Tudor Bacon Potage

Do you know why I love historical food so much? 

OK, we can adapt and tweak things - I do this a lot - to fit in with our own timeframes and cooking experience. And we might not be able to taste a real Tudor apple from a sixteenth century, sun-dappled orchard and instead rely on quickly-produced apples picked from plastic bags, but still, for me, whatever we can make from historical recipes is really a missing link between us and our ancestors. 

If you can taste a salty, smoky soup studded with chunks of golden bacon, wholesome green veggies and an onion or two you taste the fuel of generations. The food that fuelled the Boleyns, the Howards, the Cromwells and the Tudors. The fuel of millions of farm workers, merchants and sailors. 


Potage was one of the staples of Medieval and Tudor mealtimes - and consisted of basically whatever meats, herbs and vegetables you could get hold of, simmered in a pan until cooked through and fragrant. One of the most comforting dishes I've ever tasted, it's a chunky soup you'll crave in any weather.

I found out recently that my family tree has now been traced back to the 1650s in Dibden in Hampshire. I'm pretty sure that the Blakes of the New Forest were general and farm labourers up until the early 1900s and that we're not descended from royalty (although apparently, as Europeans, we're all descended from Charlemagne and even Nefertiti), so it's likely that my Tudor and Restoration ancestors would have started the day with something like this. 

Hearty, wholesome and filling that will set you up for a day's ploughing, fence-mending or whatever else it is that you need to get done. If you need a little more stodge, you can add a handful of rolled oats which will plumpen as they simmer. 

This potage really is the fuel of ages. 

I got up early to photograph this bowl of potage, and as I stood, gazing out over the grey-weathered sky at the crows and the sparrows, sipping on smoky, salty broth and soft vegetables, I'm telling you: it was as good a time slip as any. 

Bacon Potage
Serves 2-3
150g bacon lardons or cubes of pancetta (the thin slices of bacon you fill a sandwich with won't work here, you need the chunky cooking bacon)
1 tsp olive oil (optional)
handful of cabbage, shredded
a few tablespoons of rolled oats (optional, but will make a more filling dish)
1 small leek, trimmed, cleaned and sliced into rounds
1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
salt, to taste

Fry your bacon lardons gently in a pan until the fat starts to break down. If your bacon is on the lean side, add a little olive oil to help it along.

Once golden, add the cabbage  and the leek and fry for a couple of minutes. 

Pour in the water to almost cover the bacon and vegetables and leave to simmer for another 10 minutes, until everything is cooked through. If you're adding oats, add them 2-3 minutes towards the end of the cooking time. 

Sprinkle the dish with parsley and taste, adding salt if you think it needs it. 

Note: my bacon was quite salty and smoky: I tried this initially with stock but it came out too salty. Taste before serving and if you feel like you want to crumble in a little stock cube then go for it but beware that the bacon adds saltiness to the broth. 

Like this? You might also like my recipes for Beef-Y-Stwyd, a Tudor Breakfast and Olive and Caper Salad. 

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