Medieval Almond Milk

LoreD

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Apparently, Almond Milk is not a new thing. I was watching a documentary on food during the middle ages and almond milk was mentioned.


When I first discovered that every medieval cookbook calls for almond milk, I’ll admit I was surprised. Almond milk is a regular part of my diet but I suppose I always assumed it was a newer alternative food for people on restricted or health-conscious diets. Turns out almond milk was an extremely popular and necessary part of medieval life!

There are two major reasons why almond milk was such a huge deal during the Middle Ages:

  1. Cow’s milk wasn’t particularly safe. Unless the family had a cow and used its milk right after milking, dairy was risky. There was no refrigeration or pasteurization, so milk would have to be used immediately. If a person were to purchase milk at the market there was no way to know for sure how fresh it was or whether it had been watered down by a dishonest vendor. Medieval folks weren’t dumb, so they relied on safer and more dependable milk alternatives.
  2. Fish Days. The Church had strict rules about which days of the week a person was allowed to eat meat. Meatless days basically prohibited anything that came from a warm-blooded animal: milk, eggs, meat, dairy. When a huge chunk of a person’s life is spent begrudgingly avoiding dairy and meat, the result is having to eat a LOT of fish. Hence the nickname Fish Days. Almond milk quickly became a household staple because it was used in place of cow’s milk 2-3 days every week.
There are a number of old manuscripts that contain recipes for almond milk. I found three versions from cookbooks that interest me: Le Viandier de Taillevent (c. 1300), Du Fait de Cuisine (1420), and Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery Books (1430-1450). I will eventually try them all, but first I will begin with the most basic and the oldest of the three, from Le Viandier de Taillevent.

The Recipe

“Take peeled almonds, crush very well in a mortar, steep in water boiled and cooled to lukewarm, strain through cheesecloth and boil your almond milk on a few coals for an instant or two.”
– Le Viandier de Taillevent

Original manuscript

The manuscripts have been translated from French into English by Terence Scully and combined into one cookbook attributed to Guillaume Tirel (1310-1381), the Master Chef to King Charles VI. There’s reason to believe Tirel didn’t write all of the recipes in these manuscripts and they were in fact written as early as 1300 by someone else.
 
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LoreD

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In the Middle Ages, the Upper Class Went Nuts for Almond Milk


Today’s craze is a second act; medieval chefs were equally enamored

IN RECENT YEARS, ALMOND MILK has been touted as the future of non-dairy delicacies. It’s become a staple for lactose-intolerants and coffee shops alike. Yet almond milk’s popularity today pales in comparison to the high and late Middle Ages, when the upper class went nuts for it.

Almonds have been central to Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines as far back as the Roman era, yet almond milk is likely a religiously-motivated, European innovation. The first mention of almond milk appears in a medical context in 12th century Salerno, but it quickly spread from the Mediterranean as far as Germany, England, and Denmark. During Lent, European Christians were barred from consuming milk, as well as eggs and meat. So they needed a substitute

Animal milks were typically destined for cheese and butter production, not drinking, thanks to a lack of refrigeration. One could make a faux butter by combining almond milk, salt, sugar, and vinegar and straining the result, even if it sounds like a far cry from today’s almond butter (or real butter). Some uses go further afield. In C.M. Woolgar’s The Senses in Late Medieval England, the author tells us that “Ersatz eggs appeared in Lent … made of almond milk, part colored yellow with saffron,” simulating the yolk.