Harleian MS. 279 (ab 1430) - .lxxxxiij. Walkys*. [Whelks. ] in bruette.

Harleian MS. 279 (ab 1430) -  .lxxxxiij. Walkys*. [Whelks. ] in bruette.

The last of the seafood shellfish recipes that I 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 Thomas Austin was for whelks, which is a kind of snail that was plentiful in the late Medieval period and still enjoyed in Europe today.
Whelks are difficult to get where I live, so the Cook's Thesaurus suggested periwinkles or conch, again, difficult ingredients to obtain fresh where I live.  I finally settled upon clams, which are locatable but are a bit firmer and stronger in flavor then whelk, conch or periwinkles.  The taste testers and I really enjoyed this dish, made all the better through the use of a strong home brewed beer (a lager) courtesy of my son, and dried parsley from my garden.  This is a dish that I will make again. 

.lxxxxiij. Walkys*. [Whelks. ] in bruette.—Take Walkys [supplied by ed.] an sethe in Ale, þen pyke hem clene; þan wasshem in Water an Salt be hem-self, & fyrst wyth Ale & Salt, an do so whele þey ben slepyr*. [Slippery; slimy. ]; þen putte hem in [leaf 18 bk.] Vynegre, an ley Perceli a-boue, an serue ynne.

93 - Whelks in Bruette - take whelks and boil in ale, then pick them clean; than wash them in water and salt by themselves & first with ale & salt, and do so while they be slimy; then put them in vinegar and lay parsley above and serve in.

Interpreted Recipe                                                                          Serves 2 as main, 3 or more as side

1 cup beer of choice (lager)
1 can of clams (or 1/2 pound fresh clams cleaned well)
1 1/2 to 2 tsp. vinegar or to taste
1/2 tsp. salt or to taste
Parsley for garnish

Before using fresh seafood, which I would have preferred but the poor dears sitting in the ice looked half dead and there was a fishy smell in the air the day I went to purchase at the grocery so I used canned clams instead (trusting they would be safe!), make sure that you clean your seafood very well.  There are multiple sites available on the internet with instructions to clean the shellfish of your choice.  In my case, I simply opened a can and drained off the juice, which I used in the oyster recipes.

Bring your beer to a boil, and cook your shellfish, either until the shells open (which would be a lovely sight to see), or until they are heated through.  Here you have a choice.

A) I added the vinegar and salt to the broth and topped with dried parsley and it was divine!

B) Remove your shellfish from the broth, place on the serving dish, liberally add salt, dip your parsley in vinegar and then serve.  I would probably serve with more vinegar on the side.

I went with option A because this is supposed to be a pottage, a dish cooked in a pot, and to toss the broth seemed like a waste, it was very flavorful.  The instructions are quite clear, that the whelks are to be boiled in ale long enough to loosen the muscle and allow you to remove them from their shells. If my understanding of cooking whelks is correct, they would need another boiling in salted water to remove any slime that may exist.

Another method of cleaning whelks is to place them is to soak them in water for several hours and change the water a few times. The fear is that twice boiling them would make them rubbery and difficult to eat.

We really liked this dish and I look forward to making it again when I can use fresh clams, which I can readily get.  I would definitely serve this at a feast, luncheon or, if using tinned shellfish, as a quick and easy camp supper along with some crusty bread to soak up all the yummy broth.