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Friday, September 23, 2005

He schal be rostyd in his scalys

Most of the American fruits are exceedingly odoriferous,and therefore are
very disgusting at first to us Europeans: on the contrary, our fruits appear
insipid to them, for want of odour.

I found this comment in the introduction to The Forme of Cury: A Roll of Ancient English Cookery Compiled, about A.D. 1390. The book itself is a piece of history because it was compiled by Samuel Pegge in 1780. I would very much like to know which fruits he was talking about.

Pegge's introduction is also interesting for other reasons. Before he explains the history of the 14th-century recipes that the book is about, he describes cooking habits from the ancient Greeks to the Normans. Like today's historians he includes notes so that we can see where he got his information from. I don't recognise the sources that Pegge uses in the following passage on the ancient Britons. Strabo [12] may be the Greek historian. Note 11 is referenced as 'Cæsar de B. G.'

The Aborigines of Britain, to come nearer home, could have no great expertness
in Cookery, as they had no oil, and we hear nothing of their butter, they used
only sheep and oxen, eating neither hares, though so greatly esteemed at Rome,
nor hens, nor geese, from anotion of superstition. Nor did they eat fish. There
was little corn in the interior part of the island, but they lived on milk and
flesh [11]; though it is expressly asserted by Strabo that they had no cheese
[12].

To modern readers it seems a little odd that Pegge begins his introduction with this brief run through of historical cooking habits. I have seen this kind of historical summary in several other history books from the 17th and 18th century so perhaps it was just the thing to do in those days.

The recipes at the heart of the book are written in an old form of the English language known to us as Middle English. Yet I think any cook could follow them today. The first recipe tells us how to make ground beans, which Pegge notes was a dish for poorer households (rather like baked beans for students). I think the strange letter represents a 'th' sound.

FOR TO MAKE GRONDEN BENES. I.Take benes and dry hem in a nost [kiln] or in
an Ovene and hulle hem wele and wyndewe [winnow] out þe hulk and wayshe hem clene an do hem to seeþ in gode broth an ete hem with Bacon.

I particularly like the injunction to eat them with bacon (ete hem with Bacon). It's still common in Britain today for people to say em instead of them. We usually think it's linguistic laziness but I heard somewhere recently that it's related to the time when the word didn't have a th sound. I'm sure there's a more detailed explanation and I'd like to hear it if anyone knows.

We often imagine in Britain that our cooking was bland and insipid until the introduction of mediterranean food during the 1980s and 1990s. (I think really it was just a post-war blip and traditional British cooking is very good) Among the recipes is proof that we knew how to make a good salad even in the 14th century.

SALAT Take persel, sawge, garlec, chibolles, oynouns, leek, borage, myntes, porrectes, fenel and ton tressis, rew, rosemarye, purslarye, laue and waische hem clene, pike hem, pluk hem small wiþ þyn honde and myng hem wel with rawe oile. lay on vynegur and salt, and serue it forth.

I don't understand all the ingredients. I suspect 'sawge' is sage, 'garlec' is garlic, 'chibolles' might be a kind of onion and 'oynouns, leek, borage, myntes' are obvious. The raw oil, vinegar and salt are definitely a salad dressing. I'll leave you with a lobster recipe. I think a lot more people would be vegetarians if we started calling the animals we eat 'he' and 'she' instead of 'it'.

XVI. FOR TO MAKE A LOPISTER.

He schal be rostyd in his scalys in a ovyn other by the Feer under a
panne and etyn wyth Veneger.

1 Comments:

Anonymous Richard W said...

I particularly like the word "odoriferous" and shall use it in future

5:24 am  

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