans clearly had different ideas about what level of spiciness was desirable in food. Reading the succession of soakings and rinsings Labat puts ginger roots through, it sounds as though he is trying to leach out most of the flavour. I have not tried this yet, but I suspect it would result in something we would think of as insipid. Meanwhile, some of the ‘little people’ (that is what peuple menu roughly translated as) were quite proud of their tolerance for spiciness. Surely, eating a raw chili cannot serve as anything but a demonstration of spice cred. Imagining buccaneers as chiliheads, of course, pushes all the right macho buttons.

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Roast Battered Stockfish

Another recipe from the Mondseer Kochbuch, with a potentially interesting flavour profile:

18 How you can roast stockfish

image courtesy of wikimedia commons

Take a stockfish that is not large and remove its skin. Soften it in cold water and take it out, and press it (out?) in vinegar, (but) so that it stays whole. Tie it to two lengths of wood (schin) and lay it on a wooden griddle, and spread out the fire everywhere under it so that it warms. Drizzle it well with butter. Then prepare a nice batter of white flour and of eggs. Add pounded pepper or sugar and a little saffron. Salt it in measure and drizzle it on the fish. Pour on (? slag den taig dar auff) when the fish is very hot, and put coals underneath it until it turns red. Treat it thus before you take it down, drizzle it strongly with butter and serve it.

As it stands, this recipe would probably fairly earn an epithet like ‘nice’. It’s white fish in a flour-based batter, grilled over the coals with plenty of butter. Obviously, you can’t serve chips with it in a historical context, but you really want to.

The technical challenge of it lies in the initial stage. Skinning stockfish – air-dried Atlantic cod – is no easy undertaking, and there was an art to softening it that is reflected in many later sources. My practical experience is limited, and I am not confident at all I could get a side of stockfish soaked and skinned in one piece. Securing it firmly to wooden boards is sound advice (much like today’s plankefisk) to keep if from falling apart while cooking.

Another interesting point is that this fish could end up with an interesting flavour, depending on how you interpret the recipe. The instruction to press it in vinegar to me suggests that the fully reconstituted fish is pressed out in a dish of vinegar, infusing it with that sour tang. Depending on long and thoroughly this was done, you could get something much like we get today when we lightly drizzle fresh fish with lemon juice before cooking, but also something much more vinegar-foward. The former probably would work well with the suggested batter seasoned with pepper and saffron. The latter might pair more interestingly with the alternative, sugar. I wonder how that would work. I used to think sugar was used in homeopathic doses in such recipes, but there are references to quite generous quantities in the same source, so it could actually be a striking agrodolce if done right.

The Mondseer Kochbuch is a recipe collection bound with a set of manuscript texts on grammar, dietetics, wine, and theology. There is a note inside that part of the book was completed in 1439 and, in a different place, that it was gifted to the abbot of the monastery at Mondsee (Austria). It is not certain whether the manuscript already included the recipes at that point, but it is likely. The entire codex was bound in leather in the second half of the fifteenth century, so at this point the recipe collection must have been part of it. The book was held at the monastery until it passed into the Vienna court library, now the national library of Austria, where it is now Cod 4995.

The collection shows clear parallels with the Buoch von guoter Spise. Many of its recipes are complex and call for expensive ingredients, and some give unusually precise quantities and measurements. It is edited in Doris Aichholzer’s “Wildu machen ayn guet essen…” Drei mittelhochdeutsche Kochbücher: Edition, Übersetzung, Quellenkommentar, Peter Lang, Berne et al. 1999

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Boucan de Tortue

This post is taking us back to my research in buccaneer food, with a description of a festive dish prepared with turtle meat. In the description by Jean-Baptiste Labat, this was done by flibustiers, but in honour of a high-ranking colonial dignitary. This is not everyday food.

They chose the largest of the four turtles they had taken and without cutting off its feet or head, they had opened in on one side to tear out all its insides (tout le dedans). They had lifted off the back shell (plastron) of another and after had lifted out all the meat and fat. Having chopped this together with what they had taken out of the first, hard-boiled egg yolks, fine herbs, spices, lemon juice, salt, and strong chili (piment), they refilled all the chopped meat into the shell (le corps) of the one they had left entire. Following this, they re-closed the opening with a piece of clay (terre grasse).

While the cooks were busy with what I have just said, other dug a hole in the sand of the beach to a depth of four to five feet and six feet in diameter. They filled that hole with wood which they let burn until it had become just coals (charbon) in order to properly heat the entire depth (concavité) of the hole. They then drew out the coals, laid the turtle on its back at the bottom of the heated hole, and covered it with three or four inches of hot sand from around it and the coals they had removed, with a little sand on top. In this kind of natural pastry coffin and this manner of oven, it cooked in the space of four hours, and it was cooked far better than it would have been in an ordinary stove. And this is what one calls a Boucan de Tortue.

This is altogether a credible account and a good description of the kind of high-end cuisine that could be achieved with fairly basic equipment. I do not envision the result as finely minced as a modern forcemeat, but still chopped so as to meld the different flavours and consistencies. The meat that adheres to the shell directly most likely stayed inside the first turtle, being cooked whole and suffused with the seasonings of the filling. We don’t know exactly how large the turtle in question was, but the dimensions of the earth oven suggest a large specimen. To cook it completely in four hours (even allowing for a certain imprecision in an age before exact pocket watches) would have required a high heat. The preparation itself is close to something Marx Rumpolt describes as being done with tortoises in Europe in 1581, though these are boiled, not cooked in an earth oven:

9 Take the tortoises and hollow them out so that the shell stays together. Chop the meat together with eggs and green herbs, and add fresh butter. Fill the shells with it and boil them in a broth, be it sour or sweet, and serve them with the shells on. This is called filled tortoises.

It is interesting that Labat uses the word boucan to refer to a method of cooking – over a wooden grille – and the kind of meat that resulted, but also as a social occasion. It is applied in that sense here. A boucan was a feast held in the wilderness, away from the social conventions of grand homes, and is associated closely with the people of that realm, the chasseurs, boucaniers, and flibustiers he speaks of in awed and perplexed tones. It is more than likely they fully understood the value of their notoriety and, like the cowboys of the Old West when faced with curious townspeople, laid it on with a trowel. Still, Labat is a contemporary eyewitness and his account generally reliable.

Actually replicating what this dish tasted like will be hugely challenging. The seasoning is good – I have already worked with it and found it balanced well if you emphasise the lemon and keep a light touch with the chili. Finding a reasonable substitute for turtle meat is far harder. Few sources agree on what to compare it with, and while I have tried veal, lamb, and richly marbled pork singly and in combination, I am no nearer to understanding wehich comes close. Cooking it in a closed container, by comparison, is fairly trivial, though it will need to heat up fast and high. This is no crockpot dish.

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Salmon Pastries

Another nice recipe from the Mondseer Kochbuch:

Atlantic salmon, courtesy of wikimedia commons

17 How to fry salmon

Take a salmon and scrape off its scales. Split it and cut it to pieces. Chop parsley and sage, take pounded ginger, pepper, and anise. Salt it in measure. Prepare a coarse dough (derben taig) according to the size of the pieces and throw the seasoning (das kraut) onto the pieces and wrap them in (bewirff sey mit) the dough. If you can stamp them in a mould, do that. You can also prepare pike and trout this way. And fry each one separately in the dough. But if it is a meat day, you can prepare chickens, partridges, pigeons and pheasants this way if you have the moulds. And fry them in fat or boil them in their moulds. Take chicken breasts or other good meat, thus the art will be all the better. Do not oversalt it, and serve it.

As a combination, it sounds quite attractive: Salmon slices en croute with parsley and sage seasoned with ginger, pepper, and anise. Salmon hot pockets, almost. The treatment of the fish is quite modern, too; Instead of either mashing it or leaving it whole, neither of which appeals to most contemporary Europeans, it is cut into portion-sized pieces. If you are trying to get your friends or family to try historical European food, this is not the worst place to start.

Another interesting point is that the fish pastries are moulded. That is presumably the meaning behind a derben taig. The dough is not made from coarse meal or otherwise rough, it is firm and holds its shape. The qualifier “if you have those moulds” with the poultry suggests that the mould meant here is fish-shaped. Whether we are talking about flat pastries with a fish stamped on them or somethionmg a lot more three-dimensional is unclear, but there certainly were quite elaborate moulds for making faux dishes and boiling in them, as described here, is a familiar technique. I might just get myself one of those odd fish-shaped pudding moulds at a flea market and try it out.

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Figs in Galantine

The third medieval experiment I made for my birthday party was another recipe from the collection of Meister Hans that is going to be my next book-size translation: Figs in sulcz.

Sweet experiments – The fig in the foreground was freshly plucked from its jelly

Galantine of figs

Item as galantine of figs, if you wish to make this, take a pound of figs. Wash them nicely and give them one boiling. Leave the stalks on, and set them in a bowl so that the stalks point upward. When they are boiled, you shall have isinglass and boil this in good wine and take the broth that the figs were boiled in (as well). And take of this as much as you need with the figs. Season it with good spices and saffron, and see that there is not too much of the broth, (just) so that the figs are covered.

I am not good with the camera and find taking good pictures of jelly dishes ridiculously hard

We covered the question of what sulcz can mean multiple times, but in this case it is a jelly of wine, quite possibly transparent. I found that boiling dried figs just one, very quickly, in water softened them enough to use without producing an excessively cloudy cooking liquid. Of course it is always possible that the jelly would be strained because of course you would do that, and there was no need to mention it in the recipe. We don’t know. I did not strain it and the result was still quite good. For ‘good spices’, I chose cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and pepper. They worked well with the heavy sweetness of the dish which is really more suitable for a winter evening than an August afternoon. Since food-grade isinglass is hard to come by, I opted for gelatin and despite having a standardised industrial product, I encountered the same problem many medieval cooks did: It did not gel properly. Refrigerated again after the party, it produced a flawless, firm jelly the next day though. The figs, only briefly parboiled, soaked up some of the liquid with its spices and became quite soft, almost gelatinous. They could still be pulled up by their stalks and popped into the mouth, though, which makes this a lovely party dish.

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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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