Monday, February 13, 2006

Flowery, fishy, and fried.

Today, February 13 …

According to the mediaeval saintly calendar of flowers, the plant of the day is Primula polyantha, dedicated to St Catherine de Ricci whose feast day is today. My sources tell me that Primula polyantha is not a single species but a group of cultivars of great variety which includes the primrose and cowslip. The confusion does not signify, for the genus Primula is, for the most, particularly edible.

The culinary use of flowers is very old, and was far more extensive a few hundred years ago than it is today. They were used in everything: in “sallets” of course, and pottages (primrose pottage was favourite Easter dish in the fifteenth century), as candied sweetmeats, and in brewing (cowslip wine has a long and enduring fame in the north of England).

I have decided to give you some outrageous old ideas for the next time you have a fish fry-up. First, a 15thC almond and rose-petal sauce for loche (loach, “a small European fish highly prized for food”):

Take Almaunde Mylke and flowre of Rys, & Sugre, an Safroun, an boyle hem y-fere; than take Red Rosys, and grynd fayre in a morter with Almaunde mylke; than take Loches, an toyle hem with Flowre, an frye hem, & ley him in dysshys; than take gode pouder, and do in the Sewe, & caste the Sewe a-bouyn the lochys, & serve forth.

Secondly, you can use today’s primroses and cowslips in this recipe for your next catch of minnows, from Isaak Walton’s Compleat Angler” published in 1653. A “tansy” was a sort of eggy quiche-like pudding which took its name from the herb from which it was originally made (which is poisonous in quantity!).

... in the spring they make of them excellent minnow-tansies; for being well washed in salt, and their heads and tails cut off, and their guts taken out, and not washed after, they prove excellent for that use; that is, being fried with yolks of eggs, the flowers of cowslips, and of primroses, and a little tansy; thus used they make a dainty dish of meat.

In Olden Times of course there was no distinction between culinary and medicinal use of food, so you can be assured that your primrose dishes may help your “phrensie”, and your cowslip dishes your “hectical fevers”. Tomorrow, a rose dish will be useful to prevent faintings, swoonings, and trembling of the heart.

Tomorrow: Saints, sex, and soup.

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