Medieval Beef Stew: Beef Y-Stywyd

Firstly, there is no way that I thought a beef stew with cloves, mace, saffron and cinnamon would taste as delicious as it does. 

Why did we ever stop adding Christmas spices to our stews, eh? 

Beef Y-Stywyd, photo: Jo Romero

This recipe is an adaptation based on the recipe in the manuscript Harleian MS. 279, or one of 'Two Fifteenth-century cookery-books.' 

It was written in around 1420, and, according to the book's re-edited, Victorian introduction, it was presented to Elizabeth I by Lord Stafford during the late Tudor reign. 

Did Queen Elizabeth enjoy her beef stews with cloves, cinnamon and saffron? Probably. 

Here's the text of the actual recipe, written by a Medieval hand: 

"Beef y-Stywyd.—Take fayre beef of þe rybbys of þe fore quarterys, an smyte in fayre pecys, an wasche þe beef in-to a fayre potte; þan take þe water þat þe beef was soþin yn, an strayne it þorw a straynowr, an sethe þe same water and beef in a potte, an let hem boyle to-gederys; þan take canel, clowes, maces, graynys of parise, quibibes, and oynons y-mynced, perceli, an sawge, an caste þer-to, an let hem boyle to-gederys; an þan take a lof of brede, an stepe it with brothe an venegre, an þan draw it þorw a straynoure, and let it be stylle; an whan it is nere y-now, caste þe lycour þer-to, but nowt to moche, an þan let boyle onys, an cast safroun þer-to a quantyte; þan take salt an venegre, and cast þer-to, an loke þat it be poynaunt y-now, & serue forth."
Yes, I modernised it to make it easier for us modern day cooks. 
Read more about my personal historical cooking mission here

I kept to the flavours specified - the whole cloves, mace, onions, parsley, sage and saffron, with a tiny slosh of balsamic vinegar, which I usually add to beef stews, to help bring out the rich flavour. The taste you'll get is essentially the same as a Medieval person would have tasted. I've used organic, grass-fed beef (I get mine from Eversfield Organic Farm in Devon). I didn't have any grains of paradise, which are a gingery-tasting spice and I honestly didn't know what quibibes were. 

The saffron is an absolutely gorgeous addition - it turns the stew a kind of slight orangey colour, and I didn't want too strong a flavour of cinnamon, so added that to infuse at the end. This way, you control how much cinnamon spice you want in your finished dish. 

I made mine in my Instant Pot - so it was ready in half an hour - but you can make it in the oven in a pot if you like, or on the stove in a saucepan. 

Honestly, please give this a try. I was so surprised how good it was. And if you want to keep it authentic, remember you can't serve it with anything that wasn't around back then, like mashed potatoes. Play it safe with some cabbage, carrots or just scoop it up in a bowl as it is with some bread. Luscious. 

Beef Y-Stywyd
Adapted slightly from Harleian MS. 279, c1420
Serves 2-3
I made mine in a 6 Quart Instant Pot - this is an affiliate link (which supports the blog at no extra cost to you) to the one I have here

1 tsp olive oil 
1 onion, peeled and chopped into small pieces
500g stewing beef, chopped - preferably grass-fed, organic - it does make a difference
300ml water
1 beef stock cube (I use one (affiliate link here:) Knorr concentrated stock pot)
1-2 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp dried sage
a pinch of ground mace
6 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick, about 2 inches long
2 tsp freshly chopped parsley
salt and pepper to season
good pinch of saffron strands
1 tsp cornflour, if needed (optional)

First, heat your saucepan/frying pan or Instant Pot set to SAUTÉ, and drizzle in a little olive oil. Fry the onion until cooked and translucent and then add your beef. Stir-fry to seal, until it's lightly browned on all sides. Add the water, stock cube, balsamic vinegar, sage, mace and cloves and give it a good stir. 

If you're cooking this in your oven, transfer this to an ovenproof dish with a lid and bake at 180ºC for about 2 hours, or until tender. 

If you're cooking on the stove in a saucepan, bring it to a simmer and then turn the heat down low, simmering gently for 45 minutes to an hour. 

If you're making this in your Instant Pot, press CANCEL and firmly place the lid on the pot. Switch the valve to SEALING and then press the MEAT/STEW button. The pressure cooker will come up to pressure and it'll cook for 35 minutes. When the time is up, flick the valve carefully over to VENTING to release the pressure, before removing the lid when the silver button drops down and it's safe to do so. 

Once the time is up and your stew is cooked, drop in the cinnamon stick, taste and season with salt and pepper where it needs it, and add the saffron and parsley. Allow the cinnamon to infuse for as long as you like - I took mine out when I could smell it quite well - and then lift it out. 

If you'd like to thicken your stew (this isn't in the Medieval recipe though) you can mix in 1 tsp cornflour with a few drops of water and then tip that into the stew, stirring it together. 

Serve with bread, carrots, cabbage or just as it is in a bowl, for a full Medieval experience! 

Check out my other historical recipes to see what you fancy making next! 

Interested in the Medieval era? I explore the lives of women affected by the Wars of the Roses' conflict in my book Forgotten Women of the Wars of the Roses, published by Pen and Sword.  Order your copy here. 

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  1. I suspect "quibibes" might be cubeb pepper, perhaps? The name certainly sounds similar.

    I'm definitely going to try this recipe, it sounds a lot like middle eastern stews, which I love, so I'm sure it will be delicious!


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