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Verjuice: The Salad Dressing Of The Middle Ages

By 9th August 2016Advice

It’s something of an understatement to say that cooking and the preparation of food have evolved a lot over the years, and the further back you go into history, the more alien cooking techniques and etiquette are going to seem to those of us living in the modern age. However, not all traditions born throughout the centuries have been entirely discredited; today’s example, Verjuice, is still a regularly used by cooks and chefs the world over.

The basic construction of Verjuice is fairly simple; it’s an incredibly acidic mixture comprising of juice from unripe Grapes, Crab Apples, or other especially sour fruits, with Lemon, Sorrel, or other herbs and spices sometimes added to deepen the flavour further. During the Middle Ages, it was used extensively across multiple countries and cultures within their cooking, either as an agent to help aid the Deglazing of certain foods, to be mixed into sauces, or even as a condiment in of itself. In this sense, Verjuice could be compared to Vinegar or even Wine in regards to it’s use throughout cooking, and could be considered something of a “specialist” food today. That said, it hasn’t fallen out of favour entirely; for starters, as far as Salad Dressings go, a Verjuice is often used as the “acidic” component within the dressing. This is largely owed to the practise of drinking Wine with meals; Verjuice and Wine are both acidic and have distinctly sour tastes, but the components that make up that flavour profile in both substances don’t clash with or overpower each other, instead actively complimenting one another when paired together whilst remaining somewhat distinct.  It’s also thanks to the efforts of the cook Maggie Beer that Verjuice is going through something of a resurgence in popularity within South Australia.

Perhaps the most notable usage of Verjuice in the modern world can be found within traditional recipes and practises among Central Asian and Middle Eastern countries. For example, Verjuice- or Husroum (حصرم) in Arabic- is used extensively throughout Syrian cuisine, and pertaining to old traditions, large portions of Verjuice produced in the country are actually prepared by the female members of land-owning clans, along with Olive Oil and Tomato Paste. Likewise, a number of dishes across both Northern Iranian and Azeri cuisine call for the addition of Verjuice- called ab-gooreh (آب غوره)  in Persian- with perhaps it’s most famous application being in the Shirazi Salad, often considered the national Salad of Iran and frequently served as a standalone dish, a starter before meals, or as a side accompaniment to Kebabs and Steaks.

For some additional trivia, it is worth pointing out that Verjuice- or as it was often written in the past, Verjus- is a name that has been applied to other culinary components throughout history. Examples include it’s use as part of the regional french dialect Ardèche, wherein it describes a crab-apple based Cider, and an old Medieval recipe consisting of Grape sees preserved in salts was also known as Verjus, as documented by The Medieval Kitchen: Recipes from France and Italy.