Saturday, 24 May 2014

The culinary recipes of medieval England

Last week, my new cookbook, 'The culinary recipes of medieval England', arrived by post. The book, published in December 2013, is written by the late Constance B. Hieatt (died 2011), well-known for her other medieval culinary books and recipes, such as 'Pleyn Delit', a book I frequently use in making medieval dishes.

While 'Pleyn Delit' is a modern cookbook with precise instructions and amounts of ingredients, this cookbook is a 'true' medieval one with only general directions and no amounts of the ingredients. The recipes are, however, translated into modern English. To use this book you have to be an experienced (medieval) cook, and having an grasp of what amounts to use to make such dishes. For me, it will be challenging, but not too difficult. I already have some experience cooking from a Dutch late medieval cookbook [De keuken van de late middeleeuwen, UB Gent 476] without any amounts of ingredients given...

Constance Hieatt is clear why no modern adaptations are given: there is no room for that in the 216 pages of the book (though I would not have minded a twice as voluminous cookbook). She also states that many recipes are of dubious appeal or practicality for modern cooks:"those who think they want to try one of the versions of 'haggis' would first have to possess themselves of a sheep's stomach to cook it in, for example". Personally, I like haggis (while I find that neeps give me the creeps). I also think a medieval recipe for haggis would certainly appeal to the Scottish re-enactors, and they likely have a brave heart to try to make it. Therefore I have taken this recipe (2 versions) out of this book, and reproduced below. Perhaps I will once try it as well.


Take eggs with all the white and mince bread and sheep's tallow as great as dice. grind pepper and saffron and add them, and put this in the sheep's belly. boil it well and serve it in broad thin slices.
MS Bodleian Douce 257, dated around 1381. recipe 15.

Note: Some later recipes add various embellishments, such as milk or cream; one in the H279 adds chopped guts, while another there adds roasted pullets, pork, cheese, and spices to the stuffing; but perhaps for good reason doesn't label this one haggis. 'Fronchemoyle' (variously spelled) is another word for haggis.

Take the guts with the tallow and parboil them; then chop them small. grind pepper and saffron and bread, and [add] yolks of eggs and raw cream of fresh milk; put it all together and put in the belly of the sheep, that is, the stomach. Then boil and serve it forth.
MS B.L. Harleian 279, dated about 1435. 'Leche Vyaundez' recipe 25

 Detail of a unicorn on the grill in Geoffrey Fule's cookbook, England, mid-14th century  
London, British Library, MS Additional 142012, folio 137r.

The recipes in 'the culinary recipes of medieval England' are a compilation of the recipes of 36 original English medieval cookbooks. When multiple variations of the same recipe exist in the cookbooks, the most complete, or the oldest version is given. Unfortunately, the discovery of an English cookbook from the 14th century of Geoffrey Fule, cook of Queen Phillipa (Ms Additional 142012), in the British library in 2012 was to late to be included. The recipes for roast unicorn or hedgehogs are therefore sorely missed.
etail of a unicorn on the grill in Geoffrey Fule's cookbook, England, mid-14th century (London, British Library, MS Additional 142012, f. 137r). - See more at:
The culinary recipes of medieval England is a 216 page hardcover book published by Prosper books (ISBN-13 978-1-909248-30-4) and will cost around 30 pounds, though bargain examples can be found on internet for less money.

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