Sunday, 19 January 2014

An Anglo-Saxon miscellany

Just a couple of recipes to finish off my gourmet trip back in time to Anglo-Saxon England, before I move onto the Middle Ages in my next post.  The first one is taken from The British Museum Cookbook by Michelle Berriedale-Johnson (London: British Museum publications, 1987), an interesting collection of recipes from different periods of world history.  A straightforward and tasty recipe that uses barley as the central carbohydrate, it probably represents the type of dish eaten on a special occasion in a typical Anglo-Saxon household – the problem of many early recorded recipes is that they do not necessarily represent what the general population would have eaten, but rather what the nobility and court ate (as published cookbooks were few and far between and emanated from the kitchens of wealthy households; moreover there are no existing recipes written down from the Anglo-Saxon period).  The typical Anglo-Saxon peasant diet is likely to have been mainly vegetarian and composed of bread, beans, peas and root vegetables typically cooked into a ‘briw’ (a soup, broth or stew).  But this would have been, depending on availability, occasionally supplemented by cheese, fish, poultry and more rarely by red meats.[1]  Berriedale-Johnson’s dish is a barley and vegetable ‘briw’ but with the addition of chicken (though she suggests replacing the chicken with veal, hare [if you can source one] or rabbit [though rabbits were not native to England until after the Norman Conquest]). 

CHICKEN STEW WITH HERBS AND BARLEY: Faithfully following the listed ingredients the first time produced a delicious, but rather bland-looking stew (too much beige!), so the second time I garnished the finished dish with parsley which added a welcome touch of colour. 

Ingredients (serves 2):
A knob of butter
500g chicken
2 washed and trimmed leeks, thickly sliced
1 clove garlic, chopped finely
60g barley
300ml water
1 tablespoon red or white wine vinegar
1 bay leaf
Salt & pepper
5 fresh chopped sage leaves (or ½ tbsp dried sage)
Parsley (to garnish)

Melt the butter in a heavy pan and fry the chicken with the leeks and garlic until the vegetables are slightly softened and the meat is lightly browned. 
Add barley, water, vinegar, bay leaves and seasoning.  Bring to the boil, cover and simmer gently for 1 – 1 ½ hours until the meat is tender and falling from bone.
Add the sage and cook for a few more minutes. 
Adjust seasoning to taste and serve garnished with parsley.  

MEAD SAUCE (to accompany cold roast pork)

Having created my mead-infused slow-roasted pork – see - I also made a mead sauce (following the principles of a wine sauce) which went very well with cold roast pork. 
Melt a knob of butter in a small saucepan.  Fry a small finely-chopped shallot until translucent.  Add a finely chopped clove of garlic and fry to soften – don’t allow to burn.  Then pour in a glassful of mead and simmer to reduce.  Serve with slices of the cold pork.

[1] Information from “Food in the Anglo-Saxon Period”, Recipewise,

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