Gode Cookerye Sytes:

How to Research Medieval Food If You Have No Period Cookbooks

…and No Money to Buy Any

by Lady Katja Davidova Orlova Khazarina

So, you’re interested in period cooking? Perhaps your local group has just "volunteered" you to do the next event’s feast, or maybe you think Medieval cooking sounds really intriguing, or maybe you just like what you’ve eaten at feasts and want to find out more about the subject of food in the Middle Ages.

In any case, you want to research period cooking, but you can’t afford to buy any books right now, there’s no cooks guild in your local group, you don’t know anyone who can lend you some books, and you haven’t the foggiest idea where to start searching on the ‘Net.

Or, scarier still, you’ve done a little web surfing, and you have no idea which websites are credible and which ones are so hideously inaccurate that you should run screaming...

We are blessed now with countless online sources for period food research, including excellent analytical websites with articles on the subjects of cooking, cheese-making, brewing, setting a feast table, and so on. There are ones with easy and well-written redactions which you can use (with attribution, please!) if you feel nervous about dipping your toes in the water. And there are ones with primary sources, if you’re fearless and want to dive right into figuring out how to do an original recipe.

On the other hand, there are a lot of websites that purport to have "period" recipes, but they don’t have any documentation to back this up. I’ve seen lots of "medieval" recipes on sites for wassail or cockaleekie soup or other dishes which certainly sound Medieval, but there’s no source cited… or the website owner cites something like "100 Traditional Scottish Recipes." Even worse, from a research standpoint, they say it’s a traditional recipe from their grandmother, who got it from her grandmother, "so it must be period!" <groan>

I am not going to point out any specific websites which you should avoid, since the web changes daily and I’d like to believe that a cook whose site currently has no cited resources will do more research and start posting good documentation on their site. I’ve seen it happen.

Rather, I will recommend sites which I have found to be useful, in whole or in part, and I recommend that you use your best judgement. I strongly suggest, if you’re serious about preparing and serving period food at your feasts, that you never use a recipe or believe anything you read on a website unless it’s backed up with valid documentation (a primary source or a credible modern analytical resource). Kind of basic logic, eh?

So, the following is a fairly thorough, but by no means comprehensive, series of tables of websites where you can find primary sources, on-line translation programs for those pesky foreign cookbooks, original recipes and redactions, on-line merchants who sell period cookbooks and spices, artwork of Medieval cooking, and other sites which I hope you find useful. Oh, and a public service announcement to check out that ignored but potentially rich resource, your local library.

Happy surfing!

On-line Period Resources

If you want primary documentation, here are websites with original period manuscripts (many are partial postings):

An Anonymous Andalusian Cookbook of the 13th Century

http://www.daviddfriedman.com/Medieval/Cookbooks/Andalusian/andalusian_contents.htm

The Book of Kervynge (Anglo Saxon?)

http://milkmama.tripod.com/kervynge.html

Das Buch von guter Speise – 14th Century German

In English:

http://cs-people.bu.edu/akatlas/Buch/buch.html

In German:

http://staff-www.uni-marburg.de/~gloning/bvgs.htm

The Closet of… Sir Kenelme Digbie, Knight, Opened, 17th Century English

http://realbeer.com/spencer/digby.html

Culinary gleanings from John Gerard’s Herball or The General Historie of Plantes, 17th Century English

http://members.aol.com/renfrowcm/gerardp1.html

Das Kochbuch der Sabina Welserin (Sabine Welser’s Cookbook), 16th Century German

In English: http://www.best.com/~ddfr/Medieval/Cookbooks/Sabrina_Welserin.html

In the original German:

http://staff-www.uni-marburg.de/~gloning/sawe.htm

Du Fait de Cuisine (On Cookery), Chiquart, 15th Century French

http://www.best.com/~ddfr/Medieval/Cookbooks/Du_Fait_de_Cuisine/du_fait_de_c_contents.html

Forme of Cury, 14th Century English

http://www.pbm.com/~lindahl/foc/

Harpestreng Cookbook – 13th Century Anglo-Saxon?

http://staff-www.uni-marburg.de/~gloning/harp-kkr.htm

Le Ménagier de Paris (The Goodman of Paris) – 14th Century French

In French: http://www.pbm.com/~lindahl/menagier/

In English:

http://www.best.com/~ddfr/Medieval/Cookbooks/Menagier/Menagier.html

Project Gutenberg (use this to search for other primary sources available online)

http://promo.net/pg/

Two Fifteenth Century Cookery Books

http://www.hti.umich.edu/cgi/c/cme/cme-idx?type=HTML&rgn=DIV1&byte=3391465

Viandier, Taillevent, 14th Century French

http://staff-www.uni-marburg.de/~gloning/vi-vat.htm

(various) German texts on Thomas Gloning’s webpage

http://staff-www.uni-marburg.de/~gloning/kobu.htm

Translation Programs

Don’t be frightened off by primary sources in foreign languages! If there isn’t already an English translation, try using the following translation and dictionary sites on a section of text. The result may be very workable. On the other hand, be warned that on-line translation programs often make really silly mistakes…

http://babelfish.altavista.digital.com/translate.dyn

http://www.mediaevum.de/wb.htm

http://gaer27.uni-trier.de/MWVnew/MhdWBBody.html

Webpages of food/cooking links, redactions, menus, articles, sources, etc.

Okay, you now have some original recipes. Maybe you want to see some good redactions of these or other recipes so you can figure out the Medieval style of cooking. How do you find out how and why Medieval cooks prepared food the way they did? For redacted recipes, articles, and discussions on period cooking, check out the following webpages:

A Boke of Gode Cookery

Master Huen’s HUGE site of recipes, articles, artwork, books for sale, and tons of other things. It’s designed with the newbie cook in mind and it’s very user-friendly. However, there are MANY modern "traditional" recipes as well, so make sure you use only the period ones with cited sources for your feasts.

http://www.godecookery.com/

Cariadoc's Miscellany

(Duke Sir Cariadoc has LOTS of accurately redacted recipes from all countries and times, as well as articles and definitions of terms. If I could recommend only one website, this is it.

http://www.pbm.com/~lindahl/cariadoc/miscellany.html

Catalina Alvarez’s Medieval Index

Mistress Catalina has some excellent menus and recipes from her feasts.

http://MQH.CIT.CORNELL.EDU/~jules/medieval_info.html

Cindy Renfrow’s Culinary & Brewing History Links

Another laurel’s excellent site of great period sources for cooks and brewers alike.

http://members.aol.com/renfrowcm/links.html

Cindy Renfrow's Culinary History Page

Her main page of period resources, recipes, and much, much more.

http://www.thousandeggs.com

Cooking and Food Links

A warehouse of various links to recipes, articles, and primary sources (some modern).

http://moas.atlantia.sca.org/topics/cook.htm

Cooking in Østgarðr

Great menus and recipes from a province.

http://www.ostgardr.org/cooking/

Feast at the Hunt for Michaelmas Goose

A feast menu with nicely redacted recipes.

http://www.advancenet.net/~jscole/gosfeast.htm

The Florilegium

(Compilations of SCA-Cooks list discussions on beverages, feasts, food, food books, breads, food-by region, sweet/decorated foods, vegetables, and plants/herbs/spices. A great place to start if you want to know if a type of food (such as fruitcake) is period. However, some facts and recipes are NOT backed up with documentation, so be careful.

http://www.florilegium.org/

The Hitchhiker's Guide to Ancient Cookery

A great site with period recipes and step-by-step redaction techniques!

http://www.panix.com/~nexus/cooking/

Le Poulet Gauche

A very interesting site on life and food in 16th Century France

http://www.lepg.org/

Maidens’ Dessert Revel Feast

A feast menu with mostly period and some modern recipes, but excellent cooking plans and scheduling-- very useful for someone trying to figure out how to manage a kitchen.

http://www.advancenet.net/~jscole/maidens.htm

Medieval Feasts

Contains various period recipes and redactions

http://www.bitwise.net/~ken-bill/med-p1.htm

Medieval & Renaissance Cookery Webring Homepage

Some nice links, plus you can easily search for other period food sites from here.

http://www.godecookery.com/mrcookwr/mrcookwr.htm

Medieval/Renaissance Food Homepage

Great articles from several sources.

http://www.pbm.com/~lindahl/food.html

Rayne's SCA Feast Survey

Want to know what people really want to eat when they sit down to feast? Highly enlightening for new and experienced cooks alike.

http://www.virtue.to/feast_survey/

Serving Safe Food in the SCA

Good article on proper food handling.

http://www.dnaco.net/~arundel/serv.html

Online Periodicals on Medieval/Ancient Food History

The Oxford Symposium on Food

http://members.tripod.com/rdeh/symp.html

Petits Propos Culinaires

http://members.tripod.com/rdeh/

Merchants who sell difficult-to-find Medieval spices and/or ingredients

As you explore Medieval cooking, you’ll find that some ingredients aren’t available at your local supermarket, such as cubebs, grains of paradise, cone sugar, poudre douce, long pepper, and sometimes even saffron. Here’s some merchants who have what you need. I strongly recommend the Pepperers Guild and Francesco Sirene for the really unusual ones, and Penzeys for all the spices which are still common today – cinnamon, ginger, pepper, etc.; Penzeys’ spices are EXCELLENT quality, their prices are fair, and their service and shipping turnaround is exceptional. I personally love King Arthur for its flour and grains, and all the specialty items.

Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co.

Heirloom and rare seeds for growing less-modern plants and vegetables.

http://www.rareseeds.com/

Francesco Sirene, Spicer

Sugar cones, long pepper, cubebs, and lots of great period tools. Run by a SCAdian.

http://www.silk.net/sirene

The House-On-The-Hill

Replicas of Medieval and Renaissance cookie molds for all your shortbread redactions…

http://www.houseonthehill.net

King Arthur Flour Company

Saffron, whole grains, flours, sugars, lots of great professional kitchen toys.

http://www.kingarthurflour.com/cgibin/start/ahome/main.html

Lehmans’ Non-Electric Catalog

Great non-modern equipment for demos or encampment cooking and living.

http://www.lehmans.com/

New England Cheesemaking Supply Company

Cultures, cheesecloth, thermometers, etc.

http://www.cheesemaking.com/

Penzeys Spices

FRESH strong spices and herbs in bulk at decent prices.

http://www.penzeys.com

Seeds of Change

Organic heirloom seeds for flowers, herbs, vegetables, etc.

http://store.yahoo.com/seedsofchange/index.html

Sweet Celebrations, Inc.

This professional baker’s catalog offers gum tragacanth, gum paste, baker’s ammonia, marzipan, candied angelica, and a whole lot of wonderful equipment.

www.sweetc.com

Artwork

Perhaps you’d like to see what Medieval food, equipment, and kitchens looked like? Although many sites have nice artwork in the background, here are some sites with archives of artwork which you can clip to use in your own website, articles, etc.

Cindy Renfrow

http://members.aol.com/renfrowcm/photos.html

A Boke of Gode Cookery’s Food and Feast Image Collection

http://www.godecookery.com/afeast/afeast.htm

Booksellers/book search engines - cookbook reprints, redactions, food history books

At some point, if really get interested in period cooking, you will want to buy some books… or you’ll want to ask people to buy them for you for Christmas or your birthday! Acanthus and Poison Pen Press carry almost everything you want and they’re very quick, but they tend to be pricey. Amazon.com, believe it or not, regularly carries a few books on Medieval cooking. Jessica’s Biscuit has mostly modern cooking books, but occasionally surprises me with some dirt-cheap Medieval or food history books. The search engines are great for finding the out-of-print books, or even current ones cheaper than the merchants named above.

WARNING! Official Katja Rant Follows: Whatever you do, please don’t buy Fabulous Feasts - not if you want to redact accurate recipes. The book’s front section has some useful information on period cooking and dining practices, but the back section of recipes are untested, inaccurate, and completely lacking in any documentation. Sadly, you’ll find it at Amazon and at virtually every Barnes & Noble and Borders, as opposed to excellent redactions sources like Pleyn Delit, The Medieval Kitchen, etc. Bleah! Don’t buy it – it’s a waste of your money if you’re just starting out and have very little budget for cookbooks. End of Katja Rant

Abebooks (search engine)

Http://abebooks.com/

Acanthus Books (facsimiles, reprints, symposium papers)

http://store.yahoo.com/acanthus-books/index.html

AddALL (search engine)

Http://www.addall.com

Amazon (some redaction cookbooks and food history books)

Http://www.amazon.com

Bartleby (on-line book seller)

http://www.bartleby.com/

BiblioFind (search engine)

Http://bibliofind.com/

Bookfinder (search engine)

Http://www.bookfinder.com

Food Heritage Press (medieval cookery books)

Http://www.foodbooks.com/medieval.htm

Independent Online Booksellers Association (search engine)

Http://www.ioba.org

Jessica's Biscuit/Ecookbooks (some food history books)

Http://www.ecookbooks.com/index.html

No Amazon

http://www.noamazon.com/

Oxbow Books (some food history books)

Http://www.oxbowbooks.com

Poison Pen Press (medieval cookery books)

Http://www.poisonpenpress.com

Potboiler Press

email alban@delphi.com

Prospect Books

http://www.kal69.dial.pipex.com/gloss.htm#glossary

Reid & Wright (antiquarian books)

http://www.reidbook.com

Deciding Which Medieval Cookbooks or Books on Medieval Cooking to Buy

Okay, now you know where to buy some books. How do you decide which books to buy? I wrote an article on sources available to Medieval food researchers, Choosing and Comparing Medieval Cookbooks, which I can email interested gentles. In addition, here are some other SCAdians’ bibliographies and lists of books on Medieval food and cooking:

http://www.mit.edu:8001/people/wchuang/cooking/recipes/Medieval/Medieval_Cookbooks.htmhttp://www.pbm.com/~lindahl/articles/food_bibliography.html

http://www.lepg.org/biblio.htm

And a final thought…

Just curious… did you think to try your local library? It might be, well, so "twentieth century" to look there, but if you’re low on cash, it’s really worth your time to check out this nigh-forgotten resource.

At my local library in Downtown Rochester, there are two copies of Madge Lorwin’s Dining with William Shakespeare, an out-of-print 1976 book which contains terrible redactions but tons of original recipes from late-period English cookbooks. Many of these recipes were taken from sources in British museums which haven’t been reprinted, so these recipes aren’t available anywhere else!! I keep begging the library to let me have one of the copies, since I and another SCAdian are the only people in two years to take this book out, but to no avail…

On a quick on-line search of The Monroe County Public Library System, (at http://www.rochester.lib.ny.us/), I found the following books on food in the Middle Ages:

 

If you would like me to email you this class handout so that you can have an electronic copy and thus use the hyperlinks without having to type the URLs into your browser, please contact me at Katja at Thescorre dot org

College of Three Ravens, Feb. 3, 2001

Chris Adler