14th-Century Mushroom Pasties

During the medieval era it was common to forage for edible mushrooms, though there is a surprising lack of actual mushroom recipes in surviving manuscripts. Perhaps this is due to upper-class households turning their noses up at any fungus other than expensive truffles, or maybe it’s because physicians assigned mushrooms “melancholic” properties, which were not to be eaten by the elderly. Maybe, as with bread, those with the skill to do so saw no point in actually writing the recipes down. We will likely never know.

mushrooms
From De materia medica
Turkey, Istanbul, mid 10th century
 Pierpont Morgan Library. MS M.652

There are two French mushroom recipes that I know of and both are pies. These are not the only recipes out there; Germans used mushrooms in purees, Italians in tarts and an English recipe – one of my favorites- is a soup that I will release at a later date. But for now, we focus on French, specifically the one from Le Menagier de Paris.

Le Menagier de Paris, also known as The Goodman of Paris, was written 1392-1394 by a wealthy older merchant for his new young wife. The book covers all kinds of topics about managing a household and includes around 75 pages of recipes. I wrote a little more about the book in my post about Lombard Chicken Pasties.


The Recipe

Mushroom Pasty

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CHAMPIGNONS d’une nuit sont les meilleurs, et sont petits et vermeils dedans, clos dessus: et les convient peler, puis laver en eaue chaude et pourboulir; qui en veult mettre en pasté, si y mette de l’uille, du frommage et de la pouldre.

MUSHROOMS of one night are the best, and are small and red inside, closed above: and they should be peeled, then wash in hot water and parboil; if you wish to put them in pastry, add oil, cheese and powdered spices. Translation by Janet Hinson.

This recipe is included in the original text with a small number of others under the heading Pastés. The French word pastés means pie, pastry and pasty. Since I chose to make small savory hand-pies instead of a full-sized pie I’m calling these pasties. 

Ingredients

  • 8 oz. cremini or white button mushrooms
  • 1 cup grated Gruyere cheese (see notes under “About the Cheese”)
  • 1/4 t. coriander
  • 1/4 t. ginger
  • 1/8 t. pepper
  • 1/8 t. cinnamon
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • 1 T. olive oil
  • Salt to taste
  • Pastry (see notes)
  • 1 egg, beaten

Before we get into the step-by-step directions, I have a few notes about the ingredients.

Powdered Spices

The Goodman of Paris is pretty vague about the spices, which isn’t all that surprising. It was common for cooks to use spice blends either favoring “strong” spices (powder forte) or “sweet” spices (powder douce). There is a recipe for fine powdered spices elsewhere in this book but there is no indication it was meant to be used for this recipe and I think it’s too sweet anyway. So instead, I created my own powder fort/poudre forte blend of period spices that would favor ginger (typical for a powder fort) and compliment mushrooms.

Pastry

You can use shortcrust or puff pastry dough. I tried both shortcrust and puff pastry (lids only) and I suggest using just a simple shortcrust, preferably homemade so it is of good quality and not too sweet. If you’d like, you could try one of the pie pastry recipes found in my recipe for Crispels.

About the Cheese

Again, Goodman doesn’t specify which kind of cheese to use in this recipe. But I did get some clues from elsewhere in his book, particularly this “poem:”

TO KNOW Good Cheese. Good cheese has six conditions. Non Argus, nec Helena, nec Maria Magdalena, sec Lazarus et Martinus, respondens pontifici.

Not white like Helen,
Not weeping like Magdalene,
Not Argus, but completely blind,
And as heavy as an ox:
It is firm against the thumb,
And its coat is fine.
Without eyes, without weeping, not white,
Handsome, firm, well-weighted.

So a good cheese is not super white, not runny, no eyes (no holes), is heavy and firm. There’s also a clue about Lazarus that some think is alluding to leprosy, so maybe a good cheese also has a bumpy rind.

Using these clues and the knowledge of cheese types available in the 14th century, I decided Comté, Beaufort and Gruyere are my best options. He is likely talking more about quality of cheese than the specific type, but I avoided Emmental anyway due to the holes. Brie is used quite a bit in medieval cookery, but I think it might be too soft for this particular recipe.

Since I don’t have easy access to Comté and Beaufort I just went with Gruyere. Parmesan could also work, though, but I don’t know if it was widely used in France in the 14th-century. It was certainly common there by the 16th, possibly earlier.  In the end the cheese you use isn’t a matter of life or death, so choose according to your personal preference.

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Mercado Medieval by Keith Williamson via Flickr

Step ONE: The Mushrooms

MUSHROOMS of one night are the best, and are small and red inside, closed above: and they should be peeled, then wash in hot water and parboil

We want small, young mushrooms that are clean and parboiled. Don’t bother with the peeling -it’s not necessary unless you picked the mushrooms yourself- but you may give them a rinse if you really want to.

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and drop the mushrooms in to cook for about 2 minutes. This will not only clean them thoroughly but will also help them keep their texture when baking and prevent the pastry from getting soggy. Drain and pat dry then rough chop. Set aside.

Step TWO: The Filling

…if you wish to put them in pastry, add oil, cheese and powdered spices

Blend spices together then combine with mushrooms, oil and about 1 cup of grated cheese. For a cheesier filling, add more cheese. Set additional cheese aside for later.

Step THREE: Prepare the Pastry

Pre-heat the oven to about 350 degrees (180 C). Grease a muffin tin well and line 6-8 cups with a thin pastry.

Fill each cup with the filling and top with additional cheese. Lightly beat an egg and brush along the edge of the pastry to seal the lid on. Cover with lids, using a fork to crimp the sides or simply press them together. Use a knife to cut two small slices crosswise in the center. Brush entire lid with the egg wash.

Step FOUR: Baking

Bake in a 350/180 oven for 15-20 minutes or until the crust is a golden brown. Remove from the oven and let cool until the pasties can be removed easily from the tin. Eat warm or cold.

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The Verdict

I am not in love with these pasties, but I do like the filling. It’s the pastry the throws me off a little, to be honest. During the Middle Ages it was quite common for savory dishes to also be sweet (see Flampoyntes), so these pasties will very likely have a different sort of flavor than you’re used to.

Next time I make this I’ll double the filling ingredients and try it as a full-sized pie. I might prefer my pastry/filling ratio to favor the mushrooms and cheese. Savory over sweet. The filling may also need to be a bit stronger so I may also up the ginger to a 1/2 teaspoon.

Overall, it’s a really fun little snack that would make a great addition to any rustic medieval-inspired meal.

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Sources

  • Chevallier, Jim. Old Regime Cheese: The Lost Cheeses of Medieval France. Les Leftovers. March 8, 2014. Accessed May 11, 2020.
  • Le Menagier de Paris. Translated by Janet Hinson. English HTML Version
  • PICHON Jérôme Frédéric. Le Ménagier De Paris, Traite De Morale De déconomie Domestique composé Vers 1393 Par Un Bourgeois Parisien; … Ensemble Lhistoire De Grisélidis , Mellibée Et Prudence Par Albertan De Brescia, 1246, Traduit Par frère Renault De Louens; Et Le Chemin De Povreté Et De Richesse, poëme composé En 1342 Par J. Bruyant … publié Pour La première Fois Par La Société, Etc. . (Notice Sur M.J. De Noailles, Prince-Duc De Poix, Etc. ). 1846. French HTML Version 

6 Comments Add yours

  1. This is a recipe I am definitely going to try as we have all the ingredients to hand and a daughter who just discovered how much she loves mushrooms…also, I imagine Guillaume D’Orange might have been familiar with this fare too…thanks Sarah!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sarah B says:

      If you do, please tell me what you think! I’d love to hear (read) your thoughts. I’ve recently moved so I don’t currently teach and I miss sharing these recipes with people!

      Like

  2. I wonder if the peeling, hot-water washing, and parboiling- which seems like excessive prep to me- was intended to help cut down on toxicity, just in case someone made a mistake foraging? In any case, this seems like a recipe worth trying- thanks for sharing.

    Like

    1. Sarah B says:

      I read somewhere that since most varieties of mushrooms were grown wild, they had a tougher skin. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I’m sure cleanliness and food safety played a big part. It could also have been cosmetic. We can only guess! I’m glad you enjoyed it.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Fascinating – thank you. They do look very tasty so I’m tempted to try making some too. New recipes are a good way to pass lockdown!

    Like

    1. Sarah B says:

      Thank you! I agree, it’s a great time to try something new.

      Like

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