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Harleian MS. 279 (ab 1430) - .lxxxvj. Rys - Rice

Harleian MS. 279 (ab 1430) - .lxxxvj. Rys - Rice


Because of its difficulty to grow and the cost to import, rice was considered a luxury product throughout the Middle Ages. Today rice is one of the most common cereal grains in use.  This recipe found in n the 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 for medieval rice creates a sweet, creamy and delicious dish that reflects the simplicity of medieval cooking and its ability to create complex flavors with a few ingredients.

Where rice originated is hotly debated. One theory states that rice is a descendent of a wild grass which was cultivated in the Himalayas.  Another theory suggests that rice originated in India and spread to Thailand and China.  Rice spread from this region into the Middle East, where some of the oldest grains have been found in a grave dated to the first century A.D.

Alexander the Great introduced rice to Mesopotamia in the late 4th Century.  It was Alexander who is credited with introducing the Greeks to rice sometime around 320BC.  It was considered an exotic species and was used for medicine but not as a source of food.  The Romans became acquainted with this grain through the Greeks, but chose to import their rice from Syria and Egypt.  Apicius mentions that rice flour (fecula) could be used to thicken sauces.

Rice reached England in the late 13th, early 14th Century.  Records indicate that Portuguese and Spanish ships included rice as one of its imports along with figs, raisins, almonds, pepper, sugar, saffron, wax, leather and Pomegranates. There is some debate on how and when this grain was introduced to Spain.  One theory suggests that Moors invading from Africa brought rice with them in the eleventh century. Another theory suggests that rice was known in the Valencia region as early as the first century.  It is known that Portugal had established and thriving fields of rice in the twelfth century. It is believed that both France and Italy were growing rice in the thirteenth centuries.

.lxxxvj. Rys.—Take a porcyoun of Rys, & pyke hem clene, & sethe hem welle, & late hem kele; þen take gode Mylke of Almaundys & do þer-to, & seþe & stere hem wyl; & do þer-to Sugre an hony, & serue forth.

Daniel Myers offers this interpretation on his website.

lxxxvj - Rys. Take a porcyoun of Rys, and pyke hem clene, and sethe hem welle, and late hem kele; then take gode Mylke of Almaundys and do ther-to, and sethe and stere hem wyl; and do ther-to Sugre an hony, and serue forth [correction; sic = f].

Interpreted Recipe                                                                                    Serves 1 as main, 2 as side

1/2 cup rice
1 cup water
1/2 cup almond milk
1/2 tsp each (or to taste) sugar and honey

What kind of rice should one use for this dish? I used a long grained white rice because it is what I had, but, if I were to cook this dish for an event I would choose a short  or medium grained rice  (Arborio or Valencia). I believe that the shorter grained rice was the one that was imported from Portugal and Spain into Europe.  Bomba Rice which is used for paella might also be a good choice. 

Follow the package directions to precook your rice.  Once the rice is cooked, allow it to cool and then add your almond milk, sugar and honey and cook until the almond milk is absorbed.  Serve--it could not be simpler.

I have in the past cheated at events by using the bagged, frozen rice, putting it into a pan, adding almond milk and popping it into the oven to thaw and heat. You can stir it occasionally while it is heating.  The almond milk absorbs and the dish tastes similar. Using long grain rice that is frozen and adding the flavors nets a similar taste but, you miss the creamy consistency. However if you are cooking for a larger crowd, purchasing the frozen rice, means not having to fret cooking in quantity for a large crowd and possibly serving undercooked rice.  

The taste testers and I "argued" over who got to eat the rest of the dish. This is definitely one of the times I wished I had made more instead of a "tasting sample. 

Similar Recipes

Le Viandier de Taillevent (France, ca. 1380 - James Prescott, trans.)

Decorated rice for a meat day. Pick over the rice, wash it very well in hot water, dry it near the fire, and cook it in simmering cow's milk. Crush some saffron (for reddening it), steep it in your milk, and add stock from the pot.

Le Menagier de Paris (France, 1393 - Janet Hinson, trans.)

RICE, Another Way. Pick it over and wash in two or three changes of hot water until the water is clear, then do as above until half cooked, then puree it and put on trenchers in dishes to drain and dry in front of the fire: then cook it thick with the fatty liquid from beef and with saffron, if this is a meat day: and if it is a fish day, do not add meat juice, but in its place add almonds well-ground and not sieved; then sweeten and do not use saffron.
 A Noble Boke off Cookry (England, 1468)

To mak ryse pik them clene and then wesshe them in two or thre waters and let the water be warm and sethe them in clene water till they begyn to boile and at the first boile put out the water and sethe them with brothe of fleshe or with the brothe of freche flesshe or of freche fisshe and put ther to sugur saffron and salt and serue it.

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