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Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Medieval Sweets and a summer treat. Pears in Syrup

Photo from Medieval Cookery page:

Every now and again I have a go at a recipe from the ancient or medieval worlds, officially for research purposes but mostly through a mixture of curiosity and greed. Since I now own a copy of Constance Hieatt's delectable book of authentic medieval recipes, Pleyn Delit, this time it was one of those deceptively simple but spicy, wine-warm sweets which the fourteenth and fifteenth century loved.

The recipe calls for 1 kilo/2 lb of pears, 500ml red wine, 1 tbsp. red wine vinegar, 125 gm sugar, 1tsp. cinnamon and 1/4tsp. ground ginger, plus an optional 6-8 whole cloves and a pinch of saffron. There are several methods of cooking this fifteenth-century delicacy in Prof. Hieatt's book (recipe 113: Wardonys in Syryp), and medieval cooks would have used pots over an open fire, but I like to keep it simple, so used a casserole and a fan oven.

Parboil the pears in water for a few minutes, then peel and quarter them and lay them in the casserole. Add the cinnamon and sugar to the wine in a saucepan and heat it through until the sugar has dissolved, then strain (if necessary) and pour the mixture over the pears. Cover the casserole and leave it in the oven for about an hour at around 250C (180C in a fan oven worked fine). Remove the casserole and add the wine vinegar, cloves and saffron. If necessary, remove some of the liquid and boil it for a few minutes to reduce it, which will slightly thicken and sweeten the syrup. Put the casserole back in the oven and give it another 15 minutes or so. 'Look that it be sharp and sweet (poinaunt an dowcet)', the recipe says. Cool, serve and eat.

For more detail, more cooking methods and a mass of other recipes, see Pleyn Delit. The medieval English cook may well have used Warden pears, grown at the Cistercian abbey of Old Warden in Bedfordshire, and the abbey's coat of arms shows three of them. A similar dish, 'peres en confyt', includes mulberries for darkness and appears in the fourteenth-century cookbook, Forme of Cury.

I write about more medieval sweets and sweet-making in my novella, Amice and the Mercenary. My heroine, Amice, is a mistress of sugar and spices and as such, partly as a result of her skills, is drawn into a dangerous intrigue at the royal court of the English King Edward the Third.

You can read more about Amice and my other black heroines in my free Medieval Black Heroines Free Sampler of Excerpts, posted here

Lindsay Townsend


  1. I can see a real advantage in serving pears in syrup back in those times. Great way to keep the pears from going bad. My experience with pears is that when they ripen, you better get to eating them because they quickly go bad after that unless they are preserved in some way. It is so interesting to see how those Medieval people found ways to preserve and serve food.

    All the best with your novella, Amice and the Mercenary, Lindsay.

  2. Agree about pears, Sarah! And about preserving, espec since sugar was so rare and costly. Many thanks for the good wishes. Researching Amice and the Mercenary was a treat.

  3. That pear recipe sounds delightful--just might have to try it. Also congratulations on your release of Amice and the Mercenary novella and wishing much success.Love the cover too.

  4. Great post. I love historic food as we are getting as close to experiencing a part of the past as we can. Lots of very old European food reminds me of the food of the Near East and Middle East.

  5. Hi CA, I agree about the near-east influences on old European food. I think a lot came back with the crusaders. Thanks Beverly, I hope you enjoy the pear recipe - very nice with ice-cream or yoghurt or cream.