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Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Care for Moor meatloaf, my dear? Thank my ancestors

Eric Stanway
A Taste of History

It appears, after due investigation, that my ancient ancestors had a hand in inventing the meat loaf.

As odd a claim as that might appear, it seems to be borne out by history, through a very long and convoluted path. ...

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It appears, after due investigation, that my ancient ancestors had a hand in inventing the meat loaf.

As odd a claim as that might appear, it seems to be borne out by history, through a very long and convoluted path.

Are we all sitting comfortably? Then we shall begin.

One side of my family comes from a place in Staffordshire called Biddulph Moor. This sits about a mile east of the village of Biddulph, rising up to more than 1,000 feet over the surrounding countryside. There resided an odd group of swarthy, dark individuals, with red hair. They lived in rude huts comprising two rooms. The livestock would be berthed in the front room, while the family lived in the back. They spoke very little English, but had their own peculiar dialect, which few outsiders could understand.

The locals tended to steer clear of these people, and they stayed up there for about 1,000 years, presumably inbreeding. This would explain some of the health problems that are rife in my family.

Anyway, the story goes that one Orm of Biddulph went on the Crusades in the 12th century, and brought back 12 Saracen captives, which he used as stonemasons, particularly St. Chad's and St. Mary's. St. Mary's is noted for having a very strange font, dated to 1150, carved with naked women and lions. Needless to say, this is not normal in England. Over at St. Chad's, in the town of Stafford, things get even weirder, as green men and such are joined with other more ominous carvings, including a figure holding up a severed head. Other characters are wearing wristbands, short tunics and are bare-chested.

Having settled his strange group on the moor, Orm decided to scoot off to the third Crusades, whereupon he promptly got himself snuffed during the siege of Constantinople. Meanwhile, the Saracens weren't going anywhere. They married into the local population, and created this strangely insular society.

Here's an odd thing. Even though many of the people of the moor eventually moved out and depleted the gene pool, that Middle Eastern thing still pops up every now and then. I remember being in New York City with my father during the 1960s, where he was mistaken for a Rabbi. Obviously, I found this highly amusing.

Anyway, somewhere along the way, they managed to introduce various spices into the British diet, including cloves and mace, a byproduct of nutmeg. This they put into a medieval casserole, known as a bruet. Generally, these were made with sardines; but, seeing as they were pretty much landlocked, they used what they had on hand.

Here's the original recipe, from 1381:

"For to make a Bruet of Sarcynesse:

"Take the flesh of fresh beef cut it all in pieces and bread and fry it in fresh grease take it up and dry it and do it in a vessel with wine and sugar and powder of cloves, boil it together till the flesh have drunk the liquor and take the almond milk and quibibs maces and cloves and boyle them together, take the flesh and do thereto and mix it forth."

I realize medieval recipes are difficult to follow, so here is a modern interpretation:

MEDIEVAL MEATLOAF

Makes 4-6 servings.

2 lbs. ground beef

1 cup fresh breadcrumbs

½ cup red wine

1 Tbsp. sugar

½ cup almond milk

¼ tsp. black pepper

1/8 tsp. ground mace

1/8 tsp. ground cloves

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and shape into a loaf. Put into a deep, covered casserole and bake one hour at 350°F. Drain off fat and turn out onto a serving platter.

- Adapted from "700 Years of English Cooking" by Maxine McKendry

Eric Stanway can be reached at eric.stanway@yahoo.com. Collections of these recipes can be found in the books "History on a Plate" and "Another Course," available at amazon.com and all good bookshops. His forthcoming book is entitled "Forking History," which should be out very soon.