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How to make almond milk
From Medieval Lent to today
Almonds are for many Portuguese a very significant part of Easter tradition. But instead of focusing our article on almonds, we’re going to talk about almond milk, and also get to know how it’s done (see the recipe below).
Today, almond milk sprouts on supermarket shelves as an alternative to cow’s milk, and it is especially prized by those who are lactose intolerant and the vegan community. But almond milk is no contemporary invention; its use has been rooted in the global gastronomical culture for several centuries, or even millennia.
There are several factors that can explain the use and popularity of almond milk throughout history. Besides being fragrant and delicious, it was useful. As animal milk was not always easy to obtain, as not all had access to cattle, and was often of dubious quality (see here), and also because there were no means to keep it refrigerated, the cooks had to turn to more practical and safe options. And thus, almond milk shines through, as it had the advantage to be easy and quick to produce, in whatever quantity that was needed.
In the Middle Ages, almonds and almond milk because a thing of obsession for European cooks. Although they were consumed all year round, they hit their peak in relevance in the medieval culinary scene during Lent.
During the six weeks of Lent, eggs, meat, animal milk and its byproducts, as well as meat stocks were strictly forbidden in the Catholic diet. During those final weeks of winter, while not being able to feed on meat and its derivatives, and having little fruits and fresh vegetables at their disposal, the population turned to the consumption of fish, grains, vegetable preserves and dried fruits and nuts as a means of sustenance. Almond milk appears as a substitute and an essential complement to their diet; its importance is quite evident if we observe its omnipresence in almost all medieval European cookbooks. Almond milk was not only considered a pure food, but it was also easy to produce, emulating animal milk (even in colour) to the point of the existence of almond milk butter*1 and cheese.
Almond milk was used extensively in sauces, pottage, porridge, stews and soups, accompanying fish and meats, and also featuring in several desserts. Oh, and not to mention the famous blancmange*2! Almonds were considered an excellent food by medieval doctors; rich for the brain, fighting fatigue and nurturing in convalescence. In fact, one of the most prized dishes for sprucing up the sick was rice boiled in almond milk. However, it’s important to point out that almonds were expensive, so it was a luxurious food that not all had frequent access to.
Almond milk was used extensively in sauces, pottage, porridge, stews and soups, accompanying fish and meats, and also featuring in several desserts. Oh, and not to mention the famous blanc manger*2! Almonds were considered an excellent food by medieval doctors; rich for the brain, fighting fatigue and nurturing in convalescence. In fact, one of the most prized dishes for sprucing up the sick was rice boiled in almond milk. However, it’s important to point out that almonds were expensive, so it was a luxurious food that not all had frequent access to.
And to end the mystery as to how almond milk is made, we leave an excellent recipe for our times, as well as two curious medieval applications.
To make almond milk (adapted from ):
2 cups of raw almonds
500 ml of water for soaking + 900 ml of water for processing
muslin + large bowl + blender + glass jar or bottle
- Soak the raw almonds in 500 ml of cold water, for 12 to 24 hours.
- Strain the almonds and discard the water.
- Place the almonds in a food processor or blender with 400 ml of water, and blend for 4 minutes at high speed.
- Add an additional 500 ml of water, whilst making sure that all the almond is at the bottom of the processor, and blend for another minute.
- Place a strainer over a large bowl, covering it with muslin or layered medium grade cheesecloth.
- Pour the mix over the strainer and let it drip, squeezing with a spoon whenever necessary.
- After 25 minutes, grab the edges of the muslin or cheesecloth and wring the content vigorously, but stopping the pulp from overflowing.
- The almond milk should then be poured into a glass bottle or jar, kept in the fridge, and consumed in up to 4 days.
- To sweeten the milk, honey and agave nectar are good alternatives to sugar.
- To add flavour, you may add vanilla (scraped pod), cinnamon or even lemon or orange zest.
- Both suggestions should be added on step 2.The less water you use on step 3, the thicker the milk will be.
- The less water you use on step 3, the thicker the milk will be.
*1 How to make medieval style almond butter :
England, 14th century – Utilis Coquinario
Butter of almond milk. Take thick almond milk and boil it, and as it boils cast in a little wine or vinegar. Then do it on a canvas and let the whey run out. And gather it up with your hands and hang it up for the time it takes to walk a mile, and lay it after in cold water, and serve it forth.
*2 Blancmange for Lent :
England, 14th century – Utilis Coquinario
500 ml of almond milk
4 table spoons of rice flour
1/2 kg of pike
2 table spoons of sugar
1 table spoon of almond oil or olive oil
1 cup of almonds
Make almond milk. Put in a pot, add rice flour and fish, cut up into small cubes. Cook until fish is done, about 10 minutes, add 1 tablespoon sugar and oil, cook another minute. Cut almonds in four pieces each and fry. Serve with fried almonds and second tablespoon of sugar on top.
References  Adamson, Melitte Weiss (2004) Food in Medieval Times. Greenwood Press; West Conneticut.  Food 52. Homemade Almond Milk Recipe.  Gode Cookery. Medieval Vegetarian Recipes, From Anglo saxon to 14th century.  Friedman, David & Cook, Elizabeth (1989) How to Milk an Almond Stuff an Egg And Armor a Turnip - A Thousand Years of Recipes. ISBN: 978-1-460-92498-3