Discovering Medieval gardens
Text : Marie Josèphe Moncorgé. Translator: Marie-Joëlle Rose
The imaginary garden of Maistre Chiquart:
It is a garden because it counts the plants which were cultivated during the Middle Ages in Europe. It is an imaginary garden because it includes the world known by Europe in the Middle Ages, with the vegetables from the garden and the spices, from faraway places (Africa, Asia).
Before the discovery of America in 1492, by Christopher Columbus, tomatoes, potatoes, pumpkins, beans, corn, peanuts, pimento, cocoa, vanilla, pineapple... turkey, all these products were unknown in Europe, Asia and Africa.
Vegetables of Medieval Europe
- Aubergine or eggplant: There are numerous recipes of aubergine in the Arabian-Persian and Arabian-Andalousian cookbooks, in particular in the Baghdad Cookery Book (1226) and the Anonymous Andalusian Cookbook of the 13th century. One finds 4 recipes of alberginia as early as 1324 in the Sent Sovi, 3 recipes by Roberto de Nola in Naples in the early 15th century.
- Cabbage: this popular vegetable is not part of the vegetables used in the recipes of porry or soup of Medieval gastronomy. On the other hand, one finds in the Ménagier de Paris (n° 53) a long paragraph which describes 5 species of cabbages, their period of harvest and how to accommodate them.
- Carrot: the Westerners knew a yellow or red fibrous carrot, until the 17th century, when the carrot named Long-orange was invented in Holland, at the origin of the orange modern carrots that we know. The Ménagier de Paris mentions it in the category Others minor things that are not essential and advise to cook it like turnips. He describes carrots as red roots that one sells by handful at the Halles.
- Melon: Already consumed in Ancient Egypt, by the Greeks and the Romans, melons are oblong in shape in the Middle Ages. Some Italian monks cultivated and improved the melon, at the Renaissance, in a papal summer residence: Cantalupo. The cantaloup melon adjusted to the climate in the region of Avignon (melon of Cavaillon).
- Parsnip: It was already consumed in 2000 AC. A vegetable either forgotten or depreciated in France, the parsnip is still a highly consumed vegetable in Great-Britain or in the Iberian peninsula. The fleshy root of the parsnip is bigger than that of the carrot. One cooks it like the carrot.
- Pumpkin: that is not the marrow or the pumpkin that we presently know (Cucurbita pepo), but the gourd that one sometimes calls calabash gourd (at the risk of confusing it with the African calabash) or cougourde, coming from southern Asia. According to Michel Chauvet, the young fruits of the gourd are perfectly edible like.
More about: Medieval vegetables.
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During the Roman period, the cook used a large choice of aromatic herbs. The intensive use of spices is one of the features of Medieval gastronomy.
Spices of Medieval Europe
The Medieval cook had a real knowledge of the use of spices, their dosage and their combination, with the thickening of the sauces with bread and with the use of vinegar or verjus for acidulous or sweet and sour flavors.
- Maniguette or grains of paradise (or guinea grains). Coming from Africa, Liberia and Ghana, it is a milder and more fragrant spice than pepper.
- Saffron came from the Arabian za'faran that means yellow. The Arabs introduced its culture into Spain. Saffron is the stigmata of the crocus flower which blooms at fall and grows in temperate climates (from England to Turkey and Iran).
- Sugar cane was cultivated in Middle Orient, in Spain or in Sicily. In the Middle Ages, sugar was a spice as well as a medicine.
- Other spices came from Asia: Cinnamon was from Sri Lanka and the south of India. The pepper tree was a perennial climbing liana from Malabar coast (South India). Pepper was the main spice of Roman cookery. It is in most recipes, as well as the garum. Medieval cookery used it less. Coming from India or China, ginger is a rhizome plant. We eat the fresh or dried root. Nutmeg came from New Guinea and Moluques islands. Coming from India (Kerala), cardamom is the fruit of a plant of the ginger family. There are several species of pods of cardamom: green cardamom (the one most used for cooking), white cardamom (usually used in Indian pastries) and brown cardamom (which suits hot meals because of its strong camphor taste).
- Four rare spices: cubeb (tailed pepper), mastic, spikenard, sumac.
More about: Medieval spices.
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