Sunday, 20 September 2015

Pease please Louise!

Dollshouse 12th scale miniature food, shelled peas by MedievalMorsels
Back in the summer, when modelling the broad bean, so-beloved of peasants in the Dark and Middle Ages, MedievalMorsels could not resist modelling some field peas too. Although, I must be truthful, they did send me a little mad.  Modelling individual shelled peas at 1/12th scale  is not for the faint hearted! Or short-sighted.
Tudor dollhouse food, one inch scale tub of peas

Medieval dollshouse kitchen, 1:12 half barrel of dried peas

 It was a sunny day so I repaired to the garden with all my "making" stuff. And some of my sister's stuff. She has been kind enough, ever since I first tarted making miniature food for the dollshouse, to lend or give me supplies and tools and more. But modelling outside, never again! 
Peas for a pease pottage, pease porridge or even pease pudding!
  However still and sunny a day seems, there is always an unexpected puff of wind. A real nuisance for miniaturists, whether they are attempting to photograph or model small items. They are apt to move! The wind took my featherlight, former fastfood container with painstakingly rolled peas and deposited them on the grass. If I bother to go outside to make miniatures again I'll weigh everything down with a brick. That should do the trick.

Store MedievalMorsels dried peas and beans in a ceramic crock pot!
 There are some toxic elements in the coloured polymer clays used by we "professionals", so the only upside to my mishap was that my peas were far too small for resident marauding wood pigeons to find and eat amongst the blades of grass. I don't fancy the worms' digestive chances though! 

We cannot underestimate the importance of dried peas, as well as broad (fava) beans, in Dark and Middle Ages diet of northern Europe. And England in particular! The grey field pea had tough, inedible husks and was grown to produce dried peas for  winter stores. The peas were luckily suitable for both human and animal consumption and, as a bonus after threshing, the vines and pods were used as cattle fodder.

More rarely, and wastefully, the field peas might be husked and split before cooking - giving the “split pea". But usually it was stored whole, and such dried peas provided the bulk of the Medieval peasant family’s essential winter food provisions. Along with some cured bacon from their slaughtered pig. Richer household put more expensive ingredients into their pottage pot, but  this would not prevent them from enjoying addition the staple pottage of peas and bacon.
12th scale dollhouse food, cauldron of pease pottage with bacon

  The ancient nursery rhyme “Pease porridge hot, pease porridge cold, pease porridge in the pot, nine days old” illustrates that peasant cottage and manor house were likely to have a pot (kettle, cauldron) of pease porridge/pottage "on the go" in winter. “Pease” was in fact the singular form of the old English word, later becoming abbreviated in modern language to “pea”.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

The Isle of Ely, or Eeley?

A recent edition of the "Kitchen Cabinet" on BBC Radio Four came from Ely, often referred to by locals as "The Isle of Ely".  This small city In Cambridgeshire is not so very far from where I grew up as a child.  So, of course, I was very interested in the programme.

The Isle of Ely is so-called because in the Dark and Middle Ages, and in later times too, it stood elevated literally as an island. Topographically the land that was settled lies a little higher than the surrounding marshland of "The Fens" which, to this day, lie below sea-level. 

Earliest school history lessons had taught me about heroic Hereward the Wake, who hailed from The Fens and hunkered down in Ely. He  fought successful skirmishes with the Normans invaders for as long as he could, effectively he was a guerilla fighter, using the marshes to cover his tracks. Quite literally! We were told in the programme by a local historian that the Normans resolved to lay siege to the Isle of Ely and starve him and his supporters into submission.
MedievalMorsels' tubs of live wriggling eels for a period dollhouse, one inch scale

Buckets of 12th scale eels for a Tudor, medieval dollshouse
Which brings me to a second point. Ely is a strange name, there is no doubt, and it is so similar to the word eel. It really does reflect the fact that Eels were abundant in those Fenland marshes. In fact, Ely paid its taxes to the reigning Medieval monarchs by way of barrels of eels! Revenue from the sale of eels, we were told in the radio programme, paid for the building of the very impressive Medieval Cathedral, and much more besides. 
Eels for a 1:12 dolls house kitchen scene, miniature food by MedievalMorsels
But the process of laying siege and starving the inhabitants of Ely into submission must have been a protracted one - after all I am sure the locals knew a hundred or more ways to catch and cook eels. Rather like the Portuguese and the 365 dishes they can cook with their national fish - bacalhau, salted cod.

But back to the eels. MedievalMorsels models eels in wooden tubs. Ideal for the one inch scale Medieval or Tudor period dolls house kitchen or storeroom. Many of my clients say how ugly they are - I think the mean the eels not the models thereof! Judge for yourself. Is it because my eels are just too realistic? And eels do resemble snakes which can trigger a primeval fear in some. Or is it that we instinctively realise eels are just too slithery and therfore difficult to prepare for the pot? And to modern tastes, are they fatty and unpalatable even after all that effort? 
What would you do if you met these eels and their catfish friend modelled by MedievalMorsels?

Well if so, how about salted cod instead? MedievalMorsels can oblige on that score too!

MedievalMorsels makes 12th scale salted cod for you period dolls house kitchen scene

I have swum three quarters of a mile in a swimming race in the River Great Ouse at Ely. Well it was a long time ago, I was 13 years old. My worry then was not eels, I did not think of that!  My worry, because my friend Linda Plowright and I had been teased about it by the older swimmers, was pike hiding in the shadows under the bridges! I recall that I tried to swim under the bridges, and past trees which cast scary shadows on the river surface, as fast as I could! After all the Great Ouse is a wide, muddy  river - full of Fenland silt and clay - where you have no chance of knowing what is going on beneath the surface!

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Pie bakes

MedievalMorsels has been experimenting with different styles of Dark Ages, Middle Ages and later periods of table pie for a period dolls house. Some pretty ornate,  which could serve as a centrepiece on a feast table, and others that would serve as a table pie in a rich merchant or a noble's home.
1:12 scale pies with gilded cross by MedievalMorsels

Medieval, Tudor pies for a dollhouse feast centrepiece!
One inch dollshouse food, pies!

MedievalMorsels' leaf decorated Georgian, Tudor pies

On the very popular BBC TV programme "Great British Bake Off" this week, week five, the competition revolved around pastry making challenges - a franzipan tart, flakey pastry vol au vents and a Cypriot speciality cheese pastry parcel. 

But the historical interlude during the c programme  focused on Denby Dale in Yorkshire, which holds the Guinness Book of Records world record for the largest meat and potato pie. The world beating pie was baked in 1988 to celebrate the passage of 200 years since the C18th, when Denby Dale's first giant pie was baked in 1788. Incidentally that was to celebrate the recovery of King George III from his mental illness. And it was that George who "oversaw" England's loss of colonies in the North America. So we can sumise that around the same time that an important War of Independence was raging in the "New World", on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean in the "Old World" giant pies were planned and baked! Conjure with that if you will!

Denby Dale also a baked behemoth pie in 1846 to celebrate the repeal of the Corn Laws, which heavily taxed the price of grain. That pie was eight feet in diameter, a veritable giant for its day. Apparently the Master of Ceremonies fell into it!

In 1877, this time to celebrate Queen Victoria's 60 years Golden Jubilee on the throne, another pie was baked. But this one went sour and had to be hastily buried in quicklime. I can imagine it held quite a few carcasses worth of meat -  yuk, smelly! 

Luck was not with the Denby Dale community in 1928 when their bumper pie got stuck in the brick oven. There was more success in 1964 when the   monster pie fed 30,000 people. 

Which of MedievalMorsels' mini pies at 12th scale is a winner for you?

Pastry leaf decorated 12th scale pie
One inch scale dolls house Medieval, Tudor pies
MedievalMorsels celebrates with hand raised pies

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Bringing in the beans!

12th scale fava beans
12th scale dollhouse miniature food by MedievaMorsels, beans!

MedievalMorsels had a bit of fun modelling one inch beans for the period or modern dollshouse kitchen last week! The results were quite colourful and have, I am pleased to say, met with some approval from the miniaturist community!

MedievalMorsels' one inch scale bowls and tubs of beans
The bean cycle according to MedievalMorsels, dollhouse miniature food
Dried lentils and other peas, beans or "pulses" have a long tradition in mankind's food history. Neolithic ancestors of modern man ate them, and so did the ancient Greeks. 

And from literary sources, the Old Testament , we are told that Esau came in from his fields so weary and hungry that he sold his twin brother his birthright for "red pottage....of lentils." 
The Romans so prized pulses that they appear as ancient family names - fabius (broad bean), lenticulus (lentil),  or cicero (chickpea). Who, except a student of language, would have believed this? 

Tudor dollhouse food, 12th scale fava beans for a dollshouse kitchen scene