It is hot, far too hot, but I managed anyway to go outside and see some things to research and take photographs of to go along with a very short post about a few recipes in the Opera of Bartolomeo Scappi that feature ingredients we don’t readily find in shops in our modern age but I find in the wild sometimes.
Book II recipe 205: To prepare a thick soup of rape greens.
(forgive the image I’m too tired and hot to type it out today, I will replace it later)
Rape is one of the Brassicaceae family, Brassica napus, commonly called Rapeseed and grown commercial for the oil, also called Canola oil used for a variety of things, including biofuel, margarine, cooking oils, lamp oils, soap and fodder. It is an annual, grows about 30cm (1ft) tall, is a thin plant with a long taproot with 4 petaled yellow flowers in spikes that trnasform into long, thin pointed seed pods. It shows up anywhere soil is disturbed, especially on building sites. My aunt tells me that commercially grown rape seed makes bees act a bit weird (not very defined beyond manic) but wild rape is fine, probably because there’s less of it. I don’t know how true this is, I will keep an eye out for references to that elsewhere.
I have not tried this one yet, my desire to cook while it is hot is …not high. Munching on tomatoes stolen from my aunt’s greenhouse is more my thing. It is on my list. I suspect it will be a bit like bitter broccoli, but we shall see.
Next up is Book II recipe 203 – To prepare a thick soup of various common herbs in a meat broth along with other things.
I’m quoting this one because it demonstrates a couple of things about medieval cooking and relying on translations.
Chard (Beta vulgaris) is straightforward, it’s common enough to get in supermarkets and has large fleshy but tender deep green leaves with a thick different coloured stem, usualy white, yellowish or red/pink. I always confuse beetroot leaves as chard, but since they’re in the same family I’m not going to get upset about it. Dill, likewise is an extremely common herb that likely doesn’t need me to talk about it.
- Borage (Borago officinalis) is a common enough herb, beloved of bees and butterflies so anyone interested in recent moves to encourage pollinators in their gardens may already have this handy. It has lovely blue flowers and I think it probably only fell out of favour in gardens because the rest of the plant can get a bit unruly and bristly, and it grows up to 60cm (2 ft) It is also known as Starflower. (also a common garnish for Pimms, if that’s something you like out of period) Gerard’s Herbal of 1597 said that flowers were used in salads to ‘exhilarate and make the minde glad’. So far so good.
(I don’t have a current photo so this is a photo from a seed packet I have, thanks Unwins)
- Now Gardener’s World tells me Borage is also known as Bugloss. But Borage and Bugloss are mentioned separately so it would be tempting to look around and find a different bugloss, maybe Viper’s Bugloss (Echium vulgare)? The name is supposed to have come from the Greek for an ox-tongue, because the plant is rough like the tongue in question. It is in the Boraginaceae family, it’s a pretty plant, it was probably what was meant but DON’T DO IT, it’s got pyrrolizidine alkaloids that are not good for the liver and it’s toxic to horses and cattle. Apparently it used to be used for treating snake bites, hence, presumably the name. It HAS been used raw as young leaves in salads or cooked young leaves as a spinach substitute, and it was even reputed to be an aphrodisiac but modern advice says no, better not and I think I’m happy to pay attention to that and skip authenticity on this occasion.
(*Note to dyers – you can get a red colour from the roots of this one)
- Mugwort. This is actually why I started to write this particular post because in the footnotes this is given as “herba bianca: Artemisia vulgaris, in English otherwise called Artemisia or St John’s Wort. No, no it’s not. It’s St John’s HERB not Wort. This is an important distinction. St Johns Wort (Hypericum perforatum) is an incredibly useful plant but is controlled for various reasons I’m not going to get into here. It has yellow flowers and grows pretty abundantly in wild spaces. Mugwort does NOT have yellow flowers, instead they are white (as bianca suggests) but its more a foliage plant than flower centric, with alternate grey or silver leaves. It is aromatic and used extensively in Asian cooking and medicine. It’s a member of the daisy family (Asteraceae) (picture is by Prahlad Balaji and I’m using it here under Creative Commons license CC BY-SA 4.0 with no changes.)
Mugwort is a tall perennial, over a meter tall that grows commonly in waste areas and dry banks. the top of the leaves are a dull green and underneath is a sort of silvery wooly surface. Tall think flower stalks of multiple small white flowers appear from May to September. I Thought I had a photo but I seem to have misplaced it, I’ll add a new one later. It’s smell is strong and distinctive and it’s sometimes used as an insect repellent. (Note for dyers 2 – this one is used for a yellow colour) It is also known as Wild Wormwood, Armoise, Artemisia, Carline Thistle and Herbe de la Saint-Jean.
This last one absolutely had me barking up the wrong tree for a while.
Book III 252 To Cook large dried broad beans and common vetch
Dried broad beans and vetch are cleaned and soaked in lye as in the above recipe 250 . They are washed in several changes of water and cookedin oil, water and salt. When they are just about cooked, add in sautéed onions and beaten fine herbs, pepper and saffron.
Vetch, to me, is a member of the pea family with purple flowers and hard, black seed pods that look like dried out pea pods. Vicia sativa in the Fabaceae family. I was intrigued if the recipe meant those pods because they have to be treated like red kidney beans and cooked with many water changes before comsumption. The green tips (top 8cm or so) can be eaten but the recipe didn’t seem to be suggesting leaves..
Turns out vetch isn’t a good term here, the footnote says “Cicerchie” lathyrus sativus widly known now as Indian Pea, grass pea or chickling vetch. It has, It seems, a blue version of the vetch flower I know and grows well in drought. It is still sold in Florence markets. There is some question about it’s toxicity; small amounts of human consumption is deemed to be fine but it has been linked to a disease known as neurolathyrism with prolonged consumption, which causes paralysis of the lower body.
All in all I’m not having a lot of luck tracking down a recipe with multiple foraged, wild ingredients that don’t have some concerns, but I’ll keep looking.