Tuesday, January 24, 2012


Galangal belongs to the ginger family, and is sometimes confused with it although the flavour is quite different. There are several plants called galangal, which is a nuisance, I think, but something over which I have no control, so I refuse to fuss about it. ‘Real’ galangal – the most common culinary form that is - is the root of  Alpinia galangal.  Because of its familiarity, popularity, and superiority, it is known as greater galangal. Alpinia officinarum is known as lesser galangal, and there is a third type called Kaempferia galangal about which I know nothing except that it does not appear to be called least galangal.

The root was well known for both its flavour and medicinal uses in the time of Chaucer (see the quote of the day), but it had virtually disappeared from the culinary scene in Britain a couple of hundred years later, as far as I can tell from some pretty hurried research. Odd, that at a time when travel and trade were exotic and hazardous occupations galangal was well known, but after these pursuits became every-day and large-scale activities it was essentially lost to the British culinary armamentarium, isn’t it?

I give you a recipe from a late fifteenth century manuscript (Harleain MS. 5401), in which galangal is used to flavour fritters.

[Take] cromys of whyte brede, & swete apyls, & ȝokkis of eggis, & bray þam wele, & temper it with wyne, & make it to sethe; & when it is thyk, do þer-to gode spyces, gynger & galingay & canyll & clows, & serve it forthe.

Which means, more or less:

Take crumbs of white bread, and sweet apples, and yolkd of eggs, and beat them well, and mix with wine, and simmer it, and when it is thick, add good spices, ginger and galingal and cinnamon and cloves, and serve it forth.

The recipe appears to omit the frying of the batter. Cookery books at this time, and for centuries later, were aides-memoire for cooks, who would have understood what needed to be done with the batter. A number of you were frustrated with the absence of method instructions for the Spice Pie recipe from 1915 yesterday. In 1915, ‘everyone’ would have known how to make pastry and form a pie shell, so it was not thought necessary to include instructions for this – it was understood that the recipe was simply for the filling.

Quotation for the Day.
A Cook they hadde with hem for the nones
To boille the chiknes with the Marybones
And poudre-marchaunt tart and Galyngale.
Wel koude he knowe a draughte of londoun ale.
He koude rooste, and sethe, and broille, and frye,
Maken mortreux, and wel bake a pye.
But greet harm was it, as it thoughte me,
That on his shyne a mormal hadde he.
For blankmanger, that made he with the beste.

Chaucer, Canterbury Tales: Prologue (late 14thC)


Karen said...

Help! You have disappeared off of Facebook
No posts showing since November
What happened???

Karen said...

What happened to your Facebook posts? Nothing since November

The InTolerant Chef said...

I have some fresh galangal in my crisper as we speak! It smells so lovely with a lingering camphor scent, Yumm.

Anonymous said...

Did you know that that quotation contains a gross-out joke? The last three lines, in paraphrase:

. . . But it was a shame that he had
A weepy sort of chronic thing growing on his knee.
Now, he was really good at making blancmange . . .

As our British Lit teacher explained, the joke was that a "mormal" tended to itch. Ewwwwwwww!

Jenny Islander, not eating a late night snack, thank you