Sauces from a Saucy Cook

Some notes on testing some Mustard and Green Sauces from 14th & 15th century English and French Manuscripts by Tanikh bint Farid al-tabibah.

I have been working with medieval recipes for sauces for many years. I have pages and pages of sauce notes, from fruit to cameline. For this presentation I decided to focus on uncooked sauces, particularly Mustard sauces (I love mustard), and Green sauces. The first mustard sauce I tried was from Ashmole (according to my notes), but now I cannot find the original.. I am pretty sure it must be from an earlier edition of the Thomas Austin book, but I went through it again, and cannot find anything like it there now. (I also looked at Gode Cookery and Cariadoc’s Miscellany websites.)

There are only two recipes that use garlic in the mustard sauce, but I have to say I really like the combination, so my final sauce recipe includes it.

As to the specific ingredients, I tested various types of each ingredient, and some made a difference, some did not.

Notes on the Ingredients

MUSTARD SEED: I tried soaking overnight, and then for several days (up to 5) in the vinegar or verjus before crushing them in a mortar, but it was still really hard. The final product was still not very smooth even after pummelling the heck out of it and forcing it through a sieve, as suggested by one recipe. I discovered by happenstance that Maille brand Dijon mustard tastes very close, and I have substituted it on occasion. It still makes a great sauce.

GARLIC: I have tried packaged garlic from the grocery store, bulbs I bought at the Farmers market, and powdered (Kirkland Costco brand). The dried garlic gave a noticeably different taste to the sauce, but still made a decent sauce. I like to think the Farm Fresh garlic was the best, but to be honest I found not much different from the supermarket bulbs.

ACIDS: I experimented with wine, vinegar (several brands of white, Allen’s brand red), verjus and a Middle Eastern brand of Sour Grape Juice. All have their distinctive tastes. My preference is for the California Verjus (unfortunately hard to come by now) or white wine vinegar (the brand does not seem to impact flavour).

Wondering where to get verjus? It is available in stores, or online. At right, Persian sour grape juice, from an international market.

SUGAR VS HONEY: Taste-testers could not tell the difference between honey and sugar in test recipes. I think the taste of the honey was completely buried in the other stronger flavours. At one point we got the bowls mixed up and had to back-trace how they had gone around the table as we could not tell them apart by taste (note to self, use bowls that look different in future!). We never got to the ‘what type of honey’ stage of testing because of this, and sugar is much less expensive than honey!

SPICES AND SPICE MIXES: Some recipes call for a specific spice (e.g. cinnamon), some just mention a spice mix (e.g. poudre fort). Since this is a whole ‘nother rabbit hole, I am not going to go into it here, but I did experiment with some different spice blends that I could find recipes for.

With regards to tools and processes, power tools rock for mustard and garlic sauces (I tried the mustard seeds in a coffee grinder, but still had to finish them off in a mortar, however).

For the most part, using the food processor for the green sauces was fine. It did make a different texture than mashing in a mortar, but not that significant (unlike Cameline, for example, where it did make a huge difference between the food processor or mashing and forcing through a sieve. The food processor was not great).

What Do You Serve the Sauce On?

In the sources, the list of meats include lamb, mutton, pork, various game birds, and roasted chicken. For mustard, I like it with garlic on everything but fish, though others disagree.

Le Menagier advises eating eels with mustard.

For green sauces, the herbs seem to be somewhat dependent on what meat it is to be served with/on, but also seasonal, I think.

My Redaction Process

Look at the original recipe

From Le Viander de Taillevent edited by Terrence Scully:
171 – Prener Moutarde et vin vermoil et poudre de cannelle, et de sucre asse’s et tout deffaicte ensamble, et sot espe’s con me; ce est bons a tousrolz.

Translation:
(Cameline Mustard Sauce) Take mustard and red wine and cinnamon powder, and enough sugar, and let everything steep together, it should be thick like cinnamon. It is good for any roast.

Determine the ingredients

Mustard
Red Wine
Cinnamon
Sugar

Questions the recipe may not address

Bread or No bread? (Cameline sauce recipes elsewhere have bread crumbs in them; this recipe does not mention it).
How thick should it be? (How thick is cinnamon?) The steeping might imply softening the bread crumbs? Or just let it sit to mellow?
What are the proportions, what is it supposed to taste like (I have made several versions).
Any more things I haven’t thought of yet?

Testing

I start by making the recipe multiple times. This is the process to test out versions of the recipe until I get one I think works and tastes good. This is very subjective on my part, though Lions Gate Black Kettle Cooks Night attendees also get enlisted to taste-test and give comments.

The ‘Final’ Recipe

1/4 c Maille brand Dijon prepared mustard (yes, brand matters in this case)
2 tbs wine vinegar (have used both red and white in different sauces, both are good)
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp sugar

Mix together and let sit at least an hour before serving over roast meat (we used chicken, turkey, and lamb – all were deemed good candidates for the sauce). It mellows/blends flavours and improves the sauce, in my opinion, if left all day or overnight.

Ingredients for making a nice mustard sauce from a medieval recipe: mustard seed, garlic (optional), verjus, cinnamon bark, and sugar

Lessons Learned from Sauce Recipes

A Mustard Sauce, Enough for a Banquet

1 1/2 c mustard seed
1 3/4 c wine vinegar
1 tbs cinnamon
1/2 tbs ginger
2 tbs sugar
1 tbs black pepper
1 tbs grains of paradise
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp galingale

Soak the seeds overnight in vinegar then blend everything together. My notes say this recipe comes from the 14th century source, Le Viandier de Taillevent.

Green Sauce for Fowl

1 c parsley
1 small onion
5 garlic cloves (or to taste)
1/4 c wine vinegar
salt to taste
Puree the first three ingredients, then add vinegar and puree until smooth. Serve on minced fowl (roast birds and cut small). Source: Sauce for Peiouns, Ashmole MS 1429

Ingredients for making a nice green sauce from a medieval recipe

Comments: These two recipes are from notes on my first attempts at redacting many years ago, and my documentation left something to be desired – I did record the (period) source, but not the original recipe or published source. Were the redactions mine or did I find them somewhere done by someone else? Did I make substitutions I could not decipher/did not have, or were these all in the original? Are the measurements my guesses or were there measures in the source material? I have looked through all my source materials and notes, but cannot find these exact recipe redactions in any of them.

So, the lesson here is write EVERYTHING down: what you did, what you pinched from someone else’s redactions, and where you got it, as well as the period source. Make note of how you processed an ingredient, what you thought of it, and what changes you made the next time around.

Original Recipes

Mustard Sauces

The following are the mustard sauce sources I have worked with to develop my own recipes. You can get away with using a prepared mustard (I used the Maille brand, and it was very close) rather than soaking and smashing your own seeds if you want to save yourself a lot of work. I am growing some mustard now, and intend to see what it’s like to dry the seeds and grind them. I have on occasion used dry garlic in mustard recipes that use garlic, when I didn’t have fresh garlic, though I have no period reference for using dry garlic.

Illustrations from Gerard’s Herball, or Generall Historie of Plantes (1597)

From Forme of Cury, by Samuel Pegge, p. 82:
Lumbard Mustard XX.VII.V
Take Mustard Seed & waishe it & dry it in an ovene, grynde it drye, farce it thrurgh a farce. Clarifie hony with wine & vynegur & stere it wel togedrer and make it thikke ynowz. & whan thou wilt spende therof make it thynne with wyne.

From Le Menagier de Paris by Janet Hinson (Also The Goodman of Paris by Eileen Power):

Hinson’s Translation: If you wish to provide for keeping mustard a long time do it at wine harvest in sweet must. And some say that the must should be boiled. Item, if you want to make mustard hastily in a village, grind some mustard-seed in a mortar and soak in vinegar, and strain; and if you want to make it ready the sooner, put it in a pot in front of the fire. Item, and if you wish to make it properly and at leisure, put the mustard-seed to soak overnight in good vinegar: and if you have some spices left over from making jelly, broth, hypocras or sauces, they may be ground up with it, and then leave it until it is ready.

Power’s Translation: If you would make provision of mustard to keep for a long time, make it in the harvest season and of soft pods. And some say that the pods should be boiled. Item, if you would make mustard in the country in haste, bray mustard seed in a mortar and moisten it with vinegar and run it through the strainer and if you would prepare it at once, set it in a pot before the fire. Item, if you would make good mustard and at leisure, set the mustard seed to soak for a night in good vinegar; and if you have any spices left over from jelly, clarry, hippocras or sauces, let them be ground with it and after-wards prepare it.

Comments: The two translations are very similar, but there are some key and critical differences on some points (one says boil the fresh pods, the other says boil the must, for example), so my next project is to find the original French and see what I can make of it myself.

Mortar and pestle seen in use in woodcuts and illuminations are often much larger than the versions available to us today.

From Tractatus de modo preparandi et condientdi (France, 14th C), published in Cooking in Europe 1250-1650 by Ken Albala, p. 60:
#49. Mustard
Albala’s Translations:
Mustard you can make with grains either of mustard or of arugula. And you can season it along with honey or boiled grape must. Otherwise, even with cooked egg yolks and sugar. If you make it for fish moisten with vinegar; for meat with verjus. And it is better.

A mustard confection: take anise and a little more of cumin, and crush in a mortar. Then add more of cinnamon than of sugar, moistened with vinegar, and add bread crumb. Crush pepper in a mortar with toasted bread and moisten with meat broth and wine or vinegar. Then in a little pot or pan let it boil and stir well.

Comments: I included the mustard confection below the mustard recipe as it was interesting, though I have not tried to make it – It actually seems to contain no mustard seed at all.

From The Viander of Taillevent translated by Terence Scully pps. 231 & 296
#171 – Prener Moutarde et vin vermoil et poudre de cannelle, et de sucre asse’s et tout deffaicte ensamble, et sot espe’s con me; ce est bons a tous rolz.
Translation:
(Cameline Mustard Sauce) Take mustard and red wine and cinnamon powder, and enough sugar, and let everything steep together, it should be thick like cinnamon. It is good for any roast.

Comments: Taillevent also recommends mustard sauces be used on boiled meats elsewhere in the text.

Also from The Viander of Taillevent, there is a sops of mustard on eggs on p. 150:
#83. Soupe en moustarde (3 manuscript versions)

MAZ Prenez oignons menusiez et les frissiez en huille et les mecter en aigue, vin et verjus, le tout boulir en une peelle de fart; puis prener croutes de pain rotis et les despeciez par morceaulx quarrez et mecter boulir avec; puis destramper moustarde, et faicte boulir tresbien

BN Soupe en moustarde. Prene’s des oufs pochie’s en huille tous entiers sans esquaille, puis prenne’s d’icelle huille, du vin, de l’eau, des oignons fris en huille, boulle’s tout ensemble; prenne’s leches de pain hal sur le gril, puis en faites morssiaux quarre’s et mete’s boullir aveques; puis haste’s vostre boullon et ressuie’s vostre soupe, puis la versse’s en un plat; puis de la moustarde dedans vostre boullon, et la boullir; puis mete’s vos souppes en vos escuelles et mete’s dessus.

VAT Souppe de mousetarde. Prenez de l’huille en quoy vous avez frit ou poche’ voz oeufz, et boullez tout en une paelle de fer; et puis prenez la crouste du pain et mettez haller sur le grail, puis en faictes morceaulx quarrez et mettez boullir avec; apre’s purez vostre boullon et ressuyez vostre souppe et la versez en ung plat; puis mettez en vostre paelle de vostre boullon

Translation:
Mustard Sops. Take the oil in which you fried or poached your eggs without shells, with wine and water and chopped onions fried in oil, and boil everything in an iron pan; then take crusts of bread, toast them on the grill, cut them into square pieces and add them to boil with the other; then strain your bouillon, and drain your sops and drop them on a plate (var.: bowl); then put a little very thick mustard into your bouillon pan and boil everything and pour it on top of the sops.

Comments: There is some question by Scully in the text if the eggs are to be part of the dish, in the sauce, or even there at all. The eggs might be a copying error from the following recipe. However, eggs poached in oil with onions, on fried bread with mustard sauce is actually really tasty, as far as I am concerned.

Green Sauces

The following are just a selection of the green sauces I have tested. Green Sauce generally consists of a base of parsley with either onion or garlic (or both), and then add in whatever other green herbs you have to hand. The herbs from various recipes I looked at are: parsley, mint, sorrel, wild thyme, pellitory, arugula (rocket), rosemary (cotsmary), marjoram, rue, and dittany. The fresh herbs are ground in a mortar (or whizzed up in a food processor) with wine, vinegar, verjus, or some combination thereof, and sometimes other spices. These are fresh sauces, and I find, unlike the mustard sauces, the garlic must be fresh as well. Powdered garlic is just not right.

An illustration of parsley from Gerard’s Herball, or Generall Historie of Plantes (1597)

From Forme of Cury, by Samuel Pegge, p. 81
Verde Sawse XX.VII
Take parsel, mynt, garlek, a litul serpell [wild thyme] and sawge, a litul canel, gyngur, piper, wyne, brede, vynegur & salt grynde it smal with safroun & messe it forth.

From LiberCure Cocorum, 27 (N. England 15th C), published in Cooking in Europe 1250-1650 by Ken Albala, p. 60:

#50. Pur Verde Sawse (Green Sauce)
Take persole, peletre an oyns, and grynde,
Take white bred myude by kynde
Temper alle up with venegur or wyne,
Force hit with powder of peper fine.

Albala’s Translation:
Take parsley and an ounce of pellitory and grind
Take white bread crumb by kind
Moisten all with vinegar or wine
Stuff it with powder of pepper fine.

Comment: I did find this one a little bitter (which Albala suggests it might be) and kind of plain.

From The Viander of Taillevent by Terence Scully, pps. 221, 223, & 295
#158. Aulx Vers
MAZ Aulz vers. Broye’s pain, haulx, parressi, gigimbre; destramper de verjus.
BN Aulx vers. Broie’s aux et pain et verdeure, deffaites de verjus.
VAT Aulx vers. Broiz aulx, pain et verdeur et deffaictes ensemble.

Scully’s Translation:
Green Garlic Sauce: Grind garlic, bread and greenery, and steep this together in verjuice.

#161. Saulse vert:
VAL Saulse vert. Grant foison de persil esfeulie’ sans lez tigez, gingenbre pele’, du pain blanc sans haler, broiez; destrempez de verjus et de vinaigre et collez.
MAZ Saulse verde. Broyer parressi, gigimbre, (sauge); et pain blanc sans hale’s, et broye’s tout ensamble; destramper de verjus et de vin aigre le plus. (de vin aigre ou de verjus)
BN Saulse verte. Prenne’s pain, percil, gingembre, broile’s bien, et defaites de verjus et de vin aigre.
Scully’s Translation:
Green Sauce. Grind untoasted white bread, a great quantity of parsley leaves with peeled ginger and sage; steep this in a mixture of vinegar and a little verjuice, and strain it.

Comments: Go delicately with the ginger. I found that more than a little overpowers everything else in a green sauce. I used a big pinch in a handful of greens, a spoonful of breadcrumbs, and then just enough verjus to make it pour. The Viander recommends serving mussels with green garlic sauce in the mussel recipe, and if I could eat them I might try it!

I have also tried this sauce recipe with almond flour, and it does make it a bit grainier, but will work, and is a useful variation if you are serving folks who need to eat gluten free.

Sources

References for Sauces

Cooking in Europe 1250-1650, Ken Albala, Greenwood Press, London, 2006

Le Menagier de Paris, Janet Hinson trans., (downloaded from internet, 2002)

The Forme of Cury, Samuel Pegge, Forgotten Books, 2008

The Goodman of Paris (Le Menagier de Paris), Eileen Power trans. 1928, The Folio Society, British Library, 1992

The Mediaeval Cookbook, Maggie Black, Thames & Hudson, British Museum Press, 1992

The Viander of Taillevent Terence Scully ed., University of Ottawa Press, 1988

Two Fifteenth-century Cookery-books, Thomas Austin ed., Early English Text Society, British Museum, 2020

Internet Resources

British Library Manuscripts http://explore.bl.uk/primo_library/libweb/action/dl

and Bodleian Archives https://archives.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/

Cariadoc’s Miscellany http://www.pbm.com/~lindahl/cariadoc/miscellany.html

Gode Cookery http://www.godecookery.com/

Stefan’s Florilegium https://www.florilegium.org/

Two woodcuts from Gerard’s Herball, or Generall Historie of Plantes (1597) https://www.exclassics.com/

2 Replies to “Sauces from a Saucy Cook”

  1. I am so glad you enjoyed my article.
    You could try chopping the greens fine before mashing in a mortar – it might save some work. Alternatively you could try mashing them with a marble rolling pin on a cutting board. Someone mentioned that once, though I don’t recall the details. I have never tried it but I don’t see why it would not do.
    cheers
    Tanikh

  2. Well, now I am super hungry. Brb, gonna go eat some chicken with mustard.

    I love the idea of green sauces that simply consist of whatever garden plants you have to hand that day. Seems like a good way to help mow through an overabundant CSA delivery.

    Also, I have a question!
    Obviously they didn’t have electric food processors in medieval kitchens, but we (quite reasonably) use them as a substitute for long hours of manual labor. But what would that manual labor look like? Would it always be grinding with some form of mortar and pestle? Would it be someone on a cutting board with a very sharp knife? In either case, what might said tools look like?

    I might be asking because I love sauces but I don’t currently own a food processor.

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