St. Valentine's Feast

Feb. 15, 1997 (A.S. XXXI)

Notes from the Kitchen

by Rufina Cambrensis & Joshua ibn-Eleazar

When we heard that the autocrats of the St. Valentine's revel intended to have a Spanish theme, we volunteered to cook, because we had two medieval Catalan cookery books that we'd been eager to try: the Libre de Sent Sovi (fourteenth century) and the Llibre del Coch (fifteenth century). Following the words of the late Rudolph Grewe, editor of Libre de Sent Sovi, we served the feast in three courses: "from the spit" (roasted meats with appropriate sauces), "from the pot" (stewed or boiled things), and divers sweets and wafers to finish. We deviated from this regimen slightly where the vegetable dishes are concerned in the interest of balance, and rather than attempting to recreate the "embarassment of riches" of the medieval groaning board, we tried to present a sampling of the dishes that would have been served in each course of a medieval Catalonian feast:

On the Table:
Breads, butters, fresh fruit, olives
First Course:
Rostit de Bou, Salse Allipebrada, Salsa Camelina, Menjar de Farines, Potatge Modern (roast beef, garlic-pepper sauce, sweet-tart cinnamon sauce, grain cooked in broth, sauteed creamed greens)
Second Course:
Busach de Gualines, Alberginies en Casola, Arroz (chicken stew, eggplant casserole, rice)
Third Course:
Flaons, Figues alla Francesa (ricotta-and-egg tarts, spiced figs)

This order of service runs counter to the modern notion of appetizer-soup-entree. Some scholars (such as Constance Hieatt, in her Introduction to Curye on Inglysch) suggest that the hearty foods in the first course were served to all the guests, and the progressively daintier dishes to a select few. As an Egalitarian Autonomous Collective, we made all dishes available to all feasters--admonishing them not to fill up on the heavy stuff, or they would have no room for the rest. We provided vegetarian alternatives to some dishes, and vegetarian versions of others.

Here are a few of the recipes people requested, with our translations and worked-out versions of the originals. If you'd like to see the cookbooks from which they came, let us know.

A few comments:

Busach de conills [Llibre del Coch, #155]
Pendràs lo conill e escorxa'l e fes-lo bel e net dels pels. E com serà net, obra'l e met-lo en ast. E quant sia cuyt, tallaràs-lo a troços e çoffregiràs-lo un poch. E aprés hauràs pa torrat e ben cremat e ametles torrades e pica-les bé e passa-les ab lo such del conill. E met-hi de totes espècies comunes, e fes que aquesta salsa sia un poch agreta e fes-la bullir. E com sia bullida, met-hi lo conill e leixaràs-lo acabar de coure. E sie hi vols metre cebes, tot està a ton plaer. Emperò fes-les bullir primer ab los conills. E aprés passa les cebes ab les altres coses e deixa-u acabar de coure. E vet ací com se fa lo busac de conills.

"Take a coney and skin it and make it nice and clean of hairs. And when it is clean, open it and put it on the spit. And when it is cooked, hack it into gobbets, then subfry it a little. And then have bread toasted and well crumbled, and toasted almonds, and grind them, and put them with the coney drippings [literally "juice"], and add all sorts of common spices, and make sure the broth is a little tart, and boil it. When it is boiled, put in the coney and let it finish cooking. And if you want to put in onions, that's fine. But set them to boil first with the coneys. And then pass the onions with the other things and leave them to finish cooking. And that's how you make busac of coneys."

Busach de Gualines (The original recipe called for rabbits, but the local rabbits were tough. It tasted lovely, but took a long time to chew....)

one chicken, precooked and picked
2 medium-sized onions
2-3 T olive oil
2 slices wheat toast
1/2 cup blanched almonds
4 cups chicken broth
1/2 tsp. ginger
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. balsamic vinegar

Chop onions finely.
Heat olive oil in large frying pan.
Add onions and "subfry" on extremely low heat for an hour, stirring occasionally.
Add chicken and subfry for another few minutes.
Grind almonds.
Bring broth to a boil with spices, vinegar, ground toast, and ground almonds.
Combine broth and chicken-and-onion mixture and simmer 1/2 hour.
Serve over toast or rice.

Potatge Modern [Llibre del Coch, #98]
Hauràs spinachs e bledes e borratges e fes-ho tot bell y net. E aprés fes-ho perbullir ab brou de bona carn e que sia bo de sal. Emperò guarda que no coga massa sinó la meytat cuyts, trauràs-los de la olla, e met-los entra dos talladors e prem-los bé. E quant sien ben premuts, capola-los bé. E quant sien bé capolats, hages bona carnsalada e çoffregiràs los espinachs ab la grassa de la carnsalada. E com sie çoffregida, hages bona let de cabres o de ovelles sinó de ametles e met-la en una olla, e aprés fes que bulla. E encara que sie cuyta la let, per ço no seràn cuytes encara les herbes. E aprés met-hi en la olla canyella e gingebre e pebre ben picat e axí mateix bona carnsalada cuyta entreverada un bon troç en la olla. E fes scudelles.

"Take spinach, beet greens, and borage, and make them pretty and clean. Parboil in broth of good meat, seasoned well with salt. but make sure they're only half cooked. Press them between two boards and chop well. Take good salt pork and subfry it by itself. When melted, put it in a clean pot, then put in all the greens to cook. Subfry the spinach with the salt pork. Take good goat or sheep milk (or almond milk), put in a pot, and bring to a boil. Although the milk is cooked, the greens should not yet be [fully] cooked. Put into the pot well ground pepper, ginger, cinnamon, and likewise good cooked salt pork, one good-sized piece in the pot. And make dishes."

Potatge modern (meat-eaters' version)

1 bunch spinach
2 (small) bunches beet greens (somewhat less in quantity than the spinach)
1 qt. chicken broth
1/4 lb. bacon
1/4 tsp. each cinnamon and ginger
a dozen twists ground black pepper
3/4 cup half-and-half

Wash and stem greens.
Trim some of the fat off the bacon, and chop it finely.
Bring broth to a boil.
Fry bacon in large frying pan on low heat.
Add greens to broth, reduce heat, cover, and simmer 10 minutes.
Remove greens from broth, squeeze out excess liquid, and chop.
Add greens to pan with bacon.
Fry on low heat for another 10 minutes; add spices at some point during this.
Heat half-and-half (NOT to a boil!), add to pan, and heat for another minute or two.
Serve hot.

For the vegetarian/vegan/low-cholesterol version, we boiled the greens in vegetable broth rather than chicken broth, omitted the bacon, and replaced the half-and-half with almond milk and a little bit of olive oil. At least, that was the plan; on the day of the event, we mistakenly boiled all the greens together, with part vegetable and part chicken broth, and then separated them for pan-frying as originally planned. We informed all the people we knew of with dietary restrictions.

Figues alla Francesa (Libre del Coch, #102)
Les figues seques pendràs més melades que pugues haver, negres e blanques e leva·ls lo capoll. E aprés renta-les ab bon vin blanch que sia dolç. E quant sien netes, pren una panedera de terra e met-les dins menant-les un poch. E aprés posa aquella panadera sobre unes brases e tapa-les bé, de manera que se stufen allí. E quant seran estufades e se hauran beguda la vapor, mena-les un poch e met-hi salsa fina damunt, e torna-les a menar de manera que encorpora aquella salsa. E aprés menja ton potatge e veuràs gentil cosa, e mengen-se entrant de taula.

"Take dried figs, the sweetest you can find, black and white, and clean off the stalks. Wash them with good, sweet white wine. Take an earthen panadera and put them in, stirring a little. Put the panadera over a brazier and cover it well in such a manner that the figs soften. And when they are softened and have absorbed the vapor, stir a bit and add salsa fina on top, and stir so that it incorporates this salsa. And then eat it, and you will see a noble thing, and they are eaten next [first?] at the table."

Recipe 92, also for a fig dish, calls for sugar, pepper, cinnamon, ginger, and "other good spices". Nutmeg seems to be the most common spice in the cookbook other than cinnamon and ginger, so we put in a little nutmeg.

11 oz. (fifteen) dried black and white figs
1 cup sweet white wine
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. each ginger, nutmeg
1/8 tsp. black pepper

Stem figs and put in a pot with the wine.
Simmer 1/2 hour, by which time the wine is almost gone and the figs have swelled considerably.
Add spices and stir.
[We skipped the sugar because the dry figs were encrusted with a little sugar already.]

Works Consulted and Further Reading

Grewe, Rudolf, ed. Libre de Sent Sovi (Receptari de Cuina), Els Nostres Classics, Col·leccio A, v. 115, ISBN 84-7226-071-2, Editorial Barcino 1979.

Hieatt, Constance, and Sharon Butler. Curye on Inglysch:English Culinary Manuscripts of the Fourteenth Century (including the Forme of Curye. Early English Text Society. 1985

Nola, Roberto de, Libre del Coch Veronika Leimgruber, ed. Barcelona: Curial Edicions Catalanes. 1982

Torres, Marimar, The Catalan Country Kitchen, ISBN 0-201-62469-9, Addison-Wesley 1992.

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