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Frumenty is a type of wheat porridge that was popular from the medieval era to the middle of the 19th century. It was made with cracked and boiled wheat, and many recipes called for the addition of eggs, milk, sugar and spices. It was often used in dessert molds, but some cultures prepared it with a variety of meats as a main dinner dish as well.
The basic recipe for frumenty varied little throughout history. First, the wheat was pounded and separated from the hulls, then boiled in milk, cream or broth until it reached a gel-like consistency. Spice or sweetener was then commonly added. If coloring was desired, it was usually attained by blending in a pinch of saffron.
In medieval Europe, frumenty was often made with meat broth, and served with venison. During Lent, when consumption of meat was not allowed for religious reasons, it was usually made with almond milk instead of cow's milk. It was also commonly served with beaver tail or porpoise. Both of these foods were considered fish, not meat, and therefore allowable.
In the 1600s, frumenty was commonly served as part of the Mothering Sunday meal in the United Kingdom. The holiday falls on the Sunday between Pancake Day, also known as Mardi Gras, and Easter. For this tradition, the son or daughter would typically bring a bouquet of primroses or violets, as well as a small gift, for the mother. In return, the mother would often provide a bowl of frumenty, a glass of ale and a blessing for the child.
By the 19th century, frumenty had become a staple during Christmas Eve dinners. It was typically served alongside cheese, apple pie and yule cake. This dinner was also part of the yule log ritual. Before dinner, the yule log was placed on a fire, and a yule candle was lit and set on the table, not to be snuffed out. The wife of the household would save a piece of the yule log until the next Christmas. This action was believed to protect the house from fire during the year.
Frumenty is still made in modern times, typically as a breakfast dish, although the dish is much less popular than it once was. Modern recipes call for the addition of ingredients such as raisins, pine nuts, cherries or even rum. Although there are many variations, the basic method of preparation remains essentially the same. One major difference, however, is the amount of cooking time required. Today, it can take about a half an hour to prepare a batch of frumenty. Traditional recipes could require a preparation time of up to three days.
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