Meat Pies and Powder Fort

(I am moving this over from the old blog because it’s the post that started it all, and I feel like it’s a good post to ‘”start” this blog with. This was shortly before I went to Goddard and got access to EEBO and before I discovered the manuscript receipt books. I hadn’t even begun to talk about women authors yet, but I knew I wasn’t seeing the whole story. So good for you, younger Stephany…)

The recipe is based on one my husband’s mom made when he was young, but it reminds me a good deal of a lot of the medieval meat pies I’ve had at SCA events, mostly because of the unique blend of sugar and spice, used as flavoring.

For my little herbal digression before sharing the recipe with you I’d like to bring to your attention the ingredient in many medieval recipes known as powder fort.  This is a common ingredient in medieval cookbooks, but it seems no one is quite sure of exactly the spices used in this concoction, but many food historians have given their best conjectures as to what these spices were. 

There seem to be as many interpretations as there are medieval food researchers. Daniel Myers who is publisher/author of the website Medieval Cookery, has this to say about his recipe: ” Many medieval recipes call for spice mixtures without detailing the exact spices. While it is tempting to assume that each particular spice mixture had a consistent recipe, there is evidence of substantial variation for different times, regions, budgets, and cooks.”  

This is the recipe he shares along with the advice to make it your own which I appreciate because I don’t really love ginger all that much.  I’d substitute nutmeg.

3 Tbsp. ginger
1 1/2 Tbsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. cloves
1 tsp. cubebs
1 tsp. grains of paradise
1 tsp. black pepper

Really why I wanted to mention this is to ask herbally inclined readers to take a good look at these recipes, especially those of you who have studied Ayurveda.

Does this remind you of anything?

A churna, perhaps? At the very least, it is a blend of seasonings which would serve to stimulate and promote digestion. I make this comparison because I believe the reason that our students are so intrigued by the Eastern healing philosophies and are unaware of the rich history of Western herbalism which may be more evident when one takes into account the medieval cookery books as well as the dry “learned” herbals of the day.

Why do we teach Gerard to our students but not Tusser?  This has always been a source of confusion to me until I read a few books which made me start to think of history of herbalism as being the history of men who could read and write and who were, when it comes down to it, quite disdainful of folk medicine.Even Culpeper who supported the idea of “English herbs for English bodies” still believed in the superiority of the Greek Galen’s Art of Physick over the simple remedies of the country people.  

I believe that only focusing on the printed herbal, gives us an extremely limited perspective of how herbs were actually used in Ireland and Britain, and I am constantly intrigued by little bits of information I find in the folklore and oral histories, I am discovering. Eventually I will have my thoughts organized into a large body of information, but for now back to dinner. First you will need to make a double crust pie recipe.

Pork and Apple Pie

2 lbs cubed pork
4 green, tart apples peeled, cored and sliced
2 tbsp sugar
3 tsp powder fort

  1. I like to sear the pork cubes first as it cuts down on the cooking time and keeps the meat more tender. You can do this in a frying pan while the oven preheats to 350 degrees.
  2. Then mix together the sugar and spices.
  3. Line an 8X8 pan with crust and then layer, the meat and the apples sprinkling the seasonings over the layers. Don’t be afraid to stack it high and pack them tightly, the apples shrink quite a lot as it bakes.
  4. Pour any juice in the frying pan over the layers and then top with another crust. Cut a few vent slices in the top crust and bake it in the oven for about 50 minutes or until the apples are tender.

Published by Stephany Riley Hoffelt

If you want to read more about me, it's on the website

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