Simple Pottage recipe

bowl of pottage

Recipe for a healthy gut microbiome

What is Pottage and a short history

Pottage is literally medieval, consisting of thick soup or stew made by boiling vegetables and grains. It has its heritage across Europe with the name Potage having French origins and listed in cookery books as early as 1390, although the name could be traced earlier the method of cooking would certainly be timeless.

The term pottage seems to be a more English version and apparently not to be confused with its Potage French cousin. It was classed as peasant food, or food of the poor. Potentially the difference between Potage and Pottage is that a mixture of vegetables, grains and even oats (to thicken it), was cooked on and off over an open fire, often for days, with new ingredients being added as they were prepared daily.

cooking pot over open fire

There are other references, like the Welsh version called Cawl and I’m sure every country has its origins of some kind of stew based on vegetables available in that region. It would seem though that the main difference is that it was pot kept on the go continuously for long periods. And if your were a little wealthier or just managed to acquire local caught game, poultry or fish, you might be able to add some protein and bones to the mix.

I think this might be one of the reasons that it was a continuous affair, to make maximum use of all your ingredients, especially knowing that to cook many types of raw grain can take many hours and certainly bone broth could be 10 to 48 hours depending on the type, it would make sense to just take what you needed for the day and keep that pot fired up for the next.

What are some core medieval ingredients?

fruit & vegetables

Certainly, based on analysis of pots found at an archaeological dig in Northamptonshire, meat was certainly available in some quantity to these particular peasants. But for now, we will focus on some old school veggies. Most, medieval vegetables are still available in your local supermarket but often eaten to a lesser degree than might have been 500 plus years ago. Parsley, cabbage and leeks, as quoted in a 14th-century poem, and indeed turnips seemed to be have been the staple diet of many. Turnips are very rich in many vitamins, particularly vitamin K, which is apt, as in tests it seems to be able to withstand a good boiling.

Carrots and onions were also known to be food for the poor. Many vegetables though would not be the same ones seen now, totally re-engineered for maximum colour and flavour. Carrots at the time might have been a more whitish colour as opposed to the bright orange we now see. 

barley grains

We have mentioned grains, and anything from barley, wheat, rye or oats may have been thrown in.

medieval rye bread

And if you were lucky, it would have been eaten with some medieval bread made from rye, barley.

Why is Pottage important right now?

different colourful bacteria

In the post ‘The Zoo in our guts’, I’ve talked about the benefits of soluble and insoluble fibre and how our microbiome utilises them for their own health benefits which in turn helps us keep homeostasis, lowering overall metabolic inflammation, by signalling anti-inflammatory pathways via short-chain fatty acids (SCFA’s) produced by our friendly gut bacteria.

There are many ways to serve up our bacteria loving fibrous foods, but not many recipes allow the mixing of so many types of fibre at once. And less that allow an intense mixture of herbs and spices, without the exception of say some vegetarian curries or spicy Asian dishes. I have homed in on this method after realising the benefits of herbs like basil, oregano, thyme as well as infamous spices like curcumin (from turmeric). And their effect and balancing of our gut microbiome. A veritable cauldron of food for the Zoo in our guts.

The Pottage of the poor ironically is now known to be more healthy than the excessive meat and fat eating rich of their day. They were plagued (literally) of unhealthy diseases.

We are not comparing a peasants life expectancy and health conditions, although later on the poor still had better teeth than the ‘middling sort’ who were literally dying of tooth decay as they started to consume copious amounts of ‘table’ sugar. Another benefit of eating foods laden with anti-bacterial herbs and spices?

hadza member peeling a tuber
A member of the Hadza peeling a tuber.

The daily (gov) recommended intake for fibre is somewhere between 25 – 40g per day (no one at this stage has acknowledged variations of over 15 types of fibre), most of us in modern societies are now down to less than 15g, another smoking gun? The Hadza tribe eat upwards of 100 – 150g of fibre per day. Plus the focus on ketogenic diets, without acknowledging fibre is another story. I’m not against keto methods as a tool, and I’ve noticed some long term advocates are moving to combine fibre with their usual advice. Problems stem when you try and combine all macros together, usually high protein, high carb, high saturated fat, low fibre. The usual western diet basically. Many other variations seem to be beneficial, although they have not been tested over long periods, and usually meant to be used as a health tool.

I think pottage is quite unique, with its ability to continuously build its complexity over a period of time as you apply more varied ingredients over several days. With an ability to change its overall flavour depending on that day’s choice. As long as you are not afraid of experimenting.

Pottage as a nutritional concept

Used as a tool to lower metabolic inflammation, a simple concept to achieve the densest combination of macronutrients, phytonutrients and fibre in a single meal.

VARIOUS FIBRE RICH FOODS + HERBS + SPICES COOKED (to release their soluble and viscous qualities)
+ BLANCHED + UNCOOKED VEG. (to ensure a balance of dense phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals)
RESULT = A MIX OF FIBRES (consisting of cellulose, lignin, chitin, hemicellulose, resistant starch, beta-glucans and pectins)
basic pottage recipe

Basic Pottage Recipe

Basic medieval recipe, nutrient and fibre dense
Prep Time 1 hr
Cook Time 45 mins
Course Main Course
Cuisine English
Servings 1


  • Large cooking pot with lid – 3 litres
  • Medium cooking pot with lid – 2 litres


  • 1.5 litres water
  • 0.75 litres water
  • 3 medium onions
  • 1 bulb garlic
  • 3 cm ginger root cube
  • 3 medium carrots
  • 3 sticks celery
  • 5 large tomatoes
  • 1 cup peas
  • 1 cup mushrooms
  • 1 cup bulgur wheat
  • 1 tablespoon oats
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon thyme
  • 1 spring onions
  • 5 small cherry tomatoes
  • 2 cup spinach
  • 2 cup broccoli
  • 1 cup kale
  • pinch salt too taste


  • Bring the water to boil 1.5 litres water in the big pot and add roughly chopped onions, carrots, celery, tomatoes, mushrooms.
  • The garlic and ginger should be finely chopped for maximum flavour. Add the peas, bulgur wheat, oats, pepper and herbs.
  • Let simmer for 30mins.
  • Bring to boil the 3/4 litres of water in the medium pot, chop the broccoli and add with the kale to blanch for no more than 5 – 10 minutes.
  • In a large serving bowl, add the spinach leaves, add the hot pottage on top of the leaves, this will blanch the spinach.
  • Add the blanched broccoli, kale and freshly chopped cherry tomatoes and spring onions on top.


This is a base to which you can start experimenting, but contains many ingredients that may have been available to our medieval cousins. Consisting of a balanced mix of high fibre and nutrient-dense foods. Don’t forget to swap in new vegetables, turnips, leeks, grains, herbs and spices, try fresh herbs (basil and parsley) instead of dried as well. The oats are added sparingly, with their unique blend of gel-like fibre they will thicken the liquid.
The ingredients are listed for one person, of course, there is enough for 4 people if you increase the servings of blanched vegetables, broccoli, kale etc. For 2 people, half may be used, the rest cooled and then placed in the fridge for the next day, together with new ingredients and maybe half a litre of water.
Keyword British, Fiber, Healthy, History, Ingredients, Medieval, Potage, Pottage, Recipe, Soup, Stew

Variations on the basic recipe

pottage banner

The base pottage recipe is literally just that, something that may have been available to our medieval ancestors but certainly, nothing compared to the ingredients we have available to our toolset now.

lime fruit

I will create a table of variations to swap in and out, for now, experimenting with additions like turmeric, cumin, paprika, lemongrass, fresh lemon and lime juice, apple cider vinegar, coconut oils. Lentils and chickpeas can be added together with grains. Soy sources, miso pastes, crushed dried seaweeds to add umami flavours. Try leeks, another traditional vegetable and/or beets or beetroot, which have an incredible nutrient profile.

psyllium husk

Additional fibres can also be experimented with, on top of the already rich natural mix created, psyllium husk and various gums can be added. Easy on the psyllium though it thickens up fast, acacia is a good choice as its quite soluble.

Personal benefits of eating pottage

bowl of pottage

As mentioned in my first post, ’nutritional obsession’, I have done a lot of experimentation over many years, some might say decades. I started this leg of the journey, searching for paths leading to longevity, leading to a much deeper understanding of the science that drives our biology.

Pure dot joining and reading hundreds of research papers testing weird and wonderful exotic but natural compounds showed time and time again that they were not just simply absorbed by our guts but processed by our internal chemical processing factories and our symbiotic relationship in trading nutrients, vitamins and hormones that we can not make on our own.

So not totally by accident but certainly very quickly and during these COVID times, I have noticed distinct changes in:

  • Any form of joint pain, including back. Considering during the lockdown, my work environment has changed to less than ideal seating and posture.
  • Ability to flatline my weight, it’s been stable for over a year, but I can now literally flatline for days, it’s the same each morning as opposed to half to 1kg either way.
  • Anxiety is reduced by very large margins, compared to days if I am not participating in a pottage path, e.g. slipped down a protein cliff.

These benefits are seen as your gut diversity balances out and finds its feet. It can happen fast (bacterial population fluctuations happen within hours)! But depending on your previous eating habits, it may take several days before the good critters balance the unwanted. 

And please, this is not a one-trick pony, it can be something shoe-horned into a regular ‘healthy’ diet, it can be used as a tool as you see fit (pun intended).

The main premise is that if you don’t have existing intestinal complaints and are passed the FODMAP maze and you have moved on to pastures rich in plant experimentation. Give it a go.

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  1. Dunne J, Chapman A, Blinkhorn P, Evershed RP. Reconciling organic residue analysis, faunal, archaeobotanical and historical records: Diet and the medieval peasant at West Cotton, Raunds, Northamptonshire. Journal of Archaeological Science. Published online July 2019:58-70. doi:10.1016/j.jas.2019.04.004
  2. Lee S, Choi Y, Jeong HS, Lee J, Sung J. Effect of different cooking methods on the content of vitamins and true retention in selected vegetables. Food Sci Biotechnol. Published online December 12, 2017. doi:10.1007/s10068-017-0281-1
  3. Kirwan AM, Lenighan YM, O’Reilly ME, McGillicuddy FC, Roche HM. Nutritional modulation of metabolic inflammation. Biochemical Society Transactions. Published online July 14, 2017:979-985. doi:10.1042/bst20160465
  4. Tilg H, Zmora N, Adolph TE, Elinav E. The intestinal microbiota fuelling metabolic inflammation. Nat Rev Immunol. Published online August 6, 2019:40-54. doi:10.1038/s41577-019-0198-4

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