When Most people think of medieval food—if they think of it at all—they likely envision comically large turkey legs and dinosaur-sized hunks of brown meats. But famous portrayals of a gluttonous Henry VIII aside, medieval cuisine, at least for royalty, was much more complex and varied.
The 14th-century manuscript “Forme of Cury,” a compilation of more than 200 recipes compiled by “the Master cooks of King Richard II,” contains an eclectic range of dishes such as Chickens in Confyt, Pottage of Gourd and Rabbits in Gravy. Many of the dishes are sumptuous and rich, fragrant with spices like ginger, cardamom and saffron. There’s just one catch: None of the recipes contain measurements. Oh yeah—and they’re written in Middle English.
To make your life easier, I’ve adapted a selection of these recipes here, complete with ingredient measurements and a few fun embellishments.
The clarrey, or spiced white wine, contains honey, cinnamon, white pepper and ginger—a perfectly potent potable for a cold winter’s night. The salat, or medieval herb salad, will likely challenge your preconceptions of medieval cuisine, as it’s loaded with greens and even downright healthy. Don’t be put off by the raw leeks and green onions, as the fennel and mint serve to sweeten the breath. (And they taste great, too.)
The Tartelets de Bry, or Brie tartlets, originally called for Rowan cheese, which no longer exists. Food historians concur that Brie is likely the closest modern cousin. I use St. André Brie, along with Port Salut, set off with a bit of saffron and ginger for a surprising yet delicious flavor. Finally, the pork tenderloin is a flavor bomb of caraway, coriander, garlic, saffron and red wine. All of these dishes together truly comprise a feast fit for a king.
Tartelets de Bry (Brie Tartlets)
makes 6 4-inch tartlets
1 prepared pie crust, rolled out
and cut into 6 equal portions
5 egg yolks
5 strands saffron, crumbled
8 ounces St. André Brie, cubed
8 ounces Port Salut cheese, cubed
1⁄3 cup heavy cream
1⁄2 teaspoon ginger
Lightly grease the tartlet pans and line with the prepared pie crust. Preheat the oven to 375 F. Whisk together the egg yolks and saffron. Add the cheeses and cream, stir vigorously to combine. Add the spices and divide evenly among the tartlet pans. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until set. Allow to cool on a rack for 10 minutes, then gently flip to remove the tartlets from their pan.
Salat (Medieval Herb Salad)
2 leeks, trimmed and chopped
into small dice
1 fennel bulb, chopped into
1 bunch flat leaf parsley, chopped
3 cups arugula
4 green onions, sliced thin
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary,
2 tablespoons fresh mint,
Salt and pepper, to taste
Drizzle of olive oil
Drizzle of cherry balsamic vinegar
Handful of dried cranberries,
In a bowl, combine all of the ingredients except the olive oil, vinegar and cran-berries. Lightly sprinkle with salt and pepper. Lightly drizzle with olive oil and the vinegar, and gently massage into the salad. Allow to sit for about 30 minutes for the flavors to incorporate. Before serving, garnish with dried cranberries.
Clarrey (Spiced White Wine)
Serves 1-6 (DEPENDING ON YOUR MOOD)
1 bottle sweet white wine
3⁄4 cup honey
5 whole cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon white pepper
In a medium saucepan, combine the wine and the honey. Bring to a gentle boil. Turn off the heat, add the other ingredients, stir to combine, and leave covered at room temperature overnight. The next day, strain through a cheesecloth.
Comarye (Pork in Red Wine Sauce)
1 1-pound pork tenderloin
1 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
5 cloves of garlic
2 cups red wine, divided,
plus more for basting
3⁄4 cup chicken broth
Few grinds of fresh black pepper
1⁄4 teaspoon cumin
4 saffron threads
Salt, to taste
Grind together the coriander, caraway seeds and peppercorns. Set aside. Meanwhile, smash the garlic into a paste. Add a 1⁄4 cup of the red wine and spices to the garlic and spread on the tenderloin; allow to marinate in the refrigerator for 1 hour. Preheat the oven to 425 F. Place the tenderloin, along with the marinade, in a baking dish and pour the remainder of the wine around it. Bake for 30 minutes then reduce heat to 325 and bake for another 45 minutes, basting frequently, until the internal temperature reaches 145 F. (If the liquid evaporates, add more wine to the baking dish.)
Remove the tenderloin and set aside, covered with foil, to rest for 15 minutes. While the meat rests, make the sauce. Strain the cooking liquid into a saucepan. Add the chicken broth, pepper, cumin, saffron and salt to taste. Simmer gently for 10-15 minutes. Serve the pork sliced into medallions accompanied by the sauce.