Braised-Beef-art - 6/10/01
"Frankish Braised Beef - A Recipe from Anthimus' De obseruatione ciborum" by Lady Clotild of Soissons
This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set
of files, called StefanŐs Florilegium.
These files are available on the Internet at:
Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author.
While the author will likely give permission for this work to be
reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first
or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.
Mark S. Harris
AKA: Stefan li Rous
stefan at florilegium.org
Frankish Braised Beef
A Recipe from Anthimus' De obseruatione ciborum
by Lady Clotild of Soissons
(Darice L. Moore)
The culture of Merovingian Frankia was, in large part, created from the joining of two cultures that had in the past opposed each other: the Germanic Franks and the Gallo-Romans. This merging of cultures is evident even in the culinary arts, as the writings of Anthimus attest. Anthimus, a Greek physician, was assigned as court physician to the Frankish King Theuderic, who ruled over the eastern Kingdom of Rheims between between 511 and 534 AD. Anthimus wrote for the King a medical treatise on dietary and health matters, De obseruatione ciborum (On the Observance of Foods). The treatise illustrates many ways in which the dietary traditions of classical Rome and tribal Germania were combining in the new Merovingian Frankish culture. It also includes several recipes, one of which is a dish of braised beef prepared with vegetables and costly imported spices. This is the recipe I have chosen to redact.
I had some interesting challenges in re-creating this dish, not the least of which was identifying and obtaining some of the spices and herbs. The search for spikenard was successful, but to obtain costmary, I had to purchase the plants (and then keep them alive). I also found that the recipe included some very specific measurements for these exotic spices, which I originally thought were a translator's assumption, but turned out to be correct. I verified the amounts through Latin translation of the terms and some supporting research.
The resulting dish balances notes of sweet, sour and bitter mint with the savory tastes of the beef and vegetables-an unusual combination to modern tongues, but not a distasteful one. More interesting than the dish, perhaps, is the combination of cultures it represents-a simple Frankish beef and vegetable stew, combined with exotic spices enjoyed by the Romans (Apicius' De re coquinaria includes recipes for all the exotic herbs in this dish).
I have provided here both the original Latin and Mark Grant's translation:
3. de carnibus uero uaccinis uaporatis factis et in sodinga coctis utendum, etiam et in iuscello, ut prius exbromatas una unda mittas, et sic in nitida aqua quantum ratio poscit coquantur, ut non addatur aqua, et cum cocta fuerit caro, in uaso mittis acetum acerrimum quantum mediam buculam, et mittis capita porrorum et pulegii modicum, apii radices uel feniculi, et coquatur in una hora, et sic adddis mel quantum medietatem de aceto uel quam quis dulcedinem habere uoluerit, et sic coquas lento foco agitando ipsam ollam frequenter manibus, ut bene ius cum carne ipsa temperetur. et sic teris: piperis grana L costum et spicam nardi per singula quantum medietatum solidi, et cariofili quantum pensat tremissis I. ista omnia simul trita bene in mortario fictili addito uino modico, et cum bene tribulatum fuerit, mittis in ollam et agistas bene, ita ut antequam tollatur de foco, modicum sentiat et remittat in ius uirtutem suam. ubi tamin fuerit mel aut sapa uel caroenum, unum de ipsis, sicut superius continetur, mittatur, et in buculari non coquatur, sed in olla fictili meliorem saporem facit.
3. Beef which has been steamed can be used both roasted in a dish and also braised in a sauce, provided that, as soon as it begins to give off a smell, you put the meat in some water. Boil it in as much fresh water as suits the size of the portion of meat; you should not have to add any more water during the boiling. When the meat is cooked, put in a casserole about half a cup of sharp vinegar, some leeks and a little pennyroyal, some celery and fennel, and let these simmer for one hour. Then add half the quantity of honey to vinegar, or as much honey as you wish for sweetness. Cook over a low heat, shaking the pot frequently with one's hands so that the sauce coats the meat sufficiently. Then grind the following: 50 pepper corns, 2 grammes each of costmary and spikenard, and 1.5 grammes of cloves. Carefully grind all these spices together in an earthenware mortar with the addition of a little wine. When well ground, add them to the casserole and stir well, so that before they are taken from the heat, they may warm up and release their flavour into the sauce. Whenever you have a choice of honey or must reduced either by a third or two-thirds, add one of these as detailed above. Do not use a bronze pan, because the sauce tastes better cooked in an earthenware casserole.
* Beef-I chose to use bottom round, because it works well in stews but is not tough.
* Water-I used bottled spring water.
* Sharp Vinegar-I used organic red wine vinegar.
* Cloves, Peppercorns, Leeks, Celery and Fennel-These items were all purchased from the local supermarket.
* Honey-The recipe indicates that the honey can be replaced by must (pressed grape juice) reduced by one-third or two-thirds, according to taste. I chose to use honey.
* Pennyroyal-This herb of the mint family is a known emmenagogue. To avert any danger, I replaced it with another unusual member of the mint family: catnip.
* Costmary (costus)-This herb, a member of the chrysanthemum family, originated in India. Anthimus also includes it in a recipe for hare. I could not find a place that sold it as a spice, but did learn its taxonomic Latin name (chrysanthemum balsamita or balsamita major) and bought the herbs as plants. For this reason, I used the costmary leaves fresh. (Because this herb is a relative of tansy, I checked to ensure it was safe to eat. The Complete Book of Herbs and Spices states that "[Costmary] appears to have been used as a woman's herb since early times, for all uterine complaints and to ease childbirth" and recommends costmary as an herb to take throughout pregnancy.)
* Spikenard (spicam nardi)-This member of the Valerian family, native to India, was often used in Roman cooking, as well as in perfumes and unguents. I had some trouble finding a place that carried it, as it the spikenard sold in this country is usually from an American plant of the same name. (For those who wish to order the authentic spikenard, I obtained it from Francesco Sirene's Web site: http://www.silk.net/sirene.)
* Wine-I used a French red wine.
The only specific amounts indicated were for the vinegar, the honey and the spices. Therefore, I had to go on instinct for many of the amounts. For amounts that were specified, I felt it necessary to double-check the amounts given by the translator-specifically the 2.5 grams each of costmary and spikenard. With the help of a Latin dictionary (and Latin-speaking friends), I determined that a more accurate Latin translation was: " of costmary and spikenard a single measure equal to half the weight of a solidus." The Roman emperor Constantine I had reduced the solidus, to 1/72 of a pound, or 4.5 grams. From this time on, the solidus retained a constant weight and purity.(1). The weight bears out the truth of the translation. The measurement for the cloves is based on another coin, the tremissus.
3-4 lbs. beef bottom round, cut into one-inch chunks
Water to cover beef
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup fresh catnip leaves, washed and torn
2 leeks (white parts only), cut in 1/4-inch rounds
3 stalks celery, in 1/4-inch slices
1 bulb fennel, in 1/4-inch slices
1/4 cup honey (can use must reduced by 1/3 or 2/3, according to the recipe)
2.5 grams spikenard root, dried
2.5 grams costmary leaf, fresh
1.5 grams cloves
1/4 cup red wine
Put the beef in a large pot and cover with water. Boil until the beef is cooked through. Drain the beef and place in a pre-soaked unglazed earthenware casserole. Pour the vinegar over the beef and add the catnip leaves, leeks, celery and fennel on top. Put the cover on the casserole and put it in a cold oven. Turn the oven on to 400 degrees.
In an hour, add the honey to the beef mixture. Cover and shake to mix. Reduce the temperature to 300 degrees and return the mixture to the oven for another 30 minutes.
Using a mortar and pestle, grind the spikenard, peppercorns, costmary and cloves together. Add the red wine to the spices and then add the spice mixture to the casserole. Cover, shake and let rest for a few minutes before serving, so that the flavors of the spices will be released into the sauce.
(1) Boak, Arthur E. R. and Sinnigen, William G., A History of Rome to A.D. 565, The MacMillan Company, London, 1965.
Grant, Mark (translator and editor). Anthimus: De obseruatione ciborum; On the Observance of Foods. Devon, Great Britain: Prospect Books, 1996.
Boak, Arthur E. R. and Sinnigen, William G., A History of Rome to A.D. 565. London: The MacMillan Company, 1965.
Dendy, David. E-mail on Spikenard, archived on Stefan's Florilegium: www.florilegium.com
Garland, Sarah. The Complete Book of Herbs & Spices. New York: The Viking Press, 1979.
Darice L. Moore works as a marketing communications specialist for a large business technology consulting firm. She loves to write and is addicted to research, especially on pre-1000 European cultures. Currently she is obsessed with period cookery, early period textiles and Renaissance dance. She and her husband Walter live in Largo in a house stacked to the ceiling with books.
Lady Clotild of Soissons is a sixth-century Frank from Neustria who is currently serving as the Minister of Arts and Sciences for the good gentles of the Shire of the Storm. She enjoys the domestic arts and always has too many projects going on for her own good.
Copyright 2000 by Darice L. Moore, 11027 129th Ave. N., Largo, FL 33778. <magistra at tampabay.rr.com>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited and receives a copy.
If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being
reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.