Frumenty

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Frumenty (sometimes frumentee, furmity, fromity, or fermenty) was a popular dish in Western European medieval cuisine. It was made primarily from boiled, cracked wheat - hence its name, which derives from the Latin word frumentum, "grain". Different recipes added milk, eggs or broth. Other recipes include almonds, currants, sugar, saffron and orange flower water. Frumenty was served with meat as a pottage, traditionally with venison or occasionally porpoise (considered a "fish" and therefore appropriate for Lent[1]). It was also frequently used as a subtlety.

For several centuries, frumenty was part of the traditional Celtic Christmas meal. In England it was often eaten on Mothering Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Lent. On that day many servants were allowed to visit their mothers and were often served frumenty to celebrate and give them a wholesome meal to prepare them for their return journey. The use of eggs would have been a brief respite from the Lenten fast. Frumentee is served with venison at a banquet in the mid-14th century North Midlands poem Wynnere and Wastoure: "Venyson with the frumentee, and fesanttes full riche / Baken mete therby one the burde sett" (334-5).[2]

The dish, described as 'furmity' and served with fruit and a slug of rum added under the counter, plays a major role in the plot of Thomas Hardy's novel The Mayor of Casterbridge. It is also mentioned in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass as a food that snap-dragon flies live on.

It has been asserted that frumenty is "our [England's] oldest national dish".[3]

Recipes

A compendium of "traditional" "English" date-related activities includes three recipes for frumenty.[4] They show considerable variation with place and time.

  • 1 : The typical method of preparation was to parboil wholegrains of wheat in water, then strain off and boil in milk, sweeten the boiled product with sugar, and flavour with cinnamon and other spices.
  • 2 : Take clean wheat and bray it in a mortar till the hulls be all gone off, (this broadly equates to modern bulgur or cracked wheat) and seethe it till it burst, and take it up (out of the water) and let it cool; and take clean, fresh broth and sweet milk of almonds, or sweet milk of kine (cow's milk) and temper it all, and take yolks of eggs. Boil it a little and wet it down and mess it forth (mess here in the sense of "serve to table", the same root as naval mess) with fat venison or fresh mutton.
  • 3 : Somerset-Wiltshire: About forty years ago (from an unspecified date) country women in shawls and sun bonnets used to come to the market at Weston-super-Mare in little carts carrying little basins of new wheat boiled to a jelly, which was put into a large pot with milk, eggs, and sultanas, and was lightly cooked; the resulting mixture was poured into pie-dishes and served on mid-Lent Sunday and during the ensuing week. Frumenty is still prepared at Devizes for Mothering Sunday

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