Froyte de Almondes (Almond Milk)

Almond milk has been around for far longer than most of us think, as is clear by its extensive use in Medieval households.  It was used as food for the sick and invalid but also for regular people during lenten days (of fish days), which in the fourteenth century comprised about two-thirds of the year, when people were not allowed to eat meat, eggs, dairy, and other land animal products.  With such a dietary restriction, it is no wonder that almond milk was so popular and so widely used.

I will admit that I have never been a big fan of almond milk, at least the commercially produced ones, so I’ve never been terribly interested in making my own either.  However, I was planning on making another recipe that called for almond milk.  I did not have any in my refrigerator, but I did have a lot of almonds, so I decided to make my own milk, including blanching the almonds, which was no fun.  That said, the result was pretty incredible, and that’s coming form a non-almond milk drinker.  If it wasn’t because I had plans for the milk, I would have happily drunk it right out of the jug.

I found the recipe in volume one of Take a Thousand Eggs or More, transcribed and redacted by Cindy Renfrow, but the original recipe is from manuscript 4016 of the Harleian Collection in the British Library.  While Take a Thousand Eggs or More does include the redacted recipe in modern format, I decided that it simply did not suit my purpose so I started from the fifteenth century recipe and concocted my own redaction.  To be fair, this was quite easy but it did give me sense of accomplishment.

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Here is the recipe in its fifteenth century wording:

Harleian MS 4016

“111. Froyte de almondes.  Take blak sugur and colde water, and caste the sugur and Þe water in a potte; and lete hem boile togidre, and salt, and skeme hem clene, and let hit kele; and Þen take Almondes, and blanch hem clene, and stampe hem in a morter al smal, and drawe hem thik ynowe thorgh a streynour with sugur water, into a faire vessell.  And if hit so be Þat the mylke be not swete, take white sugur and cast thereto; And serue hit forth in maner of potage, And namly in lenton tyme.”

The first thing I did was cover Renfrow’s translation to modern English and came with my own, then I cross-referenced it Renfrow’s and I was spot on. This wasn’t particularly difficult, it was not terribly complicated language, but it was good to see that I could do it.  One of the things that always gets me, even though I already know this, is that despite how incomprehensible the writing looks, saying it out loud will actually bring it into focus, so to speak, and make it very clear.  Try it.  Now it all sounds perfectly 21st century.

The only truly confusing thing in this recipe for people who have never seen medieval writing, is the use of Þ; this letter is called “thorn” and it functions like “th.”  Once you know this, or figure it out, you’re set.  I think it’s funny, however, that this recipe mixes actually writing out “th” and “Þ.”

Here is the Modern English translation of the recipe keeping the same punctuation, grammar, and capitalization:

Harleian MS 4016

“111. Cold almond milk.  Take black sugar and cold water, and cast the sugar and the water in a pot; and let them boil together, and salt, and skim them clean, and let it cool; and then take almonds, and blanch them clean, and stomp them in a mortar all small, and draw them thick now through a strainer with sugar water, into a fair vessel.  And if it so be that the milk is not sweet, take white sugar and cast thereto; And serve it forth in the manner of pottage, And namely in lenten time.”

Much better!

As with any historical recipe, translating it is only the beginning, and there still steps that need to be completed, and questions to be answered, before the execution of the recipe.

When I first looked at this recipe, and before I looked at Renfrow’s redaction, I had a few questions, mainly about the ingredients.  For example, the recipe calls for black sugar.  What is black sugar?  Was their black sugar more like modern raw sugar or was their black sugar more like pilon (sugar loaf)?  I did know for certain that it was NOT the brown sugar, light or dark, that is commonly available in the United States.  That  brown sugar is just processed sugar with molasses added to it.  I do know someone who is a sugar expert, I wish I had been able to use her help here.  Another thing to consider was how dark was this sugar, really, when almond milk was often used blancmange, which was white?  I checked another almond milk recipe in a different manuscript, Harleian 279, and it all also called for black sugar.  In Spanish, we call brown sugar, the unrefined type, “azucar prieta,” and some times “azucar negra,” which means “black sugar.”  Of course, this sounds like a long process on paper, or online, but it was actually only a matter of a couple of minutes in mind.  I made the decision to use turbinado sugar, which is a golden raw cane sugar. I could have gone with the darker muscovado but I did not have any, and there was still the issue of the final color of the milk.  I’m OK with my decision.

I briefly considered grinding the almonds in a mortar but quickly thew out that idea.  I felt that, in this case, the final product would not be affected by whether I ground the almonds by hand or in a blender.  So I went with the blender, which I am sure the medievals would have done if they had had one. Yes, that is conjecture.

Here is the final recipe, adapted for the modern kitchen:

Almond Milk

1 cup of almonds
3 cups of water
1/4 cup turbinado sugar
Pinch of salt
 
To blanch the almonds, put them in a bowl and cover them with boiling water.  Let them sit for 10 minutes.  Drain the almonds and immediately rinse them with cold running water.  Remove the skins by gently squeezing each almond.  Alternatively, you may purchase already blanched almonds and just soak them in boiling water to soften them up. 
 
Place the 3 cups of water, sugar, and salt in a small pot over medium heat.  Heat until the sugar dissolves. Place the almonds and the sugar water in a blender and let it cool until it is safe to blend them, approximately 10 minutes.  Blend until the milk looks smooth. It will be gritty if tasted.  This may take 3 to 5 minutes, depending on your blender.
 
Strain the mixture though a nut milk bag or cheesecloth over a strainer until there is no longer a trickle.  Carefully squeeze the bag or the bundled cheesecloth, until most of the remaining liquid has been drained.  
 
Yields just under 3 cups of strained milk
The final result was a really good, thick milk that resembles whole milk in consistency and I did not feel it needed any more sugar, even to be drunk as milk rather than used in another recipe.  It is entirely possible, however, that less sugar may have been used in period, but the fact that the recipe says to add more sugar if the milk is not sweet, tells me it’s OK to go ahead and make it sweeter from the beginning.
I thought about not blanching the almonds since they would be strained out anyway, but after seeing the color of the water in which the almonds were blanched, I’m glad that I did.  This is only so because I needed the milk to be pretty light in color for the dish that it was made to go into but they do not need to be blanched if it’s just for drinking and you don’t mind a bit of a brownish tint.
I said that the reason I decided to redact the recipe my way, instead of using Renfrow’s redaction, was that hers did not suit my purpose.  Hers used less water, making it thicker and much more soup-like, which is OK, just not what I needed.
I am rather pleased with this recipe, and while I probably won’t go through the trouble of blanching the almonds again (I’ll buy blanched or forego blanching altogether), I will definitely use it again if I ever need almond milk.
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Bibliography:
Renfrow,Cindy. Take a Thousand Eggs or More Volume One. 2nd ed. USA, 1997.

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