Pomegranates and Herbs
in 17th Century Cuisine
A 17th Century Kitchen: Photo copyright Debs Cook taken at Donnington Le Heath Manor, Leicestershire
Article By Jan Greenland
'I feel very strongly that a highly flavoured dish, such as the main ones given below, should have fairly bland, supporting dishes in a well-balanced menu. I also think that the time-honoured partnerships of sage with fatty meats like pork and duck, mint with lamb, thyme with chicken, are on the whole much more successful than the random couplings of flavours dreamt up by the trendy young chefs of today.' So said Jan Greenland, who has been teaching and demonstrating the arts of cooking for the last 20 years. At the behest of Wine Magazine, she prepared several herby dishes to complement various wines at a special food and wine tasting held at the Chelsea Physic Garden, in London in the Summer of 1999. Jan Greenland expanded on her theme in an article for the winter 1999 Herbs, vol 24, no 4.
'Because of the glorious setting of the Chelsea Physic Garden, founded in 1673 for the use of apothecaries, I wanted to feature the traditional English herbs Parsley (Petroselinum crispum), Sage (Salvia officinalis), Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), and Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) as well as dill, Anethum graveolens. Katrina Alloway, Wine Magazine's Tastings Coordinator, asked me to include other herbs, such as mint, Mentha spicata, sweet basil, Ocimum basilicum 'Genovese' and coriander, Coriandrum sativum. These latter flavours were added to the vegetable and salad accompaniments, but I would not advocate their over-use in a normal meal.
Having chosen the herbs, the next consideration was which dishes to select. I wanted some to be accurate reproductions of 17th century recipes, to give the food an historical context as well as being an interesting palatable experience for the tasters. The Grand Sallet and the Dyett bread came to mind, the former having rosemary spikes upright in the eggs or fruit (oranges and lemons), the latter containing fresh sage and fennel seeds. Fortunately, knowing the venue, I remembered the pomegranate tree, Punica granatum, on the west wall. Because of the microclimate within the Physic Garden, this tropical plant always produces fruit, so I decided to do a roast guinea fowl with thyme and pomegranates as one of the two main courses.
Having settled on that dish, I was interested to learn that this exotic plant has medicinal properties. The rind and bark have along history as a remedy for tapeworm infestation. It is most definitely not a plant that should be used medicinally by the layperson. In fact, bark extracts in particular are legally restricted in some countries. However, I was using the fruit, so there was no problem there.'
Pour in half the wine and let it bubble for 1-2 minutes. Cook 25-30 minutes breast side up in an oven heated to 220 C (425 F/Reg 7). Turn birds over, and baste with 2-3 spoons of the juice. Roast another 15 minutes. The juices should be clear. Add the remaining wine, turn the birds again, so they cook breast side up for 5 minutes more or until done. Place on a serving dish. Remove any fat from the gravy; add the rest of the pomegranate juice. Reduce and serve with stuffing. Garnish with watercress, Nasturtium officinale.
Roast Guinea Fowl with Thyme & Pomegranates
2 guinea fowl, approx 1.5 kg (3 lb 4 oz) each
100g (4 oz) unsalted butter
bunch of fresh thyme
2 garlic cloves, Allium sativum, peeled
250g (9 oz) smoked streaky bacon, thinly sliced
Maldon salt and black pepper
150ml (5fl oz) red wine
Method: Wipe cavity of birds, coat with butter, season with salt and pepper.
Two pomegranates are squeezed for their juice, and two have their flesh scooped out for use in the stuffing.
Chop up 1 slice of the bacon.
Stuff each bird with half the pomegranate flesh, garlic, thyme and chopped up bacon.
Butter the breasts and cover with rest of bacon. Tie on with string.
Heat the remaining butter and quickly brown the birds. Use a terracotta or pottery dish (for a metal dish would react with the fruit acid.)
Wine tip: Red wines are a must. Look for medium wines with a good spice and fruit element. Southern Rhone and lighter Italian styles are a good choice.
The second main dish is really delicious, easy-to-make and versatile. You can eat it hot or cold.
Method: Beat the pork and chicken between sheets of cellophane (or American wax paper) until as thin as possible but not broken.
Pork, Ham and Parsley Roulade
450g (1 lb) pork tenderloin
350g (12 oz) chicken breast
100g (4 oz) raw ham
1-2 cloves garlic
60ml (4 tbsp) chopped parsley
1 tin (can) anchovy fillets
5ml (1 tsp) green peppercorns, Piper nigrum
Blend parsley, garlic, anchovies and oil
Stir in the peppercorns.
Place the pork on greaseproof paper. Using half the parsley mixture, spread it over the pork. Place the chicken on top, and cover that with the remaining green mixture.
Place the slice of ham at shortest end and roll up, away from you.
Place the roll in a roasting tin. Smear with olive oil and lemon juice.
Cover loosely with foil. Make sure the shiny side is down, so that the heat isn't deflected away from the roulade.
Cook for approximately 2 hours at 150 C (300 F/Reg 2). Remove foil half way through and baste.
Wine tip: This is a very wine-friendly dish and can be adapted for many occasions. For summer picnics pick a lively white with plenty of fruit and acidity. For winter suppers choose a warming, spicy red.
A 17th century grand sallet is the edible garden brought inside -- and added to. Some recipes can be quite complex with candied, blanched and pickled ingredients in addition to cooked and raw greens. This sallet is a marvelous combination of leaves, textures, sizes, and shades of green -- with colour contrast coming from some then-fashionable (read new imports) ingredients.
The salad herbs include:
lettuce, Lactuca sativa
rocket, Eruca sativa
purslane, Portulaca oleracea
baby spinach, Spinacea oleracea
watercress, Nasturtium officinale
Colour and texture comes from a wide range of other ingredients:
preserved orange, Citrus sinensis ,
slices blanched whole almonds, Prunus dulcis
figs, Ficus carica
dates, Phoenix dactylifera
olives, Olea europea
capers, Capparis spinosa
currants, Vitis vinifera
sprigs of rosemary
hard-boiled eggs, cut in half
Arrange the salad leaves on a wooden platter rubbed with garlic. Sprinkle a little chopped rosemary around, then arrange the other ingredients in a regular pattern, with the fruit, nuts, etc in little piles.
The egg should be placed cut side down and equally spaced out on the platter.
Place rosemary sprigs upright in the eggs. They can be decorated with gold leaf, if wished, or hung with redcurrants.
Dress with extra virgin olive oil, wine vinegar and sugar, to taste.
Such a range of salty, sugary and herbal flavours is never going to be easy to match. Go for straightforward, robust wines that don't complicate the dish further but are hefty enough to stand up to the tastes.
Method:Add some warm water to the yeast and sugar, and stir to dissolve. Let stand for 10 minutes while you chop the sage.
Mix all the ingredients together -- but do not add all the remaining water at once. Wait until the oil is mixed in, as you may not need all the water. Aim for a soft but not sticky dough. Knead till smooth. Prove (let rise) until double in size.
Press into a bread loaf or tin and dust the top with flour. When double in size, bake at 200 C (400 F/Reg 6) for 30 minutes.
Decorate with purple sage leaves, if possible, and serve with Cheshire cheese for an authentic 17th century touch. This bread is very good served with butter, and the combination of flavours and textures of the crumby cheese, soft bread, and sweet smooth quince, Cydonia vulgaris, paste, is an experience for the committed gourmet. [Quince paste, known as Membrillo, can now be found in some supermarkets and specialist food stores.]
Dyett Bread Dyett bread is an authentic 17th century dish. The recipe has been modified -- with the addition of olive oil -- to improve the eating and keeping qualities of the bread.
500g (1 lb) strong plain flour
25g (1 oz) fresh yeast
5ml (1 tsp) sugar
5 ml (1 tsp) salt
300ml (0.5 UK pint or 10 fl oz) warm water
30 ml (2 tbsp) olive oil
45 ml (3 tbsp) chopped fresh sage
25g (1 oz) fennel, Foeniculum vulgare, seeds
Wine tip: The wines that work best with the cheese and aniseed flavours in the bread are those which mirror the purpose of the quince paste. Fruity wines with a good balance of acidity to lift and enliven the warm and creamy flavours make the perfect match.
Wine magazine published the following brief guide to selecting wines to serve with herby food:
Consider how complex a dish will be with an added element of herbs.
Pick a simpler wine if the meal risks being over complicated.
Choose a 'green' wine like Sancerre for 'green' northern herbs like parsley and dill.
Go for a southern red with warm southern herbs like basil and oregano.
Do not try to make unusual contrasts.
Wines that work best are those that blend in with the herb flavour.