Friday, April 08, 2011

Almond Milk Anyone?.

Yesterday’s recipe for ‘Brewet Of Almony’ reminded me that I have been intending to talk about almond milk for some time. It is difficult to imagine today how important almond milk was in medieval times in the kitchens of the extremely wealthy. It is also difficult to imagine what it must have been like for the lowliest kitchen workers of the time to be faced with a sack of expensive imported almonds and a mortar and pestle and to be told to get them all ground up and made into almond milk in time for the dinner shift to use!

Almond milk has been an ingredient in many of the recipes given in this blog over the years – in a fragrant fish dish, a risotto-like rice dish, and a dish of eggs for Lent, for example. It often seems to be suggested that almond milk came to the fore during Lent, but in fact, in the kitchens of the wealthy, it was prized above ‘cow mylke’ for many reasons – its fine flavour and fragrance of course, but also the labour-intensive production method itself presupposed sufficient wealth to be able to support a great kitchen, making it a desirable quality product by definition. After all, any lowly peasant could get access to rough farm animals such as cows.

But judge the method for yourself. How would you like to make many gallons of almond milk by this method, without a food processor?

Almond Milk.
Take blake sugre, an cold water, an do hem to in a fayre potte, an let hem boyle to-gedere, an salt it an skeme it clene, an let it kele; than tak almaundus, an blawnche hem clene, an stampe hem, an draw hem, with the sugre water thikke y-now, in-to a fayre vessel; an yf the mylke be noght swete y-now, take whyte sugre an caste ther-to.
Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery-Books; Thomas Austin.

Almond milk also had medicinal uses, as this early eighteenth century recipe-remedy shows:

Almond Milk
Take Barley-Water one Pound, sweet Almonds blanch’d; make an Emulsion (to which add Barley-Cinnamon-Water one Ounce, a little Sugar,) of which drink plentifully.
‘This is a cooling and diluting Drink, and serves to quench the Thirst of Persons in Fevers, as well as to nourish ‘em; and when there is Danger of the Fever’s turning up to the Head, it cools that Fervor, and keeps ‘em sensible.’
Pharmacopoeia Radciffeana: or, Dr Radcliffe’s prescriptions … (1716) by John Radcliffe

We must not forget the culinary use of almond milk of course. I am not entirely sure that I should include the following recipe as the almonds are ground in a bit of water before being added to the cream, but are not actually made into milk – but the grinding being the difficult part I am going to include it as I absolutely love the recipe.

My Lady of Exeter’s Almond Butter .
Take a good Handful of Almonds blanch’d in cold Water, and grind them very small in a stone Mortar; mingle them well with a Quart of sweet Cream, and strain them through a Cushion Canvas Strainer; afterwards take the Yolks of nine or ten Eggs, the Knots and Strings being taken away clear, and well beaten; mix them very well with the Cream and set it in a silver Skillet on a quick Fire, stirring it continually till it begins to curdle; then take it off the Fire, put it into your Strainer, and hang it up that your Whey may pass from it; that done break the Curd very well in your Dish with a Spoon, and season it with Rose water and Sugar to your Taste.
The Housekeeper’s Pocket-book: and compleat family cook (1739), by Sarah Harrison.

Quotation for the Day.

Blossom of the almond trees,
April's gift to April's bees.

Sir Edwin Arnold, Almond Blossoms


Peter Hertzmann said...

Don't forget that about half the days of the calendar during the middle ages were "lean" days where cow's milk could not be used. Almond milk was the stand-in. Additionally, almond milk didn't go bad as fast of cow's milk in the days before refrigeration.

The Old Foodie said...

True, Peter, it wasnt just Lent which was 'lean'. Good point about the keeping power of almond milk too. Will you be going to the Oxford Symposium this year? I am.