Thursday, October 13, 2016

Food of Evandar: Nine Day Porridge.

Something from my kitchen: Chickpea-Red Lentil Chili
Pease porridge hot,
Pease porridge cold,
Pease porridge in the pot
Nine days old.
~ English Nursery Rhyme

In the old days of merry old England, peas were known as pease. They were used to make, among other things, porridge. Now, most people today think that porridge is another word for oatmeal. This is fairly accurate in a historical sense, but it doesn't really cover just what the deal with this food was. Please forgive me as I indulge in a bit of history about pease and porridge.

Porridge was the common man's fare. It was also the food of the elite. The difference between the two dishes was the quality of the ingredients and spices used. Porridge was a very simple dish to begin with. That thick gruel that people think of when they think of this food is pretty close to the most basic version. It was not always the consistency of wall paper paste. It was prepared by cooking oats or barley with some sort of liquid. During the cooking process, the dry grain would absorb the liquid and become more palatable (and less likely to cause you to have problems with gas).

This dish could also be prepared with dried beans and legumes (peas, lentils, etc.). In both cases, it was a slow cooking time. It was the one thing for the day, in many cases. One would eat porridge for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, if they had enough that is. It was usually made with a mixture of beer and broth. Water was not generally used because it was not frequently enough to be spared from other important tasks (like watering crops and keeping livestock alive). Like maslin bread (which I will be posting about next week after I finish my research as to a proper recipe and potential experimentation with said recipe), porridge usually was a mixture of what was on hand. It was also something that was kept on the fire and added to each day as needed.

That porridge from the first day may have started out heavy on the barley, root vegetables, and some fish caught from a local stream in a weak beer base. The second day may see more root vegetables added, milk (if it were in season), and some herbs that were from the kitchen garden. The third day may find mushrooms (if it were in season) and bones from the mutton that was cooked alongside it. Similar things would continue, supplementing the dwindling supply from the original batch made until you had something entirely different several days later. This practice of adding new ingredients as the time went on would have added depth of flavor and served to make it remain an interesting meal.

If the idea of keeping essentially the same batch of food cooking over an extended period of time sounds a little curious to you and you think it is something of the dark ages, you would be woefully incorrect. There are cooks who do this with soup. Not just people who are trying to squeeze every last penny out of their food budget mind you. (Though this thrifty practice is what made things like the continual pot of soup on the stove able to turn stuff like cheese rinds and carrot tops into edible components during the Great Depression.) It is also done in several very high end eateries.

Nine Day Porridge doesn't have to be something you fashion over the course of nine days. If you are in a hurry and want that complex flavor in one day, try out the following. And if you have leftovers, don't toss them. Just put them in the next pot of soup to help make it richer.

Nine Day Porridge: Quick Version

1 15 oz can of navy beans
1 15 oz can of chili (with or with out beans)
1 15 oz can of split pea soup (plus 1 can of water)
1 medium carrot, chopped roughly
1 small potato, chopped roughly
1/2 cup of diced cooked ham
1/2 cup of diced cooked chicken
1 tsp of your favorite spice blend (I like the Mrs Dash with garlic in it.)

In a dutch oven, mix your ingredients. Cook on medium heat, stirring frequently, until heated through. If you wish to convert this to a crock pot recipe, use a large crock pot. Cook on low heat for 8 hours or high for 4 hours. Add an additional can of water.

Serve this with fresh bread. Something like a dark German rye bread would be somewhat similar to what people in Evandar (or in the middle ages) would have eaten if they were in the middle class. A rustic wheat sourdough loaf with white flour would have been more like what the upper class would have had. Your beverage would be hard cider or beer. Given the flavors with this, I would lean towards beer.

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