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Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Early 14th Century Food and Rosemary Morris

About Rosemary Morrie

I write historical romance rich in facts with themes that the modern-day reader can identify with. Two of the themes in Yvonne Lady of Cassio, are incompatible husbands and wives and that of an unwanted daughter.
Recently, I converted the smallest bedroom in my house into an office. The walls painted in the colour of pale honey, a predominantly red oriental rug on the honey-coloured laminate floor, an 8ft wide 6ft high waxed oak bookcase and a commodious matching desk, make it is a pleasure to write. Previously, I kept my large collection of non-fiction books and magazines throughout the house. Now they are all arranged in one place according to subject.
Whenever I pause to consider what to write next, I look out over my organic garden in which I grow herbs, fruit, vegetables and ornamentals. Beyond it is a communal green backed by woodland.
Time spent with my family and friends is important and I enjoy cooking vegetarian meals for them.

Early 14th Century Food and Drink.

A friend is reading my new novel Thursday’s Child, Heroines Born on Different Days of the Week, Book 5, set in the Regency era prior to publication in July. The mention of parmesan ice cream served at the famous confectioners, Gunters caused her to query the import of the cheese, not the type of ice cream, which could not have been more unusual to the taste buds than my experiment, avocado, chocolate, black pepper ice cream. Her question gave me the idea for this, the first of three articles about food and drink in the eras in which I have set my novels
Yvonne, Lady of Cassio takes place during the reign of Edward II, King of England, from 1307 until he was deposed in 1327. At that time, bread was everyone’s staple food but only the wealthy could afford the best quality white bread made from wheat. Breadcrumbs were used to thicken sauces and to stiffen custards. Gingerbread was made from a mixture of spiced breadcrumbs and honey. Cakes and buns were made from sweetened, spiced bread dough.
Fish was an important part of the diet. It was forbidden by the Roman Catholic Church to eat meat, eggs and dairy food on Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and during Lent. Most people ate pickled or salted herrings. A popular garnish was fried parsley, and to make salt fish more palatable herb and spice sauces were served with it,
Only aristocrats who hunted the wild bull, boar and deer and could afford to eat every type of meat, and fowl which included doves kept in cotes and pheasant and partridge. At banquets, either peacocks or swans were dressed in their feathers, and served as a centrepiece. Every type of small bird was also served, sometimes as many as thirty dishes on special occasions.
Cows, ewes and nanny goats were milked. Cream, curds and soft cheese were made in nobles’ kitchens. Possets, caudles, cream soups and custards were made from milk and cream and cream cheese was used to make cheesecake, similar to the delicious ones my daughter-in-law serves.
Everyone ate pottage, either thick or liquid, made with ingredients the household could afford, meat, fresh vegetables and herbs, and root vegetables. It could be thick or the consistency of broth and made without meat.
Flowers such as borage, which I add to salads or freeze in ice cubes to make a decorative addition to summer drinks, primroses and violets were used in salads, to which pickled fruit and roots were often added.
People were suspicious of raw fruit, which they believed caused fever and diarrhoea, but they ate raw cherries, grapes, plums and damsons. Wardens, hard pears, and apples were usually cooked.
However, people were no more dependent on home grown food than I am on the herbs, fruit and vegetables gown in my organic garden, although they did not have as wide a choice of imported food, herbs and spices as I do.
Fresh lemons and Seville oranges were imported, so were sweet lemon pickles. Only the rich could afford to buy imports of currants, dates, figs, prunes and raisins which their food was filled with. The most luxurious foreign commodity were almonds, pounded to be used as a thickening agent, or diluted to make almond milk as a substitute for cow’s milk, which is now available from supermarkets.
Sugar, first tasted by the Crusaders, was so rare and expensive that it was treated as a spice and kept under lock and key – although I did allow the wise woman, Gytha, in Yvonne, Lady of Cassio, to use some to prepare the candied flowers she sold. And, it is worth noting that by this period rice was served by the wealthy.
Spices were important because they masked the taste of food past its best and added flavour to salted and dried foods eaten in winter. Mustard and saffron was grown locally. Pepper was imported in vast amounts and used by everyone, but they could not afford the cost of cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg and mace, as well as spices uncommon today such as galingale, grains of paradise and cubebs.

1 1/2 pints vegetable stock.
3 medium sliced leeks.
4 sliced celery sticks.
¼ shredded white cabbage.
2 sliced turnips.
2 sliced large carrots.
4 ounces white breadcrumbs.
A few strands of saffron.
Salt and ground black pepper to taste.

Bring the soup stock to the boil. Add the vegetables and simmer until the vegetables are soft. Stir in the breadcrumbs, saffron, salt and pepper. Bring back to the boil and cook for 2 or 3 minutes.

Abbreviated Extract from Yvonne Lady of Cassio


   “The north wind hurled snow across the undulating downs, over the river and across the moat covered with opaque ice thick enough to walk on. In Cassio Castle log fires roared up the chimneys Simon of Cassio had been so proud of. Those enjoying the New Year feast at midday on the twenty-fourth of March were glad of the warmth.
   Nicholas sipped some clarry. The spiced wine, sweetened with honey, slid down his throat. Delicious!”
   “Sir Nicholas, you should be cheerful at table. Why do you sigh so sorrowfully?” asked Margaret Beaumont, the fair-haired lady seated next to him.
   “Please pardon my discourtesy.”
   “What troubles you?” Margaret asked.
   “Nothing, my lady.” Nicholas looked at their shared platter of chicken, stewed with dried herbs, white wine and onions. He must be courteous. “May I put some rice on your trencher? It is a rarity and looks tasty.”
   “Yes, it does, I think it is boiled with saffron and almonds. I would like some. Now tell me if you are glum because of the king’s writ?”
   She referred to the command for the magnates and their armed contingents to muster at Berwick on the tenth day of June.
   “No, I am not,” he replied. For certes he looked forward to training new men-arms in his father’s contingent after his return home in a few days. He resisted the temptation to speak of war, which might either bore her or alarm her. “Would you like some brewet?”
   No thank you, I can’t stomach it.”
   Nicholas sniffed the delicious aroma. “This is one of my favourite dishes.” His mouth watered as he ladled a portion of the brewet, with a consistency between meat and onion stew and soup, seasoned with salt, pepper, parsley and saffron, onto his side of the trencher.”

“At the high table. Yvonne accepted a piece of marchpane, part of a subtlety in the shape of Cassio Castle made to grace the feast.”

Novels by Rosemary Morris

Early 18th Century novels
Tangled Love, Far Beyond Rubies, The Captain and The Countess

Regency Novels
False Pretences, Sunday’s Child, Monday’s Child, Tuesday’s Child, Wednesday’s Child, Thursday’s Child – to be published in July 2018

Mediaeval Novel
Yvonne Lady of Cassio. The Lovages of Cassio Book One

Madness, Mexico and Motherhood

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