Then Serve It Forth…

By Lady Rosemary Willowwood de Ste. Anne

December winds up another year of this column, and will give you the last recipe in our tour of the wider culinary world. I am going to wrap up this experience with a recipe realized by someone else, just to highlight a remarkable book about a culture which does not usually break the English Language barrier. The recipe is a direct quotation in entirety from Food and Drink in Medieval Poland [1] which explores a culture very closely related to the mainstream European one, but which was, for many years, concealed behind the Iron Curtain. 

The introduction tells an interesting story of the difficulties encountered by William Woys Weaver in getting the original Polish-language book by the late Maria Dembińska out of Poland past unreliable Polish mail and overzealous secret police. The book is much about medieval Polish society and the foods , facilities and customs that influenced Polish culture, as well as how European culture influenced Poland. The realizations in the book are all by Mr. Weaver, and are delightful! However, unlike my usual format, there are no original language recipes in his realizations.

“Duszony Por z Pasternak i Gier” (Stew of Parsnips, Leeks and Alexanders)
from Food and Drink in Medieval Poland
by Maria Dembińska, revised and adapted by William Woys Weaver,
Magdalena Thomas, trans.

This fasting dish, designed to take timely advantage of garden produce available during the early spring, would be a typical one-pot meal for a noble family living on a large rural manner in Little Poland. Cheese dumplings (recipe omitted here) may have been served with this as a substitute for meat. This menu would also have included a pot of mush made with millet kasha, perhaps boiled in milk rather than water.

Alexanders, one of the ingredients in this dish, looks much like angelica, but the taste of the leaves resembles cubeb [Ed. Note: see glossary], a popular spice in the Middle Ages. Since alexanders is slightly bitter, it was often played against the sweetness of honey or sued to counter the strong taste of "black" recipes -–that is, recipes containing blood. In this stew, which is both sweet and aromatic, the alexanders provides a somewhat Oriental accent consistent with the old Polish fascination for things Asian. 

Serves 4 to 6

INGREDIENTS 
4 pounds leek greens (use the leafy part that is normally discarded

3 pounds small parsnips, trimmed, pared, and sliced on a slant to resemble thick potato chips
2 cups sliced leek, white part only
2 cups white cabbage, shredded as for sauerkraut
1 cup coarsely chopped onion
4 cloves Rocambole garlic, sliced in half lengthwise [Ed. Note: see glossary]
6 tablespoons honey 
1/8 teaspoon ground saffron
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon 
½ tsp ground cumin1 tablespoon salt 
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1 cup coarsely chopped alexanders (leaves and small stems only) REALIZATION: Boil the leek greens in 1 gallon of water until soft and until the stock is reduced by one-fourth (about 1 hour). Strain and reserve the liquid, discarding the leek greens. Put the stock in a stewing pot with the parsnips, sliced leeks, cabbage, onion and garlic. Cover and stew 45 minutes, or until the parsnips are tender, then add the honey, saffron, cinnamon, salt, and vinegar. Stew 15 minutes, then add the alexanders. Let the alexanders cook for about 5 minutes, then serve immediately over pieces of stale manchet bread or cheese dumplings. 

GLOSSARY:

Alexanders: Commonly called “black lovage”, scientifically Smyrnium Olisatrum (LINN.). Herb which looks a lot like angelica, but tastes very different. Very difficult to substitute well for; try a mix of strong celery leaves and pepper.

Cubebs: The dried unripe berry of a tropical shrub (Piper cubeba) of the pepper family that is crushed and used as seasoning. Taste is a piney, peppery taste, rather like chewing on pepper while sniffing a Christmas tree.

Manchet bread: Commonest bread of the Middle Ages, used to make trenchers for serving, and by the lower classes for virtually everything. To substitute, use 50% fine-ground mixed-grain or whole wheat flour in any bread recipe.

Rocambole garlic: A hard-neck variety of garlic (Allium sativum var. ophioscorodon) which grows a single row of cloves around a hard stalk. Cannot be braided for storage, but can range from mild to VERY sharp and burning. Substitute a large clove of any supermarket garlic.

[1] Dembińska, Maria, Revised and adapted by William Woys Weaver, Magdalena Thomas, trans.,University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 1999, ISBN 780812-232240. Recipe is on page 151.