Leche Lumbarde: 15th century

My husband had an important work call to make on Tuesday morning. You know the kind – the ones you have to put in your calendar so you absolutely do not forget about them. The kind people ask “are you all ready for it? Let me know if you need anything.” The kind that you spend weeks worrying about and might, just might, treat yourself to some sort of calorie laden confection as congratulations for getting through it once it’s over.

In my husband’s case, this was an extra large bag of Haribo. He’d bought it a week or so ago in anticipation of The Call and lovingly stashed it at the back of the cupboard behind the beans and spaghetti hoops where it waited patiently for its time to come.

Unfortunately, that time actually came three days too early when, in a fit of sudden dinnertime anxiety about our terrible eating habits, I raided the cupboard looking for rice, wholewheat pasta or lentils to make something wholesome and disappointing with. As I pushed aside a jar of alarmingly red tikka sauce I saw the Haribo bag lurking in the shadows, hoarding its gummy bears, fizzy cola bottles and sour cherries.

It wouldn’t be decent to describe what happened next. Needless to say, my husband ate a plate of wholewheat spaghetti on his own as for some reason I wasn’t too hungry anymore.

And that was the end of that. Until Monday evening, when my husband turned to me with gleaming anticipation in his eyes and told me how much he was looking forward to devouring the Haribo after he’d got through The Call in the morning. They were really helping him focus on the prep work, he said. He didn’t know what he’d do without them as a motivator, he said. If something, anything, should happen to them, he’d be utterly destroyed.

Okay, maybe not as dramatic as that. The point was, he was an earnest and very nervous man and I was a terrible wife.

Obviously I replaced the bag (I’m not a total monster), and The Call went well. But it got me thinking about how I could crowbar it into this blog and the answer came thusly: make some medieval sweets.

Yeah nice one, not a tenuous link at all.

In my defense, when reading through the recipe for these I was struck by how they might pass as a medieval version of gummy sweets. So not totally tenuous..?

Medieval people knew very well about the setting properties of gelatin: recipes in Forme of Cury describe the process of cooking pig’s feet, ears and snouts – along with calve’s feet – in a mixture of wine, water and vinegar to make an enticing dish called Gele of Flessh. What I couldn’t find any evidence of, however, was sweet jellies. And if there were no sweet jellies then it wasn’t too much to assume that gummy sweets were out of the question as well.

Forme of Cury, not telling me how to make jelly babies.

I knew that by the end of the 16th century marmalade was being made that resembled something akin to gummy sweets (rather than our modern version); Hugh Platt’s 1600 recipe for orange marmalade was supposed to be so thick it could be served in jellied lozenges. Likewise, the popular 17th century sweet quiddany – quince paste – was supposed to be so solid it could be set in moulds and turned out without losing its shape. But I couldn’t find much evidence of this type of solid-set jam being made in England during the middle ages. A medieval dish from Forme of Cury called Connate came close to these 17th century pastes, but it used lard and raw egg yolk to set it, rather than pectin alone.

What I did find was Leche Lumbarde. Thinking back to my year 9 Spanish lessons I was fairly confident, before reading the whole recipe, that this would include milk – so I almost didn’t bother, thinking it wouldn’t be anything like what I was searching for. In reality, the Leche Lumbarde I found contained no milk, but plenty of dates and sugar (or honey) cooked in wine and set into slices. Okay, it wasn’t a jelly baby or a fizzy cola bottle but it was about as close as I could get.

Other medieval recipes for Leche Lumbarde included meat, such as the 15th century version from Thomas Awkbarow’s Recipes which started off by boiling brawn to a pulp, and the Forme of Cury version, which involved ground pork. It may have been that the makers of Haribo tried an edition of brawn or pork flavour gummy worms, but the packet that my husband had been so looking forward to seemed to rely mostly on fruit flavours, so I skipped these versions in my search.

The recipe I used came from Two Fifteenth Century Cookery Books: Harleian MS. 279 & Harl. MS. 4016. Harlein MS. 279 seems to date from around 1430 and Harlein MS. 4016 dates from around 1450. The recipes within these manuscripts were heavily influenced by continental (especially French) cookery and many of the titles of the recipes have bastardised English names – the milk-based recipe Letlardes, for example, is clearly based off an earlier French one: Layt Lardé.

I still couldn’t shake the idea of the Spanish sounding name, though. And the more I thought about it, the more annoyed I was that I’d spent all that time in Spanish lessons only for history to deny that milk didn’t belong in recipes entitled “leche”. If many of the recipes in Two Fifteenth Century Cookery Books were based on recipes from France, then surely it wasn’t outside of the realms of possibility that some Spanish influence had crept in too? There must be a connection, I thought – there must be an original, milk-based Spanish recipe for Leche Lumbarde that had somehow become muddled on its way to England.

A 13th century Spanish cookbook called The Anonymous Andalusian Cookbook had a recipe for “A Sweet of Dates and Honey”, which was almost near identical to the recipe I had for Leche Lumbarde. Unfortunately, this recipe didn’t contain any milk, so wasn’t all that helpful in proving the milky origins of the dish. Furthermore, given that 13th century Andalucía wasn’t the region referred to as Andalucía today, but instead referred to all the regions in Spain under Arab Muslim control, it was likely that the original name of this dish (which had been lost) would have been Arabic, so unlikely to contain the Spanish word leche, anyway.

After hours of research I still couldn’t find anything. And then, in desperation, I stopped pushing the very limited Spanish and access to medieval Spanish cookbooks I had beyond their extremes and banged “leche” into the online Middle English Compendium to see if it could point me in the direction of anything I’d overlooked.

Leche” it sang back to me. “Of lesche, laiche, leske ‘a thin strip, a slice’. Cook. (a) A strip, slice; (b) any of a number of jellylike dishes prepared from various ingredients and usually cut into strips or slices.”


I’d spent an afternoon chasing the belief that I was about to unearth the global transformation of a dish from its milky Spanish origins to a milk-less English sweet – a discovery that as far as I could see, no one else had made. For good reason, it turned out, because it didn’t bloody exist.

In this particular context, “leche” was truly nothing to do with milk at all. If I’d paid attention to the other, meaty versions of Leche Lumbarde I’d have seen that they too avoided milk. “Leche Lumbarde” was just another way of saying “sweet slices in the Lombardy fashion”. What the original Lombardy recipe that had inspired the 15th century English version looked like was anyone’s guess; I was too crushed to begin that particular treasure hunt and already on the way to the shop to buy yet more, consolatory, Haribo.*

What a fantastic waste of time. Are you going to cook now?

It was all turning into a bit of a disaster; I’d spent so much time chasing a misguided hunch that I had very little accurate history to talk about. In fact, I was at risk of having to include my dead-end research in lieu of proper information about the dish…

But onto the actual cooking. Milk or no milk, Leche Lumbarde was pleasingly easy to whip up and contained relatively few ingredients: dates, sugar, white wine and spices. Though the original recipe made it seem like there were lots of steps involved, in reality the last few sentences were guidance for what to do if the dish didn’t set properly; mine did, so I didn’t need to follow the end points.

Leche lumbarde. Take Dates, and do awey the stones; and seth hem in swete wyne; and take hem vppe, and grinde hem in a morter, and drawe hem thorgh a streynour with a litull swete wyne and sugur; and caste hem in a potte, and lete boyle til it be stiff; and then take hem vppe, and ley hem vp apon a borde; and then take pouder ginger, Canell, and wyn, and melle al togidre in thi honde, and make it so stiff that hit woll be leched; And if hit be not stiff ynowe, take hard yolkes of eyren and creme thereon, or elles grated brede, and make it thik ynogh; take Clarey, and caste thereto in maner of sirippe, whan thou shall serue hit forthe.

Two Fifteenth Century Cookbooks

First I heated dates in a pan of white wine – I chose a Pinot Grigio as the recipe specified “sweet” (though I’m not a big wine drinker and in reality it all tastes very similar to me; sorry!) The dates simmered for a couple of minutes until they were softened and just starting to fall apart. I added them – without the wine – to a blender and blitzed.

Why couldn’t it have been milk instead of wine?!

Once suitably pulverized, I added a spoonful of the now syrupy wine back to the dates, poured most of rest of the wine away (I set a couple of spoons aside for the final part of the recipe), and returned the dates to the pan. The recipe called for sugar to be added at this point but, like all medieval recipes, didn’t specify how much. I ended up settling for just under half the weight of the dates, aware that this was meant to be a sweet and should therefore be, well, sweet.

The date and sugar mixture was stirred into a thick paste and then heated until it bubbled. Though there was no indication of what temperature to cook it for other than until it was “stiff”, I checked with a food thermometer and took it off the heat at about 106 degrees C, to be sure it had at least passed the setting point of jam. In all honesty, it looked pretty thick and stiff before it reached this temperature but I wanted to make sure.

Once it was off the heat, I added a pinch of powdered ginger and a pinch of cinnamon, stirred it through and turned the whole lot out onto a covered board. It was still boiling hot, so rather than use my hands, as suggested, and risk melting the skin on my palms, I patted it into a rectangle with the flat side of a spatula.

It seemed like it was already thick enough to slice but if it wasn’t the recipe provided some strikingly helpful pointers, by medieval standards. To thicken up the mixture, it suggested, one could crumble in hard egg yolk or grated bread which would provide some additional setting qualities. As it was I only had to cool mine an hour before cutting it into slices (and shaping it into cola bottles).

So similar it’s like “Where’s Wally?” but with Haribo.

The final part of the recipe called for clarey – a type of spiced wine sweetened with honey – to be drizzled over the finished slices like a syrup. I added a spoon of honey to what was left of the date-infused wine I’d set aside earlier, added a little ginger and heated it. Once the honey had dissolved I let it cool a bit so it didn’t melt the sweets and drizzled a couple of teaspoons over the slices.

Did these taste like Haribo? No, not at all. Did they feel like Haribo? Also no. They were much stickier and softer than gummy sweets, so fans of very chewy sweets would be disappointed. In terms of taste, they were sweet but not painfully so; most of the flavour came from the dates, so it was a very sticky, jammy type of sweetness. It almost felt like eating the inside of a fig roll.

The wine made them richer and somehow smoother, but there was no discernible alcoholic taste. Similarly, the spices – ginger especially – gave each piece a kick, but it was a subtle heat rather than a strong flavour.

In the end I’d made a relatively small batch, enough for four medium/large slices (or leches, I guess.) It turned out that this size was right – pleasant as these date sweets were, they weren’t an acceptable replacement for real gummy bears or cola bottles and we found it hard to finish them in a way we’d never struggled with before with Haribo. I guess, if anything, this experiment taught me that replications, no matter how interesting, can never replace the authentic thing.

Oh – and that unless you have half a day to waste shouting at Google Translate and listening to the Spanish national anthem “to get into the right mindset”, it’s best to leave the proper research up to the experts.

E x

* If it turns out that I’ve made yet another mistake and that “Lumbarde” doesn’t, in fact, mean “in the Lombardy fashion” please be sure to highlight this by writing me a letter and popping it straight in the bin. Or, if you must let me know, email theforeignpantry@gmail.com along with a subscription to a years supply of Haribo.

Leche Lumbarde

100g pitted dates
200ml white wine
40g caster sugar
1/4 teaspoon powdered ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
(optional: tablespoon honey)
(optional: breadcrumbs or egg yolk)

  1. Heat the dates in simmering wine until they are soft.
  2. Remove dates from the wine and blend to a pulp. Set aside 3 tablespoons of wine and pour the rest away.
  3. Place dates back into the pan and add 1 tablespoon of the wine. Add the sugar and stir until all incorporated.
  4. Heat the date and sugar until it is thick and bubbling and can hold its own shape (about 105 degrees C.)
  5. Remove from heat and stir in the spices.
  6. If you don’t think the mixture is thick enough to cut when cooled, add in 50g of breadcrumbs or one hard boiled egg yolk, crumbled, and mix in thoroughly.
  7. Tip mixture onto a non stick surface and shape into a rectangle a couple of cm thick. Allow to cool entirely.
  8. Slice and, if adding the sauce, heat the remaining tablespoons of wine with a tablespoon of honey. Add a pinch of ground ginger and then drizzle over the slices.

Payn Ragoun: c.1390

It’s another medieval one! It’s another sweet one! It’s another one where I don’t really have much idea of what it is I’m supposed to be doing!

Right from the start I’m going to attribute at least half of today’s success to Dr. Christopher Monk – a man whose knowledge of medieval cuisine (particularly the cuisine in The Forme of Cury, from which this recipe is taken) is as impressive as his patience with over-enthusiastic amateurs contacting him with screen shots of recipes they don’t understand, begging for help. He could have said no. He could have done that thing where the message pops up in notifications but you ignore it forever because you don’t want to engage with such nonsense (don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about – we’ve all done it. My husband’s still waiting for my response to a photo of him trying on something he called “dress shorts” in Debenhams changing room in 2017. He didn’t buy them in the end, which I guess shows that actually this approach can work sometimes.)

To put it bluntly, he could have told me to find a hobby that didn’t so often require at least some basic understanding of Middle English and other “extinct” languages. And believe me for I speak from bitter experience – knowing all the spells in Harry Potter only gets you so far with Latin. But instead he shared his translation and notes on the recipe and offered advice and encouragement. I’ve called on his expertise before and I’m sure I will again (unless he has the commonsense to block me on Twitter), so I make no apologies for the first section of this entry basically being a big thank you to Dr. Monk.

Payn Ragoun is a mystery in itself to me. Entitled “Pine Nut Candy” in Maggie Black’s The Medieval Cookbook, there is much in the original that confused me. The word “ragoun”, for example. What did it mean? Was a ragoun a style of cooking or was it a way of serving food? I wondered if it was just a word that had become lost with in time that used to mean a particular dish, like a pie, and medieval tables once groaned under the weight of strawberry ragouns and apples ragouns as well as pine nut ragouns. I decided to do a little etymological investigation, which basically meant typing “Ragoun: what does it mean?!” into Google like a madwoman until I hit on something useful. Or rather, I hit on something that just directed me right back to where I started. The University of Michigan Library’s online Middle English Compendium (yep, that’s a thing) had this explanation for the word “ragoun”:

“The name of a dish made with honey, sugar and bread.”

The associated quotations took me directly back to the recipe I was looking at, which didn’t do too much to clarify what this dish was meant to be. The compendium told me that the word “ragoun” possibly came from the Old French word “regon” meaning a mixture of wheat and rye. So, though I still felt a little nonplussed by what a ragoun was supposed to actually look like, my confidence levels rose as I turned to my husband, who hadn’t asked at all, and triumphantly exclaimed “well, at least I know it’s got bread in it.”

Reader, it did not contain bread. Let me explain…

The second thing that had confused me was the word “thriddendele” in the translation of the recipe I had. Maggie Black had explained this was a “mystery ingredient” (she translated the word “thriddendele” as meaning an anonymous “third item”) which she had taken to mean breadcrumbs. This seemed completely logical and fit in with my tenuous understanding of “ragoun” and the word “payn” in the dish’s title (meaning bread, from the French pain.) But this was where my lack of understanding of Middle English – and to be honest, modern English – came in handy. I had misread Maggie Black’s entry and thought she had meant that the word “thriddendele” was the word for the mystery ingredient itself. I wasn’t happy with my lack of knowledge of this ingredient – if it was going to be the third item in this dish I damn well wanted to know for sure what it was. And so, with all the puffed up indignation of a woman who has no idea what she’s doing but already spent money on most of the ingredients, I messaged Dr. Monk for help.

Firstly, he clarified, the dish seemed to be a type of soft toffee with pine nuts and ginger mixed in. There was a reference in the recipe to “take up a drop thereof with thy finger and put it in a little water and look if it hangs together” which indicated a method similar to the confectioner’s technique of checking when sugar has reached the “soft ball” stage for fudge.

Secondly, “thriddendele” wasn’t the name of an ingredient in its own right (as Maggie Black had also pointed out but I’d been too dense to realise) – it was from an Old English word meaning “third deal” as in part or portion. The instructions in my book may have translated “thriddendele” as an instruction to add breadcrumbs as the third part of the recipe because of how the original sentence was structured: “add thereto pine[nuts] the thriddendele (third part) & powdour gyngeuer.” However, word order wasn’t fixed in Old English, like it is today (this is also the case in Latin; Wand, Accio! would work just as well as Accio, Wand! by the way. As would Leviosa Wingardium, it just sounds a bit rubbish and means Hermione couldn’t do the special voice.) The shifting word order means that though the recipe was written “add thereto pine[nuts] the thriddendele (third part)” it could just as well read “add thereto the thriddendele (third part) pine[nuts].” Which actually makes much more sense as a cook – especially when you fall down the etymological rabbit hole and see that “thriddendele” can also mean one third of a whole – meaning, in this case, the word “thriddendele” sort of acts as two instructions; to add a final third ingredient (pine nuts) in a particular quantity (equal thirds to honey and sugar.)

Just in case you were wondering what would happen if you searched “thriddendele” in Google images.

The absence of bread and presence of pine nuts as the “thriddendele” becomes even more compelling after a quick analysis of modern understandings of the word “bread” versus medieval understandings of the word “bread”. To go back to the Middle English compendium, the word “payn” could mean a literal loaf of bread as we would recognise it today. But there was a secondary use of “payn” which just meant something of a breadlike consistency, such as pastry. Even more interestingly – that wasn’t a yawn, was it? – the compendium links this “breadlike consistency” use of the word “payn” back to the word “ragoun” as an example of a dish that matches this description. Payn Ragoun therefore wasn’t a dish made with bread; it was a dish that mimicked the consistency of bread, or bread dough.

I though this was meant to be a food blog, not an English blog?

Right. And before we move on – if there are any academics out there, or even just anyone who knows their stuff about words and… well, stuff, I guess, and thinks I’ve gone off on a huge incorrect tangent in my non-academic analysis, please let me know (nicely!) and I’ll correct it. If I can be bothered, that is, and if I can do it in a way that makes me look like I’ve grown to have the intellectual prowess of both Stephens combined (Hawking and Fry, FYI).

So, I knew I was working with equal parts honey, sugar and pine nuts. The question was how much was equal? “Thriddendele” could often mean one third of a gallon, which was about 1.5l. This was an obviously unacceptable amount for anybody who valued not having cavities in their teeth, so I scaled it down a bit and decided to switch to measurements in grams rather than ml which made everything a lot simpler.

I melted 250g of honey with 250g of sugar. This bit caused me some problems too, if I’m honest, as the recipe called for “Cyprus sugar”. This was the best quality available at the time, made in Cyprus, which had a thriving sugar industry during the 14th and 15th centuries and was considered the cream of the crop in England thanks to the many stages the cane went though to extract the molasses. The Forme of Cury was written by Richard II’s master cooks and though it was intended to be used as an instructional book for everyday dishes, it was also supposed to show off the king’s fabulous wealth and the skill of his cooks. Dishes such as “common pottages” were all well and good for the merely well off, but any dish requiring one third of a gallon of Cyprus sugar was firmly in the realm of the rich, thank you very much.

I was faced with a problem: did I stay true to the taste of the recipe – even if that meant using a non-regal unrefined sugar in an effort match the levels of refinement at the time – or did I try to copy the intent of the recipe and use the most highly processed white sugar I could? In the end I settled for an unrefined golden sugar made from 100% cane (not sugar beet). In all honesty, it was pretty much all the Co-op had on the shelf anyway, other than a packet of “Schwartz Hot Chilli Con Carne Mix” which I’m fairly sure had just been put in the wrong place.

Sugar and honey bubbling away, it was soon time to test the mixture. The author of the recipe had, presumably, a very dark sense of humour and advised dipping a finger into the seething mix of melted sugar to “take up a drop…in a little water” and see if it held its shape. I can imagine him laughing wickedly at the idea of trainee cooks taking his advice and screeching in pain as their flesh melded with molten syrup. In case you want to recreate this recipe yourself and it’s not obvious enough: do not touch boiling sugar with your fingers. Or hands. Or, (and I really shouldn’t have to spell this out), any part of your body at all, you absolute weirdo. I used a sugar thermometer – not technically authentic but far more likely not to land me in A&E and continued to boil the honey and sugar together until it reached the “soft ball” stage and registered 112 degrees C. I was a bit put out not to reach the vastly more amusing “soft crack” and “hard crack” stage but I think Richard II’s cooks were less immature than I am.

Once I’d reached the correct temperature, 250g of pinenuts were added, along with a good pinch of ginger, and stirred in. (I’m aware that is a hugely expensive amount and the fact I used a mixture of pine nuts from old open bags we had in already and a bag of specially bought ones might have skewed my perception on the overall cost of this dish, but it would still work with any similar cheaper hard nut.) The whole mixture was poured out onto a greaseproof paper lined baking tin and allowed to cool for a few hours.

I know, I was excited about this too.

The author of the recipe suggested serving this alongside “fryed meat, on flessh days or on fisshe days”, showing the medieval tradition of serving sweet foods alongside savoury, but we just decided to cut it into fudge like rectangles and eat it as it was instead.

My first thought were that it wasn’t as sweet as I’d expected. Obviously it was sweet, but it wasn’t that tooth-aching sweet you can get from fudge. It was quite woody because of the pine nuts, and very mellow. A bit like nougat is, but less smooth. The ginger was warm rather than overpowering and spicy, which worked really well. However, my results will be different from any others because a lot of the actual flavour came from the honey, which is dependent on local flowers and the nectar the bees use. Using a locally produced honey, my Payn Ragoun wasn’t overly floral or perfumed, but I can imagine that certain honeys would yield different results. Thyme honey, for example, would have a much stronger aromatic flavour.

I also think I should have cooked it for slightly longer. It held its shape when cut into rectangles, but in an oozy way. It would only take a hot afternoon to transform this back into liquid stickiness so cooking it to a “firm ball” stage (118-120 degrees C) might help a little more with that.

One for me and one for you…and one more for me.

In fact, I was sure this would be brilliant as a brittle. The instructions were vague at best about how long the mixture should boil for and, though the reference to testing a ball of mixture in water seems to correlate to the soft ball stage, there’s nothing to indicate it had to be that. It’s not outside of the realms of possibility that a cook got distracted (or had to go and plunge his hand into a bucket of cold water after trying the medieval soft ball method) and let the mixture bubble a bit longer. Furthermore, some of the recipes in Forme of Cury are similar to those found in the 14th century French/Italian cookbook Liber de Coquina, which had links to Arabic cooking. Why does that matter? Because centuries earlier Arabic cooks had been busy experimenting with sugar and were among the first to develop hard candy. By the 12th century there were clear signs of hard candy in some European recipes. While hard candy might not have been common in England by 1390, surely it would have been something the cooks of Richard II, who must have been reading other contemporary Arabic influenced works such as Liber de Coquina, would have known about? So I saved a bit of the mixture over and let it cook longer – to the hard crack (teehee) stage.

As expected, the brittle version of Payn Ragoun was even better than the fudge version. I love brittle, so didn’t mind that I was still chewing on a small piece of it two hours after I’d started, or that with each bite I could feel my teeth loosening from my gums. The brittle version seemed less sugary but more honeyed than the fudge version too, so if you prefer less sweet sweets, let your mixture boil for longer.

Just glorious.

Overall, this was a great sweet treat to make. It was surprisingly quick and easy to rustle up, if you don’t panic over melted sugar, and tasted very, very good. If you have honey and sugar in you should definitely try this – add pine nuts for a medieval version or experiment with other nuts – hazelnuts were used in medieval England too – or bits of fruit added at the last minute (just avoid super soft fruits like banana – though why would you add banana to anything anyway?!). I could even see a slab of this plain with flakes of sea salt scattered over the top of it as it cools working well too. I’d recommend the brittle version over the fudge, but it’s so easy to make you could just do two versions anyway.

Enjoy. And please, for the love of God, don’t stick your fingers in melted sugar. Just… don’t.

E x

Payn Ragoun

250g honey
250g golden caster sugar
250g pine nuts (or a combination of similar hard nuts such as almond
Pinch of ground ginger

  1. Line a small baking tray (I chose 28cm x 18cm) with greaseproof paper.
  2. Measure out all the ingredients before you start.
  3. Heat the honey and sugar in a pan over a low flame, swirling it occasionally to stop it clumping. Using a thermometer, or the cold water test, cook the sugar to 118 degrees C. If you want to make brittle keep cooking it until a thermometer reaches 146-1154 degrees C.
  4. When the sugar has reached the right temperature, take it off the heat and stir the pine nuts and ginger in until fully mixed. You will want to be a bit quick in doing this to stop the sugar and honey solidifying too soon.
  5. Pour the honey, sugar and pine nut mixture into the lined baking tray and leave to set somewhere cool, like a cupboard (not a fridge).
  6. After it is set, cut it into chunks with a sharp knife and enjoy. You should store it in greaseproof paper in an airtight container for lasting freshness.