Glastonbury Abbey With The Tor Beyond by George Arnald (1763-1841)
It’s a wildly romantic notion to be sure but then Glastonbury is steeped in legend and ancient magic with the crossing of very powerful telluric leylines occuring there. One such crossing occurs between the high altar of the abbey and the tomb of Arthur and Guinevere.
Glastonbury is also the site of the first Christian church in the world, if legend is to be believed. It is said that Joseph of Arimathea founded a church there in the first century on a site of great importance to pagan Britons (those leylines divined sacred sites to the pagans). The Abbey was founded in the 7th century and was the richest in England by 1086. It was destroyed in a fire in 1184 and then rebuilt almost immediately. The bodies of Arthur and Guinevere’s were discovered in 1191 in a hollowed oak trunk with a lead cross bearing the inscription: Hic jacet sepultus inclitus rex Arthurus in insula Avalonia meaning “Here lies interred the famous King Arthur on the Isle of Avalon".
Lady Chapel today
Glastonbury Abbey was ultimately torn down by Henry VIII when he seized the church’s property in the Dissolution of the Monasteries . In 1539. its beautiful stones were used to build houses of those favored by the king in the neighborhood and the church’s lands sold. Two of the Abbey’s manors were sold to John Thynn who created Longleat on the old church property. It is still home to Alexander Thynn, the Marquis of Bath nearly 500 years later…all 8000 acres of it and the Abbey records are stored at Longleat.
A mile or so away is another crossing of the lines at the Chalice Well. Its iron-red water has never run dry and is said to have healing powers. Once again the pagan and Christian mythologies intersect as this is also related to Christ and the legend of the Holy Grail brought by Joseph of Arimathea to England.
The last important intersection is at Glastonbury Tor, the single remaining tower of an ancient church that stands alone on a giant hill above everything on the landscape. Until 2 millenia ago, the sea would have come to the foot of the Tor which must be why the Celtic name for Glastonbury was Ynys-witrin, the Island of Glass… it would have appeared to be an island in the dawn of man’s time here. As the sea receded, it was replaced by a lake -- the fabled lake of Arthurian Legend as described in such romantic classics as The Once and Future King, Le Morte D'Arthur and The Mists of Avalon
The lake too has disappeared in the passing centuries… into the mists of Avalon's legend . What remains is a rather startling hill, thrusting up from the flat surrounding fields with 7 terraces built into its steep slopes by ancient Pagans. Walking up the hill following the 7 maze paths is said to have curative calming powers… undoubtedly the magnetic currents flowing through the site have something to do with it.
American Indian O’odham Basket 1900
The circles form a powerful universal symbol of the female using the same design seen in Cretan unicursal mazes, American O’odham baskets and on rocks at Tintagel. You can feel an earth pulse here …a throbbing connection to past and present and other civilizations on our shared earth in this remarkable place.
But wait, Arthurian legend, magnetic leylines, mazes, Tors, Abbeys… I’m here to talk about food, aren’t I?? Yes, and so I will. After food for thought, food for the stomach, and so, back down the hill to Glastonbury Abbey!
The only surviving building in Glastonbury Abbey is the Abbot’s Kitchen.
At the Abbey we were told the reason may have been that the giant stone that is perched atop its center chimney opening was too big to move and that the roof itself was stone and not the usual lead (that would have melted with the heat) – it was too much effort to remove it and didn’t have the value of the lead that had covered the Abbey’s roofs (lead being a very expensive status symbol). The other reason may have been that the kitchen supplied the food for the workers destroying the abbey so it was left standing.
Abbot’s Kitchen Chimney ‘lantern’ with giant covering stone which vents the smoke in the room brilliantly.
The interior is fragrant with drying herbs and faint scented ghosts of thousand ancient fires. A costumed guide is there to tell visitors about the workings of the place from bread making to food storage to the water system. It must have been a hive of activity in its heyday when this kitchen fed wealthy pilgrims as well as the abbot himself. It was a staggeringly wealthy abbey with miles and miles of lush fields that provided for a renowned standard of fine dining for the rich and powerful. Living was good there.
One of the dishes that was surely served at the Abbey kitchen would have been Aloes. Martha Barnette in her book, Ladyfingers and Nun's Tummies: A Lighthearted Look at How Foods Got Their Names says alou is old French for Lark (alouette). In English it became aloes and later still ‘olives’. It is a dish that surfaces in many cuisines with slightly different ingredients. Italians do braciole with beef and cheese, the French do a classic paupiette (although they are also known as alouettes sans tetes!) with veal stuffed with mushrooms and vegetables or forcemeat.
During the reign of the Tudors, the English used mutton, leg of mutton. I used lamb. It is sliced thin and then filled and rolled so that the little packages resemble small birds with heads and feet tucked in against a cold night. The stuffing is a complex and delectable combination of herbs, saffron and dried dates and raisins with a celestial sweet/sour richness. They are bite size powerhouses of flavor.
To make mine I combined the recipes of 2 cookery books written 20 years apart, A Proper New Booke of Cookery from 1575 and The Good Huswife’s Jewell from 1596. I include both after my recipe should you wish to give it a go yourself as proportions are not mentioned very often and every version will be a little different.
1 pound leg of lamb, sliced very thin and pounded if needs be…makes 10- 12 slices
2 cooked egg yolks
2 T chopped parsley
2 T chopped thyme
2 T chopped savory
1/3 c raisins
1/3 c pitted dates
good pinch saffron
¼ - ½ t mace (to taste)
½ t pepper
¼ t cloves
½ t smoked salt
4 T butter
1 T vinegar
s & p to taste
¼ cup ruby or tawny port
½ t ground ginger
pinch cinnamon (optional)
¼ c vinegar
Combine the herbs and fruits with the spices and vinegar and one tablespoon of butter…you can use a food processor to do this with a few pulses. Lay out the slices of lamb and pound them to thin them if necessary (mine were around 2 ½ “ x 4”). Put a teaspoon of filling in each one and fold together bringing the sides up first and then bringing up the bottom before rolling them up. Secure them with toothpicks if necessary and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Fry the aloes in the rest of the butter on medium heat. If you can, it would be best done on a grill… so a lovely a smoky smell can envelope the aloes… skewered and done on the cool side and basted in butter with a drip pan as they were originally cooked. Either way you choose, when they are done, take the port, vinegar and ginger and deglaze the pan and serve the aloes with the sauce. They were great on a bed of pomegranate seeds although you could make a pie of them and serve them that way (think 4 and 20 blackbirds) as the 1575 recipe instructs.
Proper New Booke of Cookery
To make a pye of Aloes.
Take a leg of Mutton, and cut it in
thin slices, and for stuffinge of the same
take persely, time, and savery, and chop
them small, then temper amonge them
three or foure yolkes of hard egs chopte
small and small raisins, dates, [cut?] with
mace and a litle salt, then lay all these
in the stekes, and then rolle them toge-
ther. This done make your pye, and lay
all these therin, than season them with a
little suger and cinnamom, saffron, and
salte, then cast upon them the yolkes of
three or foure hard egges, and cut dates
with smal raisins, so close your pye, and
bake him. Then for a Syrop for it take
tosted bread, and a litle claret wine,
and strain them thyn together, and put
therto a litle Suger, Sinnamom, and
Ginger, and put it into your Pye, and
then serve it forth.
The Good Huswife’s Jewell
To make Aloes.
Take a legge of veale or mutton, and slice
it in thin slices, and lay them in a plat-
ter, and cast on salte, and put thereon the
yolkes of tenne Egges, and a great sorte of
small raisons and dates finely minced, then
take vineger, and a little saffron, cloues and
mace, and a little Pepper, and mingle it to-
gether, and poure it all about it, and then al
to worke it together, and when it is tho-
rowly seasoned, put it on a spit, and set plat-
ters vnderneath it, and baste it with butter,
and then make a sauce with Vinegerm and
ginger, and suger, and lay the aloes vpon it
and so serue it in.
Thanks to Gollum for hosting Foodies Friday