Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Strawberry Pudding

It is strawberry season again and
is the name of this recipe from the English medieval era.  The recipe, as best I can write it with this keyboard, is as follows:

Take strawberys & waysshe hem in tyme of zere in gode red wyne; than strayne thorwe a cloth, & do hem in a potte with gode almaunde mylke.  Alay it with amyndoun other with the flower of rys, & make it chargeaunt, and lat it boyle; and do therein roysonys of courance, safroun, pepir, sugre grete plente, pouder gyngere, canel, galyngale; poynte it with vynegre, & a lytil whyte grece put thereto; colour it with alkenade, & droppe it abowt, plante it with the graynes of pomegarnad, & than serve it forth.

The book this comes from (one of my favorites!) is Pleyn Delit:  Medieval Cookery for Modern Cooks  by Hieatt, Hosington, and Butler.  It is recipe #114 (the book has no page numbers).

ISBN 0-8020-7632-7

Here is their modern redaction:

2 - 4 oz ground almonds
1 1/4 cups water
1 pint fresh strawberries
1/4 - 1/2 cup red wine
2 tablespoons rice flour
1/3 cup sugar
pinch each pepper, ginger, cinnamon, salt
1 tablespoon butter (or lard)
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons dried currants

First draw up an almond milk with the almonds and the water. **Directions paraphrased from the Preface:  Mix the finely ground almonds with the hot water and let steep for a while.  Strain through a cloth, also squeezing the cloth to get out all the liquid.  Use the liquid in the recipe; the almond meal is good for other recipes. (I used 4 oz of almonds and then cheesecloth for the straining.)  Note that you are trying to get the oils from the almonds into the water, which is why you squeeze it.
The mix is steeping.

This is what was left after straining and squeezing
Hull and pick over the strawberries.  Put in a bowl and pour wine over them.  Mix gently with your hand or a wood or plastic spoon; then pour off and discard the wine.  (This seemed like a waste of good wine!  But I did it anyway and some wine stuck to the strawberries.  I consoled myself with a cup of wine afterwards.)

Blend or process the berries with the rice flour, sugar, spices, and almond milk.

After the blender time

Bring mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly; let it boil about 2 minutes to thicken, then remove from heat and stir in first the butter, then the vinegar and currants.

Cooked and noticeably thicker
Pour into a large serving bowl or individual dishes and allow to cool.  Chill before serving.

The Verdict
I will call this a success -- there was nothing I would call a failure at all.  I liked the flavor and how thick it was and that it wasn't too sweet.  The hesitation in my conclusion comes purely from the overall reaction I had to it.  I honestly wanted more strawberry flavor and I think it had too many other flavors mixed in.  That is easy to fix -- I would lighten up on the vinegar and perhaps the spices.  I don't think the butter is important. 

The currants, which normally I enjoy, were a distraction.  Some of that is just me:  I wanted a smooth berry pudding and I got a berry pudding with little bits of chewy currants to work through with each bite.  If (when!) I make this again, I would add chopped strawberries instead of the currants, which would give the bits of chewy but increase the strawberry flavor instead of competing with it.

Overall, I liked it!  It is a different way of eating strawberries and it can be dairy-free as well as gluten-free, if you need that.  It is pretty to look at and has a good flavor.

I made my own almond milk but you can get a premade at the store these days.  I've tried it and thought it was okay enough if you are in a hurry. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Pease Pie

Actually, the official title of this recipe is

To Make a Close Tart of Green Peas

but I really liked the simpler and alliterative name of Pease Pie.

A bit of history:  What we call a "pea" (plural:  peas) was once called a "pease" with the plural of "peasen".  Somewhere in the transition from Middle English to modern English, the singular became plural and that sounds right to us today.

It is spring and I have been a whirling dervish in my garden.  My thoughts turned to fresh vegetables and herbs and interesting ways to prepare them.  My thoughts also noted that I have one pie crust in the refrigerator that needs to be used.

So I explored my books and found this recipe mixed in with a variety of fruit pies recipes:

Take half a peck of green peas, sheal them, and seethe them, and cast them into a collander, and let the water go from them.  Then put them into a tart whole.  Season them with pepper, saffron, and salt, and a dish of sweet butter.  Close and bake him almost one hour.  Then draw him and put to him a little verjuice, and shake them and let them into the oven again, and so serve it.

A pie made with peas as the primary ingredient?  I'm not sure how I feel about it but, since I like peas, I thought I would give it a try.  A peck is about 8 quarts.

By the way, the book I found it in is The Good Housewife's Jewel by Thomas Dawson.  It was originally published in 1596.  The recipe is on page 76.

ISBN  1-870962-12-5

I needed to make some changes based on my modern ingredients.  I'll admit it:  the green grocer's had fresh peas in the pod in stock but I just flat out did not want to shell them.  Not even the less-than-half-a-peck I expected to fit in my single pie crust.  So I took the easy route and bought a 1 pound bag of frozen peas.  (Do I get extra credit for them being organic?)

I also have discovered, through this blog and from my demonstrations, that I am not fond of saffron.  I'm not sure if that is a blessing or a curse, considering how people rave about the flavor but complain about the cost.  My first decision for a substitute was nutmeg -- it just seemed like it would be good.  That is what you see in the picture.  What I decided on after the picture was taken was to include about a tablespoon of fresh spearmint from my garden.  Peas and mint are a special flavor combination!

Finally, I don't have verjuice, an acidic juice of crab apples or unripened grapes, but the standard substitute is a mild vinegar.  I used red wine vinegar.

I hadn't thought of the mint yet
My peas were tender and flavorful and really didn't need to "seethe" as the recipe called for.  I knew they would cook more in the pie and I didn't want to start with over-cooking them.  So I covered the frozen peas with boiling water and let them stand for five minutes.  That defrosted them and cooked them just a little.

After they were drained, I poured about 2 tablespoons of melted butter over the peas and stirred.  Then I added a little bit of pepper and salt, a little bit of nutmeg, (less than 1/8 tsp of each), and the tablespoon of finely chopped mint and stirred again.

I agreed that this pie needed a cover but with only one crust at hand, I decided to make it more of a turnover.  I used a pie pan to help hold the ingredients and only filled half of the crust.  My impression was that it was too full but I went ahead and used all of the filling.

 Then I folded it over, crimped the edges, and cut a hole in the top for venting.  After I took this picture, I put a dab of butter on top of the hole and put it in a 375 degree F oven for 25 minutes.

The result?  The crust broke open and spilled some of the liquid into the pan.  I didn't want to cook it longer to brown the crust more because I worried about scorching the exposed peas.  I was beginning to think this recipe was a failure!

However I poured in a bit of vinegar (while the pan was tipped so it touched the peas instead of running out of the crust) and let the pie sit for a few minutes.  I think I used about a teaspoon of vinegar.

Thus I so served it.

The Verdict  Wow, I really liked it!  The peas rolled out onto the plate, of course, but it actually made the pie look more appealing to me.  The flavor was amazing  -- peas and mint and the slight bite of vinegar was an excellent combination.  The pepper, salt, and nutmeg were definitely in the background, playing a very subtle role.

I have to be honest:  I felt as I was making the pie that the crust might be a waste of time.  Why not just eat the pea filling "as is"?  I was wrong.  The crust added a neat counter flavor and texture to the peas and their minty-ness.  It made me think of how it is fun to embed peas in mashed potatoes before eating them, but the flavor was shifted to slightly sweet.  Plus the crust was just crunchy enough to make it interesting.  I went back for seconds.  I'll have the rest tomorrow!

If (when!) I make it again, I'll use two crusts so there is less chance of a break. I will also consider adding some sauteed onions to the mix.

I recommend it as a different take on serving peas for dinner.  I would pair it with a roast to add both the veggie and the starch components.  Yum!