Medieval Pancakes with Flowers and Herbs – Crispelli – Frittelle Ubaldine


Fritters and pancakes were common dishes in the Middle Ages, both sweet and savory. Today, we prepare a plate called frittelle Ubaldine or crispelli, selected from a 14th-century manuscript conventionally called Anonimo Toscano. These crispelli are flavorful pancakes made with a mixture of aromatic herbs and flowers according to a habit characteristic of medieval and Renaissance cuisine. The only flowers and herbs the author recommends for this recipe are elderflowers and lesser calamint, but he suggests adding others. You can use any kind of edible flower and herb of the Old World, depending on which you have at disposal: leaves or flowers of fennel, oregano, mint, savory, thyme, marjoram, sage as well as leaves of dill and cilantro are all good choices. The author suggests using olive oil or cured pork fatback to stir-fry the onions and herbs, and the latter to cook the pancakes. Cured pork fatback was one of the most common cooking fats in the Middle Ages, used during the fat days, whereas olive oil substituted it during the lean days. If you prefer, choose just one of the two, according to your taste. If you use cured pork fatback to stir-fry the onions and herbs, do not add salt. Below, you will find the original text with our translation, a note about the method, and the video of the recipe with subtitles in English and Italian. Enjoy!

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Ingredients 150 gr white wheat flour sourdough 2 egg whites 1 onion aromatic herbs (lesser calamint, parsley, mint) flowers (elderflowers, borage flowers) cured pork fatback olive oil salt

Method Dilute a bit of sourdough in water and add the flour, mixing with the egg whites. Pour water enough to obtain a quite liquid batter, then let it rest for a few hours. Mince the herbs and onion, then add two pinches of salt and stir-fry them for a while with olive oil. Once they are cooled down, add them with the flowers to the batter, stirring gently. Let the mixture rest for half an hour, then mince the cured pork fatback. Make it melt in a pan and pour a ladle of batter at a time, frying it two minutes on one side and one minute on the other side. Serve the crispelli still hot.

Pancakes - Preview

Note about the method There are three recipes of crispelli in this cookbook. The one we are preparing today is the third, which means that some steps are described in the previous recipes and omitted in this. In any case, the method to prepare all the kinds of crispelli is clearly the same, so we followed the directions described in the others to complete the missing information, for example that they have to leaven a little (“Togli farina netta, bianca, e distempera con ova e fermenta uno poco”: take clean flour, white, mix with eggs, and make it ferment for a while; “piglia farina bianca con un poco di levame: distempera con acqua calda, e fa’ levare, cioè fermentare”: take white flour and a bit of yeast, dilute with hot water, and make it ferment.) In the other recipes, the ingredients are added after having leavened the batter, whereas in this version it looks like all of them are mixed together. Remembering that not always the medieval recipes follow the chronological (and logical) order of the actions, we decided to proceed as described in the other two recipes. This is not the only cookbook that presents a recipe of crispelli, clearly a common dish in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. We added water to the batter as suggested by other sources to obtain a quite liquid mixture, but this step is not described by our author. Though yeast is frequently mentioned in the medical handbooks and culinary manuscripts, there are no descriptions about how to make it in the Italian medieval sources. Clearly, it is a preparation so well-known that it does not need further explanation. From the Antidotarium by Pseudo Mesue (13th century), we know that the leavener considered the best was the one obtained from the flour itself, which means sourdough. In the Antiquity, there were two kinds of yeast commonly used: sourdough and dry yeast made with grape must, described by Pliny and Palladius, both authors whose works were widely known during the Middle Ages. Celtic populations, Pliny writes, used also ale yeast. We made in the past months both an ancient sourdough and a dry yeast from Naturalis Historia‘s methods. In any case, at Pliny’s time, the most common way to obtain yeast was keeping aside a piece of dough from the previous-day bread and using it as a starter, a technique probably still used in the Middle Ages and following centuries.

Pancakes - Thumbnail

Original text Simile puoi fare con cipolle trite, con nepitella et erbe; e friggile con oglio o lardo: poi prendi farina, e distempera insieme tutte cose con albume d’ova, e mettivi fiori di sambuco et altri fiori, come tu vuoli; e diversifica i colori come ti piace, e mettili in lardo bolliente con la mescola spartitamente.

Translation You can make the same [the author refers to the previous recipes] with minced onions, lesser calamint, and herbs. Fry them with oil or cured pork fatback. Then, take flour and mix all these things with egg whites, and add elderflowers and other flowers to your taste. Color the fritters in the ways you want and fry them in cured pork fatback one ladle at a time.

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