Friday, July 1, 2016

Eating Not Quite Medieval: Wrong Century, Wrong Continent, but....

In my search for the answer to WWNE--What Would Niall Eat--for my current project, it has been quite easy to find authentic recipes for what he would have dined on while home at Glenmirril.  And clearly he would have had his fill of rat-atouille in MacDougall's dungeon!

(Ba-dum-chick!  By the way, if you're considering installing Grammarly to help catch typos, be very aware that Grammarly does not have a sense of humor.  It's put an ugly red line, shrieking at me, under rat-atouille.  It totally does not get that this is not bad grammar or spelling, but humor.  The link take you to a ratatouille recipe.  Feel free to include whatever meat is available--says the non-cook among us.  I call it Cooking with Shawn, and so far, my kids are all still alive.)

I can even find information on what some larger medieval armies carried with them in their supply wagons.  However, finding anything specific on what the men of Bruce's army ate while traveling becomes more a matter of conjecture, based on what we know.

We know they traveled light, on small, fast garrons.  They didn't pull long supply trains behind them.  It's a big reason they could maneuver the Scottish and Northumbrian hills and evade the larger and better equipped English armies.  We have some records that they each carried their bag of oats with them to make oatcakes.  It seems reasonable to believe that they would have hunted and foraged for the rest, and simply lived off the land.  And this is a skill well-known from history, if not specifically from detailed accounts of Bruce's army.

To that end, when I stumbled across The Food Journal of Lewis and Clark: Recipes for an Exhibition... wait, no, that's Cooking with Mussorgsky...ahem, Recipes for an Expedition, by Mary Gunderson, I picked it up.  That is to say, I grabbed it, clutched it to my chest shouting, "This is mine!" and singing, "Oh happy day!" and danced all the way to the cashier, waving it in glee.  (They know me there.  They put up with it because my entire paycheck is just on auto deposit to their cash registers, to save us all a little time.)

Yes, Lewis and Clark are nearly 5 centuries away and on the wrong continent.  But it is still telling to see how they fed themselves during their long trek across a great wilderness, without benefit of our modern ovens.

One recipe, for instance, is for hardtack biscuits--no doubt similar to what the Scots were eating on the go.  Combine equal parts whole wheat flour and unbleached white flour with 1/2 a teaspoon to a full teaspoon of salt.  Gradually stir in 1-1/2 cups of water.  Knead for five minutes until smooth and let sit for ten minutes.  Roll out to a thickness of half an inch on a baking sheet--or, if you're a medieval Scot with flour in your bag, on your griddle--scoring into sections.  Prick many times with a fork.

The recipe I have says bake at 325 degrees Fahrenheit for 50 minutes, but of course, these were historically made by people who didn't have an oven around, so they presumably went by the alternative 'until lightly browned.'

Hardtack is hardly surprising for men on the march.  What was more interesting to me was Clark's note of August 24, 1804: "Great quantities of a kind of berry resembling a Current except double the Size and Grows on a bush like a Privey, and the Size of a Damsen deliciously flavoured and makes delitefull Tarts, this froot is now ripe."

(Grammarly is having a heyday with Clark's spelling!  Just saying.)

Apparently, then, Lewis and Clark were not merely subsisting on cold berries and cooking hardtack and flame-broiling buffalo on their journey, but actually making things like tarts.  I doubt the medieval Scots were making tarts on their way to war--and yet, the possibility is there.  Maybe the war camps at least were a little better stocked with provisions?

Here is the recipe for a fruit tart that could potentially be made over an open fire--adding the caveat that Niall did not carry measuring cups or spoons of any sort with him.  I know this for a fact because I was there, writing the scene.  He would have been adding 'a wee bit of'.  So would Shawn, for that matter, despite his no-doubt gold-plated cooking and baking equipment, cause that's the way he rolls.
Medieval recipes typically are more guidelines and directions than specific measurements, anyway.  However, for the modern reader, I'm including measurements.


PASTRY:

1 cup of flour
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup lard or vegetable shortening
4 tablespoons butter
2 to 3 cups cold water

FILLING:

Fresh plums, pitted and sliced.  (Certainly any berries or well-chopped fruit would work.)
1/3 cup unbleached flour
1/3 to 1/2 cup sugar

  • Toss these three ingredients together and set aside.


DIRECTIONS:

  1. For the pastry, combine flours and salt.  (For chamomile cookies, combine flowers and salt, but that's a different recipe.)
  2. Cut in lard and 3 tablespoons of butter until the mixture is crumbly to about the size of shelled peas.
  3. Add the water, a tablespoon at a time, stirring until the pastry holds together.
  4. Chill about 20 minutes.  (This is the part where I'm curious how Lewis and Clark chilled anything--in cold spring water?)
  5. Roll the pastry out to a 10 inch circle, on a lightly floured surface and transfer it to an ungreased baking sheet.
  6. Put fruit mixture in the middle of the pastry, leaving an inch all around.
  7. Fold the pastry over the fruit.
  8. Put a tablespoon of butter, dotted all over the top of the fruit.

BAKE: 375 degrees Fahrenheit, 40 to 45 minutes until the fruit is tender.
COOL 15 minutes or more before eating.
SERVES: 1 hungry Highlander or 6 to 8 modern trombonists


Would Niall have eaten something like this?  Certainly in the castle, I'm guessing not while traveling, but I think such provisions might have been available at least some of the time during sieges.

These recipes are not historical medieval recipes.  They are merely an insight into what people in the past have eaten while traveling through wilderness, without a MacDonald's or thirty in every town.

As a side note, my 14 year old son is currently baking our Cookies of Joy, so I'll report on those when they're done.  I darn well better be in a good mood!

And speaking of eating in the past...today's Gaelic Word a Day focuses on the PAST tense!  Bha mi ag ithe.

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