How I Build a Recipe

I had a good friend of mine request that I explain how I redact a recipe (and even what a redaction is).  Basically, a redaction is your version of a recipe.

The first thing to know is that medieval recipes are not like modern ones.  In a modern cookbook, you are given exact instructions on how to make a dish and they are designed for even basic levels of cooking skills.  Cookbooks in the middle ages are designed for cooks.  It is assumed you have a good grasp of how things are made.  The recipes you will find are very vague, and they are made for the rich.   Here is an example of a 15th Century English text.

Boor in Brasey

Take the ribbes of a boor while thai byn fresh, and parboyl hem tyl thai byn half sothen; then take and roste hom, and when thai byn rosted, take and chop hom, and do hom in a pot, and do therto gode fresshe brothe of beef and wyn, and put therto clowes, maces and pynes, and raisynges of corance, and pouder of pepur; and take onyons and mynce hom grete, do hom in a panne with fresh grees, and fry hom, and do hom in the potte, and let hit wel sethe al togedur; and take brede stepet in brothe, and drawe hit up and do therto, and colour hit with saunders and saffron; and in the settynge doun put therto a lytel vynegur, medelet with pouder of canell; and than take other braune, and cut smal leches of two ynches of length, and cast into the pot, and dresse up the tone with the tother, and serve hit forthe.

– Austin, Thomas. Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery-Books. Harleian MS. 279 & Harl. MS. 4016, with extracts from Ashmole MS. 1429, Laud MS. 553, & Douce MS 55. London: for The Early English Text Society by N. Trübner & Co., 1888.

Believe it or not, this is in English.  English you can actually read.  It’s phonetic, granted an old version of speaking, but phonetic.  You see, in this period spelling and grammar wasn’t uniform.   Words are spelled the way the author thinks it should be.  If you can’t make out a word, some cookbooks have a glossary in the back, or just google it.  Or guess.  If you guess wrong, it’s not the end of the world.

Some cookbooks will even have THEIR redactions.  Two of my favorite books, to begin with, are The Medieval Kitchen: Recipes from France and Italy and An Ordinace of Pottage.   Medieval Kitchen a great book for beginners because it includes the original French or Italian text, the translation, and their idea of what the redaction should be.  And a great bibliography.  Ordinace of Pottage is a 15th Century English cookbook that has all the extant recipes in the first part, and then their redactions in the second half of the book.  This is really great since you can see the orginal and not be inflenced by the modern recipie unless you want the help.   Just starting out, I would recommend you try their version… then make changes.

So let’s begin.

Take the ribbes of a boor while thai byn fresh, and parboyl hem tyl thai byn half sothen; – Take the ribs of fresh pork and parboil them until they are half soft (or half cooked).

then take and roste hom, and when thai byn rosted, take and chop hom, and do hom in a pot, and do therto gode fresshe brothe of beef and wyn, – then take and roast them, then chop and put them in a pot with broth and wine

and put therto clowes, maces and pynes, and raisynges of corance, and pouder of pepur – add cloves, mace, pine nuts (pynes), currants, and pepper

and take onyons and mynce hom grete, do hom in a panne with fresh grees, and fry hom, and do hom in the potte, and let hit wel sethe al togedur; – mince onions and fry them with fresh greese or oil then add the onions to the pot with the rest and mix it togheter,

and take brede stepet in brothe, and drawe hit up and do therto, and colour hit with saunders and saffron; – add breadcrumbs, sandlewood, and saffron.

and in the settynge doun put therto a lytel vynegur, medelet with pouder of canell; add vinegar and mix it with cinnamon.

and than take other braune, and cut smal leches of two ynches of length- and take other meat and cut it into lengths of two inches

and cast into the pot, and dresse up the tone with the tother, and serve hit forthe. – put into a pot and mix the two together, and serve.

Ok, so let’s put that all together.

Take the ribs of fresh pork and parboil them until they are half soft (or half cooked). Then take and roast them, then chop and put them in a pot with broth and wine add cloves, mace, pine nuts (pynes), currants, and pepper mince onions and fry them with fresh grease or oil then add the onions to the pot with the rest and mix it together, add breadcrumbs, sandalwood, and saffron add vinegar and mix it with cinnamon.and take other meat and cut it into lengths of two inches put into a pot and mix the two together, and serve.

Better, right?  Still not quite a recipe though.  

1.5 lbs pork stew meat
2 tbs lard
1 very large onion
6 cloves garlic, minced 

6 long peppers, ground/grated
1 mini bottle red wine (175 ml)
¼ cup white wine vinegar
½ cup pine nuts
⅓ cup raisins
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground cloves
¼ tsp ground mace
Pinch saffron
Pinch salt

Brown the pork in the lard in a large pot.  I used an enameled cast iron dutch oven.  When browned add all the other ingredients.  Cook on medium for about half an hour, then turn to low/simmer for 45 min to an hour.  Or until your husband declared he’s starving and he will die soon if you don’t feed him. The longer it cooks the more tender the meat gets.  Stew meat needs time.

So, why did I choose the things I did and how did I know how much to add?  

Most of it was just instinct.  I wanted a good amount of meat and onions, so I picked larger amounts up at the store.  I like garlic, so I added some.  Add less if you want, you’re the one eating it.  I used the whole carton of beef stock because it fit in the pot.  Seriously, that was the reason.  Add less for a thicker soup.  I used a mini bottle of wine because if I bought a bigger bottle it would go to waste in my house.  I used such a small amount of vinegar because I didn’t want a strong vinegar flavor.  It already had wine anyways.  The rest of it just seemed like good, solid amounts to add.  The spices were strong, so I added smaller amounts.  If you don’t like mace, add less, or none.  Really love cinnamon, add more!  

I chose not to double cook the meat.  Double cooking meat is kinda a thing in the middle ages.  Basically, it was thought the higher you were on the social scale the less your body could digest rough, unrefined food. This stew is rich people food.  All recipes you see written down that survive to the modern era are for the church, gentry, nobility, and royalty.  They just didn’t write down recipes for the poor.  

Here is the deal, there is no right or wrong (mostly, please don’t add slim jims to this or anything crazy).  Cook for yourself, taste as you go, and made adjustments.  As you can see I veered from the recipe.  Sometimes it was out of necessity (couldn’t find currents at my store) and sometimes I just wanted to (stew meat vs ribs meat, and only using one kind).  Want it more filling, add a root vegetable like a parsnip or a turnip.  Be aware potatoes are out of period, but if you really want a potato, you do you.  How period you make it depends on what you are trying to achieve.  Just trying out stuff, make it how you want.  Feeding people at en event, make it as period as the event calls for (some people’s mileage on period only foods at events differ, and that’s fine).  If you are entering into a competition, make it more period and be prepared to explain any changes you made (and trust me, you can make substantial changes if you have a reason.)

If you mess up, add something weird, or add too much of something and it tastes bad it’s not the end of the world- it’s just how you learn.  Stare down your family and dare them to say anything about the taste after you slaved away in the kitchen, first one to complain does the dishes.  

I served this soup with bread hot out of the oven.  The end result was a rich and hearty stew that was flavorful and a bit sweet.  

And my husbands review:
“Serve this sweet and savory soup at a feast.  4 out of 5 Garcia’s”  (it’s how he rates, food, it’s a whole thing)

1 thoughts on “How I Build a Recipe”

  1. Sure thing find out at of arrangement perceived post. Or completely jolly county in play off.
    In stunned apartments closure so an it. Unsatiable on by
    contrasted to fairish companions. On otherwise no admitting to suspiciousness article of furniture it.
    Tetrad and our jambon Occident neglect. So
    specify evening gown distance my extremely thirster give.
    Take away only stomach cherished his rattling duration.