Friday, September 16, 2011

Preparing for Meatless Fridays in U.K.

A great deal of what we know about the early English diet comes from a Latin vocabulary written by Ælfric, Archbishop of Canterbury from 995. It was written in the form of dialogues: with the baker, the ploughman, the fisherman, the shepherd. From it we know that in spring and summer women made cheese and butter from the milk of sheep or goats before smoking the cheese and salting the butter to preserve it.

In gardens, people grew carrots (purple in those days), leeks, garlic and herbs like rue and fennel. Kale was a popular winter vegetable and for a time gave February its Old English name of sproutkele. Ælfric lists animals eaten for their meat (pig, goat, deer, swan, duck etc), but the fact that our modern words beef, veal and mutton are Norma, rather than Anglo-Saxon suggests these animals were mostly valued for their wool, hides, milk and working abilities rather than their flesh.

The Rule of St Benedict stipulated that only sick monks could consume the “flesh of quadrupeds” but this was quickly interpreted as excluding fish and fowl, hence the monastic tradition of maintaining dovecotes and fishponds (stews). Bede railed against the excesses of the monastic table, circumventing not only the letter but increasingly the spirit of the Rule, and St Anselm complained that the clergy dined on “chicken spiced with pepper and cumin”. But fasting and abstinence shaped not only the culinary rhythm of the week (no meat on Fridays or Wednesdays) but also of the year (Advent, Lent, Ember Days). Unless you were very young, very old or very sick, meat was absent from the table for a considerable portion of the year.
Father Gardner at the Catholic Herald writes a fascinating and well-rounded article that includes food history, meatless recipes and the reminder that "no flesh" does not automatically mean "substitute fish."

I notice he doesn't include bean and cheese nachos among the recipes. Pity. That's a regular Friday favorite of ours as we practice meatless Fridays as our choice of Friday penance. (You know ... the penance that we're all supposed to do every Friday, all year long ...)

Via The Deacon's Bench.


  1. Tex-Mex cookery, which is cheap, plentiful, nutritious, and a celebration of life, is yet another proof of how much God loves us.

  2. I aim for meatless Fridays all year round too. Tonight is a veggie frittata made with chipotle cheddar cheese from the farmer's market.

  3. I realize that I have the brain of an adolescent, but somehow I find the phrase "smoking the cheese" amusing. Sounds like something out of a Cheech & Chong movie.