Saturday, October 1, 2011

Familiar food from long ago...

Some of us may have heard about medieval food being quite different from what we eat today, that is was seasoned differently, cooked differently, looked weird and so on...

but was it all that different?

Look at roasts, do we not eat these today? What about covered and open faced tarts filled with fruit, sugar and sweet spices? Not very uncommon in our standard diet. We also have custards, fruit sauces, a taste for white bread, pies with finely chopped meats and fruit (think mince meat pie), meatballs, fritters and so on

Much of how we see these old recipes, and the food produced from them, depends on our own preconceptions. 
If I were to look at boar in egredouce, I could view it as something strange with fruit and vinegar or wine, with strange meat and sugar and all sorts of odd ingredients and sweet spices. Or, I could look at the recipe and conclude that I'm basically making a sort of sweet and sour pork, as the word egredouce suggests (sour - sweet). The idea of a sweet and sour sauce having spices, colour and fruit is not an unusual concept today either. The only real differences is some of the types of ingredients we use today compared to long ago in effort to achieve much of the same effects.

One difference is how we thicken sauces, not all, but many sauces were thickened with grated bread soaked in liquid and then strained. This actually tastes better than raw flour in a sauce which some people may be familiar with. Another method was to use raw egg yolk that was carefully cooked into the sauce. Some more recognizable ways toward thickened sauces would be through natural sauces and even purees, among a few.

Sometimes we see items like saunders, basically it made for a reddish-brown food colour, sometimes paired with saffron for a more intense colour. saffron itself was often used for yellow. some period food colours are not so easy to obtain, but if one wishes to substitute, it's worth at least finding out what the end result would have looked like.

Pies, a lot of paintings show raised pies standing up on their own, but we know they were also baked in pans much like we see today and some in the form of a pasty. It's something most of us are pretty familiar with and were something even common folk ate despite not them very likely not ever having ovens of their own.

Stuffed vegetables, yes, pretty common stuff. They stuffed vegetables and fruit (like apples) with meats and non-meat fillings, sometimes called puddings. They even stuffed meat! And look at what we do today... we have cabbage rolls and turkey stuffing and stuffed peppers, potatoes, onions and so on.

ingredients switch: One thing that may leave some people bewildered is that we are very used to using ingredients such as potatoes and tomatoes in so many dishes... once upon a time, other foods filled these roles. Tomatoes seems to be one of the trickiest ones for people used to todays dinner plate, but it's not that hard to get past when you think about it. Tomatoes are your colourful, acidic addition. In a pre-common tomato in food era, people used all sorts of different items that served a similar role. Besides food colours, we used foods now mostly used in fewer cuisines... such as Lemon, Barberries, Pomegranate, Raisins, sour apple or grape juice and the like. However, we still use vinegar and wine in the general kitchen and instead of barberries, many home cooks enjoy things such as cranberries.
Hot peppers (capsicums) are another, in order to achieve interesting hot flavours, we then combined, or used separately, spices such as peppercorns, long pepper, grains of paradise, ginger or galangal, and even cinnamon. It may sound weird, but taken in context and used in a manner where you are thinking "hot" and the results can be eye lifting.

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