17 Mar Tansye
Then Serve It Forth…
By Lady Rosemary Willowwood de Ste. Anne
Today’s recipe is a lesson that not every recipe is in a cookbook because it tastes good. This will also get into aspects of medicine, culture and religion, as well as cooking. “Spring is sprung,” and Lent is just around the corner. The housewife has to solve several problems: How to give your family a “spring tonic”, how to satisfy the priest that you are properly penitent for Lent, and how to get rid of all those eggs for the season of fasts. She solved several of these problems with a spring dish called a Tansy.”
from Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery Books,, Harleian Ms. 279
Dated about 1430 to 1440
Take fayre Tansye, & grynd in a morter; thanne take Eyroun, the yolkys & the whyts, & strayne hem thorw a straynoure; & strayne also the Ius of the Tansye, & mell to-gederes; & take fayre Freysche grece, & put ther-on ouer the fyre, tylle it melte; than caste the stuf ther-on. & gadere to-gedere with a Sawcer or a dysshe, as thou woit it, lasse other more, & turne it in the panne; & than serue it forth.
TRANSLATION: Take good fresh tansy, and grind it in a mortar. Then take eggs, the yolks and whites, and strain them through a strainer. And also strain the juice of the tansy and mix together [with the eggs]. And take fair fresh grease, and put thereon over the fire until it is melted, then pour the stuff thereon. And gather together with a saucer or a dish, as you want it, less or more [done], and turn it in the pan, and then serve it forth.
REALIZATION: For an omelet of four eggs, crush no more than a tablespoon of chopped tansy leaves (Tanacetum vulgare, no other type!) in a mortar with about a tablespoon of water until it is a fairly soupy paste. (Blender is a real help here, if you have a container small enough.) Thoroughly beat four eggs (you are making an omelet here), and strain the juice from the crushed tansy through a fine sieve or paper towel into the beaten eggs. Mix well, pour into a skillet greased with butter or bacon grease over medium heat. Make an omelet, or scrambled eggs, for a less formal presentation, and serve. Salt and pepper are optional.
I will not mislead you by saying that this dish is naturally tasty. It can be an acquired taste in small amounts, but that was not the purpose here. Tansy, medicinally, is a vermifuge and bitter tonic, designed to “perk up” the digestive system after a long winter of dried pulses and not many greens. The bitter juices are a reminder of Christ’s suffering during the passion, and it uses up eggs which will be forbidden during the forty days of Lent, unless you get a special dispensation for being old or sick. Get rid of your roundworms, your extra eggs, and your religious obligations in one fell swoop! If this is too much of a trial, you can always make extra pancakes on Shrove Tuesday.
You might test your liking for this bitter dish by beating up an egg or two with several generous dashes of Angostura bitters, and scrambling it. If you like this one, try the tansy with a SMALL amount of herb, gradually increasing until you find your tolerance. It is, at best, an odd taste.
Tansy: Tanacetum vulgare, also known as Chrysanthemum vulgare L. Bernh.). Buy your herb from a reputable dealer which uses scientific labels with the popular names. I don’t trust that the decorative version of any herb is necessarily the same as the one we have been eating for thousands of years. Most garden shops think you will be planting this along your sidewalk, not putting it in your breakfast. And don’t let any farmer convince you that “tansy ragwort” is the stuff you want. It’s not!
Saucer: This term as used does not mean what goes under your tea cup, but the spoon used to “sauce” or “baste” your roast. Many of the other medieval recipes for omelet-like dishes describe using a spoon or spatula; watch a cook in a restaurant make scrambled eggs on the grill to see the technique.
Straynoure: Sieve. This step is elegant, but not required, if you beat your eggs to an even color. The idea is to get an even mixture, not patchy yellow and white. Lightly beaten eggs will not strain smoothly through a sieve.