A few weeks ago, I had the chance to tag along on one of the many Weed Walks around Pennsic (or as I like to call it, “medieval summer camp”). This, in addition to a great introductory class about medieval gardens, inspired me to take another look at my garden plots, and the “weeds” growing in them. There’s a great list here of the various plants, many of which we would consider “weeds”, that medieval gardeners and cooks would have prized for their extra nutritional boost, either in salads or pottage.
One of the most interesting finds in the yard was Lambsquarters. Pretty much everything about this plant is great, except perhaps that you’ll likely find it growing in your garden as a “weed”. Well, before you go tossing it onto the compost heap, consider for a moment that it’s related to chard and spinach, but more nutritious than both. In fact, Michael Pollan counts it as one of the most nutritious plants worldwide. How about that? PLUS it can serve as a decoy for garden pests, luring them away from the more cultivated crops. I’m all kinds of crazy for this stuff. And since I’m halfway doing a medieval-style cloister garden, I’m not too fussed about leaving some good weeds here and there. Because let’s be honest: Ain’t nobody got time for all the weeding.
Anyway, back to the food. For today’s post, I’ve actually done two simple recipes, one for a salad and one for a pottage, which is a sort of herbaceous oatmeal. Because winter is not only coming, but it can be tough, and back in the day, getting enough greens was hard to do.
Here’s my pick list from the yard and gardens, which I divided among the two recipes:
- Wood Sorrel
- Dead Nettle
- young Plantain
- Creeping Charlie
- Creeping Thyme
- Violet Leaves
And a few things I have, but didn’t include: purslane, hops shoots, lovage, burdock, and a few others.
See how many delicious green edibles could be lurking just outside your door? Then again, as one of my cousins recently observed, “Wow, most people just grow cucumbers and stuff, but you only have weird things!” Whoops.
Anyhow, I was surprised just how tasty both these recipes are. And I know that “recipe” is a bit of a stretch for the salad, but even so. They taste… healthy. And they really are, especially compared to the flavorless crunch of iceberg lettuce, or the nearly-always-wilty storebought baby spinach. My husband called the greens an “elf salad” because of how zesty and healthy they tasted, and I love the idea. I’ll admit that I’m not much of a vegetable fan, so whenever I find a new way to get some leafy greens, I’m a happy eater. While the salad is a quirky take on a fairly timeless dish, the pottage is pretty unique. But the more I thought about it, the more I reasoned that it was probably the medieval equivalent of slipping some healthy greens into a smoothie to hide them!
Where in Westeros?
Just about anywhere for the salad, and for the pottage anywhere they’d have a rough winter. A lot of “weeds” are the first plants to come up in the spring,
Salads always strike me as a more southern Westeros fixture, though, for the Reach, or even King’s Landing, if the castle gardens were up to the task. The pottage seems a decidedly Northern dish, though. I could easily see the cooks in Winterfell or Castle Black slipping some greens into the morning oats to keep everyone’s scurvy levels down during those interminable winters. If they couldn’t get fresh greens (I might die in a Westeros-length winter), they might have pickled some to store through those long, long cold months.
Take persel, sawge, grene garlec, chibolles, oynouns, leek, borage, myntes, porrettes, fennel, and toun cressis, rew, rosemarye, purslarye: laue and waische hem clene. Pike hem. Pluk hem small withyn honde, and myng hem wel with rawe oile; lay on vyneger and salt, and serue it forth. -Form of Curye, 14th Century
Basically, you pick an assortment of the greens listed in the link above, toss with a little olive oil, then a little vinegar and salt (I used red wine vinegar, but pick your favorite).
To make buttyrd Wortys
Take all maner of gode herbys that ye may gette pyke them washe them and hacke them and boyle them vp in fayre water and put ther to butture clarefied A grete quantite And when they be boylde enowgh salt them but let non Ote mele come ther yn And dyse brede in small gobbetts & do hit in dyshys and powre the wortes A pon and serue hit furth. -Pepys, 15th Century
This one is a little more complex, but not by much. Essentially, parboil your greens in some broth, then strain and press out the liquid. Chop them small, with some oatmeal (which I’ve taken to mean uncooked oats, in this case). Boil some broth, then add everything into the pot. Boil a bit (until the oatmeal is done), adding more broth if needed then serve.
- a few handfuls assorted greens
- as many handfuls rolled or flaked oats
- enough fish or chicken broth