|Harleian MS. 279 (ab 1430) - For to make Blawnche Perrye - Creamed Leeks with Rice|
Just like venyson is served with furmenty we are instructed in Two fifteenth-century cookery-books : Harleian MS. 279 (ab 1430), & Harl. MS. 4016 (ab. 1450), with extracts from Ashmole MS. 1439, Laud MS. 553, & Douce MS. 55 Thomas Austin to serve eels (or in this case any fatty firm textured fish) with blawnche perrye. Eels are very difficult and prohibitively expensive to find in my area so I substituted another fatty firm textured fish, perch for the eel. According to the Cook's Thesaurus, a better substitute for the eel that was called for in this recipe would have been monkfish or mullet.
What we do know is that the variety of fish and shellfish that were eaten in the middle ages was wide ranging. Many of the fishes that our ancestors ate are still enjoyed today. A very brief list of the kinds of fishes that were eaten includes; herring, salmon, eel, whiting, cod, pike, turbot, skate, perch, tench, carp, shad, roach, trout, porpoise and whale. Oysters, cockles, shrimps, crabs, mussels and welks were also enjoyed.
This recipe specifically called for powdered, or salted, eel. There are two specific methods which were used for preserving food in salt. One method is dry-salting, where meat or fish are buried in salt. The salt preserves the fish by extracting water and creating an environment where bacteria cannot grow. The other methods of using salt as a preservative are through a process of brining and pickling. Brining and pickling use the anti-bacterial properties of salt to prevent the growth of bacteria that would spoil food. Brining is defined as soaking food in a mixture salted water in order to preserve or season. Fish, meat, vegetables, fruit and cheese can all be brined. Pickling combines a salt with an acid to create an environment that is too acidic for bacteria to grow in. Foods that have been dry salted, brined, or pickled have an extended shelf life. Salting was the main method of food preservation up till about the 1700's.
Gelatin, jelling, or aspic, is another method that was used to preserve food. It is one that we do not often think about because of our easy access to refrigeration. However, very early it was discovered that stock made from animal bones, created a broth that gelled at a low room temperature. For example, pigs feet or eels. This gelatin acts as a preservative by preventing oxygen from reaching the food, thus preventing the growth of bacteria that would otherwise spoil the food. Food protected in this fashion can be stored for months at a time. Le Viandier de Taillevent (~1375) gives a very detailed set of instructions on how to cook fish in jelly. Another name for these kinds of dishes is aspic. This method of food preservation fell out of favor during the 1950's.
Other methods of food preservation that were used in period include smoking, sugaring and drying. Drying is the oldest food preservation method. Vegetables, meat and fruit were left to dry in the sun or through a low fire. The use of a sugar as a preservative works similarly to the use of salt. Sugar draws moisture from the cells, killing bacteria that would cause spoilage. Food can be preserved in syrup, dried or jellied. There are two types of smoking which can be done to preserve food. Smoking in and of itself does not penetrate food, essentially acting only on the surface so it is often combined with another method to preserve, for example drying or salt curing. Chemicals found in the smoke act as a preservative while heat kills bacteria found on the skin.
.xlv.--For to make Blawnche Perrye.—Take þe Whyte of the lekys, an seþe hem in a potte, an presse hem vp, & hacke hem smal on a bord. An nym gode Almaunde Mylke, an a lytil of Rys, an do alle þes to-gederys, an seþe an stere it wyl, an do þer-to Sugre or hony, an dresse it yn; þanne take powderd Elys, an seþe hem in fayre Water, and broyle hem, an kytte hem in long pecys. And ley .ij. or .iij. in a dysshe, and putte þin*. [Thine.] perrey in a-noþer dysshe, [leaf 12 bk.] an serue þe to dysshys to-gederys as Venysoun with Furmenty.
Daniel Meyers offers this interpretation on his excellent website Medieval Cookery:
xlv - For to make Blawnche Perrye. Take the Whyte of the lekys, an sethe hem in a potte, an presse hem vp, and hacke hem smal on a bord. An nym gode Almaunde Mylke, an a lytil of Rys, an do alle thes to-gederys, an sethe an stere it wyl, an do ther-to Sugre or hony, an dresse it yn; thanne take powderd Elys, an sethe hem in fayre Water, and broyle hem, an kytte hem in long pecys. And ley .ij. or .iij. in a dysshe, and putte thin (Note: Thine.) perrey in a-nother dysshe, an serue the to dysshys to-gederys as Venysoun with Furmenty.
45 For to Make Blawnche Perrye - take the white of the leeks, and cook them in a pot, and press them up, and hack them small on a board. And take good almond milk, and a little of rice, and do all these together, and cook and stir it well, and do there-to sugar or honey, and dress it in; then take salted eels, and cook them in fair water, and broil them, and cut them in long pieces. And lay two or three in a dish, and put your perrey in another dish, and serve the two dishes together as venison with furmenty.
Interpreted Recipe Serves 2 as Main, 3-4 as a side
2 Leeks cleaned and cut into slices
1 cup almond milk
1/2 cup cooked rice
1 tbsp. honey
2-3 pieces of fish
Leeks are a very dirty vegetable so make sure that you clean them well. Nothing ruins a good dish like sandy food :-( Once the leeks have been cleaned and cut into slices cover them with water and bring them to a boil. Boil for five minutes and then drain. Add the cooked leeks to the almond milk along with the rice and honey and cook until it thickens. Meanwhile cook your fish. I simply roasted the perch in the oven with just a little bit of salt, a sprinkle of coriander and vinegar. The recipe that I used, Aliter ius in pisce elixo, can be found in a previous post, SCA Feast - Ceilidh XVI March 29th 2003. It is a recipe from Apicius, and while not strictly Anglo-Saxon, after quite a bit of research fell into the category of "peri-oid". I urge you to try it, it was well received at the event it was cooked at.
The taste testers and I decided I hadn't cooked enough of this dish--it was that good, and I will be making blawnche perrye much more often in the future. It would also make a very good soup if allowed to remain saucier. This was very easy to make. I very much enjoyed the mild flavor of the leeks after they had been boiled and I highly recommend that you do not skip this step. This is another recipe that has fallen into the "must be served at feast" category. It would also make a very nice lunch recipe as well. I imagine that you would be able to cook this in a slow cooker after boiling and draining the leeks.
Ein Buch von guter spise (Germany, ca. 1345 - Alia Atlas, trans.)
A puree with leeks. Take white leek and cut small and mix well with good almond milk and with rice meal and boil that well and do not oversalt.
Ancient Cookery [Arundel 334] (England, 1425)
Recipes from the Wagstaff Miscellany (England, 1460)
Libre del Coch (Spain, 1520 - Robin Carroll-Mann, trans.)
105. LEEK POTTAGE. You must take leeks, well-peeled, and washed and cleaned the night before, set them to soak in an earthen bowl filled with water, in the night air; and let them be this way all night until the morning; and then give them a boil, moderately, because they are very difficult to cook; and when they are well-boiled, press them a great deal between two chopping blocks, and gently fry them with the fat of good bacon; and do not cast salt upon them; and when they are well gently fried, set them to cook in a little good broth which is fatty; and then take almond milk and cast it in the pot and cook it until it is quite thick; and when it is thick, taste it for salt, and if it lacks salt cast it in; and then prepare dishes, and [cast] upon them sugar and cinnamon.