Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Pre 1600's plant history Part 2 Fennel

A profile of Fennel and it's uses prior to 1600

The modern scientific name for fennel is Foeniculum vulgare Which refers to common Fennel commonly found as a weed of roadsides and untended ground both in Australia and abroad. The second type commonly called sweet or Florence fennel is classified as Foeniculum vulgare Azoricum group, these fennels have a more developed “bulb” of fleshy stems at the base and  somewhat sweeter flavour (Facciola 1998).

Common fennel growing wild.

Its relatives :

Fennel is a perennial plant belonging to the same family as parsley dill and carrots, the APIACEAE family. The distinguishing feature of this is the upside down umbrella arrangement of flower stalks. Fennel flowers share this shape and have yellow flowers clustered at the end of each flower stalk making a perfect landing platform for pollinating insects.


 Its uses:

All parts of this herb can be used from the fleshy stem bases or bulb to the anise flavoured seeds. Modern usage is as broad as it’s historical use which shall be discussed shortly.

Archaeological evidence:

Fennel seed is a hard seed able to pass through the human digestive tract without being destroyed to the point of being unidentifiable.  Given this fact and the ability of archaeologists to locate cesspits and sewers it is possible to find locations where fennel seed is part of the archaeological record and is most likely there due to the human digestive system.
Table 1 a list of combined culinary/horticultural texts and archaeological evidence for the presence of Fennel at specific times and in specific regions

The cuilnary use of fennel


How was fennel used across a wide raange of locations and cultures? 


Table 2 A selection of  Texts with culinary information indicating the types of dish fennel has being used for.

Anonymous Andalusian Cookbook: 13th Century spain (Andalusia)
This perhaps provides a most distinctive use of fennel, partnered with citron leaves (Citrus media) in 11 dishes, also with coriander, onion, rue, saffron
Stalks are the most common part indicated, leaves are mentioned once and chopping of stalks mentioned twice. The most common method of preparation mentioned for fennel is in the parboiling of foods which are then baked or simmered in the coals.
18 dishes Used cooked, used as a garnish but only with one mention
o   9 poultry dishes, 7 Chicken, one Goose and one Crane
o   1 vegetable dish (Eggplant)
o   3 unspecified meat
o   2 Lamb
o   1 large fish
o   2 Rabbit
Le Menagier de Paris  : 1390    France  
Fennel is only mentioned in a few recipes in this text.
  • An omelette, egg dish, along with celery, tansy, mint lovage, sage, sweet majoram, parsley, silver beet, violet leaves, spinach, as the majority of the ingredients are generally used as fresh leaves I would suggest that in this case the leaves be used.
  • Used in a preserve, possibly two one which could is a recipe for mixed vegetable/herb root compote and contains green walnuts the second which is a recipe for pickled walnuts. The description of how to prepare roots may indicate that the root/lower bulbous stem of fennel is the part intended for use, although in the later part of the recipe fennel seeds would be as appropriate.
  • o   Pork sausages. The fennel called for is ground, which makes fennel seeds more likely particularly as they are then mixed with powdered spices.
Wel ende edelike spijse:  Late 15th Century Dutch
Two recipes contain Fennel
o   Vegetable stew, which uses fennel seed in addition to several spices in a dish of cabbage, figs and parsley roots.
  • Sturgeon with fennel. The name says it all, catch and cook your sturgeon, and sprinkle it with fennel, fresh leaves or seeds are not specified.
So it becomes clear that fennel was a widespread and most likely universally known condiment, ingredient and medicine throughout Europe and across diverse cultures prior to the 17th century.

·    Marta Bandini Mazzanti · Giovanna Bosi , Anna Maria Mercuri , Carla Alberta Accorsi ,  Chiara Guarnieri : (2005)  “Plant use in a city in Northern Italy during the late Mediaeval and Renaissance periods: results of the archaeobotanical investigation of “The Mirror Pit” (14th–15th century a.d.) in Ferrara”  June 2005, Vegetation  History Archaeobotany 14:442–452
·     Pegge, Samuel, 1704-1796  The Forme of Cury, not the original manuscript but a  copy made at this time.

A Roll of Ancient English Cookery Compiled, about A.D. 1390 Produced by Tobin Richard, Charles Franks, Greg Lindahl, Cindy Renfrow and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/8102 
·    Le Menagier de Paris translated from the French edition of Jerome Pichon published in 1846. Footnotes marked JP are by him; those marked JH are by Janet Hinson, the translator; those marked DDF and EGC are by David Friedman and Elizabeth Cook, respectively. (c) Janet Hinson http://www.daviddfriedman.com/Medieval/Cookbooks/Menagier/Menagier.html
·    ms UB Gent 1035 "Good and noble food" Wel ende edelike spijse" http://www.coquinaria.nl/kooktekst/Edelikespijse0.htm
·    An Anonymous Andalusian Cookbook of the 13th Century Translated by Charles Perry. http://www.daviddfriedman.com/Medieval/Cookbooks/Andalusian/andalusian1.htm
·      Sylvia Landsberg, The Medieval Garden, British Museum Press, Thames and Hudson, Italy. ISBN 0714120804
·    The Saint Gall Monastery Plan http://www.stgallplan.org/
·    . Strabo, Walafrid. Hortulus. Translated by Raef Payne. Commentary by Wilfrid Blunt. (Pittsburgh: Hunt Botanical Library, 1966)
Facciola, Stephen. Cornucopia: A Source Book of Edible Plants. 1990. 677 pp. Paperback. (LC 90-92097, ISBN 0-9628087-0-9). Kampong Publications,
·    A HISTORY OF GARDENING IN ENGLAND. by The Hon. Alicia. Amherst ... A History Of Gardening In England. by Hon. Mrs. Evelyn. Cecil (Hardcover - 1 Jan 1896 reprint 1969

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