I’ve been out in my garden again with my medieval cooking kit, and this time I felt a bit more ambitious. I wanted to experience some of the rich flavours and aromas that revelers would have enjoyed at a castle feast. So I spent a long time trawling through my medieval recipe books and found plenty of inspiration, and the results were a revelation that I truly wish I could have shared with you all.
The key to dining in a castle was variety and excess, and the host would flaunt his wealth and status with the numerous and diverse dishes that were served at each course. But as much as I’d have loved to produce a splendid full banquet, I don’t have a household of 200 retainers, staff and guests, so I had to scale it down a bit. I chose four recipes, some of which were surprisingly familiar, and put together a menu for my mini medieval feast:
Wardonys in Syryp
Sounds good, doesn’t it?
So a little while later, with all the ingredients and equipment assembled and the fire raring to go, I delved back into the distant past for dinner…
First I made Egurdouce, meaning sweet-and-sour, which I was surprised to find in a medieval cookery book. Apparently, most recipes left out one or other of the essential elements, so I was keen to try this version that includes spices, vinegar, red wine and dried fruit and is thickened with breadcrumbs. First you melt some butter and fry whatever meat you’re going to use, or you can use meatballs (in our case really good veggie ones), before adding parboiled onions and all the other ingredients, then give it a good stir and simmer for 45 minutes. Then I mixed the breadcrumbs with some of the amazing-smelling sauce, added this thickener to the cauldron, and voila! Job done. Time to move on to Wardonys (or pears) in Syryp…
For this, I poached some pears quite gently so they didn’t fall apart, and then made what amounted to a mulled wine syrup, with cinnamon, ginger, sugar and cloves in red wine. Then the pears were finished off, poaching nicely in the syrup and then left to cool while I moved onto the next dish.
Erbolat is described as a Herb Custard, but in fact it’s a kind of herby green omelette baked in butter. It’s pretty straightforward, consisting of a handful of herbs and/or some leafy greens such as spinach, all blended together and mixed into six beaten eggs with a good dose of seasoning. Then you’re supposed to bake it in butter, but I couldn’t resist trying a bit of the mixture out in my special iron fying pan over the fire. Luckily it worked a treat, so with that done, there was only one more dish to prepare…
Makerouns is, in fact, an early macaroni cheese, which I was surprised to learn has a long history in England, with recipes dating from as far back as Anglo-Norman times. Of course, it wasn’t made then as we know it today; it was a much simpler affair of pasta cooked with cheese and butter (I’ve come to the conclusion that they liked their butter in the Middle Ages). Neither was the macaroni the modern tubular pasta we use today. Back then it was more like flat noodles, the word being derived from the Greek makrón, meaning a long, straight line. So I found the nearest-shaped pasta I had to medieval macaroni and tried cooking it in the cauldron. Even though it cooked differently in the iron pot, mostly simmering around the edges, it worked well enough, and when it was ready I drained the pasta and layered it in a dish with cheese and butter to be served nice and hot. With everything prepared and smelling wonderful, it was finally time to assemble the whole spread and try a real taste of a medieval feast.
And this is where I must say I wish you could all have joined us, because I really wasn’t prepared for such a sensationally scrumptious meal. The Erugdouce was different from our modern sweet and sour, but in such a way that it’s soared to the top of my favourites list. It went beautifully with the vibrant and tasty Erbolat, and I’m a real convert to medieval macaroni cheese. Their version, the Makerouns, is much quicker and easier to make and it’s simply delicious. And as for the Wardonys in Syryp, they were a trip to medieval heaven. The pears were tender and sweet, and they even looked the part, sitting pretty in what was essentially a glossy mulled wine syrup that I could happily have drunk from a glass.
If this was a taste of medieval castle food, it’s not surprising they made such a meal of their feasts. All we need now is for someone to invent ‘scratch, sniff and taste-o-vision’, then everyone will know what I mean. So until then, we’ll have to make do with raising our glasses and drinking a toast to the hitherto largely forgotten genius of medieval castle cooks, and their creations that can tantalise the taste buds across so many centuries.