This medieval recipe for a green sauce comes from Ashmole manuscript 1439, written around the year 1430.
Take percely, myntes, diteyne, peletre, a foil or ij of cost marye, a cloue of garleke. And take faire brede, and stepe it with vynegre and piper, and salt; and grynde al this to-gedre, and tempre it vp with wynegre, or with eisel, and serue it forthe.
Take parsley, mint, dittany, pellitory, costmary, and a clove of garlic. Steep breadcrumbs with vinegar, pepper, and salt. Grind everything together, add vinegar, and serve.
Green sauces with a blend of herbs and garlic were common in medieval cooking. Unfortunately, three of the herbs listed in this recipe – dittany, pellitory, and costmary – are not readily available in my area. Dittany is supposed to taste a bit like oregano, so I used a small amount of oregano instead. Pellitory apparently tastes very bland and costmary tastes like mint (which is already included in the sauce), so I didn’t bother trying to find substitutes for those.
I followed the recommendations of Maggie Black in A Taste of History to soak the breadcrumbs in cider vinegar, then use a mix of wine vinegar and water for the rest of the sauce.
A medieval cook would have pounded the herbs together in a mortar; I used a blender, which I’m sure medieval cooks would’ve loved to use if they had the opportunity. I may have overdone the blending a bit, though – the sauce is supposed to have the consistency of bread sauce, which is usually a bit thicker. It definitely has a lovely green color.
Maggie Black recommends serving the sauce on fish, so I had mine on cod fillets. Green sauces were also commonly used on mutton, kid, and lamb. I even used some of the leftover sauce on my salad – it works as a sort of thick salad dressing.
I was surprised by how good this was! I used roughly equal proportions of parsley and mint, with only a little bit of oregano. It tasted slightly minty but not overwhelming. I also liked the use of breadcrumbs as a thickener, although I probably should’ve made my sauce even thicker. It was great on fish but could work with a lot of other foods.
This sauce wouldn’t be out of place in a modern restaurant; if someone served it to me without telling me what it was I would have no idea it was a 500 year old recipe.
If I ever get my hands on some dittany, pellitory, or costmary, I will definitely be trying this again with all the original ingredients.
Black, M. (2003). Medieval Britain. In Brears, P., et al, A taste of history: 10,000 years of food in Britain (pp. 95-136). London: English Heritage, in association with the British Museum Press.
Davidson, A. (2006). Medieval cuisine. In A. Davidson & T. Jaine (Eds.), The Oxford companion to food (pp. 494-496). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Thomas, A. (Ed.). (1964). Two fifteenth-century cookery-books : Harleian MS. 279 (ab 1430), & Harl. MS. 4016 (ab. 1450), with extracts from Ashmole MS. 1439, Laud MS. 553, & Douce MS. 55. London: Oxford University Press. Retrieved from https://quod.lib.umich.edu/c/cme/CookBk/1:8?rgn=div1;view=toc
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While indulging my taste for detectives & thrillers, I came across a recipe in a French thriller-series a few years ago. Michèle Barrière’s “Souper mortel aux étuves” has a French version. She finishes each thriller with a set of contemporary recipes, I still have to try out. Fascinating to learn how tastes changed & rest assured: it’s not the green sauce which kills of folks 😉
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