Frumenty is a thick-boiled grain-based dish which is very familiar to porridge. Derived from the Latin word for grain, ‘Frumentum’, this staple of the medieval peasantry was often made with cracked wheat and then boiled with either milk or a broth. The choice of milk or broth mostly boiled down to the choice of serving this dish with either savoury or sweet foods, which makes this a surprisingly versatile dish for something so ubiquitous in Medieval England.
Over time this dish evolved, initially being rather simple to eventually contain a variety of fruits, spices and sugars and in some cases being thickened with eggs. This helped to further propel it into high society, where it was often used as a subtlety (a dish between courses) at banquets.
Frumenty is still made and sold in restaurants on occasion, with a notable example of this in recent times (2013) being a Frumenty starter of grilled octopus, smoked sea broth, pickled dulse seaweed and lovage at Heston Bluementhal’s restaurant ‘Dinner’ located close to Hyde Park in London.
This dish also seems to have continued locally, at least until recent times. Published in 2006, Steve Roud mentions of occurrences in which he found different recipes across the country. One which was specifically noted was based in Weston-super-Mare.
He speaks about country women in shawls and sunbonnets coming to Weston’s market in the 1960’s. They had little carts which carried basins of ‘new wheat boiled to a jelly’. These were put into a large pot with milk, eggs and sultanas and were cooked lightly. Once ready, this was poured into pie-dishes and served during lent.
The Forme of Cury (1390 CE), one of the oldest known recipe books in the English language, contained a version of the recipe which is still very much enjoyed today and is known by the name ‘Frumenty with Porpoise’.
‘furmente wt porpays‘- tak clene whete & bete hyt smale in a mort’& fanne out clene þe douſt. & þāne waysch hit clene & boyle hit tyl hit be tendur & broken. & þāne tak þe secunde mylke of almaňds & do þ’to. Boyle hē to gyd’ tyl hyt be stondyng & tak þe furſt mylke and alye hit up wt it … and do safroň to þe furmente… and s’ue hit forth.
Very roughly translated this means:
Take clean wheat and beat until small in a mortar and fan out clean the dust. Wash it clean and boil it till it’s tender and broken. Take the second milk of almonds and do thereto. Boil it together till it is standing and take the first milk and mix it. Add the saffron to the Frumenty and serve it forth.
Don’t let the age of this dish turn you away! It’s versatile and highly adaptable. Give it a try for yourselves either by following the Forme of Cury or by using the recipe below!
• 1 cup bulgur wheat
• 1 cup almond milk
• 1 cup water
• 1 ½ cups of extra almond milk
• pinch of saffron (optional)
• Any fruit / honey for garnish
• First, add a cup of water and a cup of almond milk together and then mix together with the bulgur wheat.
• Bring this mixture to the boil and then simmer either for 20 minutes or until the liquid has been absorbed.
• Meanwhile, add a small pinch of saffron to 1-2 cups almond milk and allow to soak. When the bulgur wheat has been cooked, add the saffron flavoured milk to the mixture and stir through.
• Heat to a low simmer then remove from the heat. Serve as is or garnish with honey or fruit (I recommend blueberries!).
“Bulgur Wheat” by ajay_suresh is licensed under CC BY 2.0