A friend recently passed along a fabulous blog called BibliOdyssey, as well as a post with illustrated manuscript belonging to a 15th c. herbal text titled the Codex Sloane 4016. Like other early manuscripts focusing on herbs, these treatises documented accumulated knowledge about medicinal plants from the oral tradition. In the image above you will immediately recognize St. John’s Wort as the medieval “ypericon”, known now by the latin hypericum perforatum. With the myriad uses for the invaluable St. John’s Wort, SSRI action, anti-viral activity, and vulnerary for nervous system-related symptoms among them, what I did not know was that St John’s Wort was also considered a demon repellent. And what a cute little demon we have here in this medieval illustration, not unlike the many forms of hybrid creatures found on the column lintels that would have surrounded monastic herb gardens of that period. I am sure every monastery had its St. John’s Wort patch for this reason, among the many other uses. Do pop back to this post to see the other lovely illustrated manuscripts from the Codex, as well as information about its facsimile at the British Library and even more delightful tidbits from their blog. And while you are at it, this wonderful collection of downloadable manuscripts, the Codex (Tractatus de Herbis) among them. Ahhh, if I were to go back to working towards a PhD again….I’d be sorely tempted.
I was looking through an favorite herbal periodical today from a few years back, and I found this great little snippet about pot herbs, or herbs/vegetables for “pottage”. Some herbs that come to mind include parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, chervil, nettles, violets, dandelion, chickweed, purslane, lamb’s quarters, sheep sorrel, and chicory. When freshly sprouting, many of these herbs are also ideal early spring greens in salads, sautes, or soups. When we talk about “pottage”, the reference is usually to cooking herbs and veggies in a pot! Just as you would imagine. The simplest version is to saute vegetables in a little butter or oil, add herbs and/or salt and finish with a splash of acid (lemon juice, herb infused vinegar, lime juice, etc) to brighten the taste. Pottage recipes often include sugar, though I’ve never cooked it this way, and the pottage is sometimes strained and turned into a soup. I like the Medieval reference below to topping with poached eggs. That would be fantastic!
It’s mid-February, and no chickweed has yet made its sweet appearance in my garden pots. This time of year we rely on vegetables and fruits that store well through the winter (even if our storage needs are not so pressing as they were in the 15th century). Leeks, onions, shallots, carrots, cabbages, fennel, apples, potatoes all come to mind. The following is a medieval recipe for pottage translated from Libro Della Cocina, Santich, 117:
“Take the tips of fresh cabbage, and boil them: then remove them, and fry in oil with sliced onion, and the white part of the fennel, and sliced apple: and add a little stock: and then serve it in bowls, and sprinkle with spices. And you can also cook it with salted pork fat, with cheese and with poached eggs, and add spices; and offer it to your lord.”
I am not sure we’d be offering it to one’s lord (as in lord of the province or feudal fiefdom), but it’s a great little lunch or warming evening meal for anyone.
2 Tbsp olive oil
12 Brussels sprouts, halved lengthwise, cored and thinly sliced
1/2 fennel bulb, sliced
1/4 head green cabbage, cored and thinly sliced
4 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 Tbsp pure maple syrup, optional
Sea Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup toasted pecans or walnuts
Directions: 1) in a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat; 2) Add Brussels sprouts, fennel, and cabbage. Pour 2 Tbsp lemon juice over the greens. Cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes; 3) Remove from heat and add apple, maple syrup (if using) and remaining lemon juice; 4) Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve garnished with pecans or walnuts.
If you try this out, let me know what you think!
Here’s another variation: Medieval Pottage and a series of pottage recipes from Medieval-Recipes.com. Cookit also has a recipe and video! At the end of the day this is simple peasant food. Add a little meat if you want to feel like a lord or lady of the manor!