Today’s recipe comes from one of my go-to medieval culinary sources: Harleian ms 279. This circa 1420 manuscript was included in a larger collection that was transcribed (not translated) by Thomas Austin in 1848 and printed under the name Two Fifteenth Century Cookery Books.
Don’t be intimidated by the Middle English title. Simply put, this is an almond milk-based rice porridge intended to be eaten during Lent. It is one of the more unusual recipes you’ll find in this blog, but also one of the easiest to make. It is certainly not a pudding and it is probably too thin to be called a porridge. I would consider it more of a sweet soup than anything else.
This redaction will be short and sweet, but to fully understand why this dish even exists we’ll first need to talk a little history.
Medieval cuisine is unique in the fact that due to heavy religious dietary restrictions a third of the year was spent eating vegetarian and/or vegan dishes, and sometimes only one daily meal instead of the standard two. This might be especially surprising to anyone whose medieval food knowledge is limited to Hollywood and Medieval Times. The Catholic Church declared Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays to be meatless “fast” days, meaning no eating of flesh or other products from land dwelling animals. So no meat, no chicken, no eggs and no dairy. Meat-based broth was also out. Fish, however, was acceptable, which is why meatless days are sometimes known as “Fish Days.” Certain religious holidays and observances such as Lent were also mandatory fast days. As time went on, people got sick of eating fish all the time (not to mention the demand drastically drove up the price of fish), so eventually the fasting rules became more lax. A typical English layperson in the 15th century (when this recipe was written) probably only followed the restrictions for 2 of those days.
The result of having so many fish days was the creative use of the foods they were allowed to eat, like almonds and rice. Typical meat or broth-based pottages had to be replaced by something else, often using almond milk or water as a substitute. Obviously this would have been much easier for the upper classes than for the peasants because they had a wider variety of ingredients to choose from. Bruet of Almaynne in Lente was a Lenten/Fish Day pottage that uses almond milk as a base and is thickened with rice.
Bruet of Almaynne in Lente
Bruet is an ancient, probably-French cooking term for a stew or a soup. Some sources say bruets are any soup that is thickened, but others disagree. There seems to be no consensus of what a bruet even is, since some recipes are thickened and others are not. Another reliable source says a bruet (or brewet) is a term for a soup containing meat. Our dish by that definition would definitely not be a bruet! This particular recipe is likely called a “bruet” not because it is thickened, but because it is meant to be a bruet substitute on a fish day. A faux soup. It is thickened like a stew but instead of meat it calls for dates.
.lxviij. Bruet of Almaynne in lente.—Take fyne þikke Mylke of Almaundys; take datys, an mynce hem smal þer-on; take Sugre y-nowe, & straw þer-on, & a lytil flowre of Rys; sylt, & serue forth whyte, & loke þat it be rennyng.
Bruet of Almonds in Lent- Take fine thick milk of almonds; take dates, and mince them small; take sugar enough (to taste) & strew thereon, & a little rice flour; sprinkle and serve forth white, & see that is is runny.
- 1 1/4 c. unsweetened almond milk
- 2-3 dates, minced
- 2 tbsp. sugar
- 1 tbsp. rice flour
Combine almond milk and sugar in a saucepan. Cook until the sugar has thoroughly dissolved then add the dates. In a separate bowl combine some of the hot liquid from your saucepan (1/4 c. or less) and rice flour. Whisk to eliminate all lumps. Add rice flour mixture to your saucepan and bring to a boil. Boil for a minute or two then reduce heat to simmer for 5-10 minutes. Sprinkle a little sugar on top and serve warm. Serves 2-3.
- The only problem I encountered while making this dish was adding the flour to the hot liquid without creating little wet lumps of rice. Mashing them and whisking helped a bit, but didn’t really blend the flour properly. The bruet still tasted good, but the texture was off. I fixed this issue by making a “slurry,” which is combining flour with only a bit of the hot liquid and whisking before adding it to the pot. The flour slurry effectively thickens the dish but also keeps the consistency nice and smooth.
- You can cook this for as long as you want, or add even more rice flour if you are going for something thicker like a porridge. As per usual, there are no measurements in the original recipe so the actual ratios are anyone’s guess. However, the recipe specifically states that it should be white and runny, so it is definitely meant to be thin like a soup. The longer you cook it with the dates the less “white” it will become. I found 5-10 minutes to be adequate.
This almond-date-rice soup is very good! At first the flavor and runny consistency may be a bit odd to your palate, especially if you are unaccustomed to the taste of almond milk and dates. This is definitely a dish I recommend to everyone who wants to experience true, off-the-beaten-path medieval cuisine, not just the popular “medieval-y” foods like roasted meat and cheese tarts.
Give it a try and let me know how it turns out!