I was writing more of the first draft of my next Radwinter novel, provisionally entitled ‘earthquake’ when my rather absent-minded and bumbling main character Thomas Radwinter used the word ‘flammery’ meaning a lot of wittering, repetitive chat – he was doing the wittering, as he so often does!
I began to wonder, and I expect Thomas will do too, what flammery meant, and I had an idea it was some sort of medieval pudding, maybe a sort of porridgy thing, a flavoured porridge, maybe a bit like frumenty or furmenty, a popular old steadier in the west country where I now live. I then wondered if it was something to do with a fabric, like flannel, something you might make into warm underclothes…
In actual fact, I was right with my first guess; flummery is a pudding (as in dessert) made from soaked oats or oatmeal, which has been popular for several hundred years. There is a recipe dating back to the 1620’s, so it must have been something people made and enjoyed long before that; although many sources give the origin of the word as a Welsh dish which was popular in the seventeenth and eighteenth century, it must have been made before that – so maybe it had a different name!
It was sometimes made with hartshorn – not the hartshorn you read about as an ingredient of smelling salts which was mainly ammonia, but the actual horns of deer – I guess calves’ foot jelly had a similar function. Because it was cheap and easy to make, it was popular, and in fact, a version of it was made for the poor inmates of workhouses, although no doubt it was far removed in flavour, taste and texture, from what was served in more affluent homes.
Gradually, as different techniques and different ingredients became available, it changed from being a strained porridgy sort of a thing, milk or water thickened with the gooey stuff from soaked oats and then flavoured variously, to something thickened by gelatine. Apparently it became very popular in Australia, and often made with evaporated milk and sugar.
Returning to Thomas Radwinter, if he does research ‘flammery’ , he’ll find it does also mean wittering nonsense – talk without much substance, just as flammery/flummery is bland and inoffensive!
I came across this recipe, which sounds a similar principle to flummery/flammery, but certainly with a bit of a punch! It’s supposed to be especially good for tired and hungry men… and women too I guess!
- 2 tbsp fine oatmeal
- ¾ pint light ale
- ¼ pint water
- 4 tsp demerara sugar
- 1 tsp mixed spice (cinnamon, clove, nutmeg)
- juice of ½ lemon
- soak the oatmeal in the beer and water for at least 2 hours
- strain into a pan, pressing down on the oatmeal with a wooden spoon to get as much liquid out as possible
- heat to simmering, and pour into two warmed mugs, adding the sugar, spice and lemon juice equally
- serve at once!
The recipe says discard the oatmeal, but I’d be tempted to use it for something, even adding it to porridge!