Monday, August 8, 2022

Merryell Williams' Book of Recipes (Peniarth MS 513D) - Pease Pottage

Merryell Williams' Book of Recipes
Peniarth MS 513D

This is a volume of cooking and medicinal recipes which were collected by Merryell Williams of the Ystumcolwyn Estate, Montgomeryshire, towards the end of the 17th century and the beginning of the 18th century. The manuscript is in English. Within its covers we are given a glimpse of the types of meals created in the kitchens of mid Wales' nobility during this period.

Images of the original manuscript are freely available on the National Library of Wales website.

I have done my best to provide an accurate, but readable transcription. Common abbreviations have been expanded, letters like thorn and yogh have been replaced with their modern equivalents, and some minor punctuation has been added.

Copyright © 2022 by Daniel Myers,

[7] Pease Pottage.  Take green pease being shelled & cleaned, put them in a Pickin [pipkin] of fair boyling watter. When they are boyled and tender, strain some of them to thicken the rest. Put to them a bundle of sweet herbs chops [chopped?],  sault and butter being through boyled. Dish them & Serve them in a Deep Dish with Sault and Sippets about them.

There are numerous recipes for pea soup in early European cookbooks, but there are two aspects of this one that are unusual. The first is the instruction to strain some of the peas to thicken the soup, and the other is the lack of additional ingredients such as onions or bacon.  These differences significantly reduce the number of related recipes in other sources.

While these two recipes from Arundel 334 do add bread and call for beef broth instead of water, they are still very similar to Williams':
Grene pesen (pease) to potage. Take yonge grene pesen, and sethe hom with gode broth of beef, and take parsell, sage, saveray, and ysope, and a lytel brede, and bray all this in a morter, and sume of the pesen therwyth, and tempur hit wyth the broth, and do hit in a pot to the other pesen, and let hit boyle togedur, and serve hit forth. [Ancient Cookery [Arundel 334] (England, 1425), as reproduced in  R. Warner's "Antiquitates culinariae" (1791)]
Grene pesen. Take grene pesen, and fethe hom with brothe of flesshe ; and take parfel, hyfope, and faveray, brayed with a lytel bred, and bray half the pesen withal, and streyne up al togeder, and al into the fame pot, do the remnant of the fame pesen, and let hom fethe; and serve hom forthe. [Ancient Cookery [Arundel 334] (England, 1425), as reproduced in  R. Warner's "Antiquitates culinariae" (1791)]

Here's another, slightly later version that also includes bread, but doesn't call for broth:

To mak yonge pessene tak pessen and par boille hem in water then gadar hem up and set the tone half upon the fyere with good brothe of beef and bray the remniant in a mortair withe parsley ysope and bred and draw it throughe a strener into a pot with the other pessen and boile it and salt it and serue it. [A Noble Boke off Cookry (England, 1468)]

And another even later that mentions serving the soup over sops:

For White pease pottage.. Take a quart of white Pease or more & seeth them in faire water close, vntill they doe cast their huskes, the which cast away, as long as any wil come vp to the topp, and when they be gon, then put into the peaze two dishes of butter, and a little vergious, with pepper and salt, and a little fine powder of March, and so let it stand till you will occupy it, and the[n] serue it vpon sops. You may sée the Porpose and Seale in your Pease, seruing it forth two péeces in a dish. [The Second part of the good Hus-wiues Iewell (England, 1597)]

Searching through the more recent sources yields this match:

To make green Peas Soop. Take half a bushel of the youngest Peas, divide the great from the small; boil the smallest in two quarts of Water, and the biggest in one quart: when they are well boiled, bruise the biggest, and when the thin is drained from it, boil the thick in as much cold Water as will cover at; then rub away the Skins, and take a little Spinage, Mint, Sorrel, Lettuce and Parsley, and a good quantity of Marigolds; wash, shred and boil these in half a pound of Butter, and drain the small Peas; save the Water, and mingle all together, and a spoonful of Pepper whole; then melt a quarter of a pound of Butter, and shake a little Flour into it, and let it boil; put the Liquor to the Butter, and mingle all well together, and let them boil up: so serve it with dry’d Bread. [The Compleat Housewife (England, 1729)]

I'm starting to build a mental framework for early Welsh cookery and how it differs from that of England. The recipes so far seem to focus less on what could be considered "fancy" ingredients and tend to be more ... rustic?  We'll see if that holds up as we progress through the book.