Historical Recipes: Frumenty

This week’s historical recipe would have been eaten way before the Normans, but really it’s a classic of historic cooking. “Frumenty” is the name given to this barley (or wheat) risotto-type of dish in the Medieval cookbooks. It still exist in Italy today as “orzotto” : literally a “barley risotto”! Unfortunately for cooks, it is really hard to take appetising photos of a frumenty dish…But it tastes great!

A Frumenty is simple, tasting and filling. It is usually served hot, but I really enjoy eating it cold as a side dish in the summer or mixing the leftovers with flours, oats and an egg to turn them into cheesy patties to transport easily on a picnic.

Brought to you by Caroline Nicolay, archaeology educator & Iron Age specialist at Pario Gallico.


– Pearl barley, 1 good handful per person plus two for luck

– choice of your favourite seasonal vegetables, cut in small pieces: peas (fresh or frozen), carrots (roots AND tops!), parsnips, turnips, leeks, onions, garlic, green leaves such as spring greens, kale, cabbage… Even rocket leaves or salad leaves that are not too fresh anymore!

– salt

– black pepper ( if you feel like a higher class dish in Norman and medieval times!)

– fresh or dried herbs such as: thyme (my favourite), sage, rosemary, a bay leaf…

– optional:

Meat option: serving with thin slices of dried meat (serano / parma ham for example) or as a side dish for a meat dish with sauce / gravy.

Vegetarian option: Serving with crumbled mature hard cheese (cheddar works well) or a fresh goat’s cheese, so it can melt on top.. Decadent!

Vegan option: the recipe is vegan, but you can add vegan cheese or meat alternatives to it too!


Put all your finely chopped vegetables in a pan with herbs, pepper and salt. Make sure the pan is big enough as the barley will swell to at least 3 times its volume!

Oversalt the water a tad by adding another good pinch of salt or two to the water, depending on the quantity you are cooking (this is the trick with barley, it “eats” salt).

Add your pearl barley, cover it all with water, bring to the boil and let everything gently boil together for at least 30mins (follow instructions on the pack of pearl barley).

Serve sprinkled with cheese or smoked meat, fresh rocket leaves or chopped herbs like parsley… Enjoy!


Leftovers, COLD, can now be mixed with various flours, at least half of it wheat for it’s gluten content (it binds well!) and potentially rolled/crushed oats. Add crumbled cheese, chopped herbs (or black pepper, you fancy Norman), chopped rocket and…

Cook on a flat stone, griddle or on a lined tray in an oven at 180°c until it browns on top (about 20mins). Flip it over, cook it again until the bottom browns a tad. Leave to cool on a rack for the moisture to evaporate… It’s ready to be devoured, with a spot of mustard if you want to, or taken on a walk, picnic or trip!

Archaeology educator and Iron Age specialist, living historian and experimental archaeologist, Caroline Nicolay, Director at Pario Gallico. Caroline will be back at the festival this year demonstrating Iron Age cookery and how to make ancient paints, among other things.

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