Saturday 30 June 2012

Medieval lasagne

To make lasagne take fermented dough and make into as thin a shape as possible. Then divide it into squares of three fingerbreaths per side. Then take salted boiling water and cook those lasagne in it. And when they are fully cooked, add grated cheese. And, if you like, you can also add  good powdered spices and powder them onto them, when they are on the trencher. then put on a layer of lasagne and powder [spices] again; and on top another layer and powder, and continue until the trencher or bowl is full. Then eat them by taking them up with a pointed wooden stick.
(Translated from) Libre de coqina, De lasanis f. 412

14th century medieval lasagne according to the libre de coqina.

Medieval lasagne is quite different from that nowadays, although there are some common features. This recipe is relatively easy to make during a re-enactment weekend; the only prerequisite being a large table to roll out the dough. We have made this lasagne at our last weekend at the historic open air museum in Eindhoven and took photos of the whole process. The final result was a very tasty and satisfying meal for children and adults alike. We fully recommend it to others.

3 cups regular flour (no durum flour)
1 cup tepid water
1.5 teaspoon salt
20 gram fresh bakers yeast
Spice mixture:
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (we used already ground)
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
fresh grated Parmesan - we used very old goat cheese instead of the Parmesan
fresh ground black pepper
olive oil

Left: The fermenting dough under a towel in the sun and near the fireplace. 
Right: The dough after 1 hour of fermenting and more than doubling in size.

Dissolve the yeast in a little water and after a few minutes mix it into the flour. Add the rest of the water and the salt to form an elastic dough. Knead the dough for some 10 minutes as you would do for bread. The result should be smooth and reveal tiny holes when you cut it with a knife. Cover the dough with a towel and leave to rise in a warm place for about an hour. We placed the bowl with the dough near the camp fire, but not to close.

 Left: Grating the old goat cheese with a knife. Right: Getting the dough out on a well floured table.

Grate the cheese and set aside. Grind and mix the spices in a mortar. Towards the end of the rising time bring a large bowl of well salted water to the boil and add a few drops of (olive) oil to prevent the sheets of lasagne sticking to each other. Preheat a baking or gratin dish by filling it with boiling water, but dry it before use. We used a skillet instead, which was placed on a high-legged trivet above the fire just before boiling the lasagne.

Rolling the dough thinly with a wooden rolling pin.

Left: Cutting the lasagne squares with a knife. Right: The lasagne squares, approximately 5 x 5 cm.

Carefully moving the lasagne squares on the flat of the knife to a wooden board, so they can be taken outside to be boiled.

Knead the dough back into a ball and roll it out to an even thickness of about 2 mm. the dough has a tendency to stick, so the workspace and the roller have to be richly floured. Cut the dough into 5 cm squares. Cook the lasagne in the rapidly boiling water and stir with a spoon or skimmer to prevent them from sticking. They are done when they rise to the surface of the water. This will take 2-3 minutes. They should not taste of flour and should be elastic, but not too soft. 

Top left: The lasagne boiling in salt water. These pieces are ready. Right: Moving the lasagne pieces to the skillet with help of a skimmer. Bottom left: The lasagne layered with cheese and spices in the warm skillet.

Remove the lasagne with a skimmer and place them in the preheated dish. Sprinkle it with grated cheese, a pinch of the spices and some ground black pepper. Add layers of lasagne, cheese and spices, until you run out of lasagne. Finally, end up with the rest of the cheese and spices. Eat them using a pointed wooden stick.

Left: The finished lasagne on the table, ready to eat. Right: Eating lasagne using pointed wooden sticks.

Also other medieval cookbooks have recipes for lasagne, that can differ in some part, e.g. the use of meat broth or almond milk to cook it, or the omission of yeast fermentation. One such a recipe is found in the Forme of Cureye, translated and modernised in Pleyn Delit - medieval cookery for modern cooks by C.B. Hieatt, B. Hosington and S. Butler, ISBN 08020-06787. The recipe above can also be found (nr. 6) in the modern medieval cookbook: The medieval kitchen - recipes from France and Italy by O. Redon, F. Sabbon and S. Serventi, ISBN 0226706850.

Thursday 28 June 2012

14th century armoires from the Luneburger convents

As already mentioned, the convents around the Luneburger moor (Germany) contain an amazing amount of medieval furniture. This post shows many examples of the armoires (Schranke in German) that are present in Kloster Isenhagen and Kloster Wienhausen. Both convents are well worth a visit if you are interested in medieval furniture, but also if you are interested in tapestries or embroidery, or daily medieval life.
The armoires (from Isenhagen) presented here are numbered by me. They mostly date from the mid to late 14th century. Details from the same armoire have the same number. Of course the armoires all have "official numbers", but only for one armoire I know this number.

Armoire number 1. A so-called kufenschrank. It is medium sized has one door, the lock is positioned behind the door, only the hole for the key and a small plate can be seen.

Three kufenschranken standing next to each other (numbered from left to right 2, 3, 4). They are of approximately the same height (man size ~1.80 m). 

Armoire 2 was interesting because the door was open and you could get near enough to see all the details. 
The hinges of the door are relatively small for the large door.

The bottom of armoire 2 has a simple decoration.

The kufen of armoire 2 have been adjusted to the back of the wall. They only extend at the front of the armoire, and have a simple decoration (top photo). The photo on the right shows the side of armoire 2.

The top of the armoire 2 is constructed with a finger joint.

Another image of the top of armoire 2. The decorative board is added/ nailed to the main construction of the armoire.

Armoire 2 opened. The three shelves are also quite thick and nailed with dowels to the construction.

The modern addition on the door to close armoire 2.

Armoires 3 (left) and 4 (right). You can count the dowels on the side of armoire 3 to find out that there are 4 shelves. For armoire 4 there is at least one, at the site of the 2 doors, likely there are two extra shelves..

The bottom of armoire 4. Even the kufen need an extra wedge to be stable.

 This large armoire 5 does not stand on kufen but directly on the boards the armoire is made of, i.e. a hutch-like construction. It has a double doors and three shelves.

The top door of armoire 5. There is a second key hole above the large lock plate.

The hallway on the first floor with a large number of armoires standing in niches. You can easily make size comparisons between the armoires.

This gabled armoire (6) is one of the top furniture attractions from Kloster Isenhagen. It is made of oak and its measures are: height 263 cm; width 98.5 cm and depth 50 cm (Official number Is Ba 56).

Decorations along the gable. Note also the construction dowels. The decorations have a floral design and look if they once were coloured. One of the top pins in the right photo is split, perhaps due to a wedge.

 Lock and the pull ring for the door of armoire 6

 The kufen and the simple bottom decoration of armoire 6.

This two-doored armoire (no 7.) is also standing on kufen. Looking at the placement of the dowels, it has three shelves. For size comparison, my son of 5 years old is standing next to the armoire (the length of his T-shirt of the next-door otter-centre is 40 cm). The armoire has an approximate height of 150 cm and a width around 70 cm.

The bottom board of armoire 7 has some simple sawn out decoration. 
Also the kufen only have a simple curves as decoration.

 The top of armoire 7 is crenelated, some have been broken.

Another two-doored armoire (8), of approximately the same height as the previous one.
 From the front no dowel marks are visible that indicate the number of shelves.

The left side of armoire 8, also here no clue for the number of shelves.

The kufen of armoire 8 (below) have a broad base, becoming stepwise smaller. It looks like the back board of the armoire is as long as the armoire plus the kufen. This is remarkab;le and could indicate that it originally was not a kufenschrank.

Armoire 9 is directlly standing on its side boards and has some simple decorations. The size would be approximately 120 cm high and 70 cm width.There is a curious insert in the door, as if it once had been open with a grid. That would mean it had been an aumbry and used in the kitchen or as food storage.

 The decorative board has just been nailed to the top of armoire 9.

The side of armoire 9 showing that it is standing on the side boards.

Armoire 10 is perhaps the most simple of all the armoires. No decoration, and the kufen are square blocks of wood. The size is approximately the same as the previous armoire. This armoire has two shelves.

The bottom of armoire 10 with the kufen.

 The following armoires are from Kloster Wienhausen. I have scanned some black and white photos from the book Schrank - Butze - Bett vom mittelalter bis ins 20. Jahrhundert am Beispiel der Luneburger Heide by Thorsten Albrecht (ISBN 3935590-02-4), as photography was (sadly) not allowed within Kloster Wienhausen.

One of the hallways in Kloster Wienhausen (in 1998) with chests and armoires on both sides of the corridor. 
On the right at the end several lecterns or writing desks can be seen.

Two lecterns / writing desks standing on kufen, the left of around 1500, the one on the right from the first half of the 16th century. The writing desks are painted blue, with a grey-white pattern on it. A small door opens to a cupboard for books.
the lectern on the left (Wien Ae 1) is 144.5 cm high, 81/89.5 cm wide and 50 cm deep and made of oak. The lectern on the right (Wien Ae 2) is 165.5 cm high, 85/90.5 cm wide and 50.5 cm deep and made of pine.

Wien Ba 1 (left). A single doored armoire standing on its side boards. The lower hinge has been repaired. This 14th century armoire is undecorated with a simple construction of oak. Height 152 cm, width 55.5 cm and depth 39 cm. 14th century.

Wien Ba 10 (right). A large armoire with two doors and fine wrought ironwork. In between the two doors is a small drawer. The armoire stands directly on the sideboards, like a boarded chest. Made of oak around 1500. Height 197.5 cm, width 99.5 cm and depth 53 cm.

Wien Ba 11 (left). A large armoire with four doors standing on kufen. It has chip carved decorations on the top and bottom boards. Made of oak, dating from the 14th century. Height 203 cm, width 177 and depth 63 cm.

Wien Ba 14 (right). This is a small gabled armoire, standing on its side boards. It is made of oak and decorated with round ornaments. 14th century.  Height 147.5 cm, width 44.5 cm and 28 cm deep.

Wien Ba 25 (left). A small armoire standing on kufen of the early 15th century. Made of oak. 109 cm high, 74 cm wide, 66 cm door width and 35 cm deep. 

Wien Ba 34 (right). An armoire built in the hutch-style. Oak, second half of the 14th century. The top board of the armoire is crenelated. 129 cm high, 74 cm wide and 35 cm deep.

Wien Ba 35. The 'Majestas Domini' armoire with two doors and a central stile. The armoire is painted with large stars, Majestas Domini and Deesis portraits on the doors. The armoire has three shelves which are nailed with dowels to the side boards and is crenelated at the top. It dates from around 1320-1330 and is made of maple. 157 cm high, 117 cm wide and 56 cm deep.

Wien Ba 28. An armoire with a double door standing in the Agnes hall in kloster Wienhausen. The doors are highly ornate with circular chip carved rosettes. It is dated around 1259 and made of quarter-sawn oak, showing a nice grain with ray flecks. Height 196 cm, width 120 cm and 48/51.5 cm deep.