Among the medieval recipes for illusion foods found in culinary, scientific, and magical miscellanies, we find an inspired dish: a cooked animal is made to seem alive. Some have been redressed in their fur or feathers and posed with wires to look lifelike. Some recipes promise that the prepared animal will move or even sing before being eaten. These reanimated kills not only offer insight into medieval people’s ontological understanding of food, which itself was dead yet vital to human life. They also reflect on the cultural significance of the Eucharist as a sacrificial meal with salvific power.
The available studies of the medieval recipes agree that the culinary texts are very scarce in terms of information on measures, weights and times (cf. Hieatt and Butler 1985, Görlach 1992, Carroll 1999). Hammond (1993: 126), for instance, writes: ‘The recipes do not give precise instructions, nor any indication of quantity, so quite how they were used is a mystery’. However, according to some scholars there was no need to include such details in the recipes. Henisch (2009: 16) suggests that the cook was a professional of ‘thorough knowledge’, for whom ‘[a] sensitive palate is essential, so he [the cook] will be alert enough to discern by taste what is too salty or too flat.’ Scully (1995: 8) claims that the recipes were not written for the cook but by the cook, as a gift given to some noble guests of a household in order to please them, or a way of boasting. And thus, the cook in fact did not want others to be able to reproduce a particular dish. Scully notices that the majority of the surviving recipes are too clean to have ever been used in the kitchen. Additionally, Brears (2008) points out that recipes served as a way to refreshen the cook’s memory concerning the ingredients of the dishes which were not used on everyday basis.
The present paper aims at illustrating that despite the common view that medieval culinary recipes lack precision, there are collections which are full of terms indicating measures and times of a dish preparation. The discussion will be based on 36 recipes found in the Harley MS 2378 (British Library). The recipes were written either by or for Nicholas Spalding, a 15th-century owner of the manuscript.
– Brears, P. 2008. Cooking and dining in Medieval England. Wiltshire: Prospect Books.
– Carroll, R. 1999. “The Middle English recipe as a text-type”, Neuphilologische Mitteilungen 100: 27-42.
– Görlach, M. 1992. “Text-types and language history: The cookery recipe”, in: Rissanen, M. et al. (eds.), History of Englishes: New methods and interpretations in historical linguistics. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 736-761.
– Hammond, P. 1993. Food & feast in medieval England. Thrupp: Sutton Publishing.
– Harley MS 2378. Online. Available at: http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/FullDisplay.aspx?ref=HarleyMS2378 (date of access: 11.05.2015).
– Henisch, B. 2009. The medieval cook. Woodbridge: The Boydell Press.
– Hieatt, C.B. — S. Butler (eds.) 1985. Curye on Inglysch. London: Oxford University Press.
– Scully, T. 1995. The art of cookery in the Middle Ages. Woodbridge: The Boydell Press.