Harleian MS. 279 (ab 1430) - .xxiiij. Drawyn grwel - Tempered Gruel

Harleian MS. 279 (ab 1430) - .xxiiij. Drawyn grwel - Tempered Gruel
The picture does not do the dish justice. It was much browner in the bowl.
Earlier this week I posted the recipe for .vij. Gruelle a-forsydde, or Gruel Reinforced, meaning that the gruel had been fortified with meat. That was the first of two recipes for gruel found 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 by Thomas Austin". This is the second that I reinterpreted. The same caveats apply, I did not go through the process of straining the dish, and the dish as I have created it is much meatier then what would probably expect in period. 

Of the two recipes that I tried this one was the favorite. The commentary from the taste testers as this was cooking was "it smells like biscuits and gravy in here!" When it came time to testing we engaged in spoon war's to eat the last of it! I have also been made to promise to make this again. I will.

The basis of any gruel is meal. In this case, that meal is specified as oatmeal. Oatmeal has a very long history of cultivation. Remains of oat grains have been found in Egypt dating back to the 12th Dynasty approximately 2000 BC. Wild oats are similar to cultivated oats and it is believed that oats were a "weed" plant that made themselves at home among the older cultivated grains of wheat and barley. Oats themselves were cultivated much later than its counterparts wheat or barley. Cultivation of oats most likely began around the time of Christ and it is argued that it began in the Caucasian plains.

Greeks and Romans disdained oats. The Romans described them as "the barbaric bread grain of the Germans" . Pliny described oats as "a weed among cereals that could only lead to the degeneration of barley." Despite this, oats were a common food staple used in gruel, and the straw used for farm animals. Wild oats were used as pasturage and as a forage crop.

Fortunately by the late 1500's the health benefits of oats were recognized. Italian herbalist Pietro Andrea Mathioli (1519-1603) writes “The effect of oats: the broth from the steeping of oats is good against coughs. Boiled and eaten, the gruel plugs stool. Against gall stones the common man is wont to heat oats or juniper berries and to place them in a poultice. Oats may be used on swollen or dislocated limbs, just as barley flour. Mixed with white lead and used to wash the countenance it makes a clear, attractive complexion. Against the mange and scabs of small children there is nothing better than to bathe them in steeped oats.”

German botanist Adam Lonitzer (1528-1586) also praises oats as useful "Oats are a useful grain for both cattle and man. Cooked and eaten it is an excellent medication encouraging one’s daily stool; it fills the belly and is a fortifying source of nutrition. Its particular virtue lies in penetrating the damp and consuming hardened ulcers; the flour of oats may be used as a poultice. It is exceedingly good for fistula. It may be consumed warm as a meal but used as a medication externally it should be cool and dry. Oats are good when used for all manner of swellings and pustules on the body that occur from heat. Wild oats, the stem, seeds and leaves steeped in red wine and drunk soothes both red and white effluvia from the belly and increases the function of the urethra, taking with it all refuse which hath collected in the bladder and womb."

.xxiiij. Drawyn grwel.—Take fayre water an lene Bef, an let hem boyle; an whan þe beef hath y-boylid, take it vp an pyke it, an lete it blede in-to a vessel, an þenne caste þe blode an þe Fleysshe in-to a potte; an þanne caste þer-to Otemele, Percely, & Sawge, an make þer-of an gode grwele; þen draw it þorw a straynowre, an putte it on a fayre potte, an let it boyle; þanne caste þer-to Salt; An ȝif it be nowt brown y-now, take a litil blode an caste þer-to or it be y-draw, an make it broun y-now, an serue it forth.

xxiiij - Drawyn grwel. Take fayre water an lene Bef, an let hem boyle; an whan the beef hath y-boylid, take it vp an pyke it, an lete it blede in-to [correction; sic = MS. blede in-to , repeated.] a vessel, an thenne caste the blode an the Fleysshe in-to a potte; an thanne caste ther-to Otemele, Percely, and Sawge, an make ther-of an gode grwele; then draw it thorw a straynowre, an putte it on a fayre potte, an let it boyle; thanne caste ther-to Salt; An 3if it be nowt brown y-now, take a litil blode an caste ther-to or it be y-draw, an make it broun y-now, an serue it forth.

24 Drawen Gruel - Take fair water and lean beef, and let them boil; and when the beef hath boiled, take it up and pick it, and let it bleed into a vessel, and then caste the blood and the flesh into a pot, and then caste there-to oatmeal, parsley and sage, and make thereof a good gruel; then draw it through a strainer, and put it in a fair pot, and let it boil; then caste there-to salt; and if it be not brown enough, take a little blood and caste there-to or it be draw, and make it brown enough, and serve it forth.

Interpreted Recipe                                                                            Serves 2 as a main, 3-4 as a side

1 cup water
1/4 pound of ground beef
1/2 cup beef stock
2 tbsp. oats ( I used a mix of Scottish ground and Steel Cut)
1 tsp. parsley
1/2 tsp. sage
salt and pepper to taste
*optional* 1 beef bouillon cube

This was another recipe where I threw all the ingredients into the pot and let them cook until the oatmeal had cooked through. Because I used a mixture of oats, I cooked for the longest cooking of the grain (steel cut). The gruel was ready to eat in approximately 25 minutes. This cooking time would have taken longer had I used whole oats. I do not recommend that you use rolled oats for these recipes. The information on why is below.

So often we see in period recipes the notation to "boil your meat" before cooking it. I finally decided to do a little bit of research into this. I'm sure someone who hunts or butchers their own food would be aware of this practice, but I am not and was curious. The practice of soaking the meat before boiling is done to remove any blood that might have congealed on the meats surface, as well as to remove any dirt, dust or insects that may have infected the meat. The initial boiling of the meat before cooking is done for similar reasons; it is done to remove the impurities (dirt, dust, bone fragments, insects) that might have embedded themselves into the meat during processing. The point is to have a "cleaner" piece of meat to work with. Additionally boiling the meat prior to cooking removes any acrid, bitter, irony taste of old blood that might be present in your meat and to remove any initial "scum" that might surface.

Therefore, the second set of instructions you normally see in these kinds of recipes makes perfect sense; using the initial boiling liquid to create your broth. I am making an assumption that straining the liquid was commonplace and therefore not an instruction that was written down. After the removal of initial impurities and then straining of those impurities, the actual cooking process should, in theory, result in a flavorful, clear broth or stock.

I also used a mix of two different kinds of oatmeal's in an attempt to emulate the kind of oats that might have been used in period. There are many varieties of oats available in today's markets; our medieval ancestors were probably only familiar with oat groats and oats that had been ground. The processes for making rolled oats came into existence in the 18th Century, when mills would heat or kiln-dry oats to remove the hulls from the kernel and then steam it (in some productions) and then roll it to produce a flat flake. Using a rolled oat for any recipe that calls for it in period is not recommended.

Raw newly harvested oats have a hull and a hairy stem and before they can be eaten the hulls must be removed and the grains need to be separated from the stalks. Oat groats are the whole grain that is unbroken, cleaned of the hull and stalks before it has been processed. Unprocessed oats contain a enzyme that makes them go rancid very quickly, but toasting them deactivates that enzyme and makes them stable for storage. Steel cut oats are oats that have been cut with a blade into several pieces. Sometimes these are referred to as "Scottish" oats. However true "Scottish" oats have been stone ground to produce bits of oat in varying sizes.

As stated previously, this recipe was amazing and has changed my (and the taste testers) opinions on what gruel should be. Despite rumors to the contrary, gruel is not a flavorless, thin watery soup of unknown origin. The oats add a subtle nutty flavor, the meat is tender and the water and broth thicken considerably once cooked. The end result is an unctuous soup that would be worthy to be served to kings and nobles alike. This would be a dish that I would not be ashamed to serve at any event, lunch tavern, camp breakfast, or to throw together in a pinch if I had unexpected company. I know this is meatier than expected, so you could easily stretch this out so that one pound of meat feeds 16 people (two tables of 8 if you are meal planning), and nobody should feel that they were not getting their money's worth. I urge you to try it.