Food Recipes from the 12th-century discovered in manuscript

Medieval foodScholars have found a collection of food recipes dating back to the twelfth-century, making them the oldest western medieval culinary recipes known to exist. How good they are will be revealed later this month when Durham University has them recreated during a special lecture on medieval food.

The newly-discovered food recipes from a manuscript that was written at Durham Cathedral’s priory around 1140. Although it mainly consists of medical potions the work also contains recipes about preparing various sauces and cooking a chicken. The manuscript is now held at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge University.

Dr Giles Gasper from Durham University’s Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (IMEMS), said, “The recipes are for sauces to accompany mutton, chicken, duck, pork and beef. There’s even a seasonal version of the chicken recipe, charmingly called “hen in winter”. We believe this recipe is simply a seasonal variation, using ingredients available in the colder months and specifying “hen” rather than “chicken”, meaning it was an older bird as it would be by that time of year. The sauces typically feature parsley, sage, pepper, garlic, mustard and coriander which I suspect may give them a middle eastern, Lebanese feel when we recreate them. According to the text, one of the recipes comes from the Poitou region of what is now modern central western France. This proves international travellers to Durham brought recipes with them.”

The recipes were discovered by Professor Faith Wallis of McGill University. Dr Gasper explained that Professor Wallis, “immediately realised the significance of these recipes, since they so markedly predated the previously earliest-known ones by a century and a half. I encouraged her to translate them and send them to our colleague, food historian Caroline Yeldham who could best work out how to interpret the instructions with a view to recreating them.”

Professor Wallis tells that the author does not reveal why the medical text has these recipes – the text just begins with the statement, “Incipiunt diuersa genera pictauensium salsamentorum”. She adds “there is of course a close connection between dietetics, medicine and cuisine. For medieval learned medicine, diet was therapy!”

The recipes are now to be used as part of a cookery workshop for history, English and archaeology Master of Arts students from Durham. They will be attempting to recreate the sauces and dishes for the first time in hundreds of years. This workshop will take place on April 25th at Blackfriars Restaurant in Newcastle, led by Caroline Yeldham and Andy Hook, Blackfriars’ owner.

The same recipes will then be recreated for lunch the following Saturday, April 27th, to accompany a lunchtime lecture in the banqueting hall of the restaurant by Professor Chris Woolgar entitled “Food In Medieval England.” Prof Woolgar has been invited by IMEMS to speak as part of an on-going series of historical lectures on food at Blackfriars.

Andy Hook said: “We’re delighted to be continuing our relationship with Durham University and IMEMS with this latest lecture. It’s an intriguing thought that we’ll be tasting food that hasn’t been experienced for hundreds of years and predate so markedly the earlier recipes we knew about.”

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Source: Durham University

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