Dining With The Sterkarms
If you're like me, you only eat the meal so you can get to the pud.
The Sterkarms could probably have honestly claimed to ‘not have a sweet tooth’ since they would rarely, if ever, have eaten anything sweeter than honey and fruit – and their fruit would have been closer to the wild varieties, seasonal, and much less sweet than the kinds we have today.
Honey was seasonal, and although stored for use throughout the year, was relatively scarce and valuable and wouldn’t have been used with the carelessness that we use sugar. Poorer Sterkarms, unless they had the time and skill to keep bees, would have counted themselves lucky to taste it on ‘high days and holidays.’
Sugar was available, but in the early 16th Century was only just beginning to be produced in bulk, and it was still, like other spices, extremely expensive. The soft sassenachs might have been going mad with it down in London until every tooth in their head was black, but I doubt if the fashion for it, or much of the stuff itself, was yet to be found on the Borders.
I’ve no doubt the Sterkarms enjoyed frumenty on many another day. Perhaps they thought it too good for Windsor. (Isobel didn’t want to waste her spices on him.)
You can add nuts, or berries when you serve it.
Hazelnuts, or 'cobs', the Sterkarms would certainly have had. They're native to Britain, full of protein, and have been a staple of the diet since the Stone Age. Walnuts would have been more expensive, almonds even more so.
Bilberries, in season, would have been plentiful. Blackberries and, possibly, wild strawberries and raspberries.
Frumenty was also served with meat, such as venison or pork, as well as being a sweet dessert.
For the Sterkarms, this would have been a real luxury, celebratory dish, something only for special occasions, such as Hogmanay, weddings, christenings and such. Eggs, cream, fruit and honey were all seasonal - something we tend to forget - and therefore prized. The spices and raisins would have been extremely expensive. About the only thing that was common-place was the ale, which was drunk instead of water – and even though ale would have been brewed every week, and was served at every meal, it still represented hours of work.