Saturday 2 September 2023

Taken From The British Museum...

Sorting out the bookshelves this week, I came across a little cookbook which is nearly 30 years old. It was a leaving gift to us, as a family, from one of the best teachers my daughters ever had. Mrs Kelsey was an inspiration, and an encouragement to so many children, and we were quite touched that the day Steph left the school [before our move to Leicestershire]  she gave us a gift. With all the BM hoohah** at the moment, I stopped to flick briefly through its pages.
The book is a little gem - full of recipes from ten different periods in history, and different locations; Ancient Persia, Classical Greece, Ancient Egypt, Imperial Rome, Anglo-Saxon Britain, Pre-Conquest Mexico, Mediæval Europe, Renaissance Italy, Georgian England, Imperial China
As I flicked through it, I spotted five different spinach recipes. We continue to harvest the spinach, and I am trying to find different ways* to serve it up [as well as blanching and freezing it for later in the autumn] This one, is from "Form of Cury" [the oldest known English cookbook written at the start of C15]
Wastels Yfarced
Take a Wastel and hewe out þe crummes. take ayrenn & shepis talow & þe crummes of þe same Wastell powdour fort & salt with Safroun and Raisouns coraunce. & medle alle þise yfere & do it in þe Wastel. close it & bynde it fast togidre. and seeþ it wel.
Michelle Berriedale Johnson helpfully translates the into contemporary English [find the recipe here] Wastels were good quality loaves served to the gentry at feasts, yfarced means stuffed. Once stuffed, the bread was cooked in broth. M B-J suggests stuffing crisp brown rolls instead. As I had no rolls, but some wraps to used up, I made wraps for lunch instead. 
The filling is mushrooms, spinach, raisins and spices [salt, pepper, cinnamon, ground cloves] bound to gether with egg. It was a very different way to eat up the spinach, and the spices and raisins gave a great flavour. 
In cooking, the word farce still means stuffed [and gives us the term forcemeat] and comes from the Latin word farcire. But in mediæval times, monks copying out the words for religious 'mystery plays' would often interject [stuff] odd vernacular phrases, or humorous words into the text as they wrote. These amusing asides led to the term 'farce' for a comedic piece of theatre. 
* I do not plan to try the recipe from Georgian England though, entitled "William Verral's Spinage with Cream and Fry'd Bread' [you cook the spinach with onions, cream, nutmeg and orange juice, and serve with triangles of toasted or fried bread, and serve it as a side dish alongside your meat]
** What a mess! to think that the high and mighty directors of the Museum have frequently declined to return the Elgin Marbles saying that Greece would be unable to look after these antiquities properly and they are safer in London. 
The BM has mislaid two thousand artefacts, and one worth over £60K has turned up on eBay selling for as little as £50. 
Thank you Mrs Kelsey - your little gift continues to inspire, and your former pupils have turned out to be much better cooks than their mother.

Crane update: it is there to help improve the store's energy efficiency [News report] So now we know!!


  1. Spinach at home always had cream, salt, pepper and nutmeg added. Spinach at prep school was always wet, slimy, gritty and metallic. The nuns grew acres of broad beans, red and green cabbages and spinach, it seemed.
    None of my sowings of Spinach came to anything this year. I shall throw out my seeds and start afresh.

    1. I don't add cream, but sometimes a little butter or olive oil. Why does some spinach taste metallic? Is it to do with the iron content? Although we now know Popeye's favourite food is not significantly more iron rich than other veg, it was some sort of error in the nutrition charts!

  2. What a lovely gift and great to hear that your daughters are good cooks-mine is too. The wraps look delicious- wraps are currently my favourite lunchtime food. Catriona

    1. I'm getting better at rolling them tidily

  3. What a wonderful post today- yet again! You always give us something to think about and learn! I never had spinach until I was grown up but I love it now. JanF

    1. There are things I never ate till | was grown up but now I really enjoy [smoked mackerel, fresh pineapple, canned tuna, coronation chicken...]

  4. What an interesting cookbook, nice gift from the wonderful teacher, and am glad there is a translation to modern English for those ancient recipes.
    Always intersting!


    1. The conversion to modern English is essential


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