Tag Archives: Mediaeval

What’s in a Name?

Hello all! So, sorry for my six month post dearth, but I’ve only gone and opened a little restaurant. It all happened quite suddenly and we’ve all been flying by the seat of our pants since it opened in January. It’s in a converted Post Office just off the highstreet in Levenshulme, Manchester.

Welcome to The Buty

Here’s the preview article, written just before we opened by lovelevenshulme.org

…and here’s another from the Manchester Evening News written just after we opened.

Anyone who has been following my adventures over the last few years will know that I started up a little business almost four years ago, attempting to bring back the best of British food, really off the back of this blog, and my other project Neil Cooks Grigson.

My prompt for writing this post is the name of the place: The Buttery. I’ve opened it with another local, Mr Brian Shields. Very nicely, he was happy for us to carry on the name; a name that carries a lot of interest for me as it is my surname, but it also describes what we’re trying to achieve.

People assume the name Buttery has something to do with butter-making , but it has nothing to do with it, but it is food-related. A buttery was a room in a castle or abbot where wine and other drinks were stored and sometimes served.

king_william_i_the_conqueror_from_npg1

William the Conqueror/Bastard was close chums with the first Butterys

The first Butterys to land on British soil can be traced right back to the voyage over the English Channel from Normandy to Hastings with William the Conqueror in 1066, so it’s not a bad lineage, historically speaking. In old Norman, the name was Buteri, which then became Boterie. The word coming originally from the Latin bota meaning cask, so essentially the buttery was where butts, i.e. barrels, were kept, eventually becoming a general dry store of all foods.

buttery

A small buttery with barrels, jar and drying herbs

The name Buttery is quite rare because surnames often come from an occupation – Tailor, Cooper, Shoesmith and Cook for example – less common is to be named after a room. So who looked after the buttery? The butler, of course!

All of the Butterys in Britain are likely to be descendants of the original man or family in charge of King William’s boteri, and it would have been an occupation of high-regard back in the Middle Ages where a secure and dependable dry stock of food, wine and ale was the difference between starvation and survival over harsh winters. William needed to bring with him a very good boteri-keeper if he was to survive cold and damp Britain. Indeed, an early branch of the Buttery family was given a family seat by William for their ‘distinguished assistance’ during that famous 1066 battle.

medieval_dinner

During the Dark and Middle Ages, life was more communal affair, with everyone in the group – high or low – eating  together in their Great Hall, and so it was that every castle and abbot had its butter to be found at the low end of the Great Hall, giving out wine, ale and candles. Butteries quickly cast their nets wider and produced food to eat as well as storing it. Berkeley Castle’s fourteenth century buttery was well-equipped with bread ovens, lead sinks, large pestles and mortars and chopping blocks. It really was the centre of the castle, as it contained the water well. Long before the castle was built, the well would have been the focal point for a village settlement, growing in population and complexity around it as one runs through the centuries.

By the time we reach Tudor times, those that once sat at the high table, now ate in separate dining rooms away from servants. This meant the adjacent rooms, including the buttery, pantry (looked after by the panter) and the kitchen had to move downstairs to make way for these smaller and more informal eating areas. The distinction between buttery, pantry and kitchen blurred and they began to disappear.

But butteries lived on in other ways; the butler became the servant held in the highest regard, overseeing the inner workings of whole houses and stately homes. Butteries found in the old college buildings of Oxford, Cambridge and Dublin, became places where scholars could get a drink or two and enjoy some light meals and snacks; so called ‘buttery bars’. It’s nice that Levenshulme in South Manchester has its very own buttery, doing just that!

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The Hors d’Oeuvres: Mediaeval Pork Tartlettes

The first course of my Dinner Party Through Time was a little amuse bouche from a mediaeval recipe dating around 1400. On the throne was Henry IV, Geoffrey Chaucer was a contemporary; indeed, he was present at his coronation.

The recipe calls these little mouthfuls tartlettes, but they are actually more like a stuffed ravioli or even dim sum. Left-over pork is ground up with spices and other flavourings, wrapped up in a paste and simmered in salted water.

Unfortunately there’s no photographic evidence of this dish so you’ll have to make do with a picture of Henry IV and imagine him eating one.

MOU202462 Portrait of King Henry IV of England (1367-1413) (oil on canvas) by English School, (17th century) oil on canvas 50.5x43 Private Collection © Philip Mould, Historical Portraits Ltd, London, UK English, out of copyright

Here’s the recipe:

Take pork ysode and grynde it small with saffron, medle it with ayren and raisons of coraunce, and powder fort, and salt; and make a /bile of dowhg and close the fars thereinne. Cast the tartlettes in a pan with faire water boillyng and salt.

Although it is relatively simple to cook, this was very much a rich man’s dish with saffron and currants as well as powder fort. This was a commonly used spice mix made up of ground ginger, cumin and long pepper. Long pepper is very difficult to source these days, so for my version of the recipe I used regular black pepper.

I could have covered my meat mixture, or ‘farce’, in thinly rolled fresh pasta, but instead went for the less fiddly option of using filo pastry. I wasn’t convinced that the tarlettes would taste good boiled as in the recipe, so for the dinner party, I simmered half of them and baked the remainder. It turned out that everyone preferred the simmered tartlettes. How little faith I had!

 

This recipe makes around a dozen tartlettes

350g of lean, cooked pork

good pinch of salt

heaped teaspoon of powder fort spice mix

30g currants

1 tbs single cream

1 egg, separated

4 sheets of filo pastry

salted water

 

Powder fort spice mix:

3 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground black peppercorns

1 tsp ground ginger

 

To begin, mince the cooked pork and thoroughly mix in the salt, powder fort, currants, cream and the egg yolk.

Unfold three or four sheets of filo pastry. It can be a tricky number to keep it from drying out, but you should be able to avoid any major disasters by keeping the pastry sheets covered with a damp tea towel.

Cut a strip of filo three centimetres thick and roll a generous teaspoon of the mixture in the filo strip. You are aiming to cover the filling with two or three layers of pastry so there may be enough in one strip for more than one tartlette. Seal the pastry with a light brush of egg white. Continue until you have used up all of the mixture.

Cook the tartlettes by dropping them into simmering salted water for three or four minutes, remove with a slotted spoon and drain them carefully on some kitchen paper. Eat them immediately.

If you don’t want to boil your tartlettes, they can be brushed with more egg white and baked in the oven at 200⁰C for 8 minutes or so.

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