Creepy Cuisine

(Or, Yes, Some Period Food Is Weird)

By The Honorable Lady Katja Davidova Orlova Khazarina

WARNING: Non-serious and potentially gross period food discussion ahead…

Okay, having repeatedly stated that period food is not weird, having tricked people into trying period food by serving them dishes which look like normal modern food but are actually period recipes, and having even written a class on how a lot of period food is not at all disgusting or weird or difficult to make, I, an avowed food research wonk, must confess that… some period food IS weird.

You're a cook. You've been preparing modern or "medievaloid" food for your feasts. You are encouraged to serve period food. You gather up your courage, you open up a period cookbook so that you can choose a recipe to try redacting for a medieval feast – and you find recipes for eels. Or mice? Or deer testicles??!! Oh, the children at the event are *really* going to be happy with THAT.

And that's when you decide to pick up the phone and order pizza for your next event…

Hold on! Wait a moment before you swear off period food and feasts forever. {First of all, go look at my paper on "No Eels Please! Non-Weird Period Food." There are *lots* of simple, very period dishes which most people will eat without a second thought: roast pork loin with mustard, onion soup, green salad…oh, yeah, that IS another paper. Back to this one!}

Yes, the Medieval diet included many animal parts and other foodstuffs that are not common to the American diet today. {Side note: that's part of the fun of recreating period food!!!} Yes, when we page through a period cookbook today, we often see dishes that seem downright odd.

Why did they eat eels? Well, eels were inexpensive to raise as stockfish, as opposed to cattle, and provided tasty protein over the winter months in a world where you couldn't just drive to the supermarket to pick up a steak for dinner. And yes, they are tasty when prepared properly, from the descriptions in several 15th Century English cookbooks. And I'd rather appreciate swans' beauty by watching them fly rather than eating fried swan legs, but there are recipes for them in countless cookbooks, as well as peacocks, turtle doves, cranes, storks, sparrows, blackbirds, et. al.

Okay, we know about how frequently fish and all kinds of birds showed up in the Medieval diet. But why dormice? Why would you want to eat a rodent the cat chases? Well, in Apicius' Roman Cookery Book, they were considered a delicacy. Again, prepared properly, they were an unusual treat that only wealthier nobles would generally have. Haven't you ever served a rare or unusual drink or dessert to your dinner guests to impress them?

Although the rest of the world is perfectly happy eating organ meats and a variety of animals, Americans sadly tend not to be that adventurous. Or that experienced with cooking unusual foods, like brains or liver, without overcooking or improperly seasoning them. Or – and this is the biggest problem I see at feast – promptly serving certain "weird" foodstuffs in the quantities needed for SCA feasts.

In short, that eel recipe is probably really yummy, actually – smoky and pungent in a way that pork or beef recipes just can't compare. However, when the dish isn't seasoned correctly, or it's been waiting too long before being served and is now unpleasantly cold… any recipe, even a modern one, is going to be nasty! Thus, the SCA is rife with gentles who don't like going onboard and/or trying "weird" period dishes.

Like many cooks who enjoy researching and preparing period dishes, I strongly believe that period food is not bad… there are bad *redactions* and bad *feasts* where food is not prepared properly or is plated too far in advance of its being served.

When prepared and served correctly, these unusual dishes are generally quite delicious – even to unadventurous tastebuds – and a wonderful change from normal modern dinner fare that enhance the illusion of acting being at a medieval feast… rather than just a fancy dress-up party. I believe that every cook should *try* an unusual period dish every once in a while, for themselves and for their diners.

That being said, I willingly admit that there ARE a lot of odd-sounding, unappealing, or just plain strange recipes in a variety of period cookbooks. So, I've prepared this overview of various dishes from cookbooks ranging in country and timeperiod— it is up to you to decide whether it is solely for amusements' sake, or whether the list is inspiration for trying an unusual dish at your next feast.

However, I strongly recommend that cooks do not prepare feasts of nothing but "weird" period food – if you do, a lot of gentles won't find anything they can eat on the menu, they'll go home hungry and unhappy, and you'll have a lot of uneaten food coming back to the kitchen. NOT a good plan!

So, please enjoy the following overview of various medieval dishes that, by their ingredients or their names, would likely "weird out" your feast hall. Some are actually quite delicious, while some are NOT. Some are impossible or illegal to prepare today. (Such as porpoise. Yes, Flipper.) And then there's always the question of just where you *could* order 130 deer testicles???

[Friendly disclaimer: if you *do* enjoy organ meats or any other dishes listed herein, please do not take umbrage at my good-humored, non-stuffy poke at medieval cuisine. You have a more experienced palate than many gentles, and I salute you! J ]


Macabre Names

Coffins/Of the mixture of pasts (These pie crusts are actually common at feasts and are perfectly edible.)

Gervase Markham, The English Hous-wife, 1615

To speak then of the mixture and kneading of pasts, you shall understand that your rye paste would be kneaded only with hot water and a little butter, or sweet sesame and Rye flower very finely sifted, and it would be tough & stiffe, that it may stand well in the rising, for the coffin must ever be very deep, your course wheat crust would be kneaded with hot water, or Mutton broth, and good store of butter, and the past made stiffe and tough, because that coffin must be deepe also; your fine wheat crust must be kneaded with as much butter as water, and the past made reasonable lythe and gentle, into which you must put three or foure eggs or more, according to the quantity you blend together, for they will give it a sufficient stiffening.


Compost (This is pickled salad or "medieval coleslaw"— again, despite its name, it's fine.)

Curye on Inglysch, 14th Century

Take rote of persel, of pasternak, of rafens, scrape hem and waische hem clene. Take rapes & caboches, ypared and icorue. Take an erthen panne with clene water & set it on the fire; cast alle žise žerinne. Whan žey buth boiled cast žerto peeres, & parboile hem wel. Take alle žise thynges vp & lat it kele on a faire cloth. Do žerto salt; whan it is colde, do hit in a vessel; take vyneger & powdour & safroun & do žerto, & lat alle žise thynges lye žerin al nyyt, ožer al day. Take wyne greke & hony, clarified togider; take lumbarde mustard & raisons coraunce, al hoole, & grynde powdour of canel, powdour douce & aneys hole, & fenell seed. Take alle žise thynges & cast togyder in a pot of erthe, & take žerof whan žou wilt & serue forth.


Garbage (This is chicken gizzards stew, and is pleasant for folks who enjoy eating chicken livers.)

Two Fifteenth Century Cookbooks

Take faire Garbage, chikenes hedes, ffete, lyvers, And gysers, and wassh hem clene; caste hem into a faire potte, And caste fressh broth of Beef, powder of Peper, Canell, Clowes, Maces, Parcely and Sauge myced small; then take brede, stepe hit in + e same brothe, Drawe hit thorgh a streynour, cast thereto, And lete boyle ynowe; caste there-to pouder ginger, vergeous, salt, And a litull Safferon, And serve hit forthe.


Unusual or Live Animals

Roast Cat as It Should Be Prepared

Ruperto de Nola, Libro de Cozina, 1529

Take a cat that should be plump: and cut its throat, and once it is dead cut off its head, and throw it away for this is not to be eaten; for it is said that he who eats the brains will lose his own sense and judgement. Then skin it very cleanly, and open it and clean it well; and then wrap it in a clean linen cloth and bury it in the earth where it should remain for a day and a night; then take it out and put it on a spit; and roast it over the fire, and when beginning to roast, baste it with good garlic and oil, and when you are finished basting it, beat it well with a green branch; and this should be done until it is well roasted, basting and beating; and when it is roasted carve it as if it were rabbit or kid and put it on a large plate; and take the garlic with oil mixed with good broth so that it is coarse, and pour it over the cat and you can eat it for it is a good dish.


From a wild horse (Sadly, there are several things documenting horse recipes, including the Bayeaux Tapestry.)

Marx Rumpolt, Ein New Kochbuch, 1581

You can prepare the meat from a wild horse in a black pepper sauce, and if you want to have the meat roasted/ salt it well/ for it is a sweet meat. You can also prepare the roast with garlic. If you want to prepare it in a pepper sauce, put water onto the meat and salt it well. When its well cooked pull it on to a board and let it become cold. Make a good Hungarian pepper sauce with the blood of chicken that is slightly sour [e.g. by putting apples into the sauce]. When the pepper sauce is prepared put the meat therein then it becomes good and mellow. You can also prepare the testicles of a wild horse or of a native horse in the same way as is earlier described in the recipe for the testicles of the buck/ram/billy goat.


On the Porcupine and Hedgehog (No specific recipe — Platina just recommends eating them, as well as badgers!)

Platina, On Right Pleasure and Good Health, 15th Century


Purpays yn galanteyn (Yes, this is Flipper in aspic and the next is Flipper 'n' grits. Porpoise were considered fish…)

MS Beinecke 163, 15th Century

Take purpays: do away the skyn; cutt hit yn smal lechys no more then a fynger, or les. Take bred drawen wyth red wyne; put therto powder of canell, powdyr of pepyr. Boil hit; seson hit up with powder of gynger, venegre, & salt.


Furmenty with purpaysse

Harleian MS 279, 15th Century

Make thin Furmenty in the maner as I sayd be-fore, saue temper it vp with Almaunden, Mylke, & Sugre, & Safroun, than take thin Purpays as a Freysshe Samoun, & sethe it in fayre Water; & when he is I-sothe y-now, bawde it & leche it in fayre pecys, & serue wyth Furmenty in hote Water.


Dormice (Yup, mice. They were a delicacy, remember?)

Apicius, The Roman Cookery Book, 6th Century

Stuff the dormice with minced pork, the minced meat of whole dormice, pounded with pepper, pine-kernels, asafoetida, and liquamen. Sew up, place on a tile, put in the oven, or cook, stuffed, in a small oven.


Frogs (Okay, this shouldn't be too odd to those who like French food.)

Le Menagier de Paris, 1393

To take them, have a line and a hook and bait of meat or red cloth, and having taken the frogs, cut them across the body near the thighs and empty out what is near the back end, and take the two thighs of these same frogs, cut off the feet, and skin the thighs raw, then have cold water and wash them; and if the thighs stay overnight in cold water, they will be better and more tender. And after thus rinsing them, they should be washed in warm water, then take and dry in a cloth; the thighs, thus washed and dried, should be rolled in flour, that is floured, and then fried in oil, fat or other liquid, and put in a bowl and powdered spices on them.


To dress a scorpion of the sea (How would you catch them? Would they taste like shellfish?)

Epulario, Or The Italian Banquet, 1598

It if be great it would be sodden: if little, fried.


To make Tartes of Eeles

Epulario, Or The Italian Banquet, 1598

Flay the Eeles, and cut them in peeces of two fingers long, and seeth them, but not too much, then make Almond milke very white and faire, and straine it with Veriuice and Rosewater, and let the milke bee thicke, and stampe also a few Currans and dry Figges, then take Spinnage broken in peeces and fry it in oile, with a little parsley, broken and beaten small, and an ounce of small Reasons, an ounce of the Kernels of Pine Apples, with Ginger, Sinamon, Pepper, and a little Saffron, according to the quantity you wil make, temper and mixe all this composition together. Then put the crust into a frying pan, and in it put your composition and then the Eeles, and so couer them againe with the composition till all the stuffe bee wasted, then couer it with paste and bake it leisurely with fire both ouer and under it, and when it is halfe baked take a little Veriuice, Rosewater, and Sugar, and pricking holes in the lid put it into the Tart, and so let it stand untill it be baked.


To Cook A Live Goose (It's theorized that this recipe was merely apocryphal; let's hope so!)

Giambattista Porta and Alessio Piemontese, Secrets of Nature, 1660

Take the goose, pull off the feathers, make a fire about her, not too close for smoke to choke her, or burn her too soon, not too far off so she may escape. Put small cups of water with salt and honey ... also dishes of apple sauce. Baste goose with butter. She will drink water to relieve thirst, eat apples to cleanse and empty her of dung. Keep her head and heart wet with a sponge. When she gets giddy from running and begins to stumble, she is roasted enough. Take her up, set her before the guests; she will cry as you cut off any part and will be almost eaten before she is dead ... It is mighty pleasant to behold."


Ujja of Pigeons (Fried live pigeons — again, hopefully this is apocryphal.)

An Anonymous Andalusian Cookbook of the 13th Century

Take two clean, active pigeons, and fry them in a pan with fresh oil; then place them in a pot and add to them some murri naqī ', vinegar, oil, cilantro, Chinese cinnamon and thyme; when it is cooked, break eight eggs with it and pour out. It is finished.


Living eels in a roasted pig

Frantz de Rontzier, 1598 (Ditto previous comments.)

(This recipe isn't translated out of the period German yet. I got the description of this dish from Dr. Thomas Gloning, a professor of Medieval German at the University of Marburg who kindly shares his research with the SCA-Cooks listserv.)



Corat (Calf heart — these and some the following recipes are likely not at all "weird" for many gentles.)

Curye on Inglysch

Take the noumbles of calf, swyne, or of shepe; perboile hem and kerue hem to dyce. Cast hem in gode broth and do + erto erbes, grene chybolles smale yhewe; see+ it tendre, and lye with yolkes of eyren. Do + erto verious, safroun, powdour douce and salt, and serue it forth.


Noumbles (deer heart)

MS Beinecke 163, 15th Century

Take noumbles of Deer oper or oper beest; paboile hem; kerf hem to dyce. Take the self broth or better; take brede and grynde with the broth, and temper it up with a gode quantite of vynegar and wyne. Take the oynons and parboyle hem, and mynce hem small and do perto. Color it with blode and do preto powder fort and salt, and boyle it wele, and serue it forth.


Beef tongue with apples and onions

Ein New Kochbuch, 15th Century

Put the tongue into a water/ and let it simmer till done/ clean it out/ and pull the skin off/ peel apple and onion thereto/ and chop them small. Take clear butter in a kettle/ and make it warm/ and put the apple and onion therein/ sweat them rather/ and take a little flour/ crushed pepper/ rubbed saffron/ small and large raisins thereto. Take beef broth and vinegar/ so it becomes nice and tart/ Cut the Tongue apart/ lay it on a rack/ and brown it on both sides/ Put that into the mixture/ and let it simmer therewith/ so it becomes good and Well tasting.


Bourneys (lungs, hearts, ears, and spleen)

Harleian MS 279, 15th Century

Take pipes, hertes, neres, myltes, and of the rybbes of the Swynw, or elles take (if thou wilt) Mallard or Goos, and choppe hem small, and then parboile it in faire water, and take it vp, and pike it clene, and putte into a potta, and cast thereto ale ynough. Sauge, Salt, and lete boile right ynowe, and then serue it forth.


Yrchouns (pig’s stomach)

Harleian MS 279, 15th Century

Take Piggis mawys, & skalde hem wel; take groundyn Porke, & knede it with Spicerye, with pouder Gyngere, & Salt & Sugre; do it on [th]e mawe, but fille it nowt to fulle; [th]en sewe hem with a fayre [th]rede, & putte hem in a Spete as men don piggys; take blaunchid Almaundys, & kerf hem long, smal, & scharpe, & frye hem in grece & sugre; take a litel prycke, & prykke [th]e yrchons, An putte in [th]e holes [th]e Almaundys, every hole half, & eche fro o[th]er; ley hem [th]en to [th]e fyre; when [th]ey ben rostid, dore hem sum wyth Whete Flowre, & mylke of Almaundys, sum grene, sum blake with Blode, & lat hem nowt browne to moche, & serue forth.


Hagws of a schepe (Sheep stomach pudding. Yep, it's haggis!)

Harleian MS 279, 15th Century

Take the Roppis with the talour, & parboyle hem; than hakke hem smal; grynd pepir, & Safroun, & brede, & yolkys of Eyroun, & Raw kreme or swete Mylke: do al to-gederys, & do in the grete wombe of the Schepe, that is, the mawe; & than sethe hym an serue forth ynne.


Tripe de Mutton

Two Fifteenth Century Cookery Books

Take a panche of a shepe, and make it clene, and caste hit in a potte of boyling water, and skyme hit clene, and gader al awey the grece, and lete hem boyle til thei be al tendur; then take hem vppe on a faire borde, and kutte hem in smale peces of ij peny brede, and caste hem yn an erthen potte with stronge broth of bef or Mutton; take ffoyles of parcelly, and hewe hem small, and cast hem to, And lete hem boyle togidre til they ben tendur, and then take pouder of ginger, and a quantite of vergeous, and take saffron and salt and caste there-to, and lete hem boile togidre til they be ynogh.


Dish Made from the Intestines of Trout

Platina, On Right Pleasure and Good Health, 15th Century

Put in well washed and semicooked intestines of trout, a little pepper, parsley, and sage, finely cut. When you arrange the serving dishes, sprinkle spices on them.


On Chicken Roll (Chicken crests, livers, and testicles… here starts the really strange organ meats.)

Platina, On Right Pleasure and Good Health, 15th Century

Divide crests of chickens in three pieces, livers in four, and leave testicles whole. Cut lard into bits, but do not pound. Cut up finely two or three ounces of veal fat, or, instead of fat, add beef or calves marrow. Use as much as will be enough of ginger, cinnamon, and sugar. Mix all these with about forty dried sour cherries; then put in a roll made suitable for it from finely ground meal. It can be cooked in an oven or under cover on the hearth. When it is half-cooked, put over it two beaten egg yolks and a bit of saffron and verjuice.


Red Deer Testicles in Hunting Season (Sorry! Couldn't get my hands on a copy of Taillevent before the class…)

The Viandier of Taillevent, 1370


Grilled Womb

Apicius, The Roman Cookery Book, 6th Century

Roll in bran, and afterwards soak in brine, then cook.


Stuffed Udder

Apicius, The Roman Cookery Book, 6th Century

Pound pepper, caraway, and salted sea-urchin. Stuff the udder, sew up, and thus cook. You eat it with allec and mustard.


Gross Ingredients

Georgé Bruet (Blood soup!!)

Le Menagier de Paris, 1393

Take poultry cut into quarters, veal, or whatever meat you wish cut into pieces, and put to boil with bacon; and to one side have a pot, with, blood, finely minced onions which you should cook or fry in it. Have also bread browned on the grill, then moisten it with stock from your meat and wine, then grind ginger, cinnamon, long pepper, saffron, clove and grain and the livers, and grind them up so well that there is no need to sift them: and moisten with verjuice, wine and vinegar. And when the spices are removed from the mortar, grind your bread, and mix with what it was moistened with, and put it through the sieve, and add spices and leafy parsley if you wish, all boiled with the blood and the onions, and then fry your meat. And this soup should be brown as blood and thick like 'soringe.


Stinging Nettles (This seems to be a medicinal recommendation, but it's in the middle of several recipes…)

Apicius, The Roman Cookery Book, 6th Century

Take the wild nettle, when the sun is in the sign of Aries, against illness, if you wish.


Poisonous or Hallucinogenic Food

To make broth of Hempe-seed (Okay, it probably *wasn't* marijuana soup, but even Platina says it's not yummy.)

Epulario, Or, The Italian Banquet, 1598

You shal follow the order aforesaid, only that you shal not use flesh broth, but fish or pease broth.


Prymerose (Primrose soup - very toxic! Don't try making this!)

Harleian MS 279, 15th Century

Take other half-pound of Flowre of Rys, iij pound of Almaundys, half an vnce of hony & Safroune, & take the flowre of the Prymerose, & grynd hem, and temper hem vppe with Mylke of the Almaundys, & do pouder Gyngere ther-on; boyle it, & plante thin skluce with Rosys, & serue forth.


On Wormwood (This is a great bug repellant but I wouldn't want to drink it — think absinthe!)

Platina, On Right Pleasure and Good Health, 15th Century

…There is also Roman wormwood, which I believe is more suitable for eating, for Apicius made a spiced drink from it.


Sterlynge Vayle Schola, 11/10/01

College of Three Ravens, 2/2/02

©2001 Chris P. Adler