A 12th century English cookbook was recently discovered. Originally scribed in Latin at Durham Cathedral circa 1140 C.E., the book contains myriad recipes for both enjoyment and health, including seasonal variations of common foods as well as medical tonics.
So what were the most common spices used at the time? “… Parsley, sage, pepper, garlic, mustard and coriander, which I suspect may give them a Mediterranean feel when we recreate them,” says Giles Gasper from Durham University’s Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies.
If you happen to be one of the plebs like myself, you can get a taste of medieval cooking without needing a doctorate. Here are a couple of available books on Middle Ages fare, some authentic and some with a bit of modern flair:
The Medieval Kitchen: A Social History with Recipes
by Hannele Klemettila
Reaktion Books, 230 pages
How much can you learn about a culture by studying their eating habits? As it turns out, quite a bit! With extra helpings of images from medieval manuscripts, The Medieval Kitchen is sure to stimulate your curiosity, from the dishes served in the Middle Ages to culinary tools. Hannele Klemetilla’s research ranges from Scandinavia to Western Europe, and includes more than 60 recipes so you can easily re-create your own medieval dinner party.
A Feast of Ice & Fire: The Official
Game of Thrones Companion Cookbook
by Chelsea Monroe-Cassel, Sariann Lehrer, and George R.R. Martin
Bantam, 240 pages
Inspired by George R.R. Martin’s insanely popular fantasy series (and HBO program), A Feast of Ice & Fire brings together all the references of food and feasting from book one, A Game of Thrones, though to book seven, A Dance with Dragons. Years ago I went to see Martin at the World’s Biggest Bookstore in Toronto. He told the audience that he enjoys writing about the food and feasts the most, with the delectable descriptions coming to life in his head. Said, of course, with an appreciative pat to his belly. The recipes within are grouped into regions, from the glacier Wall and the spartan meals of the Night’s Watch to the luxurious southern treats of King’s Landing. Chelsea Monroe-Cassel and Sariann Lehrer have thoughtfully include alternative ingredients, in case you have trouble finding locusts and aurochs at the local deli. However, one has to wonder about the practical value of some of the recipes: does a slice of cured ham, hard bread, and a boiled egg (featured as featured Lord Commander Mormont’s breakfast) really require instructions? More kitsch than kitchen, the book serves as a great collectors edition, but its practical applications for cooks may be a bit limited.