Here is a bird’s eye view of a 14th century nobleman’s kitchen, as was common during the reign of King Richard II, as well as the foods in which they partook.
Their kitchen consisted of a large, separate structure with many fireplaces built along the walls, each with its own cooking area. At least one fireplace was large enough to roast a whole ox. A raised, open hearth was situated in the center of the kitchen.
Bake metes (baked foods) were concocted in an oven, prepared first with a blazing fire, getting its brick walls red hot. Cooks placed the pies, custards, and pastries in the hot oven, after they swept out the ashes. These items baked, behind a closed door, until the oven was cool.
Bakers, however, made breads in separate buildings in larger kitchens, such as that of King Richard II. The stoves in these bake houses were often 14 feet wide.
Our king was extravagant; he daily entertained over a thousand guests. There is record of a very large shopping list for a banquet he gave on September 23, 1387. His overseer included 14 salted oxen, 2 fresh oxen, 120 sheep, 140 pigs, 120 gallons of milk, and 11,000 eggs, among taxing quantities of other items.
These feasts were held in the castle’s great hall. Here the king and special guests sat on a raised platform, or high borde. The lesser guests assembled at tables that paralleled the side walls. The backless benches, on which they sat, were called banquettes; thus we got the name banquet for such affairs.
Cooks in many of these kitchens prepared white-dish, or blank-mang. It was a popular dish in England, as well as on the Continent, during the Middle Ages. Chaucer’s chef made this receipt. Our poet wrote in his “Prologue” to the Canterbury Tales (c.1386): “For blancmange, that made he with the best.”
I am indebted to Lorna Sass for her documentation of this information in To the King’s Taste (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1975). Below is my version for her delicious, historical recipe. Its preparation is easy with my introduction of 21st century appliances Can’t encourage you enough to try this. It’s a palate pleaser!
Next week I will be making the connection between these medieval foods and our “renaissance” happening right here in Tualatin, Oregon.
White-Dish is adapted from a recipe in Lorna Sass’ To the King’s Taste (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1975). Yields: 4-6 servings.
2 large chicken breasts
2 1/2 cups water
1 1/4 tsp salt (Real Salt is best, available in health section of local supermarket.)
1/2 cup raw whole almonds
1 cup brown rice (I like basmati rice, available at Trader Joe’s.)
3 tbsp butter
4 tsp brown sugar, packed down (Sucanat evaporated cane juice, may be substituted; this is close to what they used in the Middle Ages.)
3 tbsp anise seed
1/4 cup sliced almonds
- In a tightly covered medium-size saucepan, over medium heat, boil chicken in water, to which 1/4 tsp salt is added. Boil for about 10-15 minutes. Be careful to not overcook. Check meat by cutting with a sharp knife; center should be slightly pink. (Meat will be cooked more later on.) Remove chicken from broth; set aside both broth and meat.
- To make the almond milk, grind 1/2 cup whole raw almonds in a 11-cup, or larger, food processor. Pulse repeatedly until almonds are a fine powder. (A blender or Vitamix will also work; add 2 tbsp of ice water to nuts, before grinding, if using either of these.)
- With food processor running, slowly add two cups of broth through the feeder tube on top of the processor. (You may have to add water to make 2 cups of liquid; if perhaps you have extra broth, be sure to save this.) Let sit for 10 minutes. This makes almond milk.
- Put almond milk in the saucepan. Add remaining 1 tsp salt, 1 tbsp butter, and sugar. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Add rice, cover, and reduce heat to medium low. Simmer gently for about 40 minutes, or until rice is soft. Watch carefully so rice doesn’t cook dry; gently check bottom of pan with a fork, being careful to not stir rice. Add more broth, or water, as needed.
- Meanwhile dice chicken into 1-inch cubes. Set aside.
- In a small sauté pan, cook almond slices in remaining 2 tbsp of hot butter. Watch carefully, sautéing only until light brown. Salt them lightly and set aside.
- Crush anise seed using a mortar and pestle. May also grind in a DRY food processor by pulsing lightly. Set aside.
- Add chicken when rice is soft; stir, and cook about 5 more minutes, or until meat is hot. Watch moisture in bottom of pan, so rice doesn’t burn, add water or broth as needed.
- Serve garnished with buttered almond slices and crushed anise seed. SO GOOD!