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It was the dried pea that stood out, a colleague recently told me.
He’d been preparing a report on the archaeobotanical plant remains for an excavated medieval corn-drying kiln in Blackfriary, Trim. Usually, he would have expected to find the remains of cereals: wheat, barley, perhaps rye. So he found pea to be out of the ordinary. He remembered a flat bread I had made during one of my experimental cooking days, using pea flour.
What might people have been doing back then with a dried pea? he wanted to know. I had lots of suggestions for him.
Peas, like beans, were often grown alongside cereals in medieval times. As well as being edible legumes, peas and beans acted as nitrogen fixers for the soil, ultimately producing better crops – and medieval Ireland was to produce incredibly good wheat.
Young peas could have been eaten fresh and would have made a nice addition to a medieval meal, perhaps cooked in a little stock, with some herbs added, along with some saffron. Saffron was a much-used spice at the time in Ireland and the British Isles. It indicated high social status.
If not eaten young, peas could have been dried so people could store them and eat them out of season. When the time came, they would have been soaked overnight, and boiled for an hour or so. A small joint of bacon may have been boiled along with them, a tasty meal for a medieval family.
My favourite medieval recipe for dried peas, however, is a fifteenth-century “girdle bread”. The girdle, a heavy-based slab or pan, was the predecessor to the modern griddle pan.
Girdle breads may have been topped with fried onions or leeks and have been the basis of a simple meal served to an unexpected visitor, and one a poorer household may have been able to afford to serve with pride. I hope you try them and enjoy.
Cereal and Legume Girdle Breads
- 150 g. wheat, barley or oat flour
- 150 g. legume flour (you can order this online)
- 1 tsp. salt
- 2 eggs
- 100 ml. water
- A little oil or lard (for frying the breads)
Mix the flours together, then mix in the salt. Lightly beat the eggs, then add to the flour along with the water. Bring the mixture together, then turn out onto a floured surface. Using floured hands, take a portion of the mixture and roll it between your hands, then flatten out into a flat patty. Repeat, until all the blend has been used.
Heat the oil or lard in a non-stick frying pan over a moderate heat. Brush off any excess flour before sliding the girdle breads into the pan. Cook for approximately 5 minutes, then turn over and repeat.
Medieval-style Fried Onions
- 1 tbsp. lard or butter
- 2 medium onions
- A little oil or lard
Peel and chop the onions. Heat the oil or lard in a non-stick frying pan over a moderate heat. Add the onions and continue to fry until they become caramelised (a rich brown colour), taking care not to burn them. Place the cooked onions on top of the girdle cakes and serve.