In these cold winter nights I often look forward to having something hot to eat. Yes, there is such a thing as comfort food. Did people from the past have the same yearnings? Of course they did.
In Anglo-Saxon times most 'dinners' were variations of thick soups or stews, or briw as they were called. These were simply vegetables and grains boiled in a cast-iron cauldron or earthenware pot over a fire or sat in the hot ashes. Archaeological evidence has shown that this pottage was a staple food from Neolithic times to the Middle Ages across Europe.
For most people, meat or fish was not the main feature of their meals. If it was used at all, it would have been used as flavouring although herbs were abundant as well as salt and pepper. There were no potatoes in England then, which seems odd having a stew without them, but there were plenty of other filling vegetables around.
Recipes did not exist in written form as nothing was written down then but evidence of what folk ate has been found. The recipe below is taken from the British Museum Cookbook.
1- 1.5 kg chicken joints
4 cloves garlic
175g pot barley
900 ml water (3 ¾ cups)
3 tablespoons wine vinegar
2 bay leaves, salt, pepper
1 tablespoon dried sage
What to do
1. Wash, trim and slice the leeks.
2. Chop up the garlic cloves.
3. Melt the butter in a large saucepan and fry the meat with the leeks and garlic until the vegetables are slightly softened and the meat lightly browned.
4. Add the the barley, water, vinegar, bay leaves, salt and pepper.
5. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 1 to 1½ hours, until the meat is tender and about to fall off the bone.
6. Add the sage and cook for several minutes.
7. Serve in bowls
Try this recipe tonight to keep the chills out. That's what I'm doing anyway. Be hale and hearty, my friends.