Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A Bold 12th Century Sauce for the Lords!

How to Prepare a Sauce for the Lords and How Long it Lasts

One takes cloves and nutmeg, cardamom, pepper, cinnamon—that is canel—and ginger, all in equal amounts, except that there should be as much canel as all the other spices; and add twice as much toasted bread as of everything else, and grind them all together, and blend with strong vinegar, and place it in a cask. This is a lordly sauce, and it is good for half a year.

(see below for a recipe transcription)

About the Recipe
This is another recipe (click here for another one for Chicken Pasty) from Libellus de arte coquinaria, An Early Northern Cookery Book, edited by Rudolph Grewe and Constance B. Hieatt (2001), a translation of the oldest known collections of European recipes written sometime during the Middle Ages.(1) The original text of the cookbook is believed to be lost, but there are four collections of recipes (codices) that appear to all come from it. They are written in the local vernacular languages of northern Europe: Danish, Icelandic and Low German. There are about 35 recipes contained in these four separate codices, and the oldest might date back as far as the 12th century.(2)

This recipe is particularly interesting to me because it reflects the dining style prevalent during the Medieval period whereby diners dipped small elegantly carved pieces of meats into small dishes of sauces.  The meat would have been placed on bread trenchers and then diners would use the fingers to pick up the meat and then dip it into one of the sauces offered.(3)  This Sauce for the Lords would have been one such sauce.

This recipe is also of particular interest because it contains a profusion of imported spices that to today's palate only belong on the dessert table, such as Ceylon cinnamon (canel), nutmeg, ginger, and cloves.  This profusion of sweet spices, combined with pepper and cardamom, would have been typical flavorings for courtly Medieval savory foods because they reflected status--it cost a lot of money to buy cinnamon from Ceylon, cloves and nutmeg from the Spice Islands of Indonesia, and ginger , cardamom, and pepper from India.  Significantly, as a taste for spices changed over time and as spices became less expensive by the 17th century, their status dropped and the "sweet spices" such as cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and ginger were used far less often in savory dishes or not at all. For example, the primary flavoring of savory dishes in Robert May's, The Accomplisht Cook (1685) consists of aromatics such as anchovies, capers, olives, pine nuts, lemon and orange instead of heavy sweet spices.(4) The sweet spices moved primarily to where we now find them to flavor dishes of the dessert course in recipes for cakes, pastries, creams, puddings, pies, and ice creams.  

If you want to try this bold taste sensation of a sauce, here is a modern recipe for it:

Transcription for How to Prepare a Sauce for the Lords and How Long it Lasts 

1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp ground ginger
5 tsp ground Ceylon Cinnamon (sold as Canela enter in Hispanic grocery stores)
3 Tbsp + 1 tsp plain bread crumbs
3/4 cup white wine vinegar

Mix together all of the dry ingredients.  The bread crumbs will absorb the vinegar so start with 3/4 cup and then add as much vinegar as you like to make a sauce that will be thick enough to stick to the meat dipped into it.  


(1) Ken Albala, ed. The Food History Reader. London: Bloomsbury, 2014 and Grewe, Rudolph and Constance B. Hieatt, eds. Libellus de arte coquinaria, An Early Northern Cookery Book: Arizona, 2001.
(2) Grewe, Rudolph and Constance B. Hieatt, eds. Libellus de arte coquinaria, An Early Northern Cookery Book: Arizona, 2001.

(3) Ken Albala.  Daily Life Through History, Cooking in Europe, 1250-1650:  Greenwood Press, 2006.
(4) Ken Albala.  The Banquet, Dining in the Great Courts of Renaissance Europe: University of Illinois, 2007.

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