These two things are very inter-connected. The arrival of the Norman French in the years post the Conquest brought many of our current words into use - in this context, curfew is particularly relevant coming as it does from the signal to bank the hearth fires at the end of the day and stemming from the Latin coverir (to cover) and feu (fire). It also heralded the start of a real explosion in culinary learning as eleventh century Michel Roux Juniors arrived to educate the palates of the English upper classes - I live in hope that there was an equivalent Monica Galetti terrifying young cooks from beneath her wimple.
|The Forme of Cury c.1390|
This manuscript is not just a description of meals enjoyed, it is an instructional text: a series of recipes, 196 in total, put together in a parchment scroll by King Richard's cooks so that other cooks could learn their trade. Some of the recipes are for everyday use ('common meats for the household as they should be made, craftily and wholesomely') and some are for feasts. All are fascinating for the glimpses they give us of the incredible range of ingredients available to medieval cooks in wealthy households, the customs surrounding eating and the links drawn between food and other important contemporary disciplines - the introduction says that the work was given 'the approval and consent of the masters of medicine and of philosophy' who served at Richard's court.
|A Peacock Centrepiece|
Feasts were an important part of the medieval calendar and we are currently in the middle of one of the key celebrations: Midsummer. Midsummer was the culmination of the spring festivals that heralded fertility, the hopes of a good harvest and the solstice. Its dates have shifted slightly: astronomically the longest day falls on the 20th/21st June but the 1752 calendar alignments fixed the date on June 24th, the Feast of John the Baptist. Whatever the date, Midsummer Eve has traditionally been celebrated with bonfires (originally burning animal bones, hence the name), cooking and decorating with flowers and herbs to entice the fairies and of course, food.
Lots of Midsummer recipes involve fruit and vegetables but I honestly think a celebration is not a celebration without cake. So, here is a recipe for fourteenth century Bryndons - small cakes in a sauce of wine, fruit and nuts -which I think captures the ingredients and the array of techniques our medieval cooks would have employed, even on small dishes. There is a a modern translation of the recipe at a wonderful website called A Boke of Gode Cookery. I really hope to see someone have a go at these on the Bake-Off, I feel Mary Berry would approve.
|Bryndons - admittedly not my attempt|
Accept star baker.