I have a cherry tree and far more cherries than I know what to do with. So I figured this was a perfect opportunity to break open my favorite medieval cookery companion, The Forme of Cury, to see what the 14th-century had to offer.
Cherries were one of the most common and widely available fruits in medieval Europe, but were especially popular in Germany. Despite the high demand, there are far more period recipes for apples, pears and even quinces than cherries, which is why I haven’t bothered with them until now.
In 1390 when this recipe was written, cherries were plentiful and loved by all social classes. Cherries were grown in monastic and royal gardens, as well as in the countryside to be sold in the market. They were served at feasts (raw and dried), usually during the first course as a delicate starter. However, some health experts warned that due to their “cold and moist” properties, cherries might be bad for the stomach unless they were first cooked or soaked in wine. Thus, they were put to good use in puddings, sauces, tarts and pies. It was considered a bit unladylike and more of a peasant thing to simply “gobble them up in handfuls,” but the nobility enjoyed their raw cherries just as much as everyone else. (Henisch)
XVIII. For to Make Chireseye (Cherry Pudding)
“Tak Chiryes at the Fest of Seynt John the Baptist and do away the stonys grynd hem in a morter and after frot hem wel in a seve so that the Jus be wel comyn owt and do than in a pot and do ther’in feyr gres or Boter and bred of wastrel ymyid and of sugur a god party and a porcioun of wyn and wan it is wel ysodyn and ydressyd in Dyschis stik ther’in clowis of Gilofr and strew ther’on sugur.”
Take cherries at the Feast of Saint John the Baptist and pit them and grind them in a mortar and after press them well through a sieve so that the juice comes out, and do then in a pot and add clean grease or butter and minced wastrel bread and [add] a good part of sugar and a portion of wine and when it is well boiled and dressed in dishes stick therein cloves of gillyflower and garnish with sugar.
- 1.5-2 cups of cherries. Roughly 1/2 pound
- 1/4 cup / 60 mL sweet red wine or substitute apple juice
- 1/2 T. butter
- 2 1/2 tsp. sugar, or to taste
- 1 T. plain breadcrumbs
- Optional: Garnish with an edible pink flower and sugar
Puree and sieve the pitted cherries, then combine them in a pot with butter, wine, breadcrumbs and sugar. Bring to a boil then simmer until it starts to thicken into a pudding. Garnish with sugar and pink flowers. Serves 1-2.
The basic instructions are easy enough to follow, but I highly recommend reading through my detailed instructions below before getting started.
Step ONE: The Cherries
“Take cherries at the Feast of Saint John the Baptist and pit them and grind them in a mortar and after, press them well through a sieve so that the juice comes out.”
You can use sweet or sour cherries, but make color your priority. The redder the better! English chefs were very into creating colorful foods and I suspect that this one was supposed to be on the red side.
Pit the cherries and puree by hand or in a food processor. Push the puree through a fine mesh sieve until you have approximately 3/4 cup / 180 mL of juice.
Fun fact: The Feast of Saint John the Baptist is June 24th, which in the Middle Ages was a good day to go out and get some cherries, among other things. In France, specifically in Dijon, mayors were elected during the Feast celebrations. The tradition was for the newly elected mayor to distribute a basket of cherries, wine, a leg of meat and bread to each of the seven parishes as a symbolic “gesture of affection.” (Holt, p. 45).
June 24th has passed, but don’t let that stop you from trying this summer pudding anyway. I picked my sour pie cherries on the 28th and the 30th. Close enough!
Step TWO: Cook and Thicken
“…and do then in a pot and add clean grease or butter and minced wastel bread and [add] a good part of sugar and a portion of wine.”
Combine your cherry juice and wine in a pot. Since our end goal is to create a reddish pudding, I went with a sweet red wine. If you want to substitute the wine for something else I suggest using apple juice with a splash of vinegar. Doing this, however, will affect the color and the sweetness of the pudding so take that into account when adding the sugar.
Add the butter and sugar and bring it to a boil. I was pretty conservative with the sugar measurements, but this pudding really should be sweet. Start with 2 teaspoons and add more to taste. The amount of sugar you use will depend on the brand of wine and variety of cherries. For my specific flavor profile, 2 1/2 teaspoons was just right.
Next, add your breadcrumbs. Generally I would say use minced or grated toast like we do in Apple Muse, but for the best texture my recommendation for this particular recipe is to use plain commercial breadcrumbs. Start with one tablespoon and gradually add more only if you really need to. Simmer and stir until it thickens into a pudding-like consistency. I honestly don’t know how thick this pudding is supposed to be, so aim for something thick enough to scoop into a sort of pile, but not so thick that your spoon will stand up in it.
And in case you were wondering, wastel bread was a good quality white bread. Not as fancy as manchet and super-refined pandemain, but better than cocket. A peasant could only dream of eating any of these, since white bread was really only available to the rich.
Simmer it all together, stirring often, until the pudding reaches the desired thickness. This should take 5-10 minutes.
Step THREE: Garnish and Serve
“…and when it is well boiled and dressed in dishes stick therein cloves of Gilofr and garnish with sugar.”
When you’re ready to serve, scoop the pudding into small dishes and sprinkle on some sugar, and also edible flowers if you so desire. Pink flowers are preferred for authenticity, but certainly not mandatory. Serve warm or chilled.
Cloves of Gilofr??
Don’t be confused by the word cloves here, it actually refers to Clove Pink gillyflowers, a fragrant flower also known as a carnation. Carnations are edible so if you have them, place a few petals in each pudding dish or use a small whole flower.
I didn’t have quick access to pink carnations that I felt comfortable putting on my food – don’t eat florist flowers! – so I picked a pink snapdragon from my garden and used that instead. Snapdragons are technically edible, but not all that fun to eat. But since the flower’s purpose is more decorative, I decided it was an acceptable pink substitute in a pinch. Even though the flowers are probably meant to be removed from the pudding, we should always stick with varieties that are safe to eat.
This pudding is excellent! My husband prefers it warm over cold, but I can’t decide which I like better. Warm pudding is flavorful and probably the way it was intended to be eaten, but when it cools it gets a bit more solid and creamy. Either way, I thoroughly enjoy this recipe and I will definitely be making it again.
I made this pudding a number of times to get the ratios just right, but at no point was the color ever truly red. At best it was more of a rust. The version with apple juice substitute was good, but wine is definitely the way to go for both color and flavor.
Since I tend to use small amounts when I experiment with historic recipes, the measurements listed will only serve one or two people. Closer to one, especially if that one person likes it as much as I do! So feel free to double or triple the measurements if you’d like. If you’re going to make a larger batch of this pudding and you don’t have a cherry pitter, I suppose you could cheat and just purchase commercially prepared cherry juice. If you go this route, be sure to avoid added sugar and sweeteners.
- Henish, Bridget Ann. Fast and Feast: Food in Medieval Society. Pennsylvania State University Press, USA. 1976. Print
- Holt, Mack P. The Politics of Wine in Early Modern France. Cambridge University Press, 2018. Print.
- Weiss-Adamson, Melitta. Food in the Middle Ages. Greenwood Press, CT. USA. 2004. Print