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Medieval Website


Al_Dente
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I've been a huge fan (and chef) of Medieval Cooking for years. There are groups like the SCA who recreate the era and have people who do a lot of research into all aspects of the culture. Here are a few other sites I've worked from throughout the years:

Two fifteenth-century cookery-books : Harleian MS. 279 (ab 1430), & Harl. MS. 4016 (ab. 1450), with extracts from Ashmole MS. 1439, Laud MS. 553, & Douce MS. 55

and

An Anonymous Andalusian Cookbook of the 13th Century

and

Du fait de cuisine

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I've been a huge fan (and chef) of Medieval Cooking for years.

so you've actually cooked these recipes then?

how do they taste? i'm surprised to see so many varied spices, actually, and i see a lot of mixing of savory and sweet.

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I've been a huge fan (and chef) of Medieval Cooking for years.

so you've actually cooked these recipes then?

how do they taste? i'm surprised to see so many varied spices, actually, and i see a lot of mixing of savory and sweet.

It shouldn't surprise you. Remember, way back then (stepping into Mr. Peabody's WayBack Machine), there was no refrigeration or preservatives. Meat did not keep long. To hide the fact that it was rancid (not enough to kill you, but enough to taste bad), meats were HEAVILY spiced to cover the taste.

And this was for the rich folks. Poor folks rarely got meat. Not only could poor folks not afford meat, but the spices were expensive as well. Also, showcasing a lot of spices in dishes (especially for company) showed how wealthy you were because spices came from foreign lands. The food for the poor is surprisingly bland.

I rather like a lot of the Medieval recipes I've prepared. There is one whose name escapes me that is a combination of hard-boiled eggs, dates, bread crumbs, spices, and port wine. It gets rolled into a log with some of the reduced port drizzled on top - quite nummy. I've cooked from Charles Perry's book Medieval Arab Cookery which is actually a translation of al-Baghdadi's Kitab al-Tabikh, a 13th century text. In that there is this odd dish where lettuce is cooked down with sugar to a gelatinous goo to which sesame seeds are added. It feels weird in the mouth but is quite tasty.

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ah - yeah - actually i was thinking these recipes were used by the common-folk as well, and was wondering where they got such exotic items as galangal and coriander. *lol* ( i was thinking to myself - damn - those spice routes really were something back then!)

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I have...for years...wanted to cook a swan.

Dunno about that one.... I've eaten horse, dog and not a few bunny rabbits, but some creatures are too beautiful to contemplate eating. And the swan you cook could be a descendant of the swans that Oliver St. John Gogarty donated to the Liffey River.

Of course, there are probably some food pervs out there who are thinking "Hmmm... swan foie gras."

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I've been a huge fan (and chef) of Medieval Cooking for years.

so you've actually cooked these recipes then?

how do they taste? i'm surprised to see so many varied spices, actually, and i see a lot of mixing of savory and sweet.

It shouldn't surprise you. Remember, way back then (stepping into Mr. Peabody's WayBack Machine), there was no refrigeration or preservatives. Meat did not keep long. To hide the fact that it was rancid (not enough to kill you, but enough to taste bad), meats were HEAVILY spiced to cover the taste.

I thought that the idea that medieval types used spice to mask off-meat was largely discredited?

-Very few of the books actually, mention quanties of spices, and one book that does (Goodman of Paris) uses a relatively light spicing.

-There are some instructions that are for dealing specificly with spoiled meat, indicating that the normal spicing routine wasn't to cover off-meat flavours.

-Non-meat dishes have similar spice treatment.

-Much of the fresh meat seems to be par-boiled before cooking, which would indicate that it was rather tough, therefore not very long aged.

-Modern cultures that use a lot of spices don't use them to cover up rotten meat flavours, so why would the medieval types? These people are/were not idiots.

n.b. Swan (black in my case) tastes nasty. But, I have only ever eaten the one.

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I thought that the idea that medieval types used spice to mask off-meat was largely discredited?

-Very few of the books actually, mention quanties of spices, and one book that does (Goodman of Paris) uses a relatively light spicing.

-There are some instructions that are for dealing specificly with spoiled meat, indicating that the normal spicing routine wasn't to cover off-meat flavours.

-Non-meat dishes have similar spice treatment.

-Much of the fresh meat seems to be par-boiled before cooking, which would indicate that it was rather tough, therefore not very long aged.

-Modern cultures that use a lot of spices don't use them to cover up rotten meat flavours, so why would the medieval types? These people are/were not idiots.

n.b. Swan (black in my case) tastes nasty. But, I have only ever eaten the one.

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Swans are mean, though. And I think rabbits are prettier animals.

Are swans mean? I've seen them hiss and stuff, but compared to geese they are well tempered. I once got chased down by a mother goose in a parking lot. That was scary.

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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Swans are mean, though.  And I think rabbits are prettier animals.

Are swans mean? I've seen them hiss and stuff, but compared to geese they are well tempered. I once got chased down by a mother goose in a parking lot. That was scary.

I had a swan bite my thumb when I was at a park feeding them as a kid. bastard swan.

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I thought that the idea that medieval types used spice to mask off-meat was largely discredited?

-Very few of the books actually, mention quanties of spices, and one book that does (Goodman of Paris) uses a relatively light spicing.

-There are some instructions that are for dealing specificly with spoiled meat, indicating that the normal spicing routine wasn't to cover off-meat flavours.

-Non-meat dishes have similar spice treatment.

-Much of the fresh meat seems to be par-boiled before cooking, which would indicate that it was rather tough, therefore not very long aged.

-Modern cultures that use a lot of spices don't use them to cover up rotten meat flavours, so why would the medieval types? These people are/were not idiots.

n.b. Swan (black in my case) tastes nasty. But, I have only ever eaten the one.

You are essentially correct on all points but while it is true that quantities of spices are rarely mentioned, instructions towards sweetness would indicate that a rather hefty amount would be used. Here is a quote from De Fait:

4. Again, a lamprey sauce for numbles of beef: that is, he who has the charge of making the said sauce should take his numbles of well fattened beef and should wash them well and put them on fair and clean spits; and then should take his bread and cut it into round slices and roast it on the grill so that it is well roasted, and have there a fair and large cornue where he puts the said roasted bread; and should have a barrel of very good red wine and, if there is not enough in one, have two, and put in with the bread; and taste if the beef broth is good and sweet, and put in as much as is necessary of the part without fat in with the bread,and put in red wine vinegar so moderately that there is not too much, since if it is necessary he can add more; and then take powdered cinnamon, white ginger, grains of paradise, pepper, nutmeg, galingale, cloves, mace, and all other spices, and mix them with the said bread and strain very well; and check that you have fair and clean cauldrons or pots according to the quantity of the sauce which you have made in which to put it to boil. And the said numbles, when they have roasted as they ought, take them and cut them into proper little pieces, and then put them to boil in the said sauce; and being boiled all together, it should be put all in fair serving dishes, that is two pieces in each dish, with the said sauce on top.

And I agree that the spices used were certainly not limited to meats. They were used extensively across the board with whatever was cooked. I also agree that the meats were parboiled and did tend towards toughness but from my readings, much of the "rotteness" was truly to extend the life of a dish. I don't think they were cooking fully rotten meat but hunks of meat that would become several dishes and thereby be suspect.

BTW, this is a link to another thirty or forty OTHER links on Medieval Cuisine:

Tons More Links

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I think that the trouble with the recipes is that they tend to be on a hugh scale, like your example, so a pound of cinnamon sounds like a hugh amount until you do the proportions.

That is why I think that it is un-likely that the majority of spices were used in concentrated doses, unless you were at the very top of the social order - too expensive. In that case, I doubt that the dominent members of the society are going to be eating spoiled meat (unless they want to).

As for sweetness. Not sure that the meaning is exactly the same as today. "Sweet" can also mean fresh etc (and fish were divided into saltwater or fresh (sweet) water fish). But in it's day sugar was an elite persons ingredient and from the medieval to 17th C. recipes I have seen sugar was added at the end of the cooking, often scaped on to the top of the dish. Like we would use ketchup, but imagine ketchup only being served in *** places.

Swans: The can get protective of their mates and their young. As they are, depending on the species, much bigger then geese that can be a bit scary if they have a go at you. But they aren't evil. 99% of animals that you feed by hand with at some point nip your fingers.

Not only huge in proportion, but bear in mind, there are no recipes or true documentation of "poor people food." Only the rich had *some* documentation of their eating habits. And referring back to one of my original points, only the "top of the social order" used spices or, for that matter, even ate meat.

I think the difficulty gets into the sociology between the Upper Class, Middle, and Lower Class. Here is the social structure of the Middle Ages: King, Knight, Noblemen(women), Bishop, Priest, Monk/Nun, Merchant, Friar, Servent, Serf, Minstrel (travelling entertainner). The "dominant members of society" from my understanding, are serfs. These people never saw meat. Their eating habits are not very documented so those sources from which we can draw are only the extremely wealthy.

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While Serfs may have predominated, I doubt they dominated, so gastronomically they don't count. Much more profitable to look at breakdowns of households, from top to bottom. Given the large amount of food wastage that occured in some settings, I think that the sevants got a taste of the good stuff, once and a while.

There is interesting breakdowns of the food eaten in the households of bishops/monks/popes avalible in Vatican records.

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I thought that the idea that medieval types used spice to mask off-meat was largely discredited?

It has been.

The works of Massimo Montanari -- The Culture of Food has been translated into English -- are the best overview of the history of European diet. A succinct explanation of why the spices=preservative/spices=disguise of rotten food theory is wrong is found on pp. 60 ff. of that book, with references.

An good source for peasant diets is Piero Camporesi's Bread of Dreams. His sources are early modern, but they are relevant for the some parts of the late (post -12th-century) middle ages, which seems to be the period of interest to the SCA.

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An good source for peasant diets is Piero Camporesi's Bread of Dreams. His sources are early modern, but they are relevant for the some parts of the late (post -12th-century) middle ages, which seems to be the period of interest to the SCA.

You are right - I had completely forgotten about that book on my shelf... and will have to get the other one you mention!

Thanks!

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I suppose everyone interested in food history knows about Clifford Wright's "Mediterranean Feast." Phyllis Pray Bober's "Art Culture, & Cuisines is less well known and densely academic (62 pages of foodnotes and a 43 page bibliography). It also has a bunch of recipes from prehistoric, ancient Egyptian Mesopotamian, Greek, and Roman times, and late Gothic times. A second volume is promised, but not yet actualized as far as I know.

Also, a couple more websites:

http://www.godecookery.com/

http://www.pbm.com/%7Elindahl/food.html

http://marianne.castillo.net/cocina/index-ing.htm

"Half of cooking is thinking about cooking." ---Michael Roberts

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