Culinary Historians - Please Help!
I'm due to bring a renaissance-style first course to a potluck in a couple of days. The renaissance cookbook is checked out of the public library and googling has not turned up anything hopeful.
I understand that all manner of things in pastry were popular at the time. I'd love to make individual fish or meat pies of some sort, since they sould be appealing and easy to transport.
Does anyone have a recipe for a savory renaissance pie? How about any ohter kind of first course that would still hold appeal for modern palates?
If not, could anyone suggest what kind of ingredients or seasonings would be appropriate if I decide to improvise?
Ummm... From what I recall reading on that period...
If you're going to go with anything, try the later periods--16th Century--rather than earlier--14th Century. A lot of medieval food was pretty much inedible as far as we're concerned.
Early stuff--heavy porridges like "frumenty," sweetened with dried fruit (if you could afford it); sauces were thickened with bread, rather than flour--you wouldn't see that for 200-300 years; foods were heavily coloured and seasoned with sandalwood and saffron; also heavily seasoned with cloves, allspice, pepper, black cardamom, and so on--especially meat.
Pies (or "Pyes") were not then what they are now. The crust was a flour-water mixture of some kind and baked until hard. In fact, in those days it was referred to as a "coffin" or "coffyn" as it was used merely to hold a filling. If the pastry was edible, it was heavy and thick.
Huge changes in the kitchen and in cooking came about with the influence of chefs like Careme.
The common fillings in those days were savoury--eel was a favourite, game and game fowl, as well as fish and domesticated animals, usually made as a stew, or the ingredients put into the "coffyn" and baked a long time to allow the filling to stew.
Queen Elizabeth caused a minor revolution among her kitchen staff (according to legend) when she ordered that a "pye" be made for her, filled with sweetened, stewed cherries. The first sweet pie.
Popular spices were black cardamom/melegueta pepper/grains of paradise--a favourite of Queen Elizabeth, black pepper, savoury, sage, thyme, aniseed, caraway, cloves, allspice, and so on. Often used in ways that we would not in present times.
I would suggest two things:
- google "elizabethan" combined with "food" and/or "spices," "desserts" and so on as the Elizabethan period in England is late Renaissance. I took a quick look and I think you'll have much better luck. The Elizabethans did love their sweets.
- something that has come down to us modern day is the French-Canadian "Cipaille"--a deep-dish pie filled with a savoury stew; and "Tourtiere." Tourtiere is a shallow meat pie, and there are differences on the original. Some books say the original pie was pigeon, others the original meats were a mixture of rabbit, venison, and goose. The pie is flavoured with allspice and cloves among other things. It is thickened with crumbled bread, or in later recipes, potatoes. If you want Renaissance style, do not use the modern recipes (or modify them) for Tourtiere, which uses ground pork or beef.
I was thinking of many of the same details - seemingly excessive amounts of a cupboard-load of spices (though authentic renaissance cookbooks, or treatises on food which they resembled more, won't give you any measurements of really accurate cooking instructions), combinations of sweet and savory (much heavier on the sweetness than we're used to ... the idea of a separate dessert course didn't exist ... or at least wasn't common), and an almost exclusive reliance on animal products. From what I've read, vegetables weren't really eaten much in Europe at the time. Think of German and English food and extrapolate back a couple of centuries. And, as mentioned, the meats were gamier and more of the foraged variety ... widespread animal husbandry not really taking hold until later ... and, besides, many of the places your looking at don't really have the pasturage for raising vast herds of cattle for meat ... more of a landscape to support dairy cattle and small herds of sheep and goats. The preparation of gamey meat is interesting, if a bit disgusting to modern folks ... concepts of "running" game before killing them to release certain chemicals, "hanging" for long periods, soaking in liquor/herb baths, etc. For details and perhaps some recipes, check out Toussaint-Samat's History of Food. It's old and many of the details are disputed or overturned by more recent scholarship, but it's scope and depth still make it a worthwhile book.
Something that might be authentic and still acceptable to modern palates would be a rabbit dish ... something stewed, heavily spiced, and combining sweet and savory flavors.