The daily alimentation in the Middle Ages is characterized by the succession of fat days and lean days, namely, the days of religious fast. Fast, for medieval people, may mean many things: usually, the abstention from meat, cheese, eggs (substituted with fish, legumes, and vegetables), wine (in some European countries, such as Ireland, France, and Germany, substituted with ale). But what about the alimentation in a monastery, place in which fast and moderation are considered their specific way of life?
We find many information reading the rules of the religious orders. The most ancient religious orders are usually more strict about the use of meat. For example, Saint Anton (4th century) forbids both meat and wine, whereas Saint Basil (around the same period) allows the meat in case of sickness. His recommendation, clearly ignored by the author of the recipe we are presenting today, is to use exclusively cheap and common food avoiding good condiments to make the dishes too refined. In general, the advice of eating meat in case of sickness is the most common in the monastic rules, for example in Saint Benedict’s (6th century). Other religious orders permit consuming meat, for completely different reasons: the Templars allow it three times per week, whereas Saint Francis (13th century) remembers the evangelic precept of eating anything offered to the monk.
The various religious orders usually prescribe one fixed fast day, Friday, with longer periods during the year, included Lent.
The recipe we prepare today is intended for the so-called fat days, instead of meat. The presence of spices would be probably frowned upon by Saint Basil, but not by the author of this recipe, Johannes Bockenheim, a cook and ecclesiastic who worked at the court of Pope Martin V in the 15th century.
Below, you will find the original Latin source with our translation, the video of the recipe with subtitles in English and Italian, and a note about the ingredients.
spices (black pepper, cloves, nutmeg, saffron)
fresh herbs (mint, savory, marjoram, parsley)
Hard-boil the eggs keeping one raw aside. Cut them into half removing the yolks. Grind in the mortar black pepper, cloves, and nutmeg, then mince finely the herbs keeping a part of parsley aside. Mix well the yolks, herbs, and spices, then stuff the eggs without overfilling them.
Soak the saffron in warm water. Beat one raw egg and mix with verjuice, white vine, and parsley adding the saffron with its water.
Warm in a pot a bit of water and olive oil, simmering the eggs at low heat. Pour the liquid mixture over the eggs and mix for about 20-30 seconds.
Serve the soup still hot.
Note about the ingredients
The author recommends using fresh herbs in addition to marjoram and parsley. You can choose the ones you have at disposal, fresh or dried, for example oregano, cilantro, sage, or thyme.
The only mandatory spice is saffron, one of the most common in the Middle Ages and the most present in this cookbook in particular. Black pepper, cloves, and nutmeg were widely used in the Middle Ages. Choose them or others, such as ginger, cinnamon, grains of paradise, macis, or others.
Verjuice, called agresto in the Italian sources, is a wine prepared with unripe grapes, used since the Antiquity as an acidifier. The most common substitute, suggested even by Greek authors, is vinegar, but medieval and Renaissance cooks use frequently lemon or gooseberries instead.
Ad preparandum diversa ova pro religiosis. Recipe ova, et fac ea bulire dura, et scortica illa, et divide permedium, et pista illa inferiora cum petrosillo, maiorana et aliis herbis et spetiebus bonis, et imple superiora cum temperatura ista. Post hoc recipe butirum, vel oleum et calida, et mitte illa ova intus, post hoc recipe ova cruda cum agresto mixta, et vino, et petrosillo, et croco, et mitte superius, et fac omnia illa insimul bulire pro monachis et religiosis.
To prepare different eggs for religious. Take eggs and hard-boil them, peel, and cut into half. Pound the yolk with parsley, marjoram, and other herbs and good spices, and stuff the white with this mixture. After that, place the eggs in butter or oil and hot water, then take raw eggs mixed with verjuice and wine and parsley and saffron. Pour it over the eggs and make them boil together for monks and religious.
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