First published Jan 2015 on The History Girls
A simple supper made for Richard II, Erbolate (or baked herb omelette) appeared in one of the earliest cookery books in England, A Forme of Cury from 1390.
From peahen to the much prized turtle, mankind has eaten eggs throughout culinary history. Extraordinary Roman chef Apicius, thriving in 25Bc, is thought to have invented many familiar egg recipes. He is the first to document a sweet baked egg custard. By the Middle ages eggs accompanied fish and almond milk as suitable alternatives to meat during fasting. Many herbs from this 14th century omelette are no longer easily available and when they are found it is often in the context of herbal therapies. Indeed, many of the plants noted in this ‘receipt’ were likely included for their medicinal qualities.
Take and grind parsel, mynthe, sauery, sauge, tansey, veruain, clarey, rewe, ditaiyn, fenel and southernewood and grinde hem fyne.
Rue, Dittany and Southernwood are all extremely bitter tasting leaves which are toxic and should be used with extreme care. They were all believed to be beneficial to the digestive system as many bitter herbs were. In actual fact, Southernwood is the Mediterranean relative of Wormwood, infamous ingredient of absinthe and containing neuro-toxins. Tansy is another which should be used sparingly but will impart a unique aromatic flavour not dissimilar to nutmeg or clove. Tansy can be found growing wild across England if you are a confident forager.
Clary, otherwise known as Clary Sage, was utilised by the Romans to make an eyewash and is believed to be good for easing muscle spasms. This is still in modern culinary and herbal use, as is Vervain. Better known as Verbena, Vervain is thought to be one of the 38 plants used to make the tincture for Bach flower remedy.
The challenge when recreating Erbolate is matching the flavour profile with ingredients which are both flavoursome and easy to source. We are not as accustomed to bitter leaves here in Britain, though other parts of Europe still value them as part of a wide ranging diet. Frisee and dandelion leaves were excellent possibilities, along with the chicory and rocket I eventually decided upon. Parsley, Mint and Sage were obvious enough and I chose to add a little thyme to echo the qualities of the Dittany and Savoury. Finely, a little nutmeg grated sparingly over the top will do in the absence of Tansy.
or Baked Herb Omelette
- 1 handful of rocket leaves
- 1 chicory head
- small amount of each fresh – thyme, parsley, mint, sage, fennel or tarrogan
- 3 duck eggs
- salt and nutmeg for seasoning
Serves two with salad
- Preheat the oven to 175C.
- Take a small baking dish and grease lightly with butter.
- Gently tear the rocket leaves up and place them in the bottom. Break 2-3 blades from the bulb of chicory and lay them on top as seen in the picture below.
- Finely chop the herbs and scatter on top of the chicory. Start with around about a loose teaspoon of each once finally chopped. You can then adjust according to personal taste if you wish.
- Whisk the eggs and pour them over the herbs. Press everything down so that the chicory is coated and is less likely to catch in the oven. Chicken eggs could also be used, but I went with the more robust nature of duck eggs to stand up to the strong flavour of the other ingredients. Grate a little nutmeg over the top before placing in the oven. Bake for 20 – 25 minutes depending on how you like your eggs and the depth of your dish. Remove and serve. Leftovers can be eaten at room temperature the next day.