The Middle English Cooking Recipes in New York Public Library Whitney MS 1

By Acker, Paul | The Journal of the Early Book Society for the Study of Manuscripts and Printing History, Annual 2011 | Go to article overview

The Middle English Cooking Recipes in New York Public Library Whitney MS 1


Acker, Paul, The Journal of the Early Book Society for the Study of Manuscripts and Printing History


New York Public Library, Whitney MS 1 consists of fifteen vellum leaves and contains a selection of Middle English cooking recipes written down in the first half of the fifteenth century, (1) probably c.1425. The first group of recipes on folios 1 to 12r, here called Cures (2) of Metis (The Cooking of Food), appears in other manuscripts under the title The Forme of Cury, that is, the (proper) Method of Cookery, (3) or more loosely, How to Cook. (4) The collection as excerpted in the Whitney MS provides recipes for dishes running from "Firmenty" or frumenty, "a dish of boiled, hulled wheat, resembling a modern wheat porridge or pilaff," (5) through "Puerate" or peverade (later poivrade), a pepper sauce for veal or venison. (6) Porridges and vegetarian pottages were the first courses served in medieval English aristocratic menus; accordingly The Forme of Cury begins with a dozen recipes for such dishes. (7) The Whitney MS skips five of these (see note 6) but retains stewed turnips, herbs in broth, pottage of onions, pottage of squash (courgettes), rice in broth, and mushrooms and leeks in broth. (8) Only the frumenty is thickened with almond milk, according to Constance Hieatt and Sharon Butler a feature that "came from the East, either via Spain and/or Italy or as direct importations by returning Crusaders." (9)

Heavier meat dishes came next on the menu and next in The Forme of Cury's recipes, beginning with various organ meats in broth, then preparations for veal, chicken and other fowl, kid, rabbit, hare, pork, mutton and lamb followed (after some more meatless dishes) by fish and seafood. (10) The meatless recipes include some for unexpectedly familiar dishes, including salad (field greens with oil and vinegar), ravioli, and macaroni and cheese. (11)

According to the headnote in one manuscript of The Forme of Cury, the recipe collection is organized so as first to teach one "to make commune potages and commune mettis for howshold as bey shold be made craftly and holsomely. Aftirward it techib for to make curious potages & meetes and sotiltees for alle manere of states both hye and lowe" (British Library, MS Additional 5016). (12) As Hieatt and Butler point out, (13) our modern practice of ending a meal with dessert descends from this medieval practice of saving the delicacies (the "curious and subtle" dishes) for last, although medieval menus incorporated dainty savory dishes as well as sweet ones. The final section of The Forme of Cury, recipes numbers 153 to 205 as printed in Hieatt and Butler, presents recipes for the later courses, including fritters, tarts, custards and ending withypocras (modern hippocras) or spiced wine. (14) A number of the dishes in this final section are listed as appropriate for third courses in surviving medieval menus, such as a menu for meat days printed as Menu 3 in Hieatt and Butler, (15) which lists as its third- and second-to-last items daryols (custard tarts, see Forme of Cury number 191) and flampoyntes (tartlets filled with ground pork, see Forme of Cury number 192). (16) Working back from this final section, we find Forme of Cury recipes number 151 and 152 are brief notes on roasting cranes and herons, then peacocks and partridges. (17) These more exotic fowl (along with woodcocks, plovers, larks, mallards, teal and snipe) were served as second and third courses on the menus printed in Hieatt and Butler, before the pastry dishes. (18) Prior to these directions for roasting fowl, Forme of Cury recipes numbers 139 to 150 are all for sauces, from poivrade or pepper sauce (the final recipe in the Whitney MS selection contained on fols. 1-12r) through "Lombard" or honey-mustard sauce. (19)

In order to round off my bibliographical description thus far, I provide a transcription followed by a modern English translation of the first and last recipes from The Forme of Cury as contained in Whitney MS 1, fols. 1 and 12r: (20)

   [f. 1] Here begynnes [Cu]res of metis. … 

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