Medieval Apple Sauce

Disgustingly healthy!

Adam and Eve (ca 1533). Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553)Apple sauce is a medieval relic. It was a popular dish, considering the many recipes for apple sauce that can be found in medieval cookbooks all over Europe. Some of those recipes are rather unusual, like the following recipe for apple sauce with ... fish liver! The recipe's title is 'appelmoes in de vastene' (apple sauce in Lent), so it was meant to be eaten between carnival and Easter. The people had to abstain from any meat and dairy products during Lent. This meant that the daily fare during that period was different from other times in the year. More information on Lent and its consequences can be found at the recipe for Fake Fish.

So healthy it's scary!
From a dietary point of view this apple sauce is almost obscenely healthy: sour apples, no sugar, lots of omega-3 fatty acids (in the fish liver). Do not be dissuaded by the idea of using fish in apple sauce, the taste is very subtle. Serve this dish without explaining it first, to let your guests form an unprejudiced opinion.
However, if this apple sauce is too healthy for your decadent palate, here are some extra recipes that may be easier to 'digest'.

Addicted to apple sauce
Today apple sauce is still important in the daily diet of many. There are countless households in which the bowl with apple sauce (more often from a jar than home made) is as common a fixture on the table as the saltcellar.
I never fed my daughter commercial baby food, which may be the cause of her escape from apple sauce addiction. Because industrial baby meals are often brought to taste with ... apple sauce!
Many years ago we had a young electrician in the house doing mysterious things with the wiring. He told me that he had been on vacation to Spain. The weather was great, but the first few days he couldn't enjoy his holiday to the max. The hotel he stayed in did not serve apple sauce with dinner.
Once he had discovered that apple sauce was called compota de manzana in Spanish and had acquired his own little dish of apple sauce every night, his holiday at the Costa del Sol was perfect.

Apples for apple sauce
Which apples can be used for apple sauce? If you ask me, any apple will do. You'll get a different apple sauce with different kinds of apples. Just experiment to find out which apples suits your taste. Some information on old apple varieties can be found at the recipe for medieval apple fritters.

The original recipe
The recipe is taken from the first Middle Dutch cookbook that has been edited in 'modern' times, in 1872, by the Flemish C.A. Serrure. The manuscript can be found in the university library of Gent, sign. UB Gent 1035. Serrure was not inspired when he chose the title for this manuscript: the edition bears the title 'Keukenboek' ('kitchen book'). The manuscript itself however presents a much nicer title: "Desen bouc leert wel ende edelike spijse te bereedene tetene also als hier naer volcht" (This book teaches how to prepare [and] to eat good and noble food as follows). That is why I use the title Wel ende edelike spijse to refer to this manuscript. More about this manuscript from the late fifteenth century. (editions).

Appelmoes in de vastene.
Neemt appel, gepelt ende ghesneden in sticken. Doetse in eenen pot ende neemt die leuere van cabbelyauwe van schelvissche ende doetse metten appelen zieden, ende huutsse wel dickent. Ende wrijft soffraen cleene, dan stampet daer in ende tempert met amandelen melke. Ende alst bereet es dan pouderet ende doet in platteelen ende strooyter cruut bouen vp
Apple sauce in Lent.
Take apples, peeled and cut to pieces. Put them in a pot, take the liver of cod or haddock and let this cook with the apples. Stir frequently. Grind saffron finely, and mash it [with the apples]. Temper with almond milk. When it is ready spice it [with spices], put it on dishes and sprinkle spices on top.

Modern adaptation of the recipe Print the recipe
It is very difficult -at least in the Netherlands- to buy fresh, raw liver of cod or haddock. A good alternative is canned haddock or cod liver. Because the liver is already cooked, it is added at the end.
The almond milk on the contrary is originally added at the end, but I have chosen to cook the ground almonds with the apples, and leave them in. I like the crunch.
Side dish, about 2.5 cups; preparation in advance 5 minutes, preparation 25 minutes.

Medieval applesauce for LentIngredients
500 gram (1 pound) sour apples
50 gram (1/3 cup) ground almonds
1/2 teaspoon saffron, crushed in warm water
1/2 teaspoon in all of ginger and cinnamon (1:1)
1 decilitre (1/2 cup) water
1 can of cod or haddock liver (drained about 70 gram/2.5 oz)
ginger and cinnamon to sprinkle on top

Preparation in advance
Peel and core the apples, cut them in coarse chunks.
Drain the canned cod or haddock liver. If the liver happens to be conserved with its own oil you can reserve the oil to profit from the omega-3 fatty acids. You could even add it to the apple sauce, but the fish-taste will be more pronounced.

Put apples, ground almonds, saffron and water in a pan, cook for twenty minutes. Then add drained cod or haddock liver, and purée the apple sauce.

To serve
Not hot, but tepid or cold.

And now a bonus - Unhealthy apple sauce!

'Ordinary' apple sauce
Take 1 kilo rennets (or Bramleys or Rome Beauties, according to my English dictionary), peeled, cored and chopped, 2 tablespoons sugar, 1 split stick of cinnamon OR some lemon peel (not both at the same time), 1.5 decilitre water. Bring to the boil, cover with a lid, and cook at a low fire until the apples are done (that depends on the size of your chunks, 20 to 30 minutes should suffice). Purée the apples in a blender or through a strainer, or simply mash them with a fork. That's how I make the most simple apple sauce.

Greasy medieval apple sauce
An English recipe from the fifteenth century with versions for meat days and fish days. It is called 'apple moys', very like the Dutch 'appelmoes'. Source: Laud ms 533 (Bodleian Library) Edition pp.113/114. Practically the same recipe can be found in Diuersa Servicia (Edition p.65, recipe II,17, 'For to make appulmos'), from the late fourteenth century. The recipe is quite simple.

Apple moys.
nym appeles, seth hem, let hem kele, frete hem thorwe an her syue: cast it on a pot/ & on a fless day cast therto goud fat broth of bef, & white grese, sugur & safron, & on fissh days almand mylke, & oille de oliue, & sugur, & safron: boille hit, messe hit, cast aboue good poudre, & 3if forth
Apple sauce.
Take apples, boil them, let them cool, and rub them through a hair sieve. Put them in a pot, and on a flesh day add to it good fat beef broth and white grease, sugar and saffron and on fish days almond milk, olive oil, sugar and saffron. Boil it, portion it, sprinkle good powder (spices) on top, and give out.

Adaptation: Prepare 1 kilo apples. Melt 2 tablespoons lard or 50 gram bacon, remove the cracklings. Fry the apple chunks in the grease, then add 2 decilitres beef broth (not degreased), 2 tablespoons sugar and a little crushed saffron, boil for twenty minutes. Purée in a blender or through a strainer. Sprinkle the apple sauce with cinnamon and ginger before serving. You could decorate the apple sauce with the cracklings.

All descriptions of ingredients

Saffron - The orange-red stigmas of a crocus. In medieval times (as in modern times) it was used to colour dishes yellow. If you want to have the most effect of the colouring, crush the dried stigmas in a spoonful of hot liquid (water, milk, broth, vinegar, whatever is most fitting for the recipe it is used in).

The editions below are in my possession. Links refer to available editions.
All books mentioned on this site (with short reviews)