Harleian MS. 279 (ab 1430) - Soupes dorye - Almond Milk Toast

Soupes Dorye and a glass of wine

A piece of bread soaked in milk, oftentimes described as "bland" or "uninspiring", but anyone who has grown up with this dish, might say otherwise. To me "milk toast" means toasted and buttered bread, sprinkled with a generous amount of sugar and soaked in hot milk as a treat. I was very much looking forward to this interpretation of milk toast, or milk sop from "Two fifteenth-century cookery-books. Harleian ms. 279 (ab. 1430), & Harl. ms. 4016 (ab. 1450), with extracts from Ashmole ms. 1429, Laud ms. 553, & Douce ms. 55" by Thomas Austin when I started working with it. Yes, it's missing the butter, but the butter is replaced by almond milk that has been thickened and flavored with wine *and* I'm allowed to eat it for breakfast? Oh yeah!

As I was cooking this dish one of my taste testers remarked "It smells like Christmas in here". It was a very delightful smell and this dish lived up to its promise of being comforting and nostalgic. 

Drinking nut milks, specifically almond milk is not a new thing. It is a very old "thing" and one that was born of necessity. As discussed previously with the post on "papyns", the consumption of dairy milk during the middle ages brought with it hazards that we do not necessarily experience today because of inoculation of cattle against disease, pasteurization of milk and strict food laws governing dairy production.

One other reason dairy alternatives became important during the middle ages were the regulations imposed by the Church. At its strictest, more than half the year was governed by rules regarding fasting and abstaining from food.  During this time meat and dairy products were not to be eaten.  On days of fasting, no food was to be consumed before "Vespers" (after sunset).  

There were three specific fasting periods totaling 120 days; Easter (Lent), St. Martin's day to Christmas, and Pentecost. Shorter fasts also occurred on Ember days--days specifically ordered by the Church as days of abstinence and fasting; the Wednesday, Friday and Saturday after the Feast of Saint Lucy (December 13), the Exaltation of the Cross (September 14), the first Sunday in Lent and Pentecost, Additionally, Fridays were fast days commemorating the death of Jesus.  

The fast for the 40 days of Pentecost fell out of favor sometime around the 11th Century. Eventually the Christmas fast was shortened to the days of the Advent.  The meal was moved to the hour of "none", or approximately 3:00 in the afternoon and was supplemented by additional food in the morning and evening.  However, the rules for Lent remained in place and some are still observed today. 

Cooks were especially challenged to provide substitutes for meat, eggs, butter and milk during these extended periods of fasting. Butter, cheese and milk could be made from almonds, and were used in place of milk, butter, cheese, eggs or bone marrow in cooking. I imagine that a sop of bread and milk would have been the kind of meal that would have been consumed prior to retiring to bed during times of abstinence. 

.xxvij. Soupes dorye.—Take gode almaunde mylke y-draw wyth wyn, an let hem boyle to-gederys, an caste þer-to Safroun an Salt; an þan take Paynemayn, an kytte it an toste it, an wete it in wyne, an ley it on a dysshe, an caste þe syrip þer-on. And þan make a dragge of powder Gyngere, Sugre, canel, Clowes, Maces, an caste þer-on When it is y-dressid, an serue þanne forth for a potage gode.

27. Soup Dorye - Take good almond milk drawn with wine, an let them boil together, an caste there-to Saffron an Salt; an than take bread, an cut it an toast it, an wet it in wine, an lay it on a dish, an caste the syrup there-on. And then make a dredge of powder ginger, sugar, cinnamon, cloves, maces, an caste there-on. When it is dressed, an serve than forth for a pottage good.

Interpreted Recipe                                                                          Serves 1 as a main, 2 as a side dish

1 C. Almond Milk made with wine -or- 1 C. commercially prepared almond milk flavored with a tablespoon of wine (I used white wine and commercially prepared almond milk) 
1-2 Tbsp. wine (I used white)
Pinch of Saffron (opt)
Salt to taste
1 thick slice of bread (I used Rastons but you could easily substitute Manchet or French)
Sweet Spices to taste

Because I used commercially prepared almond milk, I added the wine to the milk and then heated it on medium-low heat upon the stove top. If I were going to use my own almond milk, I would use a similar ratio of wine to water.  I'm not a fan of "curdled" almond milk so I wanted to keep the curdling to a minimum.  This ratio thickens the milk without making noticeable curds--yay me! Add saffron and salt to taste. 

While the almond milk is heating, toast your bread.  Sops were cut into thin strips after being toasted unless otherwise specified (some recipes will specify to cut the sops into rounds).  After the bread has been toasted and cut, place it in a bowl and add enough wine for the bread to soak it up (mine took about 2 tablespoons) without leaving a puddle in the bottom of the dish. 

Add the heated almond milk to the bread slowly.  You want the bread to drink up the milk without becoming a soggy mess. Sprinkle with your sweet spices and serve immediately. 

Because of the instruction to "serve than forth for a pottage good", there is the assumption that the milk toast should be floating in a puddle of the almond milk when served.  

This dish may fall into the category of "one of those dishes that feasters are going to look at and go what the heck?" as one of my tasters said. It's not something one would think of when imagining sitting down to dine.  However, I would have no qualms serving this, partly because I enjoyed it enough to have made several times since and partly because most cooks have a spare loaf of bread sitting around the kitchen and almond milk to spare, why not add the extra dish? It is neither pretentious nor fussy like the papyns and I believe it to be a comforting dish.  It certainly beats the usual bread and butter sitting on the table begging to be overindulged in before any of the dishes you have cooked reaches the table. Go for it!

This could easily make a good camp breakfast that would require no refridgeration using bread, spices, almond flour and water. If anyone tries this, please let me know how you liked it.

Note: Dorye could be a misspelling of Dorée the French word for "golden" which takes the place of our English "browned" --making the name of this dish "Golden Sops"

Similar Recipes:

Fourme of Curye [Rylands MS 7] (England, 1390)

.lxxx. Sowpes doree. Take almaundes y brayed, drawe hem up with wyne, boyle hit cast theruppoun safroun & salt, tak brede y tosted in wyne lay therof a leyne & a nother of that sewe & do alle to gyder, florysch hit with suger, poudour ginger, & serve it forth.

Liber cure cocorum [Sloane MS 1986] (England, 1430)

Sowpus dorre. Take almondes, bray hem, wryng hom up. Boyle hom with wyn rede to sup. Þen temper hom with wyn, salt, I rede, And loke þou tost fyne wetebrede, And lay in dysshes, dubene with wyne. Do in þis dysshes mete, þat is so fyne. Messe hit forthe, and florysshe hit þenne With sugur and gynger, as I þe kenne.

A Noble Boke off Cookry (England, 1468)

To mak soupes dorrey tak almondes and bray them asid wring them up and boile them with wyn and temper them with wyne and salt then toost whit bred and lay it in a disshe and enbane it with wyne and pour it ouer the met and florisshe it with sugur and guingere and serue it.