Sunday, March 24, 2013

Making Compost

In the couple of years that I have been doing historical cooking I have some recipes that I do over and over, that I have become known for in our camp, or at the museum. My pet recipes.

One of the things I really like to make for the weekends we’re portraying an army on the march is at least one pickled vegetable. Pickles keep well on a march, they can be made out of just about any vegetable, and are available almost year round. They can also be made up ahead of time. I like to be prepared for every eventuality, including the ones where we are unable to cook a meal as planned (like in the middle of a rain or snow storm) so having some pre-prepped things can come in handy.

There are a number of pickling and preserving recipes in various Medieval Cookbooks. My favorite is a mixed veggie pickle called Compost in one of England’s oldest cookbooks: Forme of Cury plus a number of other Medieval cookbooks, a nice list of which can be found on the Medieval Cookery website. There are also versions of this recipe with modern instructions in a number of published cookbooks including To the King’s Taste and The Medieval Cookbook.

The original in Forme of Cury looks something like this:
COMPOST. C. Take rote of parsel. pasternak of rasenns. scrape hem waisthe hem clene. take rapes & caboches ypared and icorne. take an erthen panne with clene water & set it on the fire. cast all þise þerinne. whan þey buth boiled cast þerto peeres & parboile hem wel. take þise thynges up & lat it kele on a fair cloth, do þerto salt whan it is colde in a vessel take vineger & powdour & safroun & do þerto. & lat alle þise thinges lye þerin al nyzt oþer al day, take wyne greke and hony clarified togider lumbarde mustard & raisouns corance al hool. & grynde powdour of canel powdour douce. & aneys hole. & fenell seed. take alle þise thynges & cast togyder in a pot of erthe. and take þerof whan þou wilt & serue forth.

I have made it a number of times, and make it differently each time, though the basics remain true.

Thinly slice a number of different vegetables, including:
At least a ¼ head of cabbage
Pears (definitely don’t leave these out!)

At various times I have included:
Parsley root

You get the idea, while the cabbage and pears make up the main body, any vegetable (or fruit for that matter) that can stand up to being pickled can be used.

I briefly boil the veggies in salted water to soften them up, but don’t over-cook them. After draining them I sprinkle them with kosher (or pickling) salt to draw some of the water out and to help preserve them. While the veggies sit in salt I make the pickling brine (liquid they’ll be pickled in.) Because of food allergies in Das Geld Fahnlein I do not use wine, nor a vinegar based on wine, though those are what was historically used. I use apple cider vinegar mixed with distilled vinegar as the base. Then I add:
Raisins (I prefer golden raisins, but that is personal preference)

And whole spices, at least some of these:
Black pepper
Mustard seeds
Juniper berries

Once the brine has simmered for a while, I pour in the vegetables and simmer for 5 minutes. Then I taste it all. It will be sour, but with a bit of sweetness. If you need to, add more honey and sugar. I usually don’t need to add more salt, but this would be the time to if you needed to.

Don’t simmer it for too long, the vegetables should retain their integrity. The Compost will need to cool before you put it in jars unless you are using canning jars. If you’ve done all the cooking, you can eat it the day you make it, but I prefer to let it sit in the refrigerator for a few days to blend a little. Usually I jar it up so it is easy to transport to events. This winter I bought a lovely ceramic jar from a potter that he had labeled an olive jar. I think it is perfect for pickles.

This is roughly the way I make Compost, but it is certainly not the definitive way. I highly recommend checking out the other published recipes to find the way that works best for you.


  1. For anyone who is thinking "Eww compost". I can vouch for the fact that (if you like pickles) you will love Alena's compost. Just the right balance of sweet/sour and the flavors of the of the veggies and herb/spices work well together.

  2. I don't like cucumber pickles, but I do like compost!