Originally from March ’16, with added update.
As some of you know, I am researching horsebread. A friend sent me this fantastic article by William Rubel last year, and off down the rabbit hole I went. Because there are a few questions (or theories) I have that the textual sources can’t answer– like, say, the actual caloric density of late medieval bran-rye-fava horsebread– I get to destroy the kitchen and reconstitute some history.
For today’s experiment, I had but one question: can legumes hold a loaf together?
You see, Rubel suggest that a strike of beans is equal to two bushels. This seems entirely reasonable, considering the range of measurements a strike was used for, from two pecks to four bushels. I, however, am accustomed to a strike being one level bushel (a strike was also the name of the tool used to level bushels).
For Rubel’s purposes, it doesn’t make a large difference. However, since many of my questions revolve around nutritional content (specifically calories, crude protein, and certain mineral ratios), that is a critical difference. And, looking at the recipes, I thought it unusual that Gervase Markham’s (1607) first two recipes called for more than twice as much, by volume, of beans than of grain, while his third called for three times more grain than beans (if the measurement of a strike as two bushels were used). If you consider a strike to be a single bushel, it is a much less drastic change (being then 4:3 to 3:1, rather than 8:3 to 3:1).
I was also convinced that legumes couldn’t bake into a loaf without more grain flour.
I was wrong.
Benefits of reconstitution, eh?
So, on to my adventure in culinary history:
First, my local market does not carry horsebeans. How dare they, right? I guess dried fava beans aren’t really a staple of the modern southern California diet. They did, of course, have dried split green peas, which were also commonly used in horsebread. So I got out my trusty Ninja (I love this thing, it lets me abuse it so much), and set out to grind my peas.
Grinding peas sounds like death.
Seriously. It is awful. Alyse hid behind two doors. I recommend earplugs. About two 20-second bursts seemed to do the trick. Set a timer, it seems like So. Much. Longer. Ok, so I’m a little sound-sensitive, but still. Loud. I found that not filling the Ninja so full was helpful.
I don’t actually own a bolter, but this steamer tray was very effective. I have a nice bowl that fits it exactly, which cut down on the mess. Though…if you do try this for some insane reason, be prepared to breath pea dust. A face mask might be a good idea.
I separated the flour from the chunky bits (I’m sure there’s a name for them), and reground the bits. I did this a few times, and set aside the last of the bits that wouldn’t fill the blender enough. I’ll probably make soup later.
Then a splash of beer (I don’t have ale barm handy) and hot water (160º, electric kettle ftw).
Markham specifies the use of hot water to “take the savour from the beans.” Both split peas and fava beans have an intense, sour, sulfurous smell. This would be very unappealing to the horse. The unspecified sideeffect is how much water the ground beans would take up. They absorb moisture very slowly, and hot water hastens this and increase the total intake. A tiny splash. It was too wet. I sprinkled on a bit more of each flour in proportion, until it wasn’t so sticky, and finally was able to form a mini-loaf.
It really doesn’t look appetizing, does it? Good thing it’s not for me.
Medieval ovens were shockingly hot, and presumably didn’t get cooler in the early modern period. I have found no hints as to what time of day horsebread was baked (ok, morning, but for bakeries anywhen that leaves a large window), or what part of the oven was used. I played it safe and used a standard 350º, starting at five minutes, then another five, then a few more…maybe it was done?
Well, it seems to have held up. I’ll see what it’s like in two or three days when it’s correctly stale, but apparently at least peas can form a loaf. Very well actually, since it didn’t need a loafpan. Of course, that makes sense, as they wouldn’t have used loafpans.
On to the second loaf! I made this one larger, more loaf like.
Looks like it needs more liquid, right? Nope. Just a whole lot of kneading. The pea flour turns to glue at the barest hint of moisture, but it doesn’t absorb much.
Left is raw, right is baked. Hardly looks different after baking. Forgot to incise the H. Oops. Thats a fine.
I sprinkled the top with bran (tradition, y’know) and rolled it in plastic like rolling sushi (because ew it was sticky). This one baked for 15 minutes, and then I turned the oven off but left it in while the oven cooled. And stuck the small loaf back in, too. They seem to get very hard…like brick…on the outside quickly, but seem squishy inside if you flex the crust.
I believe Rubel chose the two bushel measure in order to line Markham’s recipes up with John Halfpenny‘s (1696), who he also discusses. Halfpenny appears to have based his recipes on Markham’s. Thomas de Grey (1639) clearly favors a large amount of grain compared to legumes, but he references the fact that more legumes had previously been traditional. While I’m still not convinced about Markham’s measurements, this does show that a dough made primarily from pea flour will indeed hold together.