I thought you would all like to see the cookery book that I'm working from for my Modern Medieval Cuisine project. So say hello to Manchester, Rylands Library, MS English 7, otherwise known as Forme of Cury (which is Middle English for 'method of cookery' or, more colloquially, 'a how-to of cookery').
This is the oldest, and best, complete copy of Forme of Cury (it’s complete except for two missing folios). It was written about 1390, making it at least a couple of decades earlier than its better-known counterpart, a manuscript roll, rather than book, known as London, British Library, Additional MS 5016.
I’ve been transcribing, editing, and translating the manuscript since January, but I’ve been working from the digitised facsimile rather than the book in the flesh. So you can imagine, I’m sure, how wonderful it was to take a look at the real thing about two weeks ago – those are my fingers in the picture above.
It is much smaller than I thought. As you can see from the next image, it is only slightly longer than my pencil (no pens allowed in the Rylands special collections reading room – standard practice). Officially it measures 142mm x 100mm (just over 5½ inches by nearly 4 inches).
It really was a thrill to turn the pages that were most probably written by a scribe of King Richard II, and to browse through the contents, which were produced by the ‘chief master cooks’ of the king. When you have the privilege of handling such a treasure, it does give you a little extra spark and sparkle for several days afterwards.
It was very kind of the library to permit me to take a few of my own photographs, and as I came across one of the pages, for the recipe Sambocade (baked elderflower cheesecake), I just had to take a photo of that one in particular (see below), because I knew I was going to have a go at recreating it just a few days later.
Hello medievalists and foodies!
Last Saturday, I took the recipe sauge yfarced, literally 'stuffed sage', from Forme of Cury (King Richard II’s 14th-century cookery book), and brought it to the development stage – my fancy way of saying I tried out some medieval cookery.
The result was pretty scrumptious. In essence this is a medieval snack – spicy pork balls coated in fresh sage leaves and a light, crispy batter – suitable for dipping in one of the Forme of Cury’s sauces or dressings (I fancy verde sauce, a spicy and herby garlic dressing – that’s for another post), or, as in my case, drowning in tomato ketchup. Not very medieval, I know.
When I posted about this on my Facebook page, a few people asked what was in the spice mix that in the original recipe is called powder fort (poudour fort: ‘strong powder’; also called poudre fort).
The answer is not straight forward, as there does not exist an English medieval recipe for the mix; and, besides, most commentators feel it likely varied from kitchen to kitchen.
However, there does exist a roughly contemporaneous Italian recipe for specie negre e forte per assay savore (‘black and strong spices for many sauces’) in the work known as Libro di cucina (no. LXXV). The ingredients listed there are: cloves, pepper, long pepper, and nutmeg.
For my own experiment, I decided to go with these four spices. I ground 15g (½oz) black pepper corms, 15g (½oz) long peppers and ½ teaspoon of whole cloves, and combined all this with ¼ teaspoon of grated nutmeg. I used 3 teaspoons of the mix for the meat I obtained from a ham hock: just about right, I felt.
Incidentally, I don’t recommend using a pestle and mortar for grinding long peppers; it’s better to use a coffee grinder, otherwise you’ll still be grinding it the following day. Black pepper corms and cloves do take well to a pestle and mortar.
The flavour was earthy, warm and, obviously, peppery. I could imagine using more cloves, and perhaps a little more nutmeg, though you should know that nutmeg is toxic at certain levels, so before you experiment yourself with nutmeg, do some research on its toxicity levels: I hereby accept no liability for excessive use of nutmeg!
My in-house powder fort certainly worked with pork, and I look forward to using it in other recipes, as it is commonly called for in Forme of Cury.
If this post has sparked any questions, please feel free to leave a comment below, or contact me by clicking the contact button above.
Hello and welcome to my new project: Monk's Modern Medieval Cuisine!
The project is multi-faceted. I'm filming a video series, in which I'll be recreating recipes from the 14th-century cookery book known as Forme of Cury ('the how-to, or method, of cooking'); writing a new edition and translation of this medieval book; and eventually writing a cookery book with fully tested recipes.
The video work is under way. We (I'll tell you more about my collaborator in another post) have filmed a pilot, but at present the focus is on testing and developing more recipes – easier said than done when the originals do not give you the quantities or times for cooking!
We hope to have the video series launched during the summer, via the Patreon platform, though these things always take longer than you think.
The edition and translation is progressing well. I have a working edition, based on the oldest and best version of the complete Forme of Cury, kept in the John Rylands Library, Manchester. And I've finished translating all 194 recipes, along with the recipe index and the preamble about Richard II's 'mayster cokes' – yes, this is a royal cookery book!
I'm just about to submit a formal book proposal to a publisher, who's shown interest, so wish me luck.
The last part of the project, the cookery book, is part of my longer term ambitions, so it may be a while before you see this come to fruition.
So thank you for showing your interest in my latest endeavours. I promise to keep folk up to date with what is going on.
All good wishes, foodies!