Medieval Gastronomy
August 21, 2009 7:04 AM   Subscribe

Medieval Gastronomy. Food, cooking and meals in the Middle Ages.

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posted by Ljubljana (44 comments total) 84 users marked this as a favorite
Neat. This seems like a good opportunity to post The Food Timeline.
posted by bjrn at 7:20 AM on August 21, 2009 [6 favorites]

Neat! I wish it had more straight-up recipes, but this is a lovely set of images!
posted by Greg Nog at 7:21 AM on August 21, 2009

Great site! Thanks for posting it.
posted by jquinby at 7:25 AM on August 21, 2009

Interesting how it is all illustrated by manuscript illuminations. I felt a bit disconnected, however, and was unsure how the chronology of the pictures fit in with the narrative of the website. And at times it all felt a bit shallow. But still, beautiful pictures.
posted by hippybear at 7:26 AM on August 21, 2009

A fairly good selection of medieval recipes can be found at Gode Cookery.
posted by Toubab at 7:31 AM on August 21, 2009 [9 favorites]

This is so neat. And thanks to Toubab for the recipes. I am so making this and this tonight to go with the summer salad.

more recipe books should have "and cast them into the fyre" don't you think?
posted by The Whelk at 7:56 AM on August 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Great stuff. I've collected a whole bunch of related visual/recipe/exhibition links here.
posted by peacay at 8:03 AM on August 21, 2009 [4 favorites]

Another link of potential interest: the kitchens of Henry VIII at Hampton Court Palace, now a centre for research and tourism, too.
posted by woodway at 8:03 AM on August 21, 2009 [2 favorites]

Ah, medieval times. When the answer to "should I eat it?" was always yes.
posted by anthill at 8:04 AM on August 21, 2009 [3 favorites]

Service was very strictly regulated under the direction of the major-domo. The pantler, who placed the tablecloth and arranged the table centre, prepared the cutting boards for bread and brought the salt. The wine butler served the wine, which he diluted with water. The fruit server served prunes and hazelnuts.

Nearest the prince stood the esquire trenchant, who cut his bread and meat and served them. He was a nobleman and was entitled to finish the uneaten meat which he had cut for the prince and to drink the same wine.

If you've been to mass, you've been to a simplified medieval banquet at the Lord's manor, the priests and acolytes playing the part of the servants.
posted by Pollomacho at 8:09 AM on August 21, 2009

I own two medieval cookbooks. Pleyn Delite is my favourite. I have actually cooked out of them both, and its good stuff. The one meatball recipe, spiced with cinnamon & ginger, is one of my favourites.

And its not true that medieval people ate spoiled food all the time, or didn't care about quality. Their food safety wasn't as up to par as ours, they just didn't have all the technical know-how, but they did acknowledged spoiled food was bad. Hence the huge fines (and possible limb removal) of those that would sell spoiled or rotten meat or fish, adulterated bread, and so on.
posted by sandraregina at 8:19 AM on August 21, 2009 [4 favorites]

None of these recipes seem to include heretic or witch.
posted by klangklangston at 8:34 AM on August 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Sandraregina - I am so excited to hear that you’re a fan of Pleyn Delit. My aunt was the book’s author, which, if I understand my MetaFilter history correctly, I guess means that I know more about this subject than you could EVER IMAGINE.
posted by Toubab at 8:51 AM on August 21, 2009 [15 favorites]

In the beginning, only sick monks were entitled to eat meat, but by the end of the Middle Ages, all brethren entering the general infirmary, also called the “house of meat” were so entitled.

I find it mildly disturbing that the infirmary came to be known as the house of meat. Especially given the nature of 'remedies' back then.
posted by scrutiny at 8:51 AM on August 21, 2009

Would you like a refill on that Pepsi?
posted by Cookiebastard at 8:54 AM on August 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

I find the concept of a communal napkin strangely compelling and disgusting at the same time.
posted by Diagonalize at 8:54 AM on August 21, 2009 [2 favorites]

shameless placeholder so I remember to look at the linsk when I'm home from work
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 9:20 AM on August 21, 2009

Interesting topic but that is one of the most poorly designed websites I have ever seen.
posted by Democritus at 9:36 AM on August 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

If Metafilter starts turning into the fucking SCA I'm out of here.
posted by w0mbat at 9:43 AM on August 21, 2009 [3 favorites]

Okay, Toubab, you have just demonstrated one of the things about the internet I just love. Tell your aunt I love her book!
posted by sandraregina at 9:58 AM on August 21, 2009

Ha. And my parents thought me uncivilized for using the tablecloth as a napkin. Shows what they know.
posted by limeonaire at 10:17 AM on August 21, 2009


/jk. Neat post!
posted by applemeat at 10:22 AM on August 21, 2009

Does this include anywhere the recipe for a chamber orchestra baked in a pie that I keep hearing about?
posted by StickyCarpet at 11:07 AM on August 21, 2009

(In trying to track down the orchestra-in-a-pie recipe, I did discover that pie crusts at that time were inedible, consisting of just flour and water and baked at high temperatures for a long time. Their function was to contain the vapors, and to provide an ornamental covering that is ceremoniously broken before serving the contents.)
posted by StickyCarpet at 11:15 AM on August 21, 2009

Hence the huge fines (and possible limb removal) of those that would sell spoiled or rotten meat or fish, adulterated bread, and so on.

Next time there's a big health scare because some jerkwad peanut or meat processing plant isn't abiding by safety standards, I'm going to lobby my federal representative to propose just this sort of solution.

I'm thinking that it will only take a single instance of a CEO losing a limb, and then our food will be extremely safe.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:20 AM on August 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

I just went to Amazon to look for Pleyn Delite. Apparently, Customers Viewing This Page May Be Interested in These Sponsored Links:
The Knight Shop -UK Shop for Knights of all ages U.K. Based Showroom
1 flat stomach rule: obey Cut down 1 lbs of stomach fat every day by obeying this 1 weird rule.

Amazon's algorithms not bad really - mediaeval food = mediaeval roles and/or dieting.
posted by paduasoy at 12:02 PM on August 21, 2009

Don't make me have to beat you with a stick W0mbat!
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 12:05 PM on August 21, 2009

This authentically carved, period-specific staff based on traditional stick-making craft!
posted by The Whelk at 12:26 PM on August 21, 2009

How the napkin thing played out depents on who and where you were. Given the number of places you see them telling you to not wipe your hands on the dog, I'm kind of thinking the comunal napkin might have stayed pretty clean.

My own weekend linnen chest has a table cloth, communal lap towel and individual napkins that go over one shoulder. A table setting for eight will provide sails for a small sloop.

If you really want to see where this can go, check out The Book of Kervynge. Also available in print form when we kill the tripod page dead.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 12:28 PM on August 21, 2009

For some weird reason, when I read these, I imagine that I'm on 1900 house, or Medieval House or something and I think about what I'd cook.

I had no idea there were Medieval cookbooks. I thought my Larousse Gastronomic (c 1960) was exotic.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:13 PM on August 21, 2009

I'm thinking that it will only take a single instance of a CEO losing a limb, and then our food will be extremely safe.

Worked so well for China. Enough of that, though - it's time to make myself a meat pie. Thanks.
posted by sysinfo at 1:17 PM on August 21, 2009


Also, may I recommend the excellent, new translation of Le menagier de Paris (The Good Wife's Guide), translated by two faculty members from my university (Gina Greco being a brilliant professor I've had the privilege of taking classes with).
posted by nonmerci at 1:17 PM on August 21, 2009

I have nothing of substance to add to the discussion, other than "cool post."
posted by lekvar at 1:33 PM on August 21, 2009

Neat. This seems like a good opportunity to post The Food Timeline.

Thank you for linking this! A fucking awesome site (I'm a little biased because I sort of have a fetish for a good timeline, but...who doesn't?).

Oh, and great post in general.
posted by Lutoslawski at 3:12 PM on August 21, 2009

"medieval cooking often resorted to disguises; there were accordingly ambiguous recipes for making a dish such as “veal-based imitation sturgeon"

Oh how very little has changed: [previously]
posted by Lutoslawski at 3:26 PM on August 21, 2009

Ha! And as it's turned out, the food timeline is a fairly apt metaphor for progress in general. We were doing ok until...that last 150 years or so with the corn syrup and the necco wafers...
posted by Lutoslawski at 3:38 PM on August 21, 2009

Awesome! I love anything that has to do with how those in the past lived their daily lives. This post has that in spades.

Medieval art, however, all reminds me of Bosch, and consequently gives me the bad willies. I mean, some of the pictures on this site have nice happy middle ages people eating their yummy millet, but then I think of Garden of Earthly Delights and *shudder*.
posted by John of Michigan at 5:19 PM on August 21, 2009

Also recommended Out of the East: Spices and the Medieval Imagination, which examines the medical, religious, socioeconomic, and political history of spices used in food in the Middle Ages.
posted by desuetude at 5:50 PM on August 21, 2009

Wait wait wait... they had galangal in the middle ages in Europe??? So western culture could have developed the curry, but chose not to?
posted by kaspen at 6:06 PM on August 21, 2009

Or perhaps the recipe is calling for the aromatic root of the Cyperus family. I just didn't expect to see recipes calling for cinnamon and ginger etc, but I guess in 15th century England the seafaring spice routes would have begun to be established. Still, I wonder about affordability and access. How common would such spiced dishes be outside the upper classes?
posted by kaspen at 6:16 PM on August 21, 2009

Thank you for this. I've always been interested in views of how taste has evolved over the centuries. I cannot imagine a time when sugar crystals were cast over supper dishes to make them sparkle and look expensive.

When I was blogging, I wrote a long entry about how, through 1920 or thereabouts, the favored American dessert flavors depended on heavy spices, candied nuts and preserved fruits, from Indian pudding and mincemeat pie to Lady Baltimore cake. Cinnamon, ginger, raisins, prunes, dates and sugared nuts had been delicacies since medieval times.

On American menus today, the most popular desserts on offer are chilled, and based on chocolate, dairy, or fresh fruit. (Fresh fruit was considered a disease vector up until about 1910.) We indulge ourselves with cheesecake, chocolate mousse, key lime pie and other such things that can only be created on a large scale -- or, in some cases, any scale at all -- because of our freezing and chilling technology, as well as our open-mindedness about fruits and exotic flavors.

Maybe this rumination is all just me, though, trying to explain to myself why I always think of the tastes of cinnamon, figs, candied nuts and dates as old-fashioned somehow.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:04 PM on August 21, 2009 [2 favorites]

Countless Elena:

Funny you should mention that! My Bf grew up in a little village which he described as "If the UK is 10 years behind the U.S and the North is 5 years behind the South then we were 15 years behind our neighbors". He has many stories about gas-powered fridges and digging for potatoes and outdoor pluming and more. He grew up to be all into High Technology, so yay for growth, but I always noticed something odd and particular when he cooked. Not when he was really cooking, which was all French, cause he spent his college-years there. No, when he was cooking for comfort, or just quickly, it would be these things with tons of cinnamon and nutmeg and parsnips and almonds and figs. I'd never had anything quite like it. Lavander as a spice, very odd.

It wasn't until I started to research pre-refrigeration cooking that I noticed that all his favorite flavors are English peasant stock from the 1800s, a few potatoes aside, and very close to some of the recipes listed here. And that's just adorable.
posted by The Whelk at 8:40 PM on August 21, 2009 [4 favorites]

I don't know, I'm interested in the content, but am I the only one who found the site navigation brutal?
posted by falconred at 10:25 AM on August 22, 2009

No, I thought that too, falconred.
posted by grouse at 2:33 PM on August 23, 2009

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