Historically Hers: Leaven it to Medieval Cooking

Welcome to the newest column here at Happy Valley Crafters. This is where I blather on randomly about historical stuff. But first, some PAQ (pre-anticipated questions):

1. I need to make a costume from such-and-such historical era, will you tell me how to do it?

I won’t do research for you, and I won’t teach you how to sew. I have drafted some historical patterns, but since they’re available for free, I don’t want to see any whining about how they don’t have instructions. Figure it out or go buy one.

2. You are all wrong, everyone knows that such-and-such is how it really was!

I don’t care if you disagree with me. I’m not the historical know-all. Just make sure you have a valid argument by showing some resources to back yourself up.

Okay, now for some actual historical stuff!

Did you know that baking soda wasn’t invented until the late 1700s, in America (as pearl ash)? For the record, baking powder is a mixture of baking soda and a powdered acid like cream of tartar, so I’m including that in this discussion.

As a person who likes medieval cooking, this leaves me wondering, how did medieval cooks leaven anything made with batter? I suppose you could use yeast in everything, though I haven’t tried it to see how it works and tastes. Here are some other ideas:

Using a carbonated drink to add air to the batter. This would have been some kind of alcohol like beer or a sparkling wine.

Apparently foods with live bacteria cultures (yogurt and so on) can be used to leaven, but I have no idea how!

Creaming butter and sugar, and cutting butter into flour, is a sort of leavening, but it doesn’t get much volume.

The last idea is whipping egg whites, like is done with sponge cakes. It’s hard to find a modern sponge cake recipe that doesn’t have baking soda in it, but I know it can be made with just eggs as leavening. This is really great for thin batters like cake, but not useful for thicker batters like biscuits and dumplings.

If I want to know how medieval cooks did it, why don’t I look at medieval recipes? Medieval Cookery is a great site, as is Gode Cookery, though it’s ridiculously difficult to navigate.

Here’s the thing. I couldn’t find any recipes that were remotely like modern cakes, pancakes, or biscuits, or anything that we usually use baking soda in. There was a crepe recipe, but those aren’t leavened anyway. Is the idea of a medieval cake a myth?

About Volatile Volscian

Volatile Volscian makes a lot of stuff in order to ease the time while waiting around to die. If she could have anything in the world, she would choose the ability to time travel so she can look at real medieval clothing instead of doing annoying research.
This entry was posted in Historically Hers and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Historically Hers: Leaven it to Medieval Cooking

  1. I bet they used alchemy and magics to leaven their cakes.

  2. Dame Toadstool says:

    Haha, love your use of ragecomics. You know, I’m going to test out some medieval chocolate chip cookies by making them without the baking soda. I don’t care about leavening since I only make them for the batter anyway. Wait, they had chocolate chips in medieval times, right? RIGHT?

    I mean, how else does one deal with PMS?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Please do one simple math equation to prove you\'re not a spambot. *