Recipes from the seventeenth century
During Lent, between carnival and Easter, the catholic church (and after the Reformation several protestant churches as well) restricted the faithful to a meatless diet. During the Middle Ages all diary products were also banned during Lent, later the use of butter was permitted. Almonds were used instead of meat (almond milk, almond butter, almond cheese, comparable to modern coconut milk, peanut butter and marzipan). For meat stock the alternative was pea purée. A recipe from manuscript KANTL 15.1 indicates that this purée certainly was not as thick as modern pea soup, but fairly thin: to make a brown sauce, toasted bread must be sieved with beer, verjuice, wine, or ‘purey van eruijten’ (purée of peas).
On this page are some recipes for pea purée from the seventeenth century. The first one is from Pierre François La Varenne, from Le cuisinier François (1651, edition). His cookbook is generally known as the first innovative cookbook since the Middle Ages, but some recipes are still purely medieval, like the pea purée described below. So La Varenne’s pea purée can be used for recipes prior to the seventeenth century.
The two recipes from L.S.R. from L’art de bien traiter (1674, edition) are much more modern, using butter and fines herbes. The first recipe is for pea purée all year round, the second one especially for Lent. More about L.S.R. and his cookbook in the recipe for French peas.
Pea purée is used in the recipe for Potage au Jacobine.
The original recipes
Varenne’s recipe is taken from the facsimile edition by Hyman and Hyman, the English translation is from Scully’s edition(p.328). For the recipes from L’art de bien traiter I have used the edition from 1693. Comparison with the edition in modern French from the first edition (1674) shows that the recipe has not been changed. See bibliography for the editions.
Pour faire purée claire, & qui soit bonne, faites tremper vos poix du iour au lendemain apres les auoir bien nettoyés : apres quoy, vous les mettrez cuire auec de l’eau de riuiere ou de fontaine, estant tiede. Estant presque cuits, tirez vostre purée, & vous en seruez à tout ce que vous voudrez.
To make thin purée which is good, steep your peas overnight after having cleaned them carefully. Then set them to cook in warm river water or fountain water. When they are almost done, draw out your purée. Then use it for whatever purpose you like.
Prenez des verts tant qu’il en aura, épluchez-les, & lavez en eau tiede, que l’on mettra dès le soir tremper pour les faire cuire le lendemain à petit feu, avec fines herbes, peu de laurier ; qu’il y aye toûjours de l’eau chaude à part dans un cocquemart pour les remplir au besoin, écrasez-les de temps en temps pour en oster plus facilement les écaflotes, quand ils seront parfaitement cuits et presque en boüillie, passez-les proprement dans la passoire ordinaire, s’il vous manquait du boüillon pour aider au reste, servez-vous de celuy d’amandes ou de poisson, ajoûtez-y quelques geroffles, peu de sel & de beurre, et la conservés pour les potages qui en auront de besoin.
Take as many green peas as you can get. Clean them and rins in tepid water, to let them steep from the night before to cook the next day, with fines herbes and some bay leaf. Have warm water ready in a coquemar to refill if neccessary. Crush from time to time to easily remove any particles. Strain through an ordinary sieve when they are completely done and practically cooked to a mush. If you lack stock [liquid], use that of almonds or fish. Add some cloves, a little salt and butter, and keep it for the pottages that need it.
Empotez trois ou quatre litrons de gros pois ramés, admirables pour cecy quand ils ne valent que trois ou quatre sols le litron, fines herbes, beurre frais, laictuës pommées, sel, épices, forces oignons blancs, le tout en eau presque boüillante, faites les bien cuire & consommer jusques à ce qu’ils se mettent en boüillie, passez-les avec du même boüillon, & en conservez le coulis à part pour la garniture de vos potages.
Take three or four litron large marrowfat peas, admirable because they cost no more than three or four sous the litron, fines herbes, unsalted butter, butterhead lettuce, salt, spices, and lots of white onions, all in near-boiling water. cook them well and let them simmer until they are cooked to mush. Strain with the cooking liquid, and keep the sauce on the side to finish your pottages.
Modern adaptation of the recipes
The peas have to be steeped in water overnight, according to the recipes, so whole green peas are used and not split peas. However, split peas are just green peas without the husk that keeps the halves together. So use split peas that don’t need steeping if you want to. On the picture below are the floating husks of boiled green peas. By the way, split peas with the husks already removed did not come into production until late nineteenth century.
Pea stock from La Varenne for Lent
What does La varenne mean with purée claire? Purée is never ‘clear’, least of all pea purée. I think it just means thin purée, and Scully has used the same interpretation.
Preparation in advance 1 night soaking (when using whole green peas); preparation 60 minutes.
150 gr (¾ cup) whole dried green peas or split peas
1 litre (1¾ pints) water
1 tsp salt
Preparation in advance
When using green peas, rinse them, and steep them overnight in ample water. Split peas can be used at once.
Bring the green peas to the boil with the water. When using split peas, add about a quarter amount more water. Cook until the peas are almost done (45 minutes for split peas, 60 minutes for green peas). Purée the stock by straining or using a food mill (passevite). With split peas you can also use a blender.
The resulting liquid is thinner than peasoup, but when it has cooled it will be thick. Reheating will make the pea purée thin again.
Use this stock for Lent for all medieval recipes that need pea purée.
Pea stock from L.S.R. for Lent and outside of Lent
The recipe from L.S.R. makes it clear that the purée can thicken too much during preparation, you have to have warm water at hand to add if necessary. The addition of butter certainly is not medieval, especially not during Lent, when all dairy products were off limits. Because the recipes for Lent and outside of Lent are much the same, I have combined the two.
For these recipes split peas work best, as you won’t have to remove the husks first before puréeing using a blender. For 1 litre/2 pints.
150 gr (¾ cup) split peas
some sprigs of parsley, tarragon, chervil and chives
1 litre (1¾ pints) boiling water
3 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 bay leaf
Outside of Lent
2 onions, chopped
½ head butterhead lettuce, washed and chopped coarsly
1 tsp of combined spices (pepper, nutmeg, mace)
Add everything but butter and cloves to the water in a pan, bring to the boil and let simmer for 45 minutes. For a stock for Lent add bay leaf. When preparing this stock outside of Lent, add onions, lettuce and spices. When the peas are done, purée everything in a blender or by working it through a strainer or food mill. Add butter and cloves to the still warm purée.
How to keep and use the stock for Lent
All the stock on this page can be frozen. Freeze in amounts varying from 1 tablespoon to a cup or a pint, because for some recipes you’ll only need a spoonful, other recipes have the stock as one of the main ingredients. See also the introduction to making stock on this site.
All descriptions of ingredients
The Pisum sativum belongs to the family of Leguminosae or Fabaceae s.l.. The seeds (peas) grow in pods which are some also eaten (snow peas). In the seventeenth century the eating of unripe, fresh green peas became very popular (see this recipe). Dried green peas have to be steeped in water before cooking, and the husks have to be removed. Split peas are dried peas from which the husk is already removed, and they can be cooked without steeping them first. Peas were an important part of the medieval diet, along with lentils and broad beans.
Parsley, chives, tarragon, chervil.
French measure: 831cc or 8,3 deciliter (about 3 1/2 cups, in Parijs, elsewhere there were different values).
The editions below were used by me. Links refer to available editions.
- L.S.R., L’Art de bien traiter, Lyon, 1693 (online versie). Editie 1674 hertaald naar modern Frans: L’art de la cuisine française au XVIIe siècle (Payot), Paris, 1995 pp. 17/237.
- François Pierre La Varenne, Le cuisinier françois d’apres l’édition de 1651, Facsimile editie met een voorwoord van Philip en Mary Hyman. (Houilles, 2002).
- François Pierre, La Varenne’s Cookery: The French Cook, the French Pastry Chef, the French Confectioner. Engelse vertaling met inleiding en aantekeningen van Terence Scully (Prospect Books, 2006).
Recipes for Vegetarian stock for Lent
Three historical recipes for stock to be used during Lent in Medieval en 17th century recipes.