Rys. A 15th Century Rice Pudding

Remember the Almond Milk from the previous post?

Well, I didn’t make the almond milk for its own sake, I made it so that I could use it for a rice pudding, Rys, recipe from the second volume of Take a Thousand Eggs or More.  The original recipe comes from a 15th century series of manuscripts called Herleian, specifically manuscript no. 279.  The recipe, as transcribed by Cindy Renfrow, reads:

“lxxxvj. Rice. Take a portion of Rice, & pick them clean, & seethe them well, & let them cool; then take good Milk of Almonds & put thereto, & seethe & stir them well; & put thereto Sugar and honey, & serve f[orth].” [1]


The recipe instructs the cook to take a portion of rice, pick it clean and boil it for a long time, then let it cool.  Add a large amount of almond milk to the rice, boiling and stirring, also for a long time, add sugar and honey and serve.  Pretty straight forward…maybe.

As usual, there is a host of questions that come to mind when reading this recipe. First and foremost, what type of rice would they have been talking about?  Research ensued.  As it turns out, there is no clear cut evidence of what type of rice was available and used in medieval Europe but there is circumstantial information that indicates that they were probably using short grain white rice. [2].  This was great news as in most places short grain white rice is used for rice pudding, namely Valencia or even Arborio rice, because its higher amount of amylopectins makes a for a creamy final dish.  This is also why short grain rice is used for risotto.  For information on sugar, see my previous posts.

The other questions were regarding times, amounts, etc.  all of which I could sort of answer with my knowledge of modern rice pudding.  The one urge I had to resist was that of using the modern method of cooking rice pudding, where you cook the rice already in the milk, instead of in water and then adding milk as the recipe calls for doing.  I am not sure why they did it this way but my best educated guess is that, this way, they needed less milk.  The rice needs a large quantity of cooking liquid, whatever it may be, and by using water as the cooking medium no large amount of almond milk was needed, thus using less of the more expensive ingredients.  Based on this, I came up with a preliminary recipe to use as a guide and got to cooking.  Some things did change as I went but I was expecting that.  I stuck to the ingredients listed on the medieval recipe as I wanted the taste to be as per the recipe, this means I did not add spices like cinnamon, which is quite common in modern rice pudding and was certainly available in the 15th century.

I was pleased with the result as it was, but it truly did taste better after I sprinkled some ground cinnamon on top.  Some rice puddings made with milk, or cream, can be quite heavy, but this one felt light in the mouth.  I’m going to call it a success.

Here is my final recipe:

Almond Rice Pudding

4.5 cups water
1 cup of short grain rice (I used arborio)
3 cups almond milk
1/2 cup turbinado sugar
1/4 cup honey
Bring the water to a boil in a heavy bottom pan.  Add the rice, and turn the heat to low; cook, stirring often, until the rice is tender and the water has been absorbed, 30-35 minutes.  Remove the pot from the heat and let it cool.  The rice will be lumpy and sticky once cooled.
Mix the almond milk, sugar, and honey.  Add to the rice and stir well.  Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium-low heat, stirring often as it has a tendency to burn.  Simmer, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes.  The mixture will be soupy.  Transfer to a container.
The mixture will be set when it cools, although it may be eaten warm and runny.
Makes enough to fill an 8x8x2 dish.
Now, I know that sugar in the middle ages was a luxury and would not have been used with abandon. There is no way of knowing how sweet desserts were as no amounts were ever given and, obviously, there are no extant desserts. All we can do is either guess or adapt recipes to the modern palate.  My 20th century palate (I was not born in this century!) likes desserts to be sweet, and while I did not make this one cloyingly so, it’s sweet enough not to be an issue with the vast majority of people today.  It is also worth noting that our modern idea of dessert was not around in the Middle Ages; sweets were eaten with savory and there really weren’t individual courses as we know them.  I cannot say whether this Rys was served necessarily as a dessert or whether it was just eaten as part of a meal.
I suspect that no one would bat an eyelash if I served this during a dinner party to people who had no idea it was a six hundred years old recipe.
1. Cindy Renfrow, Take a Thousand Eggs or More Volume Two. 2nd ed. (USA, 1997), 544.
2. Medieval Cookery, http://medievalcookery.com/notes/rice.html

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4 Responses

  1. Clara says:

    I think additions would depend greatly on where the recipe originated from. In coastal trade areas, sugar and spices would be more generally available. Sounds like a fun experiment. 🙂

  2. Love your work! I did want to give you an updated link to my website though. http://roxalanasredactions.com. I changed servers. Thank you!

  1. January 14, 2016

    […] *If you are interested in reading about why I chose short grain rice, see this post: Rys. […]

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