By Dani Trynoski
If you’re planning to entertain over the holiday season, of course there’s going to be food involved! One of the best reasons to celebrate the holidays is an excuse to break your diet rules and indulge a bit, right? Sharing memories and bonding over a meal is a long-standing holiday tradition, and I’d like to suggest a few common and simple medieval recipes for your table.
I’m far from being a skilled chef; I’ve even managed to burn a pot of boiling water by letting it run dry (oops!). I’ve deliberately selected a few items which have a minimal number of ingredients, don’t require too much time, and are simple to prepare. There’s a mix of flavors, from tangy to sweet, and I hope that you enjoy the making of these dishes just as much as you enjoy eating them!
Onion and Parsley Salad
Many thanks to Daniel Myers for compiling a great list of medieval recipes at medievalcookery.com, complete with transcriptions from medieval cooking manuals. I referenced his site several times during this project, and thought this would be a great accompaniment to many main dishes. It’s simple and can be adapted in many ways to suit your tastes or your base. It’s also vegan/vegetarian friendly (bonus!) which wasn’t really a medieval priority, but it certainly is when you’re planning a modern holiday party. I roasted two Cornish hens as the main dish, but it could be paired with a wide variety of flavors.
Here’s Myers’ recipe:
1 medium onion
1 bunch parsley,
2 cloves garlic (add more or less to taste)
red wine vinegar
Chop the onion and parsley well and mix. Mince and add garlic. Add enough vinegar to moisten everything. Mix and allow time for flavors to mingle.
I ended up using:
2 teaspoons diced garlic,
2 cups chopped parsley
1 ½ cups diced yellow onion
and enough red wine
vinegar to moisten all ingredients (about 2 tablespoons)
After slicing, dicing, and chopping, I mixed the ingredients with the red wine vinegar and let it marinate for about 30 minutes at room temperature. You can also use a food processor to mix things up. I lightly seasoned the hens with lemon pepper seasoning, extra virgin olive oil from Greece, and a few drops of lemon juice in the body cavity. Covered, they roasted for about an hour then rested on the stove top in their pan for 30 minutes while the salad was setting.
Finally, the taste test. Sharp and overly flavorful on its own, however paired with poultry, it provides a great topping. The vinegar makes the onions sweet, and the parsley has a nice tangy flavor to spruce up the bird. I used quite a bit more garlic than in Myers’ recipe due to the taste preferences in my household, however the vinegar held the garlic flavor in check. This salad mix could easily be paired with chicken, turkey, fish, or roasted vegetables. Play with the ingredient ratio to find a mix that works for you!
A well-known medieval dish, blancmanger requires a short list of ingredients and the most basic skills to complete. I started with the recipe from Medieval Cookery, and tweaked it a bit for my own taste preferences.
Of blancmanger, Daniel Myers at Medieval Cookery says:
“The dish called Blancmanger in the middle ages was not much like the modern dessert of the same name. This dish, a slightly sweet casserole of chicken and rice, was served all across Europe and appears in just about every medieval cookbook. While often described as being suitable for the infirm, it still found its place on the menus of coronation banquets and wedding feasts.
1 pound chicken
4 cups cooked white rice (about 1 1/2 cup uncooked)
1/2 cup almond milk
1 cup water
2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ginger
1/8 tsp. white pepper
Boil chicken until very tender and allow to cool. Tease meat apart with forks until well shredded. Put meat into a large pot with remaining ingredients and cook over medium heat until thick. Serve hot.”
Myers lists three medieval sources with descriptions of blancmanger. Since they were all slightly different, I made mine a little different too. Here’s what I did to play with the flavor and cut down on my dirty dishes:
Heat 2 cups chicken stock (from a boullion cube) then boil 1 lb. cubed chicken. Remove chicken with slotted spoon when cooked, set aside. Add 1 cup uncooked rice to chicken stock on stove. Stir, lower heat, cover, and let the rice cook. Turn back to your chicken and pull apart or dice into smaller pieces. When the rice is almost finished cooking, add the shredded chicken, ¾ cup almond milk, 2 teaspoons of sugar, ¼ teaspoon of salt, ½ teaspoon powdered ginger, and ¼ teaspoon black pepper (I altered some of the seasoning from Medieval Cookery’s recipe based on the salt content of the chicken stock and the lack of white pepper in my spice cabinet!). Mix together, turn heat to low, and let it simmer. It took about 20 minutes for this mixture to simmer into a creamy mix of chicken and rice.
Here’s how it tasted
This will likely be too bland for most people. In medieval cooking manuals and manuscripts it’s frequently recommended for sick or infirm people. Good thing I have a mild palate! It did smell good, with fragrances of chicken, ginger, and almond milk wafting up from the pot. I’m glad I used the chicken stock which contained a bit of extra salt otherwise it would be a very basic dish.
For your holiday table, I would recommend serving blancmanger for the kids’ table or for the relative who protests any extreme flavors. With the right rice, it is a gluten-free dish and you could perhaps swap out the chicken for tofu and get a vegan variety. Of course, then it’s not quite so medieval but we won’t fault you for making it work in your modern life! I’m a pretty basic cook, so I appreciate the simplicity of this recipe. If you need a 1-pot recipe for something quick and filling that also has a nod to historical kitchen traditions, then try out blancmanger.
Danielle Trynoski earned her MA in Medieval Archaeology at the University of York in England. When she’s not visiting museums and historical sites, she’s riding horses or reading about Vikings. She currently lives in southern California and manages the website CuratoryStory.com
This article was first published in The Medieval Magazine – a monthly digital magazine that tells the story of the Middle Ages. Learn how to subscribe by visiting their website.
Top Image: Scene from a 15th century tapestry, on view at the Musee de Cluny. Photo by Ho Visto Nina Volare / Wikimedia Commons