The Tale of King Henry and the Spinach Pie

[It was just past the sixth hour, and Roger was enjoying a leisurely luncheon in the castle Kitchen, sharing barbs with his friend the Chief Cook, and keeping the kitchen help entranced with tales of the kingdom. It was a cool day, and the old monk enjoyed his favorite seat near the kitchen fires. He was just about to toddle off to his study when the King's Page entered with a request from the Queen for the Chief Cook; "Please, Mam, the Queen's respects, and would you prepare a Spinach Pie for her for this evening's meal?"

"Oh, dear, I fear we have no more spinach. I hate to disappoint her, she being in the family way and all," sighed the Chief Cook; "I fear you must return to the Queen, and let her know there is no more spinach until the next crop."

"Wait!" said the old monk; "I can help."

The Cook and the Page looked at him curiously.

"Page, go to my assistant in the herbarium, and tell him that you need some Chenopodium; bring it to me here."

As the Page hurried off on the new errand, a strange, pensive look covered the old monk's face. "It is interesting, the same problem happened to Good King Henry himself long ago. It seems on one winter's day . . ."]

The Queen was going slowly mad. At least, that was what it felt like. "I wonder if anyone has actually been killed by kindness?" she mused; "Surely this is preparing my soul for sainthood!"

The Queen's problem was that she was pregnant. There was no difficulty with that, in and of itself, she was healthy, and aside from some morning discomfort, she felt wonderful. No, the problem of the Queen was her Lord, the King. He insisted that she do nothing, she dare not even get to her feet, but the King was by her side, aiding her to stand. It would have been funny to watch, if anyone had dared to laugh at their monarch. However, the Queen's Ladies were awestruck; they had never seen any man, and certainly not their King, do the menial tasks that they were normally wont to do themselves for their Queen.

"I must find a way for him to let me be! What can I distract him with?" Then the Queen got a wonderful idea. "Dear Husband, may I beg a boon of you?"

"Of course, my darling, what can I get you; a blanket, a robe, some fruit?" responded the King; "Ask me, and it will be yours!"

"I remember that as a boy you once were a remarkable cook, and baked the most amazing treats. As a Page, you once fixed me a gift that I remember still today. I have a taste for some of your wonderful Spinach Pie; would you be so kind as to prepare some for me for my mid-day meal?"

"Spinach Pie; I'm not sure if I can still . . . Of Course, Milady, I shall prepare it myself!" and with a kiss to her forehead, Good King Henry left the Queen's Solarium, and hurried to the Castle Kitchen.

There the King met with the first of his problems; the Cook.

"I've never heard of such a thing; my own King taking over all my duties! What will happen next?" cried the corpulent cook; "Shall I then go and sit the throne?"

"Now see here," replied the King; "No one is taking your job away; my Queen has asked me to prepare her favorite Spinach Pie, and I just wanted to make her happy. May I please just have a corner of your worktable; I promise not to make a mess!"

The Kitchen staff did not believe their eyes and ears, here was their King, the man feared as a great warrior throughout the land, begging the Cook for permission to use the King's own Kitchen.

It was now that the King found out his second and greater problem.

"You'll stand in front of that table for a month; there is no spinach crop yet; it will not be pick-able until the next full moon!" informed the Chief Cook; "I'm sorry but the Queen shall have to wait."

That answer was not good enough for Good King Henry. "That answer is not good enough for me!" cried the king; "I shall send messengers throughout the land, surely someone has some spinach!"

Sending a Page to the Queen to say that the Pie would be slightly delayed, the King set about sending messengers to all the nearby villagers. When they returned empty-handed, the King gathered his Knights, and sent them out riding to all of the King's Nobles; each Knight asking for even a single leaf of spinach.

Meanwhile, the Queen had just awoken from a refreshing nap; she knew that it was too early for spinach, and expected any moment for the King to come reluctantly to her side, when she would graciously release him from her request. But she did not know her husband as well as she thought.

["The Assistant's respects, and there is no jar labeled 'Chenopodium,' Roger," returned the breathless Page.

"Oh, I'm so sorry; it must be stored under a different name. Tell him to look under 'Goosefoot;' it is also sometimes called 'Allgood,'" replied Roger; "I remember not how I labeled it last season. Now as I was saying . . ."]

The King was worried; there did not seem to be any spinach in his whole Kingdom. He was getting ready to send messengers out to the neighboring kingdoms when the assistant Cook approached him, hat in hand.

"Your Majesty, have you sought out the village Herb Woman? She sometimes has plants when no kitchen has them. Perhaps your Lady Queen can help you, she has great knowledge of herbs."

"I dare not distress her, her health is so fragile!" said the King; "I shall go to Mistress Rachel in the village myself, perhaps she can aid me."

The King sent another message to his Lady, who was sitting with her Ladies, enjoying the coolness of the afternoon, and sewing on gifts for twelfth night. She wondered when her husband would finally realize that his errand was hopeless, and return for his forgiving smiles, so when the Page entered and told her the Spinach Pie would be ready 'soon,' she knew not what to think. She thanked the Page, and went back to her sewing.

As the King rode to the village, he thought of his poor Lady, wasting away for the lack of her favorite pie. "If I had been a decent husband, this would never have happened! I remember how she liked my Pie when I was a Page, and should have known that she would want it now, when she was struck down by childbirth!"

When the King got to the cottage of Mistress Rachel, he dismounted his horse and ran to the cottage door. "Good Mistress, have you any spinach? The Queen lies in bed for its lack!"

"The Queen is ill? I know of no medicinal value in spinach; are you sure that is what she asked for?"

The King, seeing that the Herb Woman was confused, told her the whole story of the Queen's request, and how there seemed to be no spinach to be had for love or money. "I fear her heart will break if I fail to get her a Spinach Pie; is there nothing I can do?" begged the King.

"There is no spinach, as you in the court eat it, that is true; but there is wild spinach aplenty in the cottages of your people; I shall send word to some to bring their wild spinach to your castle's kitchen," and so saying she sent the King on home. However, before he left, the King told her "Tell my people that I will give one gold piece to they who bring me a bushel of spinach!"

Well, that was different. Rachel sent word to all in her village who had their own wee bit of garden, and sent runners to the other villages nearby. "The Village people were not destitute," thought Rachel; "but the chance to earn a whole gold piece was not to be passed up!"

Soon word began to spread. It had been a mild winter, and some had set their vegetable pots out early; many people had Wild Spinach, or English Mercury as it was also called.

["English Mercury!" said the monk to the poor Page, as he approached the assembled group in the Kitchen workroom; "I must have labeled the jar 'English Mercury.' I'm sorry for the confusion," he added to the Page, who gave the old monk an exasperated look. But as I was saying . . ."]

The King arrived at his castle, and rushed to the Kitchen. "Spinach is on the way!" he cried, "and we need's get the pie shell ready!"

The King was a fair baker in his youth, but he had not prepared anything such as a pie for many years; he needed help. Therefore, the Chief Cook took time from her dinner preparations to 'help' the King remember how to make the dough, and to prepare it for the spinach. "Without his help," thought the Cook, "I could have done this in half the time!" The pie shell was ready for the filling when the first bushel of spinach appeared at the kitchen door.

"First bushel?" you say? Yes, the first of many that would arrive that afternoon. The King in his haste had not put a limit on how much spinach he wanted, and at the fantastic price of one gold piece per bushel, everyone suddenly found that they had plenty to sell.

"What shall I do with all this Spinach?" asked the Chief Cook; "There's enough here to feed an army!"

"We shall all have Spinach Pie tonight!" said the King; "If it is good enough for my Queen, it is good enough for us all!"

Therefore, it was done. The Chief Cook organized all of her helpers into pie-making teams, and with the King's minimal help, set about the creation of over one hundred Fifty Spinach Pies. There were too many for even the whole castle to consume, so Pies were sent away to the villagers who had sent the spinach. All were happy, for the village people felt blessed to eat the same food that was served to their King, and the King was happy that his Lady Queen got her desired Spinach Pie, and the Queen was happy to have had a whole day of not being fussed over. The Queen asked the King to attend her, and as he brushed off flour onto the apron some thoughtful kitchen helper had tied on him, the Queen said, "My Lord, this must have been the finest Spinach Pie ever made in the Whole Kingdom! I will remember this day, and shall tell our child that he or she is the luckiest child in the world, to have such a wonderful father!"

Good King Henry thought of all that he had done that day, and reckoned the gold well spent. "Is there anything special you desire for tomorrow's meal? Would you like more pie? We have a little bit extra." The King thought of the three dozen pies still in the pantry, and resigned himself to Spinach Pie for a week or more.

"You are most kind," returned the Queen, "but I think this pie has sated me. Too bad you did not make more."

The Queen suddenly smiled; "My Page has told me of the fuss in the Kitchen; do not worry, the pies will not go to waste! By the way, were those your Knights I saw riding out this morning? Where have you sent them all?"

"Er, I fear they are on a wild hare's chase. They ride out to our Counts and Barons, looking for, er, um, more spinach."

The Queen looked gravely at her Lord King, and then suddenly burst into laughter. "We shall have Spinach Pie for weeks at this rate! Oh Well, small matter. For tomorrow . . . Perhaps, if you would be so good, would you please read me the Psalms of the day; you have such a lovely reading voice!"

And so the King read to his Lady, and over time came to realize that giving birth is not a mortal wound, and so once again put his mind to the care of all his Kingdom. However, one thing happened from this incident. It was about this time that wild spinach was renamed; in honor of the good fortune it had brought the villages of the land, wild spinach was evermore called . . .

["Good King Henry!" The breathless Page had returned, in his hands was a jar filled with bright green leaves. "You stored it in a container labeled "Good King Henry."

"Ah, so I did," said the monk, "I should have remembered that. Here, go bring these leaves to the Chief Cook, and tell her to give you a cookie; you have earned it!" The kitchen crew returned to their labors, and the monk went on to his study, to work out the details of the next Good King Henry Story.

That is why, from that day to this, when someone wants Wild Spinach, they needs but ask for Good King Henry, and they will be satisfied.]

{Author's Note: Good King Henry is an herb that can be found on the shelves of any good Herbalist. For fun, try a Internet search on 'Good King Henry,' it is all there.}

To Be Continued . . .

Roger of Belden Abbey
Copyright © 2005, Daniel A. Thompson, Jr.

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