Friday 26 September 2014

The effect of the sun

When we ordered the purple wool for the Thomasteppich, we decided to do a little experiment to see  what the effect of the sun was on the purple colour. We hung some threads of wool outside for about two months, exposed to the weather and the full sun for most of the day (well, Dutch weather permitting ...). The effect of the exposure to the sun is enormous: the purple has bleached to a light  lilac colour. 
The same wool. Left the threads that were exposed to sun and weather for 2 months (therefore they are more loosely wind), right the threads in the original purple colour that was kept in a box in the dark.

This does give some thoughts on the effect it will have on the final tapestry. The Thomasteppich project will likely continue for some 10 years before it is finished (the nuns did it in 2 years time, but they embroidered every day), and embroidery is mainly done outside (though not in the full sun).  However, we already see that the light green has become lighter.

Monday 22 September 2014

Medieval mussels

It all began when we found a book on excavations in Arnemuiden, the town Anne was born. Among the finds at the harbours edge was a curious red earthenware pot, dating from the late middle ages. A similar pot had been found in the nearby city of Middelburg. As this type of pot was only found in  Zeeland, a delta province with (during medieval times) lots of small islands and fisher-folk, and plenty of opportunity to gather (free) mussels around the shore, it was thought to be a pan used to cook mussels. As we happen to like cooked mussels, and this was a medieval pot from Anne's home town, we wanted to add a replica of this mussel pot to our cooking inventory. We looked if there was a potter that was willing to make the replica and ended up at Atelier Jera, run by Elly van Leeuwen from Leiden, the Netherlands.

 A red earthenware 'mussels bowl' with lead-glazing inside standing on three rims. Dated around 1375-1450. 
Middelburg, Berghuijskazerne, now in the Zeeuws Museum, Middelburg, the Netherlands.

The red earthenware 'mussels bowl' with lead glazing found in Arnemuiden, the Netherlands. 
Dated around 1350-1450. The sizes are recalculated based on maximum diameter provided.

She made a very beautifully crafted replica of the mussels bowl, as well as a replacement for our jack-dawed milk bowl. Her bowl is slightly smaller, 28 cm diameter and 11 cm high. We tested our new mussels pot on our next event in Eindhoven. Of course using a medieval recipe for mussels. Below we provide the recipes for three different medieval dishes containing mussels.

Our mussels bowl replica made by Elly van Leeuwen.

You might wonder how mussels gathered around the shore would end up fresh in the mainland (e.g. around the Historic Open Air Museum in Eindhoven). There is some evidence that mussels were transported during medieval times in barrels filled with salt water. This prevented them from being spoiled.

Last weekend in the Historic Open Air Museum in Eindhoven we tried two of the three medieval mussels recipes that are provided below.

Cawdel of Muskels

This is an interesting recipe for mussels and leeks in almond milk, from 'the Forme of Cury' an English cookbook from the 14th century (recipe 127). The modern adaptation is from 'Pleyn delit' by Constance B. Hieatt, Brenda Hosington and Sharon Butler (ISBN 0-8020-7632-7).

Cawdel of muskels, a tasty soup-like recipe.

Take and seep muskels; pyke hem clene, and waisshe hem clene in wyne. Take almaundes & bray hem. Take somma of the muskels and grynde hem, & some hewe smale; drawe the muskels yground with the self broth. Wryng the almaundes with faire water. Do alle thise togider; do therto verjous and vyneger. Take whyte of lekes & perboile hem wel; wryng oute the water and hewe hem smale. Cast oile therto, with oynouns perboiled & mynced smale; do therto powder fort, saffroun & salt a lytel. Seep it, not to stondyng, & messe it forth.  

Add salt and saffron and boil the mussels. They are ready when they are open.
  • 1/2 cup of ground almonds
  • 1/2 cup of water
  • 1-1.5 kg mussels in shell
  • 2 medium onions, peeled and quartered
  • 3-4 leeks, washed and thinly sliced
  • 1 bottle of dry white wine
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon saffron
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon each ground ginger, all spice, and pepper.

Take the mussels out of their shell and chop them to pieces.

Draw thick almond milk from the ground almonds and water. Soak mussels in cold water and discard those that open prematurely. Put them in a large pot with leeks, onions, wine, vinegar, salt and saffron. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down and simmer until the shells open (about 5 minutes). Stain broth through a cheesecloth and reserve. shell mussels and discard the shells. Chop onions and leeks and sauté them them gently in oil for a few minutes. Meanwhile grind (blend) half the cooked mussels with a small amount of the broth. Chop the remaining mussels more coarsely with a knife. Combine all of these ingredients with the almond milk, adding broth if more liquid seems needed. Simmer gently to reheat, stirring constantly; do not overcook. Season to taste.

Saute the onions and leeks.

Mussels in the shell

The following is a recipe for cooked mussels from Manuscript M.S. B.L. Harleian H4016, recipe 106 of around 1450. Taken from the book 'The culinary recipes of medieval England' by Constance B. Hieatt (ISBN 978-1-909248-30-4).

Take and pick over good mussels and put them in a pot; 
add them to minced onions and a good quantity of pepper and wine, and a little vinegar. 
As soon as they begin to gape, take them from the fire, and serve hot in a dish with the same broth.

The mussels in the shell were made using the new mussels bowl.

This recipe is, in fact, much alike the modern cooked mussels. Mussels are boiled in white wine, together with a drop of vinegar, some vegetables (for example onions) and spices (pepper). When the shell is open they are ready to eat. You can use an empty open shell as pincers to pry another mussel out of its shell. The use of vinegar and pepper gives it a interesting twist from the modern cooked mussels.

'Ein hofelich spise von Ostren' (jugged mussels)

This mussels recipe stems from medieval France and was taken from the German book 'Wie man eyn teutsches Mannsbild bey Kräfften hält' by H.J. Fahrenkamp (ISBN 3-89996-264-8). The recipes in this book seem genuine, but the author is lax in providing the exact sources.

  • 1.5 kg mussels
  • 3-4 tablespoons oil
  • 1 medium sized onion 
  • 100 g breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 l dry white wine
  • 1-2 tablespoons wine vinegar
  • some bay leaf, parsley and tarragon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • a bit of saffron
  • white pepper, salt

 Wash the mussels and throw away the ones with an open shell. Put the rest in a large pan with some oil and heat strongly for around 5 minutes, while shaking the pan, until the shell have opened. Throw away the unopened ones. Take the pan from the fire and put through a sieve, catching the mussel-oil liquid in a bowl. Take the muscles from the shell and set aside. Cut the onion in fine pieces and stir fry them in a little oil. Add the breadcrumbs and stir. Add the wine and vinegar and the herbs and let it simmer for 10 minutes. Remove the herbs and use a mixer to make a smooth purée. If necessary add the mussel-oil liquid. Add the spices, keeping in mind that none should give a dominant flavour. Add the mussels to the sauce and reheat the mixture slowly.

Medieval mussels with St. Ambrose in the Book of Hours of Catherina of Cleves, by the Utrecht Master of Catherina of Cleves, Ms. M. 917, page 244. Note that the crab has too many legs.   

Sunday 7 September 2014

Triangular stool in Miroque magazine

The triangular stool, which I have made in 2011 features in a 'do-it-yourself' article in the latest issue of the German re-enactors magazine Miroque. The complete issue 11 of this magazine features many short medieval ideas/guides of making your own stuff. Although I do wonder if you actually can make the triangular stool using the sparse 2-page guideline in the magazine, it does provide the more complete sources (this website and that of blood and sawdust) that will help you make the stool. From this issue I did get an idea of making a clay oven, to use for medieval cooking, but that will be a project for later.


The article in Miroque.
The triangular stool, one of the five images used in the Miroque article.

Monday 1 September 2014

Ceci con ove

This is a favourite dish of us, consisting of chickpeas and soft cheese. It is tasty, suitable for vegetarians and easy to make. As a consequence this dish is made most of the times we are re-enacting. 

The original recipe of 'ceci con ove', or 'chickpeas with eggs and cheese' stems from Il libro della cucina, a 14th century Tuscan cookbook. The modern adaptation is by Constance B. Hieatt, Brenda Hosington and Sharon butler and can be found in their book 'Pleyn Delit - medieval cookery for modern cooks'.

Take fresh young chickpeas, boiled; 
and pour off the water, then cook them with spices, saffron, salt and oil 
and beaten eggs, cheese or meat as you wish.

The modern cooks, and we as well, used dried or canned chickpeas instead of fresh chickpeas. Especially if you use the latter the dish is very fast to make.

3-4 cups cooked dried chickpeas (or 2 cans chickpeas)
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin and coriander
salt to taste
pinch of ground saffron
4 eggs, beaten
a package of soft goat cheese (around 200 g)

If you use dried chickpeas, soak them overnight in water. Cook the chickpeas in the water in a grape or pipkin (with a lid) near the fire, occasionally turning the other side of the pipkin to the fire. Beat the eggs with the seasoning, the oil and the cheese. Drain the chickpeas and add the egg-cheese mixture. Put the pipkin by the fire to reheat, while stirring the contents, to slightly thicken the sauce.

Though the dish does not look that appetising, it tastes deliciously and is also eaten well by our children (who are quite suspicious of most other medieval dishes...)

The red earthenware pipkin (without a lid)
is standing at the edge of the fire.