Making Mustard The Medieval Way

An activity for youth by Jadwiga Zajaczkowa/Jennifer Heise


Mustard, as we know it, is a sauce made from ground mustard seeds and other ingredients. There are apparently 3 types of mustard seed: black, brown and 'white': Brassica nigra, Brassica .. and Sinapis [or Brassica] alba. White mustard leaves are also used as a salad and a cooked green. 

Mustard was cultivated and eaten in Rome, and was known in France at the time of Charlemagne, and in England and Germany by the 12th century (1100's). The Christian Bible speaks of one who has 'as much faith as a mustard seed' being able to 'remove mountains'; when you consider that the tiny black mustard seeds grow into 6-foot-high plants sturdy enough for birds to nest in them in a single summer, you can understand why! The yellow mustard plants you see in fields in the spring are a relative of mustard, Brassica Sinapstrum, also called charlock.

Mustard sauces were pretty popular in the middle ages. Rosetta Clarkson, in Green Enchantment: The Golden Age of Herbs and Herbalists, says that some monasteries actually had a monk called the 'mustardarius' whose duties includied mixing the mustard sauce for the community. Mustard sauce could be used on meat or on fish, and in the days when you ate fish three times a week at least, and people ate a lot of cold, pre-roasted meat, no wonder it was popular! Le Menagier de Paris suggests mustard sauce with wild boar, beef tongue, and lots of different fish, including eel, shad, loach, lampreys, cod, stockfish, and whiting.

Mustard sauces (see attached article by Terafan Greydragon) were generally made with ground mustard seeds-- black was considered better than white-- (sometimes mixed with other spices such as pepper), moistened with 'wine must' (fresh red or white grape juice), vinegar or wine. Honey or sugar was also added in a number of recipes; breadcrumbs, almonds and fruit such as raisins appear in some recipes. (Platina says, "If you want it sweet, add sweet things; if sour, sour.")

Parkinson, in his Paradisus in Sole (1629), says "The seede ground between two stones, fitted for the purpose, and called a Querne, with some good vinegar added unto it, to make it liquid and running, is that kind of Mustard that is usually made of all sorts, to serve as sauce both for fish and flesh."

The Forme of Cury says to make Lombard Mustard you wash and dry your mustard seed (to get the chaff off), grind it, sieve it, and mix in clarified honey, vinegar and wine to make a thick paste, and then thin it with wine to serve. (http://www.pbm.com/~lindahl/foc/FoC108_smallgif.html)

Because mustard was is spicy and hot, medieval doctors and health-hobbyists like Platina suggested it to counteract 'cold' foods and 'cold' conditions. It was drunk and gargled with in wine for sore throats; Dioscorides (a first-century Greek) suggested 'mustard plasters' to help with 'pain of long continuance' (probably on the same principle as Tiger Balm.

Nowadays we buy mustard flour, ground in the same manner as wheat flour, but Sarah Garland in The complete book of herbs and spices, and Rosetta Clarkson in Magic Gardens: A modern chronicle of herbs and savory seeds, say that mustard flour was not invented until the 18th century (1700's). Instead, you could buy mustard meal in some places: Plat's Delights for Ladies says: "It is usuall in Venice to sell the meal of Mustard in their markets as we doe flower and meale in England: this meale, by the addition of vinegar, in two or three daies becommeth exceeding good mustard." (Apparently he liked his mustard mild too.) But mostly you ground it at home, either with a mortar & pestle or with a mill in later times. You could also buy your mustard sauce ready-made, if you lived in the city: the 14th century Le menagier de Paris directs the reader to buy "At the sauce-maker, a quart of cameline for the dinner, and for supper two quarts of mustard. "

Note: if you use a coffee grinder to grind mustard seed, be sure to wash the washable parts and clean the electrical parts by wiping it out, grinding dry bread in it and wiping it out again both before and after grinding the mustard.

The 'hotness' of mustard tones down if you keep it for a week or more after mixing the sauce, and it seems that most of the people who wrote the recipes that have survived liked it that way; they stored their mustard for some time before using it.

We will make a simple mustard, mixing it with honey and wine vinegar or grape juice. Cinnamon, raisins, pepper, sugar and aniseed (aniseed appears in a mustard in an Icelandic manuscript) are available for you to mix in with it if you like.

Supplies:

Quantity notes: provide about 3 tablespoons of mustard seed per participant, and about 1/2 c. total of liquids per participant.

Directions

  1. Pass out mortar & pestles (the more sets you have the better; everyone will want a turn).
  2. Show participants how full to fill the mortar & pestles and how to grind the mustard
  3. Have participants grind the mustard (you can have some pre-ground mustard on hand or have a clean coffee grinder on hand to make up quantities)
  4. Have participants put the ground mustard in their containers.
  5. Add honey or sugar, and/or ground raisins (participants can grind up raisins in one of the mortar & pestle sets)
  6. Add liquids (grape juice and/or vinegar) to make a slurry or paste
  7. Taste and spice (and/or add sweeteners) appropriately. Be sure participants have water to drink handy when tasting!
  8. When mustard is spiced to taste, it should be a slurry or running paste. It will thicken and get more mild overnight.

Resources

Copyright 1999, 2003 Jennifer Heise; made freely available for copying for Youth and Children's Programs as long as I am credited. Also see my "Medieval Herbs" website at: http://gallowglass.org/jadwiga/herbs/herbs.html.