December 11, 2019 7:01 am 2 Comments
Not another new dish for Christmas? Well no, you’re quite safe. Frumenty is actually the very oldest of Christmas dishes – dating back to medieval times, it’s actually what Christmas pudding once was, before it became Christmas pudding!
Frumenty (or variations of that name) is a thick boiled grain dish (its name derives from the Latin word frumentum, meaning ‘grain’). It is usually made with cracked wheat (such as bulgur wheat), boiled with either milk or some kind of stock and flavoured with all manner of other ingredients. In its most basic form, it was a simple kind of peasant’s porridge.
For rich and poor
Around Christmastime, however, Frumenty took a step up the social ladder. It became a traditional Christmas Eve meal in various parts of the country and was served up to lords, ladies and royalty as well as the poor. (Even if the rich, gearing up for a proper feast on the days to come, might have seen it as somewhat of a ‘fasting’ meal before the celebrations proper, rather than a great treat).
Frumenty at Christmas could be savoury – boiled in broth and served with beef or mutton; sweet – mixed with sugar, dried fruit, spices and wine; or even a mixture of both – spices and dried fruit were often served with meat before refrigeration was invented, as preservatives. All of these ingredients, whether mixed together or served separately, were the luxury products of their day.
Make your own frumenty
There are still people who swear by a dish of Frumenty to see them through Christmas morning! If you fancy making your own version of this rich, thick, fruity porridge, then start with this recipe from the 1390s:
Original Receipt in ‘The Forme of Cury‘ by the Chief Master-Cook of King Richard II, c1390
FOR TO MAKE FURMENTY
Take clean wheat and crush it in a morter well that the hulls go all by them selves. Take fair fresh broth and milk of almonds or sweet milk of cows and temper it all. and take the yolks of eggs. Boil it a little and set it down and present it forth with fat venison and fresh mutton.
For something slightly easier to follow, try this Victorian recipe. https://www.severnbites.com/2016/12/21/a-victorian-christmas-furmenty-and-snapdragon/.
- 140g whole spelt
- 50g ground almonds
- 50g currants or raisins
- ½ tsp each of cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger
- 150g milk
- 50g sugar (or to taste)
- Pinch of saffron soaked in a tablespoon of water
- 2 eggs, beaten
- Cook the spelt in 500 ml water until softened.
- Add the milk, spices and saffron.
- Cook until the milk is reduced to one-half. Add the ground almonds and raisins. Add water if the consistency is too thick.
- Stir in half the sugar and taste. Add the remaining sugar if required
- Let it cook a little, then add the eggs. At this stage heat very gently or the eggs will become scrambled.
The evolution of Frumenty
Some food historians trace a direct line between Frumenty and our very own Christmas puddings. These too, involve flour, sugar, spices, alcohol and dried fruit, although you’ll now only find meat in them in the form of fat (particularly beef suet). Our Christmas puddings are unlikely to be boiled, but instead, will probably be steamed.
At this point in the year, you’ve missed the traditional day for preparing your Christmas puddings – but shh! we won’t tell if you want to get on with one right now.
Here’s the NGF Christmas pudding recipe, taken from the now defunct Leicester Wholefood Cookery School. It makes four 1lb puddings or 2 2lb puddings, all lovely, dark, shiny and vegetarian.
100g/4oz mixed peel
25g/1oz ground almonds
Grated rind of one lemon
Pinch grated nutmeg
5 tablespoons cold-pressed oil
250ml/½ pint ale, such as Guinness
Mix all the ingredients together, except the eggs, cover and leave for 8 hours or so.
Then add the eggs and put into greased bowls. Cover with greased greaseproof paper and wrap in foil (don’t let foil come in direct contact with the mixture) or a cloth. Steam the 1lb size for 2 hours and the 2lb size for 3 hours.
Store somewhere cool until Christmas, then heat up either in the steamer or microwave if preferred.
For pages, monarchs and poor men
It’s nice to think, in this season of bitter weather, of a meal that served both lords and ladies and the poorest too. I particularly like this quote from the publication Telescope of 1822, which says of village life in Yorkshire at this time of year:
“The yule candle is lighted, and a supper is served, of which one dish, from the lordly mansion to the humblest shed, is invariably furmety.”
Let’s all dine together!
Tags: almond milk, baking parchment, bulgur wheat, christmas, Christmas pudding, cinnamon, cold-pressed oil, currants, dried fruit, environmentally friendly greaseproof paper, frumenty, furmenty, furmety, ginger, ground almonds, ground ginger, if you care, kamut, mixed peel, mixed spice, nutmeg, raisins, saffron, spelt, spelt grain, spices, stock cube, sugar, sultanas, wholemeal flour
This post was written by Yzanne