- 'Biscuits' (a cross between a biscuit and a cracker...will explain below) with fresh butter, cheese and honey
- Beef stew with root vegetables and nettles or Smoked bacon and mushroom stew with cream
- Stewed apples/berries topped with chopped hazelnuts, honey and cream
Essentially a bread dough. Mix together flour, water and a pinch of salt until you have a soft, pliable dough. Do this by eye and by feel - it shouldn't be a sticky dough and it shouldn't be too short either. Once dough is made, break off small pieces ca. the size of a golf ball and press them flat between your palms until ca. 2-3mm thick (the idea is to get a thin, crispy cracker-type end product, rather than a doughy, heavy bread type).
The biscuits are best cooked on an iron skillet but broken pot sherds placed on top of glowing coals can also be used. This works just as well and can give multiple hands something to be doing. Check frequently to make sure they don't burn and turn once during cooking.
Savoury variations: Add more salt, spices or herbs to the dough as desired.
Sweet: Add honey, finely diced apple, small berries such as currants.
Same method for both the beef and bacon versions. You need to heat the water first. NB - All pots must be AT LEAST half full of water/stew/apples whatever, at all times when cooking over an open fire (any less and the pots will crack/shatter). This raises an interesting question in terms of Irish ceramic finds as it's damn near impossible to boil a pot of water over an open fire without a lid... So, use your imaginations! Add diced beef, onions and root vegetables and cook gently for at least an hour until meat is cooked and veg are tender, remembering to keep rotating the pot towards the heat at all times. The buttermilk from making butter (see below) can also be added for extra flavour. Any herbs, nettles (pick the young shoots, they have the best flavour) should be added just before the end to allow the sting of the nettle to be cooked off but without losing all the flavour. Use plenty of herbs. Remember to add salt *after* serving in wooden bowls.
Bacon takes a little less time to cook. The bacon should be a joint of smoked bacon by the way, rashers won't cut the mustard here! Cut the bacon into small dice and add to the boiling water with chopped onions. Add the mushrooms after ca. 15 min and allow to simmer for a further 15 min. Add herbs and cream before serving.
Tip: If the beef stew is lacking a bit of flavour, remember that smoked bacon and cream can rescue pretty much any dish. A bottle of dark ale wouldn't do the beef stew any harm either...
Very simple. get some cream (ca. 1L), tip it into a bowl. Make up a whisk using some small willow twigs (willow contains a natural antiseptic and so reduces risk of introducing bacteria) bound together with string. Start whisking!
Takes a long time and takes even longer on a warm day (make sure you do this in the shade if it's a warm, sunny day, otherwise you'll end up with a gooey, butter 'parfait' instead of a nice, solid pat of butter) and for some reason, can be well nigh impossible to do on a day with thundery weather.
When the butter begins to separate from the buttermilk, gather the butter into a clump with your hand and transfer to a shallow wooden bowl. Spread the clump flat so that it's ca. 2cm thick. Pour a dollop of clean water over it and begin pressing the water into the butter with the back of a spoon. As you do this, you'll see the water turn milky as the buttermilk is pressed out of the butter. Drain this off and repeat this cleaning process until the last water runs off clear, showing you that all the buttermilk (or as much as is possible with this method) has been removed.. The more buttermilk you have in the butter, the more sour it will taste. Add salt and herbs as desired. Leave to stand in a cool place, covered with a light cloth.
You can make a good portion of fresh cheese using two liters of buttermilk. Very simple to make - just tip it all into a pot, cover with a lid and stand close to, but not directly in the heat. Rotate the pot as before and check every now and again to see if the curds and whey have separated. Once they have fully separated (you should see a large, round clump of 'cheese' floating under the surface of the whey) take the pot off the heat fully and leave to stand for ca. 20 min. You then need to separate the cheese from the whey. You can do this using a cheesecloth or it can also be effectively done just taking your time and carefully using the back of a spoon. You want to try and minimise breaking up the curds - otherwise you get a very crumby cheese instead of a nice, soft one. The whey can also be added to the stews if wished, drunk (if folk are of that persuasion - you should at least give it a taste for early medievalnesses sake!) and I'm promised that it's the ultimate natural face cleanser. Take it or leave it!
You can now add chopped herbs and salt to the cheese. Leave to stand in a cool place, covered with a light cloth.
As per making butter, just stop whisking when you get to the cream stage!!
Again, very simple. Peel the apples and chop them roughly. Add them and berries (if using) to a pot, ensuring they almost fill the pot that you choose to use - see the note on cracking above. Add a small cup of water and place the pot close to, but not in the direct heat. Rotate pot as before and stir regularly - remember not to tap the spoon on the side of the pot after stirring!! Add more water during cooking if necessary. Once the fruit is soft, serve warm topped with honey, chopped hazelnuts and freshly whipped cream.
Top Tips for Cooking in Ceramic Pots
- Pots at least half full with liquid/content at all times- Rotate pots regularly to distribute the heat- NEVER tap the spoon on the rim of the pot after stirring- NEVER add salt to food being cooked in a ceramic pot- Bank coals around the pots rather than standing the pot base directly on them- Only use hot water for cleaning pots, never fairy liquid etc. The ceramic can't take it.
Thanks to Dr. Triona Nicholl for letting me publish this info! Triona based much of this on recipes developed in the Iron Age Village at Lejre, Denmark (so thanks to them too!). I will hopefully be attending the experimental cook off later in the summer and will post photos, videos and maybe even a review of the cooking on show.