[Sca-cooks] Rectifying Bitter Medieval Recipes

Johnna Holloway johnnae at mac.com
Thu Jun 28 09:27:36 PDT 2012

Bitter or sour as a taste is a bit hard to search for in the recipe canon and there's that
age old question of how was sour or bitter perceived by someone in the middle ages
who is not brought up in our culture of added sugar or sugar laden foods.

What you end up seeking in terms of a keyword search in say medieval cookery.com
would be ingredients like "honey" or "sugar" which are used to correct
the bitterness or sour qualities.

The first category that comes to mind is that of wine and the sweetening of wine to make it palatable.

The section titled:
Certaine Instructions for ordering of Wines:

How to preuent the changing of wine.

Salt burned, and put into wine, doth keep it from changing, and that it boileth not vp more then it should, nor that it riseth with any great scum: put sweet almonds into black grapes, and letting them stand, they conserue the Wine. Grapes being gathered, the kernels takē forth and mixed with sand, and put into the Must, or wine being sodden, maketh it fat, and indure long. Gesso when it is first put into the Wine maketh it bitter, but in time, the bitternesse go∣eth away, and the Gesso worketh this effect, that the wine indureth a long time, & suffereth it not to change: the quantitie that must bee put in, if the wine bee small and of a humide tast, or troubled with tempests, is the hundreth part of Gesso. But if it bee strong by reason of the strength, the halfe of an hundreth part of gesso will serue. 

How to remedie wine that is changed.

Temper wine that is turned or changed, with a good quantitie of hony, throwing it into the vessell wherein the wine is. Then stir it in the butt with a sticke, at the bung, letting it re∣maine so, and the wine will cleare it selfe, by rea∣son the honny maketh the dregs that are in the wine to descend into the bottome: it is good to put into the vessell where the wine is changed, (at the time when grapes are gathering) di∣uers berries of grapes, which shall lie therein in steed of the mother, because those grapes, af∣ter a certaine time, will turne the wine that is changed, to his right goodnes and sauor. 

 A booke of secrets shewing diuers waies to make and prepare all sorts of inke, and colours: Hereunto is annexed a little treatise, intituled, instructions for ordering of wines: shewing how to make wine, that it may continue good and faint not ... Written first in Italian, and now newly translated into English, by W.P.
London, 1596..

Maison rustique, or The countrey farme from 1616 contains a chapter on "Of such faults and accidents as happen to Wine."

In all there are 389 matches for wine near Hone*.
I tried a search in EEBO-TCP which is up to 40,000 volumes now on sour and bitter.

Dr. Moffett talks about "sour milk" and later there is this advice regarding your troublesome pomegranates.
As for fruit (if it be not astringent, as tart apples, pears, soure-plums, quinces, medlers, cervises, cornels, wardens, sour pomgranates, and all meats made of them) it should be eaten last.

Contrariwise all sweet and moist fruit (as ripe melons, gourds, cucumbers, pompions, old and sweet apples, sweet pomgranates, sweet orenges) and all things either fatty, light, liquid and thin of substance, and easie of concoction, should be first eaten, unless we be subject to great fluxes of the belly, or cholerick dispositions of stomach,  and then the contrary course is most warrantable. 

Those were the only two mentions for "sour."  "Soure" turns up 44. Bitter turns up 19 matches.
Here are some other mentions:

Mala Punica.

Pomegranads when they are sweet and thorough ripe, loosen phlegm, help the stomach, brest, and cough, en∣crease venery,  provoke urine, loosen the belly, moisten the spiritual parts, and give indifferent store of good nourishment: they are best in Winter for old men and phlegmatick constitutions.

Soure Pomegranads hurt a cold stomach, straiten the brest, hinder expectoration, stop the liver, offend both teeth and gums, cool excessively, stay all humoral fluxes, yet provoke urine most plentifully; and therefore they are more prescribed in agues then the sweet ones, as also to cholerick young men subject to scowrings. Paulus Aegineta affirmeth, soure Pomegranads to bind onely sound mens bodies, but not such as be sick. Howsoever it is, sith the ones goodness resisteth the others hurt∣fulness, it is best to mingle both their juices for such as be aguish or weak, and severally to use them for the strong according as occasion serveth.

Soure Meats.

Soure meats (as sorrel, lemons, oringes, citrons, soure fruit, and all things strong of vinegar and verjuice) albeit naturally they offend sinewy parts, weaken concoction, cool natural heat, make the body lean, and hasten old age; yet they pleasure and profit us many waies, in cut∣ting phlegm, opening obstructions, cleansing impurities, bridling choler, resisting putrifaction, extinguishing superfluous heat, staying loathsomness of stomack, and procuring appetite: But if they be soure without sharp∣ness (as a rosted quince, a warden, cervises, medlars, and such like) then they furthermore strengthen the sto∣mack, bind and corroborate the liver, stay fluxes, heal ulcers, and give an indifferent nourishment to them that eat them.

[on honey and sour]

ho∣ny-cakes were wont to be a great dish in old times at the end of bankets, as ginger-bread is with us; which custome Macrobius and Gellius have justly reproved; because sweet things being last eaten, open the mouth of the stomach, which after meat should be closed, and as it were sealed up to help concoction: Wherefore Pisanellus doth very well, in prescribing us to eat sugar-rosat or some soure fruits after hony, to prevent the engendring of choler in the stomach, and to help the same whilst it concocteth. Raw hony is never good, therefore clarifie it throughly at the fire; and chuse the whitest purest, clearest, most glistering and thickest, for they are notes of the best hony: also let it be hony that ran and was never pressed out of the combs, and of young Bees rather then old, feeding upon thime, rosemary, flowers, and such sweet and wholesome herbs. Then may you boldly give it as meat to young chil∣dren, to cold and moist complexions, and to rhumatick old men, especially in Northern Countries, and cold climates, and in the winter season.
Meats of ordinary tastes.

Now let us come to the ordinary tastes of meats, which are especially seven in number; Sweet, Bitter, Sharp, Sowre, Fatty, Salt, and Flash.

Grossulae. Uvae crispae.

Gooseberries being thorough ripe are as nourishing as sweet, and of the like temper, not only encreasing flesh, but also fatting the body. They should be eaten first and not last, because they are so light a fruit. When they are almost ripe they are restorative being made in∣to Codiniack, or baked in Tarts. Soure Gooseberries nourish nothing, serving rather for sawce to please ones taste, then to augment flesh.

Moffett, Thomas, 1553-1604. Healths improvement: or, Rules comprizing and discovering the nature, method, and manner of preparing all sorts of food used in this nation.: Written by that ever famous Thomas Muffett, Doctor in Physick: corrected and enlarged by Christopher Bennet, Doctor in Physick, and fellow of the Colledg of Physitians in London. published finally 1655

Hope this brief look helps


On Jun 27, 2012, at 6:36 PM, Suey wrote:

> I just made one of Nola's recipes for pomegranate juice. Brighid's translation reads:
> *"171. Pomegranate juice*  /ZUMO DE GRANADAS snipped
> My first question is:
> When medieval recipes are too sour for our taste, what is the rule in thumb for correcting them - sugar, honey, proportions, what?
> Then should I boil what I have to death to evaporate a couple of cups of liquid? - I think this is suppose to be a sauce for fowl so I think I am looking for something more like gravy. Starting all over again would be a pain as it takes so much time to extract the little red fruits. . .
> Many thanks for any suggestions.
> Suey

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