Maslin Bread and Medieval Filo Purses
A taste of our Medieval Past
On the only day so far this year that has seen snow, I braved the elements and ventured to Boston for the unlikely mission of a medieval cooking course. Being an obsessive collector of old recipes and cookbooks, I was, despite the weather excited to learn more about the food from this period in history.
Heritage Lincolnshire had arranged for the day to be held at the magnificent - Fydell House. Built in 1702/3 this elegant Grade 1 listed building is far from medieval, but in the words of Nikolaus Pevsner in his Architectural Guide “undoubtedly the grandest house in town”. Joseph Fydell bought the house in 1726 and on his death his nephew Richard bought it. He was a successful wine merchant, mayor and MP. His son Thomas Senior and Grandson Thomas Junior followed in Richards footsteps with the family business and politics. World renowned botanist Sir Joseph Banks was a regular visitor to the house and could be seen quite often with Thomas Senior fishing on the River Witham. The house remained in the family until 1868 and then passed through several hands until sadly falling into a perilous state of disrepair. Thankfully in 1935 The Boston Preservation Trust raised enough funds to purchase the house and through lots of hard work on the part of volunteers it has been restored to its former glory. It now runs as a charity and offers the community a range of services from educational courses, meetings, dinner parties and even weddings. They are open Monday to Friday 10am – 4pm and if you would like to find out any more information please see www.bostonpreservationtrust.com
Our tutor for the day was Neil Parker of Hengist’s Kitchen. Neil had planned for us to cook in the garden using a Medieval Fire Pit, but the snow scuppered that! Despite not being able to play outside, Neil admirably managed to steer us through creating an impressive array of dishes in the Fydell kitchen. He’s well qualified to do so with a Master’s Degree in Medieval History and over ten years’ experience as a professional Archaeologist. With Hengist’s kitchen he has done many demonstrations and recreated recipes from Saxon, Viking and Medieval times, educating school children and working with National Trust Properties all over the UK.
It is impossible to condense such a wide and complex era of our culinary history into one day, but Neil really managed to give us a flavour (literally) of what our medieval ancestors would have cooked and eaten. I have to say, it’s not that removed from what we would eat today, just the methods of cooking have changed and the use of spices can be a bit unusual to our palate. I feel that food history programmes can lean towards the “freak show” dishes, as this makes good “telly”. However there are many historic recipes that are tasty and easy to recreate, especially with our modern ovens and all the labour saving equipment that we have available today.
Money, status, seasonality and availability all dictated what you ate, but what is significantly different ,is the power the church had over what you consumed and when. There were strict rules on “fleshe and fyshe” days. Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays were strictly meat free, however rules were bent and Puffins and Heron were allowed as they ate fish and even Beaver as it had a fish’s tail! If you think about it most of our oldest food traditions that we celebrate today still revolve around the church calendar.
We focussed on food of the late middle ages, largely because that’s when we are able to study the first written texts on cookery. One excellent resource was “The Forme of Cury”, which was written by cooks in the court of Richard II around 1390. We made a stock, almond cream, small birds in a pie (not as alarming as it sounds), spice creamed rabbit, a flan, boiled puddings, maslin bread and medieval filo purses. There was about a dozen of us on the course and we all got the chance to have a go at making everything and you could be as “hands on” as you felt comfortable with. Our pastry turned out a bit “robust”, a combination of working with Rye and Spelt flours that we were unfamiliar with and perhaps a case of “too many cooks………”.
Our first recipe of the day was an enormous pot of stock. As in a real kitchen of the time; this provided the foundation of many of the dishes made and quite simply would have been essential in keeping you alive. Our stockpot contained Beef and Pork Bones, Onions, Turnips, Parsnips, Rosemary, Bay and salt. No potatoes as they don’t make an appearance until later on in our food time line. We used this stock to boil a rabbit, a pheasant and some little puddings made with squares of cheesecloth containing dried pearl barley, green lentils and the ancient grain emmer.
Next on the list to make was that essential staple – bread. You would have eaten different breads depending on your place in society. The higher your social status and wealth, the more refined and white your bread would be, the top one being Pandemain. We made Maslin Bread
as this would have been the most widely made and consumed in Lincolnshire. Neil didn’t weigh any of the ingredients; somewhat dispelling the myth that bread making is an exact science. He used a mixture of spelt, rye and wholemeal flour and the end result was a flavoursome loaf, with a lovely texture inside and a good crust. I thought you would enjoy making this recipe and since doing the course I have made this bread at home, just tweaking it a bit and getting the quantities right for you. As with most homemade bread it’s best eaten on the day it is made. This does make a very large loaf, so it’s useful if you have a quite a few mouths to feed. Russell made toast with it the day after and it was still fine, but beyond that it goes stale quickly.
The second recipe is for Medieval Filo Purses.
These sweet little morsels are made with filo pastry. I was surprised to learn that this ingredient has a history stretching back to the days of the early 13th
century Ottoman Empire. Imported to mainland Europe in big crates, it was a relatively accessible ingredient for the rich during medieval times. In England this would have been most certainly for the wealthier end of the spectrum. These are easy to make and absolutely delicious, offering you a flavour from the more affluent end of society.
- 400g Wholemeal Strong Bread Flour (I used Kirton in Lindsey Organic Stoneground) stocked by Coop
- 200g Rye Flour (I bought Rye and Spelt from Health Food Shop, North St, Horncastle)
- 200g Spelt Flour
- 14g fast action yeast (2 little sachets) or 30g Fresh Yeast
- 20 g salt
- 2 Tbsp Lincolnshire Runny Honey
- 600ml luke warm water
- Some sort of oil, such as sunflower, rapeseed or olive oil
Medieval Filo Purses
- Sieve your flours and salt together in a big mixing bowl
- Dissolve honey in luke warm water, if using fresh yeast crumble this into the water and honey and give it a whisk, Clingfilm and leave for ten minutes somewhere warm to get going.
- If using dry fast action yeast, put this in with your flour.
- Pour in your water and honey mixture
- Mix together with a wooden spoon and then oil your worktop and hands and start to knead for about ten minutes. This stops the dough sticking and enriches it a bit too. Each flour blend has different absorbency rates, if your dough feels too sloppy, just add some wholemeal flour on to your work top and knead it in until it feels right. Of course a “non medieval” free standing mixer with a dough hook makes light work of this!
- When you have a smooth ball of dough that’s a good smooth texture, oil your bowl and pop it back into your large mixing bowl.
- Cover with a tea towel and leave to rise for an hour.
- Cover a baking tray with a light coating of flour.
- After your dough has risen, tip it on to your worktop and knock it back, by giving it a quick, light knead for a couple of minutes.
- Shape it into a large round and put it on your floured baking tray. Cover again with a tea towel and let it prove for half an hour. Just before baking, slash a big cross on the top with a sharp knife
- Preheat your oven to 200c and bake for 30 – 45 mins. The crust will be very dark due to the rye and spelt. Tap the bottom and it should sound hollow when it is baked. Cool on a rack. Ideally eat on the day it is made. Will make good toast on day two, but doesn’t keep beyond that.
- One pack of filo pastry
- 200g butter
- 200g dates this works out about ten Medjool dates
- 100g Dried figs
- Runny Honey (I got through about half a small bottle including what I used to make the bread)
- 1 tsp each of Ground Allspice, Cinnamon and Ginger mixed together
- Preheat oven to 180c fan
- Put your butter in a small pan and melt
- Coarsely chop your figs and dates
- Roll date and fig mixture into a sausage shape and divide into 16, and then roll into walnut size balls.
- Fold out your filo and cut into quarters, this will make slightly rectangular shapes. The easiest way to do this is with a pizza wheel.
- Have your little bowl of spices, your pan of melted butter with a pastry brush, balls of fruit and baking tray to hand. (No need to grease or line your tray).
- Put three layers of filo over one another to make a star
- Put a ball of date and figs in the middle of your pastry, squeeze some honey over the ball and sprinkle a pinch of the spice mix. Brush melted butter around the edges of the filo. (The amount of spice is completely down to your taste, I had a fair bit left over which I just stored in a little jar for next time I make this recipe.)
- Gather the pastry up over the filling, making a little purse and squeeze the neck to seal well, pop it on to your baking tray
- Keep repeating and you should have enough pastry and filling to make 16 purses.
- By this time you may need to re-melt your butter, and then brush each parcel with melted butter. I found this easier to do by holding the purse over the pan of butter and brushing them, rather than trying to do it on the tray.
- Bake at 180c fan for 20-25min, they should be a lovely golden brown colour.
- As soon as they are out of the oven, put on cooling rack so they don’t sit in all the butter and oil from the pastry.
- These are delicious warm or cold. They keep for two to three days.
Heritage Lincolnshire have more exciting courses coming up including “How to find History on Your Doorstep”, “The Architectural History of Lincolnshire”, “Decoding Church Architecture”, “Archaeology of the Lincolnshire Wolds” and many more. For further information please contact Heritage Trust Lincolnshire email firstname.lastname@example.org
or tel 01529 461499
Sadie Hirst is a member of the British Society of Baking and Select Lincolnshire. She is passionate about preserving our culinary heritage and is often asked to talk to local organisations about her old cookbooks and cookery authors from our past. You can follow on twitter Sadie Hirst@RJHirstfamilybutchers email email@example.com