Taillis, Dried Fruit Pudding
(from the Viandier of Taillevent)
As published in Atlantia's "The Oak," Issue No. 23, 2007
I decided to compete at the Atlantian Pentathlon in Persona at the 2007 Kingdom Arts and Sciences Festival. As you may know, the Pentathlon in Persona competition involves entering five items in at least three categories, which would have been made, used, worn, eaten, or owned by your persona. In my case, I was trying to develop my persona, Belphoebe de Givet, the daughter of a judge from Rouen, and wife of an Italian merchant, during the 16th Century Wars of Religion.
At the point I had made my decision, I already had figured out the other four entries, which fit the criteria for the competition and also related to my persona. 1 I will not elaborate on those entries, as this article pertains specific to the fifth one, a type of dried-fruit bread pudding called taillis.
Because I had to come up not only with an appropriate entry, but one that fit my northern French persona, I jumped head on to research the types of foodstuffs that would have been available and/or common in that particular region on France.
Most of the sources I found are of an earlier period. However, my theory is that recipes do not always go out of fashion. I believe they remain very much in place regionally, especially taking into account that the ingredients are usually still available and that family recipes tend to be passed on for generations.
In regards to period northern French cookery, there are five important compilations of recipes: the Enseignements, Le Viandier de Taillevent, Le Ménagier de Paris, Du fait de cuisine, and Vivendier. 2
Le Viandier was written by Guillaume Tirel, alias Taillevent (Old French: "slicewind") (1310-1395), who was the cook for several French kings including Philip VI, Charles V, and Charles VI. This book has been influential on subsequent books concerning French cuisine and important to food historians as a detailed source on the medieval cuisine of northern France. 3
One of the things that is most interesting about late medieval French cooking is that animal milk was not drunk by adults, and appears only rarely as an ingredient in recipes. It is not that cow and goat’s milk were not available. They were. However, animal milk could not be kept on hand for cooking. It was good primarily for the making of butter or, especially, of cheese. According to Terence Scully, the northern French cooks used a good deal of nut milk, which was more dependable and longer-lasting than animal milk. 4
I have to say that this aroused my curiosity so I decided to experiment a bit with the almond milk, to see how it compared to animal milk. I prepared some fresh almond milk and left it out without refrigeration just to see how fast it would go bad. The milk turned very sour within 48 hours, which makes me think that the durability of the nut milk may not be necessarily that much higher than animal milk.
Of course, in order to obtain more accurate results, I should be experimenting with fresh, unpasteurized milk as opposed to store-bought milk, which is full of preservatives, and put both samples on similar containers over the counter. Only then will I be able to accurately assess which one goes bad first.
Nevertheless, one thing is for sure: I have never smelled worse turned milk than nut milk. So if you are going to make it and reserve it for later, do yourself a favor and refrigerate it immediately. It will separate while in the fridge, but that is normal. But if you leave it out unrefrigerated, you will live to regret it as the smell will knock your socks off.
On the other hand one can store almonds for months at a time without them going bad, and it is probably cheaper than keeping a farm animal. I believe almonds were the period equivalent of powdered milk. You could keep it in your pantry and then use it to make milk as necessary. The other advantage of almond milk is that it is completely vegetarian. That makes it perfect for cookery during Lent.
Northern French cuisine was also characterized by use of color, and thus saffron was often used for that purpose. The recipe that I tried to reproduce came from the Viandier and is as follows:
“Take figs, raisins, boiled almond milk, echaudés, wafers, and crusts of white bread cut into little squares, and boil your milk, with saffron to give it color, and with sugar, and then boil everything together until it is thick enough to cut; serve in bowls.” 5
There are a number of French versions of this thick pudding made from almond milk and dried fruits. The name taillis probably comes from the verb tailler, “to cut,” and means that the final product is firm enough to be cut into pieces with a knife. Echaudés, wafers, and crusts of white bread are used here to thicken the taillis. However, we do not know what went into these wafers, and we can only guess at how échaudés were made. 6
My redaction is as follows:
4 cups of water
1 cup blanched almonds
1/3 of a 1 lb. loaf of French bread, dry and cut in small cubes
8 Carr’s whole wheat crackers, cracked in small pieces
1 cup of raisins, well rinsed
6 dried figs, well rinsed
1 cup of white sugar
7 threads of saffron
Toasted almonds and sugar
For the almond milk: Blanch the almonds first. For that, you will bring water to a boil in a saucepan or pot. Once it starts boiling, take it off the heat. Next, put your raw, unpeeled almonds in it and let them soak for about two minutes. After that, drain them in a colander and run the almonds through cold water. Finally, peel the almonds by squeezing them between your thumb and forefinger. Voilá, now you have blanched almonds!
Once your almonds have been blanched, put them in another pot with water and let them soak overnight until they are plump again. Then put half of the almonds and water in a blender and blend on high for a while. Strain through a cheesecloth, squeezing as much liquid as you can.
Repeat with the rest of the almonds and water. The milk may separate after a while sitting in the fridge. It is normal. Don’t worry about it. All you need to do is shake it and you will have your nice, whole almond milk back.
Bring the almond milk to a boil and add the saffron and the sugar. This is important because if the saffron does not get completely dissolved, you will end up with strands that will make your pudding taste like paella. (I picked up this little tip from my mother, a great paella maker.) Add the bread and the wheat crackers. Over low heat, simmer, stirring constantly, until the bread crumbs soften and the mixture begins to thicken. Add the dried fruit and continue to cook over very low heat for about 15 minutes, stirring frequently and making sure the thickening mixture does not burn. It gets quite stiff, so you end up with a good upper-body workout to boot!
When the mixture is quite thick, turn it into a deep dish. I turned it into a square mold.
Refrigerate it until you wish to serve it. When ready to serve, turn it over onto your serving dish. Sprinkle sugar on it and toasted almonds (optional). Cut it in pieces and serve it in bowls.
1.) A doll, an embroidered muff, a visage mask, and a dentifrice powder.
2.) Scully, Terence. Regional Cuisines of Medieval Europe: A Book of Essays, ed. Melitta Weiss Adamson. (New York: Routlege, 2001), p. 48.
3.) Wikipedia.com: Guillaume Tirel. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taillevent (Accessed 12/19/2007).
4.) Scully, p. 58.
5.) Redon, Odile, Sabban, Françoise, and Serventi, Silvano. The Medieval Kitchen: Recipes from France and Italy. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), p. 202.
Redon, Odile., Sabban, Françoise., and Serventi, Silvano. The Medieval Kitchen: Recipes from France and Italy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998.
Scully, Terence. Regional Cuisines of Medieval Europe: A Book of Essays, ed. Melitta Weiss Adamson. New York: Routlege, 2002.
Wikipedia: Guillaume Tirel. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taillevent (Accessed 12/19/2007).
Many thanks to Master Tirloch of Tallaght (Tom Bilodeau) for encouraging my research and for sharing his library with me.
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