There is a saying out there: Live like a King, but Eat like a Peasant.
Is peasant food the secret to long life?
I have been researching places on the planet known for long-lived, healthy people. Researcher Dan Buettner, who studies these populations for National Geographic Society, calls these long-lived pockets on the planet Blue Zones. He has a website some interesting articles and recipes. https://bluezones.com/
I’ve found real disagreement on the Internet that simple peasant food makes for long-lived populations, or that peasants during the Middle Ages may have been healthier than the wealthy.
However, in Medieval England, the wealthy ate plenty of meat, wine, ale, cheeses, wheat bread, and lots of sweets made with sugar, honey, preserved fruit, batter, and jelly. For the rich, meat, sugar, and wheat were expensive and prestigious. However, if you look at paintings, the wealthy were obese. King Henry VII had gout, leg ulcers, diabetes and weighed about 400 lbs! He died at 55.
Vegetables were considered peasant food, definitely not to be trusted. Root vegetables were only fit for the common folk. The peasants ate a high carb diet of vegetables, grains, and some dairy and eggs. A little meat if available. So it is assumed they were malnourished because they did not get enough protein. However, peasants had to be quite strong, and needed a lot of calories. Right?
Americans are obsessed with protein, have become very suspicious of grains and carbs of any kind, are obsessed with dieting, and are getting fatter every year. Take the Paleo Diet. Eat only what prehistoric people ate before agriculture. I’ve read plenty of books with convincing arguments on that. AND, in favor of agriculture, I have read some books advocating vegetarian and vegan diets for weight loss and health.
Well, I don’t want to get into to pro or cons of diets. That is like stepping into quicksand. However, many of us today truly ARE eating like the Kings and Queens of old and suffering the same diseases they did. And getting fat.
Wikipedia says it is an obsolete term for a thick soup or stew made by boiling vegetables, grains, and if available, meat or fish. It was a staple food for many centuries and consisted of various ingredients easily available to serfs and peasants.
The peasant diet was predominantly vegetarian with the majority of their calories coming from their dark, dense, loaves of barley or rye bread. There were no potatoes or tomatoes yet, so they used beans, turnips, parsnips, leeks, carrots, onions, and cabbage. It was all put in a big cauldron and simmered in broth made from stray bones. (What? Bone broth?) or a vegetable broth made from scraps. The stew would then be thickened by adding oats or barley and spiced with whatever herbs grew in the garden.
This stew was served with heavy bread made from oats, wheat, or rye. Maybe some ale, cheese, jam, and butter.
Does that sound very Lord of the Rings?
Try the following recipe. I didn’t give measurements because when I make it, it feels authentic to just wing it by using what I have, in amounts that please me.
Chop some carrots, celery, onion, and garlic. Sweat them in plenty of butter. This is the beginnings of any soup and is called mirepoix. The powerful culinary trio of carrots, celery, onions, and garlic, when combined, are referred to as “aromatics,” and come together to add flavor and aroma to stocks, sauces, soups and other foods. I have no idea if peasants did this, but it seems to be a French culinary tradition. Some people add the herbs after a few minutes to bring out their flavor. Your choice. Regardless, you now will have a wonderful aroma coming from the pot.
Salt and pepper and your choice of fresh or dried herbs, such as basil, marjoram, parsley, rosemary, sage, or thyme. I like the combination of fresh basil, dried thyme, and parsley.
Add about six cups of any broth, beef or chicken bone broth is good. Or vegetable broth. Yesterday, I made this using a carton of chicken broth (4 cups) but added a carton chicken broth with mushrooms (2 cups) from Fire and Kettle. SO GOOD. 100% grass-fed beef or organic chicken bones made with organic ingredients.
Then I like to add a can of diced tomatoes. You can add a 1/4 cup of cooking wine if you want to get fancy.
Now add whatever veggies you have, like leeks, parsnips, sorrel, turnips. I like to throw in some cubed white yam (when soft, tastes so buttery). Yams are white inside and sweet potatoes are orange. I use yams.
Then a cup of farro. Farro is an ancient grain that originated in Mesopotamia. It has a delicious nutty flavor and a slightly chewy texture if put it into soup. It is so nutritious, it is considered a superfood, like quinoa, amaranth and freekeh.
Add any other veggies. You may want to put in some parsnips or turnips. Just make sure to put in long cooking root veggies first and cook a while. You may like some peas, green beans or zucchini. Sometimes I add a handful of spinach or other greens on hand. Oh, Mushrooms! Yummy.
You just don’t want to put in too much, making it overly thick, because you will not have enough of the yummy broth.
Taste and adjust seasonings.
Cook until the veggies are soft. To make this a nutritious powerhouse, I add can of white beans. Black eyed peas are good. Just remember, this is a big create.
Serve with a crusty loaf of bread and the best butter you can find. I like Kerrygold Irish butter. Maybe some cheese and jam.
Voila. A feast for kings and plenty left over for several more meals.
Next: I’m looking for a good recipe for barley bread.