Medieval Chestnuts and Mushrooms


These autumn days, in the woods around our home there are plenty of chestnuts and mushrooms, so we selected a recipe from Anonimo Toscano‘s manuscript, written in the 14th century, that features both these ingredients. The original recipe calls for dry mushrooms, but we had just harvested some good boleti, so we followed the typical medieval directions for fresh mushrooms, also recommended by this author in the previous two recipes: we simmered the mushrooms, then we cut and added them to the other ingredients.
The author does not specify which kind of spices to use: we chose some of the ones he prefers, but you may also use ginger, grains of paradise, cinnamon, or others.
About the chestnuts, the author writes nothing about how to cook them, but from the medieval sources (from Anthimus’ De Observatione Ciborum to Ugo Benzi and Michele Savonarola’s dietetic books) we know that they were roasted on the fire or under the ash or boiled. We roasted them under the ash just the sufficient time to peel them, because in the recipe, they are cooked again with the other ingredients.
Despite being considered a food for strong people, especially for the ones living in the mountains, chestnuts were popular in the Middle Ages and we find them in many recipes for pies and tortelli, fritters, and soups. This recipe is clearly a side dish for the lean or fat days. We chose the lean version, but the fat one requires the use of lardo, which is pork fatback, fresh or cured, instead of olive oil, with the suggestion to add mustard made with cooked grape must and pork if you like it.
The recipe for this mustard is presented in the cookbook just below this recipe, scattered in two different recipes for composta. Reading the text, we infer that this kind of mustard is made in this way: “mince horseradish finely, adding anise and fennel seeds to cook in the must. Boil it until the must reduces to half, and dilute the mustard in this must” (togli rafano tritato minuto, anisi, seme di finocchi, e poni a cuocere nel mosto; e cocansi tanto che ‘l mosto torni a mezzo: e con questo mosto distempera la mostarda).
The preparation of the mustard is described above: good mustard made with strong vinegar, fennel and anise seeds” (mostarda bona, fatta con forte aceto, semi di finocchi, anisi).
As it frequently happens in the medieval recipes for mustard, mustard seeds are not mentioned, and it is unclear whether they are given for granted or simply missing. In any case, the Italian word mostarda is different from English mustard, called in Italian senape: mostarda seems to refer more to grape must, which is indeed an ingredient, than to senape.

It is available our new book, with the translation, a commentary, and glossary of a beautiful 6th-century source, De Observatione Ciborum, written by the physician Anthimus to the king of the Franks Theuderic. This book contains some of the earliest medieval recipes, in addition to information about the diet of the Franks and the differences between their food habits and the alimentation of the Mediterranean populations, showing the passage between ancient and late-medieval cooking.
If you want more late-medieval recipes, check out instead Registrum Coquine. A medieval cookbook. For more information about ancient food, we recommend reading Ancient Roman Cooking. Ingredients, Recipes, Sources.
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300 gr fresh mushrooms
400 gr fresh chestnuts
spices (nutmeg, cloves, black pepper)
olive oil

Clean and simmer the mushrooms for about half an hour, depending on the size. Roast the chestnuts on fire or under the ash the sufficient time to peel them.
Cut the mushrooms and mince half an onion finely. Grind the spices in the mortar and peel the chestnuts.
Warm the olive oil and stir-fry the onion, adding the mushrooms and cooking them for a couple of minutes. Add a bit of water, vinegar, and a pinch of salt. When the liquid resumes boiling, add the chestnuts and spices, simmering them until the mushrooms and chestnuts are cooked through. Serve still hot.

Original text
Togli fungi secchi, e tenuti a mollo dal vespero a la mattina; e gittata via l’acqua, tagliali minuti col coltello, e un poco di porro bianco, o cipolla, e poni a friggere con oglio, o lardo e
spezie e castagne e aceto, e un poco d’acqua e sale. E poi ci poni mostarda con mosto cotto, e carne di porco, se ti piacerà.

Take dry mushrooms steeped in water from dusk to morning. Discard the water and mince them finely with the knife, with a bit of the white part of the leek or onion. Fry with oil or lardo, spices, chestnuts, vinegar, a bit of water, and salt. And then, if you like it, add mustard made with cooked must and pork.

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De Observatione Ciborum by Anthimus. Early-medieval recipes at the court of the Franks.
Registrum Coquine by Johannes Bockenheim. A medieval cookbook
Ancient Roman Cooking. Ingredients, Sources, Recipes

Translations of Historical Sources
De Re Coquinaria by Apicius – books 1-4
De Observatione Ciborum by Anthimus (6th century)
Appendicula de Condituris Variis by Johannes Damascenus (8th-9th century)
De Flore Dietarum (11th century)
Tractatus de Modo Preparandi et Condiendi Omnia Cibaria – first part (13th-14th century)
Opusculum de Saporibus by Mainus de Maineris (14th century)
Anonimo Veneziano (14th century)
Registrum Coquine by Johannes von Bockenheim (15th century)

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