After reading so much about medieval food and cooking while researching my next book, I decided to give it a try myself. I find medieval recipes fascinating, with their unusual (by today’s standards) combinations of flavors and the loose phrasing of the directions that can be interpreted freely by the cook.
I chose to use a recipe from the Gode Cookery website, so that anyone reading can try the same recipe for themselves. If you have time, check out the website; it can be fascinating to read the original medieval instructions and then see how they’ve been translated into modern English and updated to use modern ingredients.
For example, the Gode Cookery website provides the text of some original instructions for making makerouns, an early forerunner of what we know as macaroni and cheese. Here’s a direct quote from the website:
Take and make a thynne foyle of dowh, and kerue it on pieces, and cast hym on boiling water & seeþ it wele. Take chese and grate it, and butter imelte, cast bynethen and abouven as losyns; and serue forth.
Happily, here’s another direct quote from the same website that translates the recipe very simply to:
Macaroni. Take a piece of thin pastry dough and cut it in pieces, place in boiling water and cook. Take grated cheese, melted butter, and arrange in layers like lasagna; serve.
Then the website provides more detailed instructions and helpful hints and tips for modern cooks wishing to recreate the dish.
So now it’s time to share my own medieval adventure in the kitchen. In homage to Reggie (a character in my book), I decided to make his favorite dish, a meat pie. The recipe I chose is for a Hatte, which is a hand-held meat pie that can be made to look like a medieval hat. If you want to try the recipe for yourself, here’s the link to the original recipe.
I did make a few alterations to the recipe—I used agave nectar instead of sugar, I left out the egg yolks from the filling and I made the meat pies in a half-moon shape instead of the hat shape, which made it unnecessary to dip the pies in batter before frying.
Don Winn’s Version of Medieval Meat Pie
1 lb ground veal
1 lb ground pork
1/2 medium yellow onion, diced (1 cup diced)
8 oz diced dates, pits removed
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 teaspoon mace
1 teaspoon cumin seed
1 1/2 teaspoons Turkish saffron
1/2 teaspoon Grains of Paradise
1 teaspoon agave nectar
Salt to taste
Generous grinding of fresh black pepper
Grape seed oil sufficient for frying and a deep skillet
Short pastry of your choice, sufficient for 8-10 8 inch rounds of pastry (I used prepared pie crusts from the grocery store to save time.)
In a large skillet, brown the meat and onion for 4 minutes to render some of the juices and fat, then add dates. (The juices will hydrate the dried dates.)
Stir in all seasonings except saffron and allow the meat to cook until browned, and the moisture from the meats and onion evaporates. The filling needs to be dry so as not to make the pastry soggy. Add the saffron and stir to incorporate. Remove from flame.
Place desired amount of filling, (I used 1/2 cup) on half of an 8″ pastry round, leaving an inch around the edges of the dough bare for sealing. Fold the circle of dough in half, encasing your meat filling. Press edges of dough together to form a seal.
In a deep skillet, heat 2-3 inches of Grapeseed oil until shimmering. Drop in a scrap of pastry dough to test the heat of the oil: the pastry should float on top and sizzle. When heated, lower one meat pie into the hot oil and fry until it’s crisp and golden. The cooking time will depend on the type of pastry and how much filling was used. Remove to a heatproof plate lined with paper towels. Repeat with each meat pie, cooking one at a time until finished.
I think the spices turned out very well in my experiment but for the next time, unlike the medieval culinary experts, I would not include dates or sweeteners of any kind, although that might just be my personal taste.