Episode 3: The Medieval Michelin Guide: Finding Food on the Camino de Santiago, 1490
Where can a medieval pilgrim expect to find a good meal on the Camino de Santiago? Learn how to survive your pilgrimage with Roman tips on how to make your bread last longer as well as where to find safe water while travelling in the countryside. We'll also sample some of the local diverse treats of medieval Spanish cuisine including the Persian-inspired dish of escabeche and miraculous pastries from a town where chickens are sacred. See you on the Camino!
Written & Produced by Laura Carlson
Technical Direction by Mike Portt
Recipes Mentioned in the Podcast:
This classic of Spanish & Latin American cuisine may have its origins in medieval Iran. The 14th century Catalan Cookbook, Libre de Sent Sovi (The Book of Saint Sofia) includes a recipe for Pex Frit ab Escabeyg or Fried Fish with Escabeche. For a modern incarnation of this medieval Spanish dish and more information about international variations, see Saveur.com's recipe for Fish with Escabeche Sauce.
Interested in trying your hand at medieval bread? Check out medievalists.net for some extra info on types of bread in the middle ages, including a few recipes for Trencher Bread (similar to the barley bread mentioned in the episode) and Nabatean Bread, a bread popular in Baghdad in the 10th century.
Ahorcaditos (Little Hanged Men):
Although these pastries seem to have only popped up in the 20th century, they are little edible reminders of the famous medieval miracle of Santo Domingo de la Calzada. Meant to represent both the scallop shell of the Camino and the hanged boy who was restored to life by Santo Domingo, they use some classic ingredients of northern Spanish cooking, including a lovely and unusual squash jam! This recipe is a slight modification from the original one found here (in Spanish).
Makes: 4 pastries
100 grams of cooked waxy potato (interior only, no skin)
2 tablespoons of cabello de ángel jam (see recipe & note below)
4 tablespoons of granulated sugar + 50 grams (divided)
50 grams of water
2 sheets of puff pastry
100 grams of finely chopped almonds (almond flour also works well here) plus extra for garnish
1 lightly beaten egg + 1 tablespoon of water (combined and set aside)
Preheat the oven to 395F or 200C.
Boil the whole potato in water. Do not salt the water or the potato. Cook until it slides off easily when you poke it with a knife (this may take around 30 minutes or more). Let the potato cool slightly and scoop out the insides with a fork and mash gently in order to form a puree.
Roll out the pastry dough and lightly sprinkle two tablespoons of sugar on top. Go over the sugar and pastry with a rolling pin in order to help the sugar stick and to keep it uniform throughout the pastry.
Now to form the pastry into the scallop shell shape. Each will be approximately the size of your palm. These shapes aren’t easy, so you might need to practice in order to perfect the look. It might be easiest to roughly draw the scallop shape on a piece of parchment paper to act as a guide as you’re shaping the pastry. You will need to make 8 shells in total (as each shell is one half of a total pastry). Keep the reserve pastry bits you cut off for later, as it will be used for additional decoration.
For the filling, add 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar and finely chopped almonds or almond flour to the mashed potato. Mix well and add the squash jam. Mix until you have an even filling.
Take four of the shells and place them on a silicon mat or parchment paper. In the middle of each shell, place the filling, leaving room on the sides so it can be joined easily with its other half.
When you have filled all four, with a pastry brush paint the outer rims of all 8 pastries with the water & egg combination. Affix one unfilled shell to a filled one, creating a full scallop-shell pastry. Repeat for each of the other three so you end up with four pastries.
Using the leftover pastry, make 4 man-shaped figures (like gingerbread men). They need to be fairly flat in order to stick to the scallop shells. Using your pastry brush, paint one side of the men with the egg & water mixture and affix one to each of the scallop pastries.
Lightly prick each of the scallop shells in order to prevent too much swelling in the oven.
Bake the scallop shells in the middle rack of the oven for 10 minutes or until they have become golden brown.
While they are baking, make the syrup. Combine 50 grams of sugar with 50 grams of water in a small saucepan. Bring the mixture to a rolling boil and then remove from heat.
When you take the shells out of the oven after baking, generously drench the shells in the sugar syrup and sprinkle any extra chopped almonds over the pastries for garnish.
Let cool completely before serving.
Note: Cabello de Ángel jam is a specialty product used in sweet pastries throughout Spain, particularly in La Rioja. It's hard to find in stores outside Spain, but you can also make it at home! The traditional jam uses a particular kind of squash that English speakers often call a black-seed, pie melon, or cidra squash. If you can find one of these at your local store, fantastic! Otherwise, you can substitute spaghetti squash as the jam base. Find a recipe for a slightly modified Cabello de Ángel jam here at The Harvest Vine blog.
The Codex Calixtinus: A Medieval Michelin Guide?
The Codex Calixtinus, often known as the Liber Sancti Jacobi (Book of St. Jacob), is a 12th century manuscript on the medieval pilgrimage path of the Camino de Santiago. Believed to have been commissioned by Pope Calixtus II (ca. 1065-1124), it contains images, music, and text about the pilgrimage. Book V is often considered one of the earliest guide books in medieval Europe as it provides a rough outline of the routes of the pilgrimage as well as advice on how to find food and water along the way.
More Great Books on the Camino de Santiago & Medieval Food:
William Melczer, The Pilgrim's Guide to Santiago de Compostela (1993). One of the first great English translations of the Codex Calixtinus.
Massimo Montanari, Medieval Tastes: Food, Cooking, and the Table (Arts and Traditions of the Table: Perspectives on Culinary History) (English translation, 2015). A fantastic investigation into medieval culinary customs and the religious, political, and economic contexts to medieval food.
Agnus Dei & Sanctus, Gregorian Chant