Vetchlings, must and a bain-marie

I'm currently reading the historical novel Imprimatur, by Rita Monaldi and Franceso Sorti. It's enjoyable, but rather hard going in places. Here's an extract in which the narrator, a serving boy at a tavern, describes a meal he has rustled up for the guests:

I made a special effort and prepared a little broth with eggs poached in bain-marie, together with vetchlings; to which I added an accompaniment of croquettes of soft bread and a few salt pilchards minced together with herbs and raisins; and, to complete the meal, chicory roots, boiled with cooked must and vinegar. The whole I sprinkled with a pinch of cinnamon; the precious spice of the wealthy would surprise the palates and refresh the spirits.


'Vetchling' is "a plant or species of the genus Lathyrus; the genus itself" (OED). This genus includes the sweet pea.

I'm not sure what 'must' is in this context; possible contenders (again from the OED) include "the juice of freshly pressed grapes before or during fermentation into wine" and "any of several varieties of apple used chiefly for making cider".

I didn't know what (a) bain-marie is either, but I imagine that most of the readers of this blog will do.

4 comments:

Wordslinger said...

JD - I think cooking something in a bain-marie is when you have a pan of water simmering, then place another pan or container into the water. I've seen the missus cooking creme brulee using ramekins in a baking tray of hot water, which I think is the same thing.

And, yes, I do count myself lucky that I have a wife who will make creme brulee.

Blue said...

Sounds like an intriguing book to read.

JD (The Engine Room) said...

I have to say that the meals described in the book all sound horrible. I've just got to a part where the serving boy is being berated by the other guests for his lousy cooking and over-use of cinnamon, so it isn't just me...

Minnie said...

Wordslinger's right about the bain-marie. But the translator's quite wrong, as the phrase should read 'cooked en bain-marie' or 'cooked in a bain-marie', shouldn't it?
And 'must' is, indeed, (a). The Romans used it in cookery as a base for sauces. Their most popular sauce was derived from rotting fish (sic). Bet that's whetted your appetite!