This heavenly soup is from the late 14th century manuscript collection titled the Forme of Cury (Manner of Cookery). King Richard II, who reigned in England from 1377-99, requested the compilation of the methods of food preparation from his grand court. This record of 196 recipes resulted. He was an extravagant king who daily dined with over 10,000 guests. It took 300 cooks to prepare his extraordinary meals. These manuscript receipts providentially allow us to replicate, in part, the flavor of his feasts.
Lorna Sass discovered two volumes published by the Early English Text Society, while she was researching at the Columbia University library in the early 1970’s. They were filled with medieval manuscript recipes; among them was the Forme of Cury. She published a number of these in To the King’s Taste in 1975. Here she includes both the original version in Middle English and her translation of that. This is followed by her cooking instructions, which she developed based on a 70’s kitchen. Her goal was to plainly duplicate these exceptional tastes as closely as possible.
I have simplified several of her recipes even further; my versions utilize our modernized conveniences nearly fifty years hence. Perrey of peson, puree of pea soup, is my first inspiration. The flavor here is much the same that our illustrious king experienced. However I substituted dried peas for the shelling of fresh ones; thus, this distinctive soup is available year round. Poetic license had me choose yellow peas instead of green. Either will do.
The basic techniques for preparation in medieval times were much the same as today. There was paraboyling, bakying, stewying, scaldying, broyliying, tostying, fryeing, boilleing, and roosting. However these manuscript recipes only document vague preparatory steps with the needed ingredients. There were no quantities and not many details. Below is an example: here you’ll find this soup’s receipt given in its entirety as taken from Sass’ book:
“Take peson and seeth hemsaft and cover hem til thei berst. Thenne take up hem, and cole hem thorgh a cloth; take oynons, and mynce hem, and seeth hem in the same sew and oile therewith,; cast thereto sugar, salt, and saffron, and seeth hem wel thereafter, and serve hem forth.”
Indeed let us serve this forth!
Perry of Peson Yields: 8 servings. Total prep time: 1 hr & 20 min/ active prep time: 20 min/ cooking time: 1 hr. This medieval puree of pea soup is adapted from a manuscript recipe from Lorna Sass’ To the King’s Taste (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1975).
2 tbsp oil (Coconut or avocado oil is best; olive oil at high temperatures produces carcinogens.)
1 lg yellow onion, chopped
2 c dried yellow peas (Available in bulk at our local Winco; may substitute dried green peas; I choose these yellow peas, though the manuscript recipe calls for fresh peas.)
2 quarts bone broth or 2 liter-boxes chicken broth (See recipe under Tortellini Soup, 2016/10/10, for the easy, inexpensive preparation of bone broth.)
1 c water
scant 1/4 tsp saffron threads (Spanish saffron available inexpensively at Trader Joe’s.)
2 tbsp brown sugar, packed down in spoon (May also use sucanat, evaporated cane juice, which is close to what they used in the 14th century.)
Season with Better Than Bouillon, a healthy chicken base (Most grocery stores carry this.)
White pepper and salt, to taste (Himalayan, pink, or Real Salt is critical for optimum health; an inexpensive, fine grind Himalayan salt is available at Costco.)
- Heat oil in a stock pot, add onions, and sweat (cook until translucent).
- Add peas; stir to coat with oil.
- Add broth, water, and saffron; bring to a boil over med/high temperature; reduce heat and simmer at a low boil for 1 hour, or until peas are very soft, stirring occasionally. DO NOT ADD SALT WHILE COOKING, AS PEAS WON’T SOFTEN.
- Add brown sugar when peas are soft.
- Next season with a small amount of Better Than Bouillon; taste and add more slowly. Add white pepper and, finally, salt to taste. Add these last three items slowly, adjusting as you go, until desired taste is achieved.
- Take off heat and puree with a stick blender, also known as an immersion blender, available at Bed, Bath, and Beyond.
- Check seasonings again, serve hot. Freezes really well also. Explodes with flavor!