Thursday, 19 April 2012

A Medieval Feast - Chykens in Hocchee

Where to start for my first venture into historic cooking?  Well the beginning seemed a good place.  

The Forme of Cury is was written in 1390 by King Richard II's chef, making it the oldest known cookbook in English.  While the original was written on velum (calf's skin), I got a shiny new copy from Amazon.  However, the recipes inside are still in meadieval English.  Oh dear.  
The text has had the "benefit" of an editor (Samuel Pegge), but his notes and translations through the book are pretty variable in their usefulnessSome words he doesn't translate at all, some more obvious words are translated [peeres = pears], and there are quite a few times he has noted 'Qu.', which I'm guessing just means 'question?'.  His foreword is totally unreadable, but he did write it in 1791, so maybe it was just the style of the time.   

I found that between reading the recipes out loud (this was before standardised spelling, so things were written as they sound) and Samuel Pegge's notes, and getting my husband who has studied middle english to help translate, I could start to make sense of it all.  The recipes have no quantities or cooking times, so give me plenty of creative licence to do what I fancy.

Chykens in Hocchee
(a little note, þ=th)
Take Chykenns and scald hem. Take chickens and scald them. I didn't feel the need to scald my chickens. They were from a supermarket, so I didn't need to finish plucking them myself.
take parsel and sawge withoute eny oþere eres. take garlec an grapes and stoppe the Chikenns ful and seeþ hem in gode broth. so þat þey may esely be boyled þerinne. Take parsley, sage, garlic and grapes and stuff the chickens full. Boil them in a good broth. I just used stock, but I suppose they hadn't invented stock cubes in the middle ages.
messe hem and cast þerto powdour dowce. Send them and put on 'powdor douce'.

Powdor douce seems to have been sprinkled over everything like some kind of medieval ketchup.  Being so ubiquitous, they didn't include the ingredients with this recipe.  I found a recipe in a little Medieval cookbook (by English Heritage) which used cinnamon, grated nutmeg, black pepper and sugar. The recipe is sourced from Mrs Groundes-Peace's Old Cooker Notebook - I love her name.  So much I might even change mine.

So, how did it all taste?

The chicken was very soft and tender from poaching, but didn't have a lot of flavour by itself, so it really needed the extra spice from the powdor douce.  Even though it sounded more like something you'd put in a Christmas cake and not with chicken, it worked well and reminded me of middle eastern cooking.  The stuffing was very good - the grapes soft and mellow, with just a touch of sweetness, and the garlic also  mellowed by the slow cooking inside the chicken.  

I may not be a convert from roast to poached chicken, but I would make the grape & garlic stuffing again, and I might even go for some more powdor douce.  At least at Christmas.........