|Harleian MS. 279 (ab 1430) - Quystis Scun - Pigeons Stewed|
Today I cooked a recipe from 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 by Thomas Austin for a dish of pigeons stewed in a flavorful broth of beef, wine and vinegar seasoned with ginger and pepper. Unfortunately pigeon is difficult for me to come by in this area so I had to spend some time researching substitutes for game birds. The suggested game bird from the "The Cook's Thesaurus" was Cornish hens, which are readily available in my area, but not even remotely period.
Squab, the term used for young pigeons is described as tasting quite a bit like "dark meat chicken", which would be appropriate as the meat itself is a very dark. Substituting the Cornish hen created a bit of an interesting dilemma. The broth and wine colored the skin of the bird grey. If I wasn't 100% convinced that the hen's I had purchased were fresh I would have been hesitant to serve them to my taste testers. I believe that any cook would run into this same issue. Some suggestions that were made to overcome this would be to cook the birds with the skin on and remove the skin prior to serving, or to bake the meat of your choice and serve it with a sauce made from the remaining ingredients. You won't get the same texture but who wants to eat rubbery skin??
The Middle English Dictionary, Volume 8 by Robert E. Lewis suggests that the word "Scune" means Stew. Unlike the word soup, whose etymology is clear, the word "stew" has a rather shady and twisted path. The "Online Etymology Dictionary" gives the information below:
stew (n.) - c. 1300, "vessel for cooking," from stew (v.). Later "heated room," especially for bathing (late 14c.). The meaning "stewed meat with vegetables" is first recorded 1756. The obsolete slang meaning "brothel" (mid-14c., usually plural, stews) is from a parallel sense of "public bath house" (mid-14c.), carried over from Old French estuve "bath, bath house; bawdy house," reflecting the reputation of medieval bath houses.late 14c., transitive "to bathe (a person or a body part) in a steam bath," from Old French estuver "have a hot bath, plunge into a bath; stew" (Modern French étuver), of uncertain origin. Common Romanic (cognates: Spanish estufar, Italian stufare), possibly from Vulgar Latin *extufare "evaporate," from ex- "out" + *tufus "vapor, steam," from Greek typhos "smoke." Compare Old English stuf-bæþ "hot-air bath;" see stove.Intransitive use from 1590s. Meaning "to boil slowly, to cook meat by simmering it in liquid" is attested from early 15c. The meaning "to be left to the consequences of one's actions" is from 1650s, especially in figurative expression to stew in one's own juices. Related: Stewed; stewing. Slang stewed "drunk" first attested 1737.
xiiij - Quystis Scune. Take a pece of beef or of mutoun, and wyne and fayre water, and caste in-to a potte, an late hem boyle, an skeme it wyl an clene; than take quystes, an stoppe hem wyth-in wyth hole pepyr, and marwe, an than caste hem in-to the potte, an ceuere wyl the potte, an let hem stere ry3th wyl to-gederys; an than take powder gyngere, and a lytel verious an salt, and caste ther-to, an thanne serue hem forth in a fayre dysshe, a quyste or to in a dysshe, in the maner of a potage: an whan thowe shalt serue hem forth, take a lytil of the broth, an put on dysshe wyth quystys, an serue forth.
14. Pigeon Stewed - Take a piece of beef or of mutton, and wine and fair water, and caste into a pot, an let them boil, and skim it well and clean; then take pigeons, and stop them within with whole pepper, and marrow, and then cast them into the pot, an cover well the pot, and let them stir right well together; an then take powder ginger, and a little verjuice and salt, and cast thereto, and then serve them forth in a fair dish, a pigeon or two in a dish, in the manner of a potage: an when you shall serve them forth, take a little of the broth, and put on dish with pigeons, and serve forth.
Interpreted Recipe Serves 2 as a main
2 c. beef broth
3/4 c. red wine
1 Cornish hen, cut in half
1 tbsp. whole black peppercorns
1/2 tsp. ginger
1 tbsp. vinegar
1/2 tsp. or to taste salt
Put all ingredients into a pot and bring it to a boil. Cook till the hen is tender and then serve.
As recipes go, this couldn't be simpler. I do plan on serving this at an event in the future. The taste testers enjoyed it, even though it very much resembled what it was, boiled Cornish game hen ("tastes just like chicken") in a very flavorful broth. You could thicken the broth using one of the period thickeners (bread, eggs or rice flour), and serve this with furmenty.