Experiment 7 – Mishmishiya

Mishmishiya, from the Arabic for Apricot (Mishmish),  is a slow cooked meat, almond and apricot dish first recorded by al-Baghdadi in 1226. The recipe itself does not specify which meat should be used, I tried it with lamb and again with beef but mutton and kid seem just as likely options …they are just a little harder to find in and around Swansea on a limited budget.  Lamb and apricot works really well and was the clear favourite of the two.

The recipe calls for Mastic, a sort of Mediterranean chewing gum that I managed to find in a shop in Swansea called the Masala Bazaar on St. Helen’s Road…probably not essential though the almonds thicken the stock enough truth be told.

This recipe serves about six people.


Meat 1kg.

1 Onion

1/2 teaspoon coriander

1/4 teaspoon of pulverised mastic

1/2 teaspoon of cumin

1 teaspoon of cinnamon

A few crushed peppercorns

1 teaspoon of minced ginger

500 g Apricots

60g Almonds

A few stamens of saffron

A few drops of rose water.


The Recipe.  (Translation of Original found in Claudia Roden’s A Middle Eastern Feast, Penguin, 2011)

Cut meat small, add to saucepan with salt and cover with water. Boil and remove scum. Chop an onion and add to the meat. Add the coriander  cumin, mastic, cinnamon, pepper and ginger. Boil apricots in separate pan and then sieve  Take the juice and add to the meat. Chop almonds finely and add to the meat pot. Add some saffron for colour, a little rose water and leave to settle over the fire.

Alternatively, use spices and seasoning as a dry rub, brown off meat in pan.  This is not in the original recipe,  but the maillard reaction improves the taste of meat, right? Add all the other ingredients to a tagine and leave on low heat (150 C) for about 3 hours.


The Result?

I will find it difficult to proselytize without swearing. I love lamb, and while I am used to seeing it with mint sauce apricots work just as well… if not better. As with any slow cooked dish the meat just melts in your mouth. I really loved this…more than I can say for some of the other things I have made for this blog… medieval ginger bread for example.

Give it a try, I promise you will love it. (Unless you are a veggie…in which case, you probably won’t!)

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Experiment 6 – Christmas Brisket

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

I took some time off posting (though not cooking) for the Christmas and Hogmanay so, apologies for the absence. Now, I have never really been a fan of poultry. Chicken, duck or goose …for some reason they just don’t appeal. It may have been years of terribly turkeys at Christmas or that pink (a skilled vet could have brought it back to life) chicken at a conference a few years back…but, whatever the cause I was determined to do something different at Christmas this year.

I had intended on doing a Wellington because as every contestant and viewer of this seasons Great British Bake Off knows…Making a Wellingtons is easy! What can go wrong?

However rare beef is off the menu for a while and I refuse to eat a good (read: costly) bit of meat anything less than medium rare. Waste of money really, I would have been as well buying the cheapest cut out since it’s going to taste like Chaplin’s shoe anyway.

So, I did in fact buy the cheapest cut of meat I could find (beef brisket) and taking my leaf from the aforementioned movie The Gold Rush…I decided to look for braising recipes (or ‘pot roast’).   I personally have never heard this term except in US TV and cinema…is it just an Americanism?

I discovered just such a recipe in my copy of Mrs Beeton for a ‘braised beef a la flamande’ and was quite chuffed I could have a frugal (all Scots are cheap, right?) and historical Christmas. I am not sure anyone else was as excited about this prospect as I was.

The ‘a la flamande’ section of the recipe name, as far as I can tell, refers to the tradition in Belgium for stewing beef in beer. Since this recipe calls for no beer I don’t know in what sense it is ‘a la flamande’.  Still, here is the recipe as you will find it in your copy of Mrs Beeton.

The Recipe 

BRISKET OF BEEF, a la Flamande.

649. INGREDIENTS.—About 6 or 8 lbs. of the brisket of beef, 4 or 5 slices of bacon, 2 carrots, 1 onion, a bunch of savoury herbs, salt and pepper to taste, 4 cloves, 4 whole allspice, 2 blades of mace. Mode.—Choose that portion of the brisket which contains the gristle, trim it, and put it into a stewpan with the slices of bacon, which should be put under and over the meat. Add the vegetables, herbs, spices, and seasoning, and cover with a little weak stock or water; close the stewpan as hermetically as possible, and simmer very gently for 4 hours. Strain the liquor, reserve a portion of it for sauce, and the remainder boil quickly over a sharp fire until reduced to a glaze, with which glaze the meat. Garnish the dish with scooped carrots and turnips, and when liked, a little cabbage; all of which must be cooked separately. Thicken and flavour the liquor that was saved for sauce, pour it round the meat, and serve. The beef may also be garnished with glazed onions, artichoke-bottoms, &c. Time.—4 hours. Average cost, 7d. per lb.


Well, tasty. No surprises there.  I am a huge fan of slow cooking…so much so I got a tagine for Christmas. 🙂    The end result was meat which just fell apart. I needed a spoon to eat it!  The stock made for a great gravy, especially since I deviated from Mrs Beeton’s recipe slightly by browning the meat first. And nothing beats a home made gravy.

In keeping with Christmas tradition I made a curry from the leftovers. It was meant to be a soup actually but the little beef strands actually broke my blender…  tangling up and sticking the blades. I was not amused. Perhaps the meat was a little TOO tender.

Going to try it again but with the beer this time instead of stock…but after January …because I am taking part in Cancer Research UK’s Dryathalon (sponsor me here!)

Experiment 5 – Toast Water

That’s right…toast…water. It is, exactly, what it sounds like. Toast flavoured water. I came across this rather bizarre recipe recently in Mrs Beeton. It is, she informs us, a recipe intended for ‘invalids’ and by that she presumably means those who are having trouble keeping down solid foods…it is also cheap and stupendously easy to make…two qualities which I like in a recipe.

The recipe itself is so simple (although it took three attempts to get it right!) that there is little point segregating this post into ‘recipe’ and ‘method’ as I have done previously. Basically, get a bit of toast which is brown (not black, first experiment failed for this reason – it tastes foul in drink form) and then add it to a jug of boiling water and leave it to cool. Nota bene, add it to the jug of water not the other way around, I attempted to introduce water to the toast the second time round and it basically pulverised the bread so that the resulting drink was very … bitty.

toast water

Once your toast and boiling water have met leave them to get to know one another and wait until the water is cooled before you attempt to drink it.

The result? It is actually quite refreshing with a sort of caramel/toffee taste to it along with an unmistakable ‘toasted’ flavour…which is hardly surprising. What is surprising is how nice it is. I don’t normally go in for the flavoured waters you see in the supermarket. Why have lemon flavoured water when you can just have lemon juice/lemonade?  This on the other hand has none of the tart citrus flavour, and you get all the joy of  a piece of toast without any of the hassle of chewing!


I could honestly get used to drinking this for pleasure. …and I know what I shall be making myself the next time I give myself food poisoning. Given the nature of some of these experiments that time is not likely to be too far off!  So, even as I finish writing this I am pouring myself a second glass of the stuff…I did not see that coming!

toast water

A tasty glass of toast water while writing this post. Thank’s to Mrs Beeton.

Experiment 4 – Medieval Ginger Bread

I have a confession to make. I am a medievalist. It is true. Is that shaming? I don’t know. I know I don’t share the rest of the world’s enthusiasm for the War, or care about the Victorians much, the Tudors are frankly dull and as for the ancient world I find it hard to get excited about the Greeks, Romans or Egyptians. Each to their own, right? Well the reason why I started this venture was to try recipes from all throughout history so fear not if you find knights in shining armour a bit of a bore but the recipes I look forward to trying the most as those from the centuries circa 10 to 15.

And this is one such recipe. Medieval Ginger Bread. I came across these recipes on Gode Cookery and was intrigued and amused by the Ginger Bread recipe found in William Edward Mead’s The English Medieval Feast:

“Take a quart of honey and seethe it and skim it clean. Take saffroun, powdered pepper, and throw thereon. Take grated bread and make it so stiff that it will be leched (cut in slices). Then take cinnamon powder and strew thereon enough. Then make it square as though thou wouldst slice it. Take, when thou slicest it, and cast box leaves above, stuck thereon in cloves. And if thou will have it red, color it with saunders (sandalwood) enough.”

The eagle eyed among you will notice that there is no ginger in that recipe. This is the frustration of being a medievalist. Your fortunes are dictated by the whims of the medieval scribe. So, whether incompetent or he just felt that it was too obvious to note, I had to guess where to add the ginger. Gode Cookery have perfected this recipe, and even list quantities of ingredients, a bit by trial and error and a bit by mixing and matching with others in other MSS but ever the purist I wanted to try out this one recipe in its simplicity and vagueness. I loathe measuring things out anyway.

The result was not unpleasant. ‘Different’ was the most rapturous of reviews anyone has given it so far.  Which is hardly a glowing endorsement. I myself don’t particularly care for honey so I was never enamoured with the idea of this recipe but I do like Ginger bread so why not.


A good dod of honey. (Dod is a scientific and precise measuring term used in Scotland…it means a bit, or some)

Cinnamon, Saffron and that quintessential medieval spice Pepper

Breadcrumbs (unseasoned breadcrumbs or this will end up very salty and yuk)

The Method (for those who struggle with ye olde speak)

1. Boil honey and skim off any scum.

2. Add powdered spices.

3. Add breadcrumbs until the mix goes stiff and doughlike.

4. Spoon out onto a container and let set (or bake a bit if you prefer)









I was left with this gag inducing pile of mush. I should have spooned it into a deeper and smaller container and perhaps made it stiffer.

5. Cut up and munch.









The Aftermath

Well, I learned a lesson about quantities ending up with instead of lovely Ginger Bread but ginger snaps. Since the taste wasn’t entirely pleasant (to me, anyway) I was glad I didn’t waste more significant quantities of ingredients particularly the expensive spices etc but I reckon with golden syrup,treacle, molasses, maple syrup this would be more to my tastes though admittedly less authentic.

Experiment 3 – Rye Soda Bread #Fail

I like cooking, and particularly have been on a bit of a bread baking frenzy of late. However it is rather frustrating that my enthusiasm has yet to transform into talent! I’m told if you practice things often enough….

I tried having a bash at baking some Soda Bread. The reason for this was that I had recently bought some Rye flour. Traditional bakers yeast is no match for Rye, I’m told only  a sour dough starter and bakers yeast combined will produce a bread that doesn’t have the same density as a medium-sized black hole. So, since my sour dough starter has yet to reach maturity, and I am impatient a ‘quick bread’  recipe seemed called for.

Quick Breads are so called because they used baking soda/powder and thus  they require less proving time. They are also run-up-t0-Christmas budget friendly because none of that expensive yeast stuff is needed and they have a good historic pedigree. Sodium Bicarbonate, the leavening agent used instead of yeast, (NaHCO3 to the chemistry buffs out there) and was once upon a time referred to as aerated salt and was used as a soap by the ancient Egyptians and, according to Kipling’s Captains Courageous, used to prevent fresh caught fish spoiling.

It was introduced to the baking process as Baking Soda, invented by Alfred Bird, to help out his wife in the kitchen (wasn’t that nice of him)  as she was allergic to yeast. I attended a paper last year organised by the Postgraduate Forum for the  History of Medicine at Swansea University given by Cambridge University’s Carolyn Ann Cobbold about the use of baking soda in making ‘quick breads’ in the 19th Century. They became popular, particularly in the USA, because of (naturally unfounded) fears concerning the effects of yeast on the health and constitution. Natural yeasts were thought to make you weak, or even sick, whereas industrially produced white crystalline chemical  stuff was considered perfectly safe, and even  good for you. I wonder what ‘Doctor’ Gillian Mckeith would make of that.  It was thanks to that conference paper that I was inspired to try to make a Soda Bread rather than just wait for my Sourdough starter to mature. So I started rooting around for recipes.

There is the famous Irish Soda Bread (which I am minded to try next St. Patrick’s Day) but because I wanted to use  my Rye flour. So I just used this recipe from Doves Farm, which is just a traditional Soda Bread made using Rye Flour. I decided to opt for a mix of Rye and Plain White Flour just to lighten it up a bit.  Also, since I didn’t have any Cream of Tartar (in fact, I didn’t even know what it was) I decided that clearly that couldn’t be very important. Both of these decisions were stupid. If you are not an accomplished baker/chef it is probably unwise to mess around with recipes or, if you do, expect a bit of trial and error. And leaving out an ingredient in a recipe which only has four other ingredients is probably not smart either.

The result was a spectacular failure.

The Recipe

250 g Rye Flour
1 tsp Bicarbonate of Soda
2 tsps Cream of Tartar
200 ml Milk
1 tbsp Oil

The Method

1. Mix together the flour, soda and cream of tartar.

2. Add milk and mix to a soft sticky ball of dough.









3. Sprinkle the oil over the dough and turn it over to form a smooth ball of dough.

This was my first indication something wasn’t right….look at my ‘smooth ball of dough’:









4. Place the dough on a large oiled baking tray & cut a star across the top of the dough.

5. Place a large pyrex dish or casserole dish over the dough.

6. Bake in a pre-heated oven for 60/65 minutes.

The end result looked ok…but when cutting into it there was no air inside at all. Very dense almost a Rye cake.













The Aftermath

So, what do you do with cakey Rye Soda bread stuff….you attempt to eat it anyway. Some goats cheese and beetroot seemed like a winning combination. And it was, if it were not for the fact that the Soda Bread was so incredibly dense I couldn’t stomach more than a slice of it because my jaw literally got tired chewing it!  So, in the end I made breadcrumbs. Nothing goes to waste in our house, not even crap bread.           🙂


Experiment 2 – Curried Carrots

Growing up I heard a lot about the austere diets of British citizens during rationing from my grandparents, teachers and on various TV programs. I always imagined boiled meats and veg with no spices, no sweets or puddings, no flavours and of course no fun.

Of course this is far from the case but I have found the image difficult to shake off. So when I came across this simple 1940s recipe for carrot curry I thought I would give it a try. OK ‘Curry’ is stretching it a bit… it is carrots in a spicy broth but I had all the ingredients and a brothy meal seemed just the thing to compliment my ‘Bad King John’ bread. A bread that I baked last evening using the Ale of the same title instead of water. The ale was good, the bread better but the excuse to legitimately reignite the ‘who was the better king : Richard or John?’ debate with fellow medievalists was priceless.  So I fried off an onion in the spice mix added some stock (vegetable I used, but beef would have been better), steamed (instead of boiling, we don’t live in the dark ages any more!) some carrots them to the onion, spice, flour and stock mix. And left to simmer for a bit.

The final result was not entirely unappealing, I wolfed down a good few spoonfuls and mopped up the liquid with the oh-so-tasty bread but after a while I hit the ‘wall’. I don’t mean my eyes were bigger than my belly, I had plenty of room to spare and even polished off a few home-made oatcakes after I gave up on the curried carrots. What I mean was that about half way through the bowl the whole thing became rather sickly, and eating it became more and more of a challenge.

By the end I was convinced that this was not a real meal or recipe at all but somehow a dark and sinister propaganda device…maybe if Hitler thought that this is what British people were forced to eat because of the war and were still fighting on then they must be tough! Tougher than he had reckoned! Realising he couldn’t win Hitler would just call up Churchill and apologise.

Whatever the origins, and purpose, of this dish I heartily recommend you do not try it.

However, if you so wish here is the recipe.

The Recipe

Curried Carrots

  • 1 lb carrots
  • 1 oz dripping (or margarine if you are not the sort of person to save up your fat after frying up a bit of breakfast bacon)
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 1-2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1/2 pt stock or water
  • salt and pepper to taste

The Method

1. Boil carrots.

2. Fry onion in the fat and then add flour and spice mix.


3. Add stock and season to taste. Bring to boil and then simmer for 15 minutes.

4. Add cooked carrots and simmer until sauce is thickened.

5. Serve.

Experiment 1 – Roman Spelt Bread

For my first culinary history experiment I thought I would try a recipe for Roman Spelt Bread. The exact provenance of this recipe is unknown. I have reason to doubt its authenticity, and I promise in future to have better footnoting and sourcing, but it can be found all over the internet as variously “Roman army bread”, “Roman bread”, “slipper bread” and so forth and since I had all the ingredients to hand having spotted spelt in the supermarket and been intrigued enough to pick it up and put it in my trolley, and since I fancied a bit of bread making I thought I should give this recipe a go.

The flour this recipe uses is made from spelt  which is a distant cousin of wheat. It is known as Dinkle in Germany, which I found amusing, Farro in Italian and Farrum in the original Latin.  According to 12th century writer Hildegard of Bingen it has restorative and healing qualities and is key to having a healthy body and positive outlook on life. Not being a nutritionist I wouldn’t presume to comment on the health benefits of spelt but it certainly has a sweet and nutty flavour which I like and I imagine it would make it a good candidate for cakes and biscuits though I have yet to test that theory out. It also, according to the packaging, generally takes less time to ‘proof’ than other grains which is a good time saver! Spelt has fallen out of favour in recent years and is cultivated less and less, once a staple of ancient and medieval cooking it is now relegated to a relict crop.

Now I am no Paul Holywood, my previous attempts at bread-making have been at best a mixed bag, and I am afraid this first experiment of mine into cooking recipes from history did go rather badly for reasons that will become apparent very soon into the “method” section of this recipe. Anyway, here is the recipe if you want to try it at home…let me know how you get on!

The Ingredients

500 g Wholegrain Spelt Flour
½ tsp Salt
1 tsp Quick Yeast
1 tbsp Honey
400 ml Warm Water
1 tbsp Olive Oil

The Method

1. Mix the flour, salt and yeast in a large bowl. (taking care not to injure yourself, as I did…managing to cut my thumb on the tin of yeast somehow!)


[after washing and dressing the wound and beating myself up for being an eejit]

2. Dissolve honey in water and mix into the flour.

3. Add the oil to the mix.

4. The dough is very wet at this stage which I am told helps the flavour and creates a better ‘crumb’…whatever that means. There is a technique for making wet dough come together which can be found here and is immense good fun…if a little messy.

5. Leave the dough to prove until it has doubled in size. I did this in the fridge overnight as was suggested on a recent episode of the Great British Bake Off because it apparently improves the flavour if the rise is slower. So, I gave it a bash.  It also meant I was not baking into the middle of the night. Since the inspiration to try this recipe came to me at about 11.20 pm …waiting an hour or so for it to prove in an airing cupboard would have been a huge pain!

6. Shape the loaf, dust with flour and cut pattern on it as desired. This is what mine looked like…


7. Leave to rise again on baking surface, and then bake at 200 C for about 30 minutes.

The result

The end product wasn’t bad. My brain expected wholemeal bread and wasn’t prepared for just how sweet it was but once I got over that initial shock…Very tasty. I might have left it in the oven for too long, witness the dark colour on the crust but other than that it was perfectly good bread. I do think that this bread would benefit from the addition of fruits and nuts, and I might try that at some stage but I must say I am disinclined to go dunking it into my lunchtime soup because it is just too sweet.


So, with only a minor injury and a bit of a burnt crust I think I shall call this experiment a success… but what to try next?