Thursday, December 5, 2013

A 14th Century Mustard Gift

The worst thing about new books is that they keep us from reading the old ones. – John Wooden 

Two 250 ml "gourmet" gifts. Add a bow and a name tag and you're done.

This is day number three in my “12 Days of Christmas” gifting series. Since our expectations of Christmas are often composed of things long past, I thought I would really take that to heart today.

This post is for an old homemade mustard – 8 centuries old! The full title of my source is The Forme of Cury: A Roll Of Ancient English Cookery, Compiled, about A.D. 1390, by the Master-Cooks of King Richard II. It contains about 200 recipes.

A copy exists in the library of the University of Manchester in the UK. At least parts of it have been digitized and put in their online library. 

The recipes outline foods prepared for the aristocracy, including stews, roast dishes, jellies, tarts and custards. Contrary to what we may think about food for the rich, most of the recipes are rather basic by today's standards with little in the way of spice or sweetness.

Mustards are among the most mentioned sauces in surviving medieval food texts. The use of mustard was widespread. This had quite a lot to do with health, or at least what they supposed would benefit their health.

Up until the 1800s, medicine was a blend of observation and spirituality, represented by the medical theory of "humours."

The theory stated there were four humours (principal fluids) in humans – black bile, yellow bile, phlegm, and blood. These were thought to have to be in balance for a person to remain healthy. 

The four humours were also associated with the four seasons: black bile with autumn, yellow bile with summer, phlegm with winter and blood with spring.

The wet, winter humour (phlegm) was considered a common hazard. Since phlegm was cold and wet, the heat and "dryness" of mustard could therefore restore balance.

The basic recipe for mustard was simple. Ground mustard seeds (black was considered better than white) were moistened with grape must, vinegar or wine. Other ingredients were added depending on region.
As written in a later typeset Elizabethan version of The Forme of Cury:

Take Mustard seed and waishe it & drye it in an ovene, grynde it drye. sarse it thurgh a sarse. clarifie hony with wyne & vynegur & stere it wel togedrer and make it thikke ynowz. & whan ou wilt spende erof make it thynne with wyne.

Based on my previous mustard making excursions I was able to extrapolate ingredient quantities. I guess back then master cooks just "knew."

 Just so you know, the wine vinegar only cost about $2.00 and the mustard seeds about $1.50 at the bulk food store. Pretty cheap for two most definitely gourmet gifts. It can be doubled easily, or make two batches if your blender is small.

This has quite a bite, but will mellow with age.
It screams for ham.
14th C. Lumbard Mustard*
Time: 24 hrs soak + 5 min  |  Yield: scant 2 cups
100g brown mustard seeds
1 cup white wine vinegar
2 tbsp mustard powder
2 tbsp honey
3/4 tsp sea salt

Place the seeds in small container with a cover. Pour the white wine vinegar over the seeds. Cover, shake and then let sit undisturbed for 24 hours.

Pour the seeds and soaking liquid in a blender or food processor with the mustard powder, honey and sea salt. Process to a paste consistency.

Put in glass jars, refrigerate and let sit at least 4 days before serving. The flavour will deepen over time.

Homemade mustard will keep for at least one year.

*The original did not soak the mustard seeds, but since I wasn’t in the mood to hand grind 1/2 cup of seeds I opted for soaking and letting the blender do all the work.


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