The first English cookery book is about the top table of Medieval cookery. Surprisingly with a little adaptation its recipes can easily be re-created. Many are delicious.
The Forme of Cury is a recipe collection created by the ‘chief master cooks of King Richard II’. I have been hunting around for a copy of this for a while, so I was delighted to find a copy on-line:
English King Richard II (1367 – 1400) deserves some sympathy as he was just a ten-year-old boy when he was thrust on to the throne. But while he may have been naïve and ill equipped to deal with the demands of leadership he never the less abused his power, robbed his subjects and ordered the deaths of many of his advisors and high ranking officials as well as imposing draconian taxes and laws on his people. He was dethroned in 1399 then imprisoned before being murdered by conspirators in 1400.
During his reign the Monarch squandered vast sums of money on food and feasting. He was the first Royal who opted to eat alone instead of being the centre piece of a courtly dining spectacle, all observed by a rabble of peasants who came nightly to view their King at table. Richard II preferred to eat his gourmet delights away from prying eyes. He ate the best, the most exotic and finely executed food available. His Chief Master Cook had a tough job to fill and he recorded his recipes and achievements in the manuscript The Forme of Cury.
This is a roll call of the recipes prepared for this self-absorbed ego-maniac King. It is also a unique insight into the best food available in the Middle Ages. It also shows that while the peasant class may have eked out an existence on gruel, at the Royal Top Table, food was imaginative and refined.
What strikes me about The Forme of Cury is that the recipes are actually fairly approachable. The original manuscript was written in Middle English and it is worth looking at this text before reading the modernized version in order to get a sense of the manuscript, a real feeling that this is an authentic historical document.
As for the food itself, some of the ingredients are unavailable, (I simply can’t remember the last time I saw lamprey in the supermarket) others you might not want to cook (I really don’t think cooking swan is worth the jail time) but there are other recipes that can be executed fairly easily and I would encourage anyone who enjoys cooking and/or history to take a look at the manuscript and have a go. (Do post a comment and let me know how you got on!)
Egurdouce Of Fysshe or sweet and sour fish is my favourite so far. This dish is similar to Spanish escabeche or Japanese nanbanzuke: fried fish marinated in a sweet and sour dressing. It is wonderful to see a historical English fish dish that is so creative and delicious. (Note to self: idea for a future blog, how the 16th century Puritan Reformation did English fish cookery up like a kipper.)
So now for a taste of the Medieval:
Egurdouce Of Fysshe.
Take Loches other Tenches other Solys smyte hem on pecys. fry hem in oyle. take half wyne half vynegur and sugur & make a siryp. do therto oynouns icorue raisouns coraunce. and grete raysouns. do therto hole spices. gode powdours and salt. messe the fyssh & lay the sewe aboue and serue forth.
Sweet and Sour Fish (my translation)
Take loaches, other trenches, other soles and cut them into pieces. Fry them in oil. Take half wine, half vinegar and sugar and make a syrup. Core onions, raisins, currants and sultanas. Add to that whole spice, good powders and fish. Plate the fish, and lay the stew about it, then serve it forth.
Sweet and Sour Fish (my 21st Century Version)
500g filleted mixed fish (pollock, salmon, mackerel – good to have a mix of textures)
50g flour to coat
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
100ml white wine
100g mixed dried fruit
1 tablespoon of honey
1 large onion
Pinch each of: ginger, coriander, cumin, turmeric, cloves, nutmeg etc (There’s scope to play around here)
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
Finally dice the onion and sweat in the oil for a good 10 minutes until soft and tender. Add the honey, spices, mixed fruit, wine and vinegar and bring to the boil.
Coat the fish in flour and gently fry.
Place fish in serving dish and pour the sweet and sour marinade over.
Leave to chill then serve it forth.