Making Medieval Sauces

A class by Jadwiga Zajaczkowa

This class will consider the nature of medieval and renaissance sauces, discuss the theory of humors as it relates to sauces, and experiment with creating sauces from period recipes.

Common points about period sauces:

Tips for working with period recipes (aka redacting)

  1. First, read through the original recipe or the translation of the original. Write it out in modern English if necessary.
  2. Look up unfamiliar terms.
  3. Note or write down the steps of the recipe.
  4. Check for any points where the original author 'doubled-back', placing steps in a different order in the recipe than he wanted you to do them.
  5. List and gather your ingredients
  6. Look for indications of absolute or relative quantities
  7. Prepare your ingredients
  8. Follow the recipe, as written, at least once. [i.e., don't 'adjust for modern tastes' without trying the recipe first!]
  9. Don't be afraid to adjust ingredient and spice quantities to taste

Sauces and humors

The sauce served with a meat or fish was usually selected on the basis of the theory of humors (hot/cold, moist/dry). The idea was to 'correct' the food to be almost equally dry and moist, hot and cold, but leaning very slightly toward the dry and warm.

Scully says: "Sauces function primarily as a means by which any foods which happen not to be entirely suitable for  safe human consumption-- because they are too hot, too cold, too moist or too dry-- can be 'corrected' sufficiently to be eaten . . . without seriously harming the eater . . . Other variables-- especially seasonal considerations and methods of cooking-- must enter into a determination of the proper sauce to be used to dress a particular meat, but the prime factors remain the inherent qualities of the meat and of the sauce, their relative moisture and temperature . . . in warm weather food is healthier if relatively cool in nature, whereas in cold weather food should be warmer."

In summer: "verjuice, lime or lemon juice, vinegar, fresh elderberry juice, vine-shoot juice, pomegranate wine, rosewater, almond milk, and toast soaked in vinegar or any of the preceding liquids." No hot spices, but thyme or parsley used to produce a moderate heating/drying effect.
In winter: "mustard, rocket, white ginger, pepper, cinnamon, cloves, garlic, sage, mint, thyme, parsley, wine, meat broth, and weak vinegar which is close to the nature of wine (that is, warmer than normal vinegar.)."

"In winter weather, the sauce should be cooled a little by reducing the quantity of the spices; conversely in colder weather the amount of spices in the sauce should be increased and the liquid base should be provided either by wine rather than the vinegar, or by a vinegar which is less strong and therefore less cold." (Scully, Medium Aevum, 1986).

Meats by humoral quality:

Platina, in On Right Pleasure and Good Health, classifies meats thus:

Now, Platina is wierd because he thinks pork isn't healthful, and other authors think it IS healthful, being closest to human in its constitutence. Platina further says

"...if necessity compells, she-goats are better than he-goats, castrated males than females, the younger than the old. This is deceptive for pigs, which are considered better to eat at six months to a year, and sheep better than lamb, and amimals fed in the mountains better than on the plain or in swampy places. We realize by their taste that animals fed on acorns, chestnuts, wheat, barley, beans, Italian millet, and millet are better than those fed on bran and grass, as in the case of pigs and chickens."

Some general types of sauce:

Black Pepper sauce

The Viander of Taillevent:
"Poivre Noir. Black Pepper Sauce. Grind ginger, round pepper, and burnt toast, infuse this in vinegar [and a little verjuice], and boil."

Other Variants:

Le Menagier de Paris:
"BLACK PEPPER. Take a clove and a little pepper, ginger, and grind very fine: then grind toasted bread soaked in a little liquid from the meat or in a little cabbage-water which is better, then boil in an iron pan, and when boiling add vinegar; then put in a pot on the fire to keep hot. Item, some add cinnamon to it."

Ashmole 1439:
"Take brede, and frye it in greece, draw up with brothe and vinegre; caste ther-to poudre piper, and salt, sette on the fire, boile it, and messe it forth."

The Cookbook of Sabrina Welserin:
"Make [the sauce] so: Take rye bread, cut off the hard crust and cut the bread into pieces, as thick as a finger and as long as the loaf of bread is. Brown it over the fire, until it begins to blacken on both sides. Put it right away into cold water. Do not allow it to remain long therein. After that put it into a kettle, pour into it the broth in which the game was boiled, strain it through a cloth, finely chop onions and bacon, let it cook together, do not put too little in the peppersauce, season it well, let it simmer and put vinegar into it, then you have a good peppersauce."

Garlic Sauce

Le Menagier de Paris:
WHITE OR GREEN GARLIC SAUCE For Birds Or Beef. Grind a clove of garlic and white untoasted bread-crumbs, and soak in white verjuice; and if you want it green for fish, grind in some parsley and sorrel or one of these or rosemary.

Other variants:

Sawse Gauncile (Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery Books)
Take milke and a litul floure, And cast hit in a potte, And lette boil al togidur al thyn; and whan hit is wel boyled, take and stampe garleck small, and caste there-to pouder of peper, and salt, And then serue it forthe.

Maestro Martino, Libro de Arte Coquinaria (translation from Redon, et. al.)
"White garlic sauce. Take carefully skinned almonds and pound them, and when they are pounded halfway, add as much garlic as you like, and pound them very well together, adding a little cool water to prevent them from becoming oily. Then take crumb of white bread and soften it in lean meat or fish broth depending on the calendar; this garlic sauce can be served and adapted at will for meat days and days of abstinence. (Ma 157)."

Le Menagier de Paris:
GARLIC JANCE. Grind ginger, garlic, almonds, and soak in good verjuice and then boil; and some add a third of wine to it.

Le Menagier de Paris:
GARLIC CAMELINE SAUCE For Ray. Grind ginger, garlic and crusts of white bread soaked in vinegar, or toasted bread, and soak in vinegar; and if you add liver it will be better.

Cameline Sauce

Le Menagier de Paris:

"CAMELINE. Note that at Tournais, to make cameline, they grind together ginger, cinnamon and saffron and half a nutmeg: soak in wine, then take out of the mortar; then have white bread crumbs, not toasted, moistened with cold water and grind in the mortar, soak in wine and strain, then boil it all, and lastly add red sugar: and this is winter cameline. And in summer they make it the same way, but it is not boiled.

And in truth, for my taste, the winter sort is good, but the following is much better: grind a little ginger with lots of cinnamon, then take it out, and have lots of toasted bread or bread-crumbs in vinegar, ground and strained."

Other variants:

Le viander de Taillevent:
"To make Cameline Sauce: Grind ginger, a great deal of cinnamon, cloves, grains of paradise, mace and, if you wish, long pepper; strain bread that has been moistened in vinegar, strain everything together and salt as necessary."

Beinecke 163:
"Sauce camelyn for qualys & othir maner of foules and fysch.
Take white bred and draw hit in the manner of a sauce gynger, with venyger; & put therto poudyr of canell, a grete dele, & poudyr of gynger & poudyr lumbard. & draw hit ayen, & yf thu wilt, draw a lytyll mustard therewith, & sesyn hit up with sygure that hit be doucete. Salt hit & colour hit with safron."

Green Sauce

Tractatus de modo preparandi et condiendi omnia cibaria 394, translated in Redon et al.
"Here is how to make green sauce: take ginger, cinnamon, pepper, nutmeg, cloves, parsley, and sage. First grind the spices, then the herbs, and add a third of the sage and parsley, and, if you wish, three or two cloves of garlic. Moisten with vinegar or verjuice. Note that to every sauce and condiment salt is added, and crumb of bread to thicken it."

Other variants:

Max Rumpolt, Ein New Kochbuch, 1581
"9. Sauce of green parsley made/ with toasted bread and vinegar ground together/pepper and salt it a little/ so it becomes good and well tasting.

Le Menagier de Paris:
"GREEN SAUCE WITH SPICES. Grind ginger very fine, clove, grain, and take out of the mortar: then grind parsley or allheal, sorrel, marjoram, or one or two of the four, and white breadcrumbs soaked in verjuice, and strain and grind again very fine, then strain again and put it all together and flavour with vinegar."

Forme of Cury, 1390
"Take persel, mynt, garlek, a litul serpell and sauge; a litul canel, gynger, piper, wyne, brede, vyneger; do thereto powdour of gynger and pepper, & the grece of the maulard. Salt it; boile it wel and serue it forth."

Le Menagier de Paris:
"SORREL VERJUICE. Grind the sorrel very fine without the twigs, and soak in old, white verjuice, and do not strain the sorrel, but let it be finely ground; or thus: grind parsley and sorrel or wheat-leaves. Item vine buds, that is those that are young and tender, without any sticks."


Forme of Cury: Lombard Mustard
"Take Mustard seed and waishe it & drye it in an ovene, grynde it drye, farce it through a farce, clarifie honey wt wine & vinegr & stere it wel togedr, and make it thikke ynowe, & whan thou wilt spende thereof make it thynne wt wine." 

Other variants of Mustard

Marx Rumpolt, Ein New Kochbuch, 1581
"Brown Mustard Sauce: Brown mustard made up with clear vinegar/ is also good."

Le Menagier de Paris:
"MUSTARD. If you wish to provide for keeping mustard a long time do it at wine-harvest in sweet must. And some say that the must should be boiled. Item, if you want to make mustard hastily in a village, grind some mustard-seed in a mortar and soak in vinegar, and strain; and if you want to make it ready the sooner, put it in a pot in front of the fire. Item, and if you wish to make it properly and at leisure, put the mustard-seed to soak overnight in good vinegar, then have it ground fine in a mill, and then little by little moisten it with vinegar: and if you have some spices left over from making jelly, broth, hypocras or sauces, they may be ground up with it, and then leave it until it is ready."

Le Viander de Taillevent:
"Cameline Mustard Sauce: Take mustard, red wine, cinnamon powder and enough sugar, and let everything steep together. It should be thick like cinnamon. It is good for any roast."

Copyright 2003, Jennifer A. Heise. Contact me via email for permission to reprint:
Permission is explicitly granted for limited reproduction as a printed handout for classes in schools, herb society meetings, or classes or guild meetings in the Society for Creative Anachronism, as long as I am notified and credited and the entire handout is used. [Jadwiga's herbs homepage: ].