A pie of veal, herbs, dates, & eggs - contributed by Joyce Baldwin

Original recipe from Harleian MS. 279 Vyaunde Furnez:

Crustade. Take vele, an smyte in lytle pecys in-to a potte, an wayssche yt fayre; þan take fayre water, & lat yt boyle to-gedre with Percely, Sawge, Sauerey, & Ysope aml y-now and hew; & whan it is on boiling, take pouder Peper, Canell Clowys, Maces, Safroun, & lat hem boyle to-gederys, & a gode dele of wyne þer-with. Whan þe fleyssche is y-boylid, take it fro þe broþe al clene, & lat þe broþe kele; & whan it is cold, take Eyroun, þe whyte & þe ¦olkys, & cast þorw a straynoure, & put hem in-to the broþe, so many þat þe broþe be stuf y-now; þen make fayre cofyns, & cowche .iij. pecys or .iiij. of þe fleyssche in a cofyn; þan take Datys, & kytte hem,, & cast þer-to; þan take pouder Gyngere, & a lytle verious, & putte in-to þe broþe & Salt; & þan putte þin lycoure þer-on, & lat al bake to gederys tyl it be y now; þan [take] yt owt, and serue hem forth.

Modern English version:

Take veal, and smite in little pieces into a pot, and wash it fair; then take fair water & let it boil together with parsley, sage, savory, and hyssop small enough and hew; and when it is on boiling, take powder pepper, canel, cloves, maces, saffron, & let them boil together , & a good deal of wine there-with. When the flesh is boiled, take it from the broth all clean, & let the broth cool; and when it is cold, take eggs, the whites and the yolks, & cast through a strainer, & put them into the broth, so many that the broth be stiff enough: then make fair coffins & couch .iij. pieces or .iiij. of the flesh in a coffin; then take dates & cut them and cast there to; then take powder ginger, & a little verjuice, & put into the broth & salt; & then put the broth on the coffins, bake a little with the flesh or put thine liquor there-on, & let all bake together till it be enough; then [take] it out, and serve them forth.

My redaction:

  • 1 1/2 to 2 lbs. stewing veal, with bones, cut into ca. 2Ē pieces
  • 2 cups white wine
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • water to cover (about 2-3 cups)
  • 1 tsp. chopped fresh parsely
  • 1 tsp dried savory
  • 1/2 tsp. dried sage
  • 1/2 tsp. dried hyssop
  • 1 tsp. crushed Ceylonese cinnamon or 1/2 tsp ground cassia (ordinary, or Chinese cinnamon - see note below)
  • 1 tsp. ground dried ginger
  • 1/4 tsp. crushed mace blades
  • 2 -3 cloves, lightly crushed
  • 4 -5 peppercorns, cracked
  • coffee filter (no holes) or cheesecloth
  • string
  • a small pinch of saffron
  • 3/4 cup chopped, pitted dates
  • 1 tsp. mild white wine vinager
  • salt
  • 3 or 4 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 8" partially baked pie shell
Put all the herbs and spices except for the salt and the saffron in the coffee filter or cheesecloth and tie closed with string to make a bouquet garni. Place this, the veal, the salt, the saffron, and the wine into a large stew pot and add enough water so that the veal is covered. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer uncovered until veal is tender and just falling off the bones, (about 1½ to 2 hours.). Remove veal to plate. Bring remaining liquid back to a boil and reduce to around 1 to 1½ cups. Watch carefully when the liquid level gets low - itís easy to overcook and scorch the broth. Add vinager, and adjust salt if necessary (add only a very little bit at a time). Let broth cool to lukewarm. Preheat oven to 425º F. When veal is cool enough to handle, remove bones and gristle and lay meat in the bottom of the pie shell along with the dates. Mix beaten eggs with the reduced liquid and pour into pie shell. Bake 20-25 minutes until custard is set. Let cool to room temperature and serve it forth.

Notes on the recipe:

1. Expense: This recipe was intended for professional cooks to put on a great lordís table. The ingredients were costly in the Middle Ages and are still not cheap. It is a nice dish to serve to high table or if you have an "above the salt" feast.

2. Cuts of Meat: Veal shank, used for osso bucco is very expensive, but also very tasty! It can be cooked with less expensive stewing veal to stretch the budget - the shank will flavor and moisten the other meat. Another good cut would be the ribs. Loin or shoulder chops, with bones, are not as good, but will work. Scalloppine (boneless veal sold pre-sliced), besides being too expensive, are also too dry - a fairly cartilaginous cut will give off the right amount of gelatin. The average American will probably not eat the cooked cartilage, being accustomed to the tough cartilage of beef, so I usually remove it when boning the meat -- and then eat it myself, it being quite delicious with a lovely crunchy/tender texture (ditto for any marrow - very sweet and flavorful, a real treat in the Middle Ages).

3. Cinnamon: Not everyone is aware that there are two types of cinnamon available. The spice you nearly always find sold as cinnamon in this country is actually cassia or "Chinese" cinnamon ( in the UK it may not be sold as cinnamon.) "True" or "Ceylonese" cinnamon (Zeylanicum) is a lighter brown in color than cassia; the bark (in stick form) is much thinner and flakier; and itís flavor is much milder and sweeter than cassia, not nearly so hot. Both were known in Europe in the Middle Ages. It is not always clear which one they are referring to as the term "canel" or "canelle" was used for both. The name is from the Latin "canellus" meaning "little tube" as the bark was obtained rolled into stick form. I prefer to use Ceylonese as I find the flavor to be superior. It is available mail order from The Pepperers Guild (a SCAdian spice buying organization). I have also seen it at other merchants - the Rialto archives have contact info for a number of them. The Guild also sells hyssop or you may look for it at a good "health food" store if you have one handy.

4. Bouquet garni: This means bundling the spices and herbs into cheesecloth (I use coffee filters without the holes) to make a sort of tea bag. I do not know if it was a medieval usage, but it allows one to serve dishes without worrying about crunching into little bits of herb or spice bark, leaves, or stems if your grinding tools are inadequate. It is a standard practice in classic 19íth-20íth French cooking, so much so that the ingredients are not even specified in many recipes.

5. Saffron: saffron is the stamen (the female reproductive organ) of a particular type of crocus. Considering how many threads (stamens) of saffron you get from one crocus and the fact that it must be hand harvested, it is correspondingly expensive. It commonly comes from Spain. The threads are a bright orange red and give a beautiful yellow color and unique flavor to any recipe they are added to. A true Spanish paella cannot be made without it. It will photodegrade, even more so than most spices - store it in a dark cool place.

6. Verjuice is the juice of unripe (green) grapes. It is already sour when pressed, however, due to the lower sugar content it will not develop nearly as high an acidity as vinegar in which the sugar in the ripe grapes ferments to alcohol which sours to acetic acid. Note however that in the United States most vinegars are diluted to a standard 5% acidity. Imported Italian vinegars can run as high as 8%-10% acidity. Vinegar in the Middle Ages was probably not diluted and had a fairly high acid content. I feel that a mild US wine vinegar will probably approximate the taste of verjuice reasonably well; it is also much more easily available.

7. Eggs: Casting eggs through a strainer will result in a lightly beaten egg, which is what I have specified. If you are wondering why they bothered with the strainer, find a picture of a medieval whisk. It was a lot easier to push it through a strainer, a common utensil in large medieval kitchens. Another reason why you might want to use a strainer....please remember that most eggs sold in the US are unfertilized eggs from hens that have never seen a rooster; not a common situation in medieval chicken coops. If a fertile egg is a little older than just laid ... well, you can get bits you would definitely want to strain out of your eggs.

8. Pie crusts, flours and fats: White flour, which has the bran (outer husk) and germ removed, was not available in the Middle Ages. Fine flour was produces by extra fine milling and then sifting the flout through progressively finer strainers. If you wish to use whole wheat for a more authentic crust, remember to use soft wheat (low gluten) pastry flour, available at most ďhealth foodĒ stores. The stuff sold at the grocery store is almost always hard wheat (high gluten ) bread flour. Even with soft wheat flour, a whole wheat crust is more difficult to work with as well as tougher that made with white flour. Many people blend white and wheat; this is probably equivalent to finely "bolted" (sifted) medieval flour, as proportionately more of the coarser bran and germ would be removed by sifting. Medieval recipes I have seen do not go into detail about pie crusts since they presumed their readers were already expert chefs and thus would already know how to make something as basic as "fayre coffins." Butter, lard and various oils were probably all used depending on availability and religious observance (butter and lard, being of animal origin, could not be used during Lent). An all butter crust will be tasty but very brittle, especially if the flour is high in gluten. Rendered lard makes an excellent (if cholesterol laden) crust. I cannot find good, solid lard for pie crusts here in the South: it is mostly used for frying and is designed to be melted. It was readily available in New England (in sticks much like butter) where a sizable French-Canadian ethnic minority would not dream of making tortière with anything else. As a substitute for lard you can use vegetable oil shortening, or mix some of it in with your butter to make the crust less brittle. Vegetable oil shortening is a modern invention - when old recipes refer to shortening, they mean butter or lard. It is made from oil which is artificially saturated to make it solid at room temperature. The more saturated the fat the higher the temperature at which it will remain solid. Solid fats generally product a better pie crust, flaky but not crumbly. Oil crusts are more difficult to work with and take a good deal of practice. A good low fat or a health food cookbook such as "Laurelís Kitchen" (I donít have the publishing data handy) should have instructions on making one, as they are much lower in saturated fat, depending on the oil used. A health food cookbook will also give instructions on working with whole wheat crusts. Or you could just use premade frozen crusts from the grocery store. They are not nearly as authentic, but very, very much easier!

9. Substitutions: If cost is an issue, this dish may also be made using skinned dark meat chicken and a half packet of unflavored gelatin since veal is naturally more gelatinous than chicken. Without the gelatin the filling can get somewhat runny. The skin should be removed so the broth will not be too fatty. If you use boneless chicken, increase the gelatin to a full packet. The pie is still quite good, although the flavor is not as delicate as when it is made with veal. Some turmeric or a drop or two of yellow food coloring can be substituted for the saffron, but again, the flavor will suffer.

Metric, Celsius, & Gas Mark Equivalencies

Joyce Baldwin is currently living in Durham, NC where she is a singing teacher and seriously underemployed opera singer. Her hobbies include reading (almost anything but particularly history and SF/Fantasy) and participating in the SCA where she cooks, sings early and traditional music, dances both Middle Eastern and Renaissance dances, makes historical costumes, and flirts when the opportunity presents itself.

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