Episode 34: Medieval Food, the Thanksgiving Special
Updated: Dec 2, 2021
Happy holidays, and more generally, happy autumn! It’s getting close to Thanksgiving here in the USA, and that means lots and lots of food! So for this year’s holiday special, we’re diving into some medieval cookbooks and recipes you can try this season!
Our inspiration for this episode came from one of our Leech’s Corner segments, in which I thought one of the remedies sounded like a half-decent chicken marinade. No toxic plants, fish guts, or other assorted nasties in it, either! So we present a few recipes to try, along with some other medieval recipe books for your cooking pleasure!
Our first recipe is the remedy that started it all — Leechbook II.vi.1, which reads:
Again, for want of appetite for food; take southern cumin, moisten it with vinegar, then dry it and rub to pieces in a mortar, and of fennel seed, and of dill, three spoon measures, rub it all together, add of pepper three spoon measures, and of leaves of rue seven spoon measures, and of the best strained honey one pint; triturate all together; eke it out then with vinegar as may seem fit to thee, so that it may be wrought into the form in which mustard is tempered for flavoring; put it then into a glass vessel, and then with bread or with whatever food thou choose, lap it up, and make use of it; even though thou shouldst sup it up with a spoon, that will help.
Here is our modernized version of the recipe:
3 tbsp cumin
3 tbsp dill
3 tbsp fennel
3 tbsp pepper
7 teaspoons rue (can substitute dandelion leaves or rosemary)
1 pint honey
vinegar to mix (malt or balsamic)
Grind together all spices or procure pre-ground spices, and mix together. Add the honey and mix thoroughly. Add vinegar until it becomes a mustard-like consistency.
Eat as a dip with bread or use as a chicken marinade. We suggest at least four chicken breasts for the standard recipe. Cook chicken as normal.
A few notes on this recipe:
Rue, while traditionally used in many remedies, is an abortive and is toxic in large quantities, so we suggest using dandelion leaves or rosemary as an alternative.
Vinegar, as Mac noted in our episode, was simply spoilt wine, so malt vinegar may be the “most authentic” to use. However, any wine vinegar can be used as well.
Here are Mac's pictures of his process!
Here's Zoe's video tutorial!
Our second recipe comes from the Lacnunga, and reads “for heaviness of the mind, mix radish with salt and vinegar, soon mood will be more gay.” While we can’t attest to how effective this remedy is as an antidepressant, Mac found it delicious.
For those looking for a more in-depth guides to medieval cooking, here are a few lovely cookbooks we recommend:
How to Cook a Peacock: Le Viandier, translated by Jim Chevalier:
This book is a modern translation of the 13th century French cook compiled by Guilaume Tirel, the chef for the French court in the 14th century. This modern adaptation is faithful to the original text, but fair warning! It does not include exact measurements, so you may have to improvise if you are more comparable with recipes.
The Cookbook of Julian of Norwich: from Hazelnuts to Pottage, by Ellyn Wanna:
While Julian of Norwich never wrote a cookbook, this little tome is compiled from 12th century recipes that Julian would likely have made or eaten herself. Fun medieval facts about Julian’s life are interspersed between the recipes, and the measurements are exact and suggest modern appliances, which makes this book perfect for those looking for easy-to-follow recipes.
Medieval Cuisine of the Islamic World: A Concise History with 174 Recipes, by Lilia Zaouali:
This book is an incredibly well-researched guide to Middle Eastern Medieval cuisine. Between each section of recipes are beautifully written essays about the food and culture of this period. The translated recipes often have no measurements and do include a good deal of Arabic, though brackets are used to make the translation clear when needed. We highly recommend this book to any academic or foodie in your life.
Finally, for those looking for more accessible and hands-on medieval recipes, we have a list of websites you can use! Each one contains a wealth of resources and many provide links to the original texts.
This site is incredibly useful, and has recipes from many medieval cookbooks. It includes foods never to use in medieval European cooking, as well as a glossary of medieval cooking terms, which can be very useful when reading an original recipe. Compiled by James L. Matterer.
Compiled by Bill Gamber and Ken Withers, SCA veterans with an eye for accuracy and accessibility. While there aren’t too many recipes here, they do provide the original text and a modern translation with measurements.
This site is far broader than just the Middle Ages, and we suggest it for anyone interested in culinary history. There are some fantastic recipes, but do watch out — they are dedicated to cataloguing all food history, even hot dogs suspended in gelatin. Pick your recipe carefully.
I overlooked this website in the episode, but it is perhaps the most well-formatted of all our medieval cooking sites! You can sort recipes by type of meal, country of origin, or specify your dietary preferences, and see only the list of recipes that apply.
And finally, for those dedicated to finding real medieval cookbooks, here are two English recipe books you can read online.
A Proper newe Booke of Cokerye
This 16th century English cookbook is the more legible of the two cookbooks we present, as it is technically written in Early Modern English. Beware, however, it still can be vague and difficult to read.
This online text includes access to a transcription of the work as well as a link to the digitized book! The Forme of Curry was written in 1390 by the cooks of Richard II and represents a variety of meals made and eaten in the royal household.
We hope you enjoyed sitting down with us to a feast of medieval delights! We’d love to hear if you try any of these recipes, so if you do, find us on social media and share it! For those of you celebrating, we wish you a happy Thanksgiving and holiday season.
Thanks for joining us in this week's episode of The Maniculum Podcast. Looking for more? Check out our Master List series for the full collection of segments at the end of our show, and for more gaming and world building ideas, check out The Gaming Table section of our blog, Marginalia!
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