Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A sweet tisane

Le Menagier de Paris was published in 1393 and contains a wide range of advice and information on almost every aspect of life in the 14th century.
Book 2, article five includes recipes for the ill (Buvrages pour les malades), and one of these recipes is for a sweet tisane.

Tizanne doulce. Prenez de l’eaue et faites boulir, puis mettez pour chascun sextier d’eaue une escuelle d’orge largement, et ne chault s’elle est à toute l’escorce, et pour deux parisis de réglisse, item, des figues, et soit tant bouly que l’orge crève; puis soit coulée en deux ou trois toiles, et mis en chascun gobelet grant foison de succre en roche. Puis est bonne icelle orge à donner à mengier à la poulaille pour engressier.
Nota que la bonne réglisse est la plus nouvelle, et est en la taille de vive couleur vergaie, et la vieille est de plus fade et morte, et sèche.

My translation:
Sweet Tisane. Take fresh running water and bring it to boil, then for every one sextier1 of fresh water a generous porringer of barley, and it is not important if it has husks, and for two parisis2 of licorice, similarly, figs, and then boil it until the barley bursts and then strain it through two or three layers of cloth, and put in each goblet an abundant amount of rock sugar. This barley is then good to give to poultry to fatten it.

Note: that good licorice is the newest, and is in size a bright color and ridged3, and the old is more pale and dead and dry.

The challenging and interesting part of this recipe interpretation wise, for me is the figs. From first reading it appeared that the amount of figs would appear to be the same as the licorice, but as that comes out at less than half a fig, and the recipe clearly uses the plural, that cannot be the case.

One could simply instead say it means “some figs” and randomly put an amount in. But the use of the latin word “item” which does not mean “item” but “similarly” gives me the thought that in fact, we do have some direction as to quantity – that the “similarly” refers us back to the earlier part of the sentence, and the amount of barley. Whilst this may seem a bit of a leap in our modern punctuated sensibility, it does make a lot more sense in quantity. I have therefore used a porringer of figs as well – approximately 7 soft dried figs. I used dried figs, because although the recipe does not specify, limiting this recipe to fresh figs would make it essentially useless for the times of year when people are most likely to be ill – winter! Both fresh and dried figs were commonly available in Europe in the medieval and renaissance.

My recipe

3.7 litres water
160g barley
7 dried figs - chopped into quarters
4 grams licorice – this is the dried stalk of the licorice plant (you might find this in an Indian supplies shop)
Rock sugar

Bring the water to the boil in a large pot.  Add the barley, figs, and licorice stick. Boil gently till the barley bursts (about 45 minutes). Strain through cloth (you might find it easier to do a first draining through a colander) and pour the liquid hot into goblets, into which a small lump of rock sugar has been ground. 

This recipe makes a warming, somehow soft tasting tisane which is both soothing and pleasant.  Give it a try! 

1  In old French a sestier is a measure of wine – approximately one gallon/3.7 litres – I have concluded with research, that sextier is simply an alternative spelling of sestier.

2  A Parisii is a small coin (like a half penny). Searching, I have found that they generally seem to have weighed between 1.6 and 1.8 grams

3  My dictionary of Old French does not contain the word vergaie. I note that another translator of this recipe Jane Hinson (The Goodman of Paris, published 1992) translates vergaie as “greenish”.  The word vergier in old French has a few meanings including young trees, border, strip, cut groove in, ridged and embossed and as good quality reglisse (licorice) has deep grooves along the length of the surface, my decision was to lean towards this interpretation of the word.  I would love to hear from you if you have any thoughts on this!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Lassis de blanc de chapon - Le Viandier de Taillevent recipe number 189

Mettez cuire vostre chappon avec trumeauix de beuf, puis prendre tout le blanc de chappon et le charpire ainsi qu'on charpiroit lainne, et prendre des autres membres du chappon et mettre par pieces et les frire en sain de lart tant qu'ilz soient ung petit roux, et les dreciez en platz et mettez par dessus ladicte charpie; puis pelez amendes, broiez et deffaictes de vostre boullon et y mettez du vin blanc et du verjus; et prenez gingenbre de Mesche pare et le mettez en pouldre, et grainne de paradis le deux partz et du succre competemment et qu'il soit douix de succre; puis fault des amendes blanches pelees et les frire en sain de lart ou en sain de porc doulz, et que les amendes soient piquees dedans le potaige quant il sera drecie; et soit assez liant tant que les amendes se puissent tenir droictes; et semez par dessus de l'annis vermeil.

My translation

Cook your capon with a knuckle of beef, then take all the white capon and shred it as you would card wool, and with the other members of the capon pull it into parts in parts and fry in good lard in the manner till it is not at all pink, and arrange on a plate and spread the shreds, on top, then peel almonds and grind and mix in with your boullion and put into it white wine and verjuice, and take ginger of Mesche and pare it and then make a powder, and grains of paradise in two parts, then take fine sugar and make sweet with sugar; then take peeled white almonds and fry them in clear beef or pork fat, and take the almonds and prick them into the potage so they will stand upright, as the sauce is sufficiently thick so that the almonds can stand upright, and sprinkle over with the red anise.

1 chicken (cleaned)
1 ½ cups beef stock
lard for frying
2 cups blanched almonds (plus a handful extra for decoration)
2/3 cup white wine (I used a “fruity classic white”)
1/3 cup verjuice
1 gm pared then ground fresh ginger
2gm grains of paradise
1 tsp sugar
a pinch of ground star anise

Cut the chicken into large pieces. Simmer in beef stock for about 20 minutes, until it is cooked. Strip off the white meat of the chicken and shred it. Take the rest of the chicken pieces and brown them in lard. Place them on a platter and spread with the shredded white meat. T

Grind two cups of almonds and mix it into the stock with the white wine and verjuice. Spice this sauce with ground ginger, grains of paradise and sugar. Pour over the chicken and then stud with blanched almonds that you have lightly browned in lard. Sprinkle with ground star anise and serve.

A few notes on the recipe and some of the decisions made:

Anise: For this recipe, the interesting question for me lies with the anise. In French, generally “Anise” refers to the anise plant (Pimpinella anisum ), which produces aniseeds. This is a green plant,with some similarities in both appearance (and flavour) to fennel, and is common in period in eastern Europe. However, in no way shape or form is it red. Could the text potentially be referring to star anise? Star anise (Illicium verum) is red. In modern French they call star anise 'badiane', however I have found no references within period to it being referred to as 'badiane'. Star anise was growing in south east China but it is believed not to have travelled to Europe until the 16th century. However, I hypothesise that this reference to red anise may well be proof that that star anise was in fact found in Europe much earlier than is generally understood.


Capons: One of the sad limitations of living in Australia is that you cannot purchase capons (I gather that it is an animal cruelty issue - apparently it is less cruel to kill baby cocks and throw them away than to desex them and let them grow up and then eat them). So this recipe uses chicken.

Knuckle of Beef: I have also used beef stock rather than cooking the chicken with an actual knuckle of beef. I also broke up the chicken into pieces before cooking – this is not indicated in the recipe but is a sensible thing to do to fit the chicken in a pot!

Wine: The sweeter choice of wine blended perfectly with the verjuice and the finished sauce was seriously tasty.