Medieval cooking & purple potatoes

A few years ago, there was a video and DVD rental place in Balham called ‘Mr Video’. It was more than just a video place – you also went there to chat and to catch up with the latest local news. As the two guys who worked there liked to say: ‘all we need in here is a tap’… or an underground cinema. As things go, it got bought up by a chain and sanitised (although it recently seems to have become a bit more like the ‘old Mr Video’ due to some new people working there). Why am I writing this? Because one of the things we discussed there was food. One conversation in particular has stuck to my mind which was about ‘eating purple things’. It was prompted by an article in the newspaper that ‘eating purple fruit and veg is good for you’. So we tried to come up with possible options. What fruit and veg are purple? Grapes? Beetroot? Aubergines? Blackberries? Blueberries? Where are the boundaries of purple fruit and veg pigments? Roughly around the same time, the local Sainsbury’s was selling some purple carrots for a while, but they vanished pretty quickly. Possibly because they made the same mess as beetroot? Interestingly, Sainsbury’s seems to have given the purpleness another try – now with purple potatoes. I spotted them for the first time today and instantly grabbed a bag, as I needed some potatoes anyway. I didn’t really care that the colour combination of the planned meal would be somewhat challenging. As you can see in the above picture – Americans might be more sensitised to this – the meal looks like a parody of Mardi Gras King Cake! The potatoes, imposingly named ‘Purple Majesty’, are actually purple all the way through, seem to cook a bit faster, and taste very much like normal potatoes, well, except that they are purple. Gotta make a few more experiments with them – like roasting them – to find out more about their ‘behaviour’… Will report back!

Another thing I’m experimenting with on an off is medieval cooking. Most of recipes are pretty simple. The biggest challenge is finding some of the ingredients that have gone out of fashion – such as medlar, spelt grain and especially herbs. Examples of ‘difficult’ herbs are: hyssop, heath milkwort and lovage. Thankfully, in Germany, a lot of the diet is still ‘positively medieval’, so I mananged to acquire some samples on my recent holiday. You can probably get them at Baldwin’s (herbalist at Elephant & Castle for you Londoners), too. Have to check! So, what you can see in the picture above is a simple creamed spelt meal and heath milkwort soup and a ‘modernised’ sea buckthorn mousse. For those who don’t know sea buckthorn, it is a berry that grows mainly along the European coasts (it is harvested and consumed like crazy by Northern Germans who value it as ‘flu death’ due to its insane amount of Vitamin C) and, as Wikipedia tells me, in Asia.

For the soup, I heated some butter, stirred in some heath milkwort and spelt meal, and, after a minute or two, I added some vegetable stock. I let the whole thing simmer for a few minutes and added a bit of cream. Done & very tasty! Looks a lot like cream of mushroom soup. Might try a version soon with some celeriac in it.

The mousse I do differently all the time. I took the basic recipe from a German blog. In this recipe, the basic ingredients are:
whipped cream, yoghurt, sea buckthorn juice, mashed banana (not very medieval European…), finely chopped apples, acacia honey, orange peel and pistacios. Of course, I don’t keep all of these ingredients in the house all the time, so I improvise a bit. A few weeks ago, a friend gave me a jar of seabuckthorn spread. The spread worked very well both as a traditional fluffy-creamy-dairy mousse and as a soya mousse. For a ‘medieval mousse’ (was there such a thing at the time?), I took a bit of whipped cream, yoghurt, chopped apples, seabuckthorn spread and a little honey. Later, I cheekily added some banana, as I noticed that one would have been in the danger of going off otherwise…

Ah, and these are spelt and sea buckthorn biscuits. Again, I found the basic recipe on a German cookery blog and improvised a bit. So much that I can’t actually remember what exactly went in them. I think it was wholemeal spelt flour, honey, butter, galangal and some yet unidentified spice from my semi-random medieval collection, and, of course, sea buckthorn spread. My co-blogger from the ‘Schnuppensuppe’ blog kindly supplied me with the ‘Linzer biscuit’ cookie cutters on her last visit – thank you!! Anyway, I can’t seem to find the site anymore. Will keep on looking… Also tried out a chestnut cake, but that didn’t turn out too well. Have the feeling it might taste good heated up with vanilla ice cream. Will keep you posted! : )

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