Thursday, September 1, 2016

Eating Medieval: Sorcha's Turnip Pottage

Thank you.” Niall seated himself on a fur, as did Shawn. Sorcha pulled the arisaid off her head, revealing dark hair wrapped in a heavy braid. Firelight played over her ivory skin. “You seem young to be a wise woman,” he said. 
She laughed, dishing stew from the pot into bowls. “Age and wisdom are not always related. Though I never claimed to be wise. ’Tis others say so. If I’ve helped anyone, ’tis God working through me.” 
Shawn was about to snort—his usual response to mention of God. Niall’s hard stare stopped him. 
Sorcha paused, the ladle over a bowl. She peered at their identical faces. “Brothers?” she asked. “Twins?” 
Not quite,” Shawn said dryly. 
She peered more closely at him. “You don’t believe?”  
Believe what? Are we talking God? I believe I make my own destiny.” But he dropped his gaze, unnerved by her scrutiny. Her eyes seemed to prod through his skin. 
Aye, we’re both doing well at that.” Niall’s voice crackled with sarcasm. 
Shawn glared at him. “My talents are my own doing and hard work.” 
Sorcha tipped broth into the bowl, handed it to him, and reached for a second bowl.  “You’ve worked hard, no doubt. Yet you came to me.” 
He thought you might know something.” Shawn stared at the stew, and swirled it a little. It looked better than much of what he’d eaten in this time. He lifted his wooden spoon.
Did your mother teach you no manners?” Niall asked as he accepted the second bowl. “Prayers.” 
Sorcha finished spooning up her own meal and sat down on a fur, bowing her head, and saying grace. 
My mother tried,” Shawn said, when she finished. “I found I got more out of life without them." 
Niall snorted. “Like Amy’s undying love and devotion, aye?”



The Water is Wide
Book Three, The Blue Bells Chronicles

This is one recipe I didn't particularly look forward to eating, even before I made it.  For better or worse, I've never eaten a turnip in my life.  I wasn't even sure what a leek looked like.  

However, off to the store I went, hunting for a tag to tell me which of these vegetables were leeks and turnips.  And with a wave of the magic card, they became mine.  Off I went home, and there was my neighbor from my last cooking experiment.  He begged me not to sing Sweet Caroline.  In my defense, it was more like, "Don't turn it on again," (so Neil is the real problem singer here, not me) and even more in my defense, he was laughing when he said it.  Hey, I may not know what a leek is (well, I do now), but I can make kids laugh.

This time, my neighbor had brought two of his cousins.  They had never seen parsnips, turnips, or leeks, and were eager to help.  Far be it from me to take work from a willing soul!  So they eagerly, enthusiastically cleaned and chopped parsnips and turnips and leeks (OH MY!) while I edited.  When I saw a butcher blade too close to fingers, I warned them that fingers do not taste good in medieval pottage.  Not having ever tasted medieval pottage, they had no argument with that.  I took over the chopping, but they seem to have had fun.

We dumped everything in plain water, because I'm assuming Sorcha did not have vegetable stock in her cave.  I'm assuming she did have access to herbs.  I chose marjoram and oregano because wild marjoram, also known as Scottish oregano (an herb with an alias!) grows in the Highlands.  Of course, wild marjoram grown in the north does not have quite the same flavor as that grown in the south, but it's still more similar to Sorcha's actual pottage, than, say Marie Calendar's Microwave Pottage.

I included anise because vetch, or wild liquorice (I"m using the spelling of the herbologist who wrote on this) also grows in the Highlands.  As one of its properties is that it abates hunger during long journeys, it seemed quite reasonable that Sorcha would include this in her meals for travelers.

The internet warned me that boiled leeks rarely turn out well.  I fished them all out fast and did some more reading, and considered other options of preparation.  But then I decided, Sorcha boiled them.  She blatantly ignored the internet's advice, and so did I.  Back in they went.

I was also warned that some of these vegetables can have a very strong and bitter flavor.

Sorcha’s Turnip Pottage


water as needed
2 turnips and/or 2 leeks
1 onion
½ cup mushrooms
1 teaspoon parsley


1 teaspoon marjoram and/or oregano
½ teaspoon garlic
1 teaspoon anise
wild mushrooms
3 parsnips*
  1. Simmer all day over a low fire OR
  2. Simmer for 60 minutes or however long you feel like on your stove  (Simmer the pottage!  You yourself should not simmer, because anger is not good for the health, and you especially should not do it on your stove!  Serious burns happen this way.)

pottage, turnip pottage, eating medieval, medieval, recipes, food, turnips, parsnips*There's no clever reasoning for three parsnips.  I used three because I had three kids wanting to help, so I gave them each a parsnip to chop.  They chopped these with much less danger to their fingers, than the turnips.  So I guess officially, the ingredient list should read: as many parsnips as children?

And so we simmered (the pottage)  for two or three hours while I ran a son to football and did other errands.  I checked in once or twice, and it looked like stuff floating in water, and not even remotely tasty.  I simmered and stewed that this was my dinner, but anything for research!  (Except Sorcha's actual cauldron in the backyard--that concerns the neighbors, especially considering a large part of my wardrobe is still concert black--a buying habit I got into back in the day.)

As time passed, the leeks separated and became thin and stringy and translucent, and the water gradually thickened and looked less watery.  I began to think this might not be so bad.  And finally, it was time to taste.  The results:

Insert ad for some product that's paying me a fortune to promote it because the suspense is killing everyone and I know you'll stay through the ads!  [Sadly, no one is paying me anything to mention their Parsnips TM, so back to our Great PottageExperimentt.]

DRUM ROLLLLLLLLL.....


Wow!  It was good!


Now, I don't want to get crazy here and say it was like the best thing ever, and oh to die for.  But, it was good!  It was tasty.  It had a mild and just barely sweet flavor.  The water was just thick enough to not be watery.  The vegetables were a nice texture.  My older son (of those at home) liked it, and thought he was eating potato soup.

Moreover, it was filling.  I was full after only half a bowl--and these were not big bowls.  And sure enough, I went out to teach lessons after having some for lunch the next day--and didn't get hungry the whole evening!  

The results were completely different from what I expected, and I think enlightening regarding what medievals really ate and experienced at their meals--even the simple ones that we often imagine to be tasteless. 

I will definitely make this again, and probably on a regular basis.

More to come in my upcoming Food and Feast in the World of the Blue Bells Chronicles.


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2 comments:

  1. Interesting! The "reveal" was definitely a surprise. I've always loved leeks, but turnips and parsnips - not so much. But this post definitely made me want to give the recipe a try.

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    1. To me, too! Let me know if you make it and what you think. It made me think that we often look for strong flavors and overlook the subtler ones that are still so good. I think I simmered mine for about 3 hours. And I confess, these kids were having fun helping, so I let them throw in the herbs--so I don't really know how much went in.

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