“She’d see to it there was frumenty for breakfast tomorrow – a good creamy one, stiff with plums and flecked with spices – just as if both Thankful and Lucifer had been her own boys, in need of good feeding. There was always enough that she could set another place at table for her own baby nephew.” – A Wilderness of Sin
Het is not entirely comfortable with this. She sees to the meals, and her dear Hollie eats what’s set in front of him, being an obliging sort of husband. (And one who knows what’s good for him – HB) To go around setting out her recipe for frumenty, which is a thing that everyone knows how to cook, surely – well, it’s like setting out a recipe for water, dear. No one will be interested in my frumenty. Don’t be silly.
It’s all about the wheat, you see. If you don’t soak it properly and cook it long and slow you could stand for days and it would be none the tenderer. What you must do, is get the proper, husked wheat. Pearled wheat, they call it, in some places. (Sorry, dear? Yes, barley will do as well, if you must, and if there really is no good wheat to be had.)
What you must do is wash it well in fair water, to clean all the dust and husks, and then set it to boil for five minutes of the clock, and then – and only then – can you take the pot down and stand it in a bake-oven or in the hearth overnight. At Fox Barton we cree the wheat on baking-day, and set it to stand in the oven while it cools for a full day. (Failing that, boil the hell out of it for ten minutes or so, clap a lid on the pot, leave it overnight. That’s the rough way. – HB)
Now, my dear Hollie would eat it exactly as it comes, with all the wheat grains burst and soft, though he does like it with milk and honey, the dear man. It sets like a jelly, and Lucifer says it does look most like frog’s spawn, to which I did say, well, dear, I did not see you refuse your third helping of frog’s spawn.
If you would have it the festive way – and I am told they have served it in Yorkshire this way since the Flood, with cheese and gingerbread, on Christmas Eve – then you must add a good measure of cream, and not milk. If I have all the boys to home I will put a quart of cream to the pot and stir it in well, with a good amount of honey, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, and one or two eggs. Some wealthy folk with nothing better to spend their money on will add raisins of Corinth, too, though they are too, too dear in this part of Essex, and dearer yet since Master Cromwell stopped their trade.
It is a wonderfully nourishing breakfast, you know, served plain, and the girls love it. And so good for the sick, being easy to digest and to prepare, and very tempting to the tender stomach. In parts of Suffolk, not to say tthe parts of Yorkshire where my dear husband saw service in the late wars, they say it has been prepared and eaten so since the days of old.
Why don’t you give it a try?
Meet Het Babbitt (and Hollie, and the girls, and Luce, and all the assorted household impedimenta of a 17th century Essex household) in the Uncivil Wars books, and, most recently, in the anthology “Steel and Lace”
All profits from the book go to Great Ormond Street Hospital!