Friday, August 20, 2010

Glastonbury, King Arthur and Lamb Aloes

Legend has it that King Arthur and Guinevere are buried at Glastonbury Abby.

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.

Lamb Aloes
Serves 4

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

Pomegranate seeds

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


Diane said...

Amazing photographs and history. That lamb has made my mouth water. Diane

Stella said...

Wow Deana! This is a magical post-literally & historically maybe (smile).
I want to visit Glastonbury Abby now-what an awesome history. I love Old English legend, and we all know something of King Arthur. Even if it's fuzzy at this point;).
Your Lamb Aloes sounds looks delicious too. I wonder if that word is also related to the Arabic word 'Lahlou' as in Lhem Lahlou the lamb dish with prunes and spices. So similar these two dishes and words seem to me. Hmm.
Anyway, it looks wonderful, and your photos are especially beautiful, Deana. I'm actually going to click on them and try to see them in larger form...

Sarah said...

This looks delicious. And lots of interesting history with beautiful pictures.

Unknown said...

I always love your posts, they are so full of great information, and your dishes are always spectacular. This one is no exception, that lamb looks incredible.
Have a wonderful weekend ahead.
*kisses* HH

Kathy Walker said...

Totally enjoyed your post! I love the combination of history, kitchens, cooking...intriguing.

Lazaro Cooks said...

I don't know how you do it every week. You are a really amazing historian.

Great recipe. Love the addition of the smoked salt.

Ana Powell said...

Your posts are so well written.
Amazing work.
Wishing you a lovely weekend ♥

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

I love old ruins. So glad the kitchen has survived! You lamb dish looks absolutely regal!

Marjie said...

Did you see in the news where they think they found King Arthur's "Round Table"? And have you ever read Mary Stewart's King Arthur trilogy? I suppose that, really, they're supposed to be about Merlin, but I loved them just the same. The lamb seasonings sound just great, and I love your excerpts from the 450 year old cookbooks. They make me thankful that mine are much newer, and much clearer.

Anonymous said...

Glastonbury would be a wonderful place to visit, a must for our next time in England. And these lamb aloes would be such a hit at my house - we would love the flavors & the historical background.

Lisa said...

So interesting as always, I love reading your posts it's fascinating to see food history come alive. Thank you for all the hard work that you put into these :)

SavoringTime in the Kitchen said...

What a wonderful story and beautiful photos. Your lamb aloes look absolutely beautiful and delicious! I love reading those old recipes. "...and bake him" :)

~Lisa~ said...

Beautiful presentation and love all the ingredients.

tasteofbeirut said...

Wonderful tour of a magical abbey and its kitchen; I love old English monuments, just not sure I would have liked to live in them ; too cold and drafty for me!
That dish is bringing back memories of paupiettes; I haven't had those in decades! Love the thought of making them with lamb; Superb recipe and the pomegranate seeds lend such an elegant and festive touch.

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

Deana, your posts are rich in text, photos and history. You are a true professional in this field, and I so appreciate the time you take to EDUCATE as you share the background of these incredible recipes! And....I so love the quote you shared with me today...that inbetween space, that is the DIVINE! We are most definitely in search of something bigger than us, and when we seek and achieve our endeavors, there is something magical, divine, other-wordly that happens...GENIUS!!!

ENJOY! Anita

Fresh Local and Best said...

I simply adore the stone masonry of these buildings are beautiful! I would love to have one of those herb-scented jars, which are charming and gorgeous.

I've never tried mutton, but I've heard it can be quite tough, so I am sure you're glad that you used lamb. I like all of the herbs and the touch of mace on the lamb. I also like the way the lamb aloe is presented on a bed of pomegranate, the colors are so rich an stunning. I'm looking forward to trying this recipe in autumn.

pierre said...

i always love your photos !!! bravo Pierre

Becky said...

Gorgeous history and food, as per usual!

Pam said...

Deena, Lovely post. The lamb looks delicious and the pics are magical.

Faith said...

I think it's so interesting how amounts aren't typically listed in old cookbooks. Like you said, each version will be a little different which is really fascinating to me.

I love how you used lamb -- my hubby would go crazy for this dish!

Anonymous said...

Lovely photos and great dish!

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

You see this is why I love your site Deana! I've never heard of aloes before. In fact I thought you meant aloe vera! :D

Joanne said...

This dish looks delicious and certainly magical enough to bring King Arthur back to life!

lotuseater said...

Dear Lost Past Remembered, I want to eat a meal with you. If in LA in 3/4 weeks, I'm preparing a whole lamb in many guises (being hung this week) and some fresh mutton for the coup de grace. Or next time.

Rita said...

Thank you for your visit; haven't been here in a long time! I lost you but still remember!
it is good to read you and love to her the kitchen is still there.

Barbara said...

Yet another fabulous post, Deana! I would love to visit Glastonbury. And walk the 7 terraces in the search of calm. Isn't it amazing to find the circles presented in so many ways, in so many mediums over so many years?
I so enjoyed your photos of the Abbot's kitchen. Such can almost smell the herbs via your description.
The lamb aloe recipe makes such a striking presentation over the pomegrante seeds. Lovely!

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