Medieval Peasant Potage
I have waited the entire homeschool year of our medieval study to reach the subject of food. I planned it for the month of January when all of the holiday cooking would be over so that the boys and I could devote a little time every day to a medieval recipe and there would be nothing else going on at the end of the four week lesson when we have a medieval feast scheduled. We are also learning about food preservation, spices and the spice trade, beverages, and sanitation, or lack thereof in the food section of the school year.
My husband happens to be on some kind of soup kick after being ill for three or four days. All he wanted was soup during that time and weeks later he’s still craving soup, so this was a pleasant surprise for him to find waiting for him one evening.
His soup obsession has driven him to go in search of his new favorite food. I had a pot of lamb stock on the stove finishing up when he came home from work very late one night. His dinner was being kept warm on the back burner of the stove. When he finished dishing out his reserved portion he thanked me then looked at the stock which rested on another burner. He pointed to it and asked, “And is this a soup?” I laughed so hard. I did end up giving him some of the stock in a mug with some salt added, which he didn’t like very much, but now his question has turned into a running joke. We now find ourselves randomly tossing it in at the end of a sentence or question and it never fails to get all four of us giggling.
“I need a wrench or pliers or something to fasten this bolt. And…is this a soup?”
Rattling off a to do list or grocery list can end in the same way, “We need coffee cream, milk, cereal, and…is this a soup?”
I’ve even signed off on emails to my husband this way. You’d think it would get old, but I don’t know if it will ever run out in this family of easily amused individuals. In fact, I tampered with the idea of titling this post, “Is this is a soup?” because my husband subscribes to my blogs and the post would end up in his inbox and also for the fact that when we learned about pottage we weren’t sure if a pottage was some kind of soup or not. As it turns out, it is. Hubby was happy to find a freezer full of it and has even taken a portion to work with him today.
The boys and I have learned that only the upper classes of medieval society had spices, as they were very expensive. Serving fresh vegetables at any table during the Middle Ages was unheard of. The poorer classes ate mostly root vegetables and spinach and would commonly eat pottage. A little bacon or salted pork, if available, was usually the only meat a peasant’s pottage contained but the lower classes did have access to fresh herbs for flavoring the dish. As a result of such poor diets lacking in fresh vegetables, medieval people were deficient in necessary vitamins such as A, C, and D to keep them in good health. But dairy products were plentiful and proteins were provided to the lower classes mainly through dairy and the cooking of beans.
We tried to make our pottage as basic as a peasant family in the Middle Ages would have been able to make theirs. By looking up which herbs peasants would have been growing we were able to decide which we would allow in ours. Only the bacon we started our soup with provided salt for the dish and we specifically left pepper out as well. Though after we humbled ourselves to suffer through a bowl of the bland soup for educational purposes we seasoned the rest of the pot until it tasted more palatable before cooling and storing it in the freezer. We couldn’t help thinking of Stone Soup when we were eating the authentic version and how in the children’s fable the finished soup must have tasted very much like our pottage, minus any lichen or grit that the stone may have added.
The word “pottage” is spelled “potage” in older texts so it must have originally been spelled this way, but when doing online searches for information we mainly found results under the spelling of pottage. Here is an original recipe for pottage that has been translated into modern English. It was fun to try reading the original script.
The upside to our little history lesson is that the ingredients for this soup are some that we have on hand at all times, so when my husband is needing what has now become his daily dose of soup and spies something simmering on the back burner I can now say without hesitation, “…and, yes, this is a soup.”
1/2 c. bacon, minced (Optional: Substitute a few tablespoons of olive oil to make this soup vegetarian)
1 c. onion, large dice
3 c. celery, sliced with leaves included
3 c. carrots, trimmed, peeled, and sliced into rounds
2 large cloves of garlic, minced
2 c. fresh baby spinach
14 c. cold water
1 T dried parsley
1/2 tsp. dried sage
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1/4 tsp. dried marjoram
4 c. potatoes, peeled, large dice
In a large stock pot, render the bacon until the fat is released.
Add the garlic and saute until translucent then add the onions and continue to saute. Stir in the fresh spinach and saute in the bacon fat until wilted.
Add the carrots and celery and saute, stirring frequently until tender.
Deglaze the pan with water, adding 14 cups total. Stir in the potatoes and the herbs. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Cook until the potatoes are tender and flavors have combined. 45 minutes to an hour.
Note: If you aren’t interested in authenticity, season to taste. It is such a basic soup that almost anything could be added such as sausage, pasta, beans, etc.