Wednesday, 12 February 2020

Pottage, anyone?

        Young green peas were cooked in a beef broth flavoured with parsley, sage, hyssop and savory to produce pottage in medieval days. Old dried peas were cooked with bacon stock and eaten afterwards with bacon. meat if you had any. The labourer's family without bacon made do with  oatmeal, flour or breadcrumbs to thicken it. This thick pease pottage  remaned a basic country dish for several hundred years; in fact, we still have it in our home today, usually with some ham and a ham stock cube.

Pottage was a staple of the English diet, came in many varieties. and was eaten by rich and poor alike Onions were the most popular ingredient and demand outstripped supply so that the vegetable and the seed were importd from the Netherlands and even Spain. Garlic was also imported.   
Many other broad green leaves went into it, plants we are not so familiar with today: orche, clary, mallows, patience dock, borage and bugloss. Flavourings included parsley, sage, thyme, mint in all its forms, and fennel . In the medieva period, people chopped up the parsley root fas well as the leaves  and stalks for pottage.  A 15th century housewife grew no less that 48 herbs - though we cannot assume that every housewife grew all of them! Many were gathered from the wilds - such as dandelion, daisy and red nettle. All this greenery should have been very healthy but unhappily the pottages were cooked for so long that all the goodness of Vitamin C would have been destroyed .

Parsnips,  carrots, radish, turnip and rape were grown in gardens as these root vegetables were not yet grown as field crops.   Rape seeds were used as a cooking oil among the less well-off. Dutch immigrants began growing rape in south east England in the Tudor period; before that, the seed was imported from Flanders.                                                                                                                               

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