The Medieval Cookbook – Review
The Medieval Cookbook by Maggie Black
T his book was written for The British Museum and has several images taken from the British Museum collection.
A transcript of the original recipe or the Translation of recipe before each redaction has been supplied. The redactions provided by Black are clear and easy to follow.
Unlike most medieval cookbooks, Black also has recipes about “poultices”, remedies to cure common ills. There’s no redactions for these translations but as the book mentions, the translations are clear enough that should someone want to, the poultices could be made up fairly easily.
Black’s recipes are very clear and easy to follow. Some ingredients may be hard to find for a non English reader (some recipes are for various game such as quail, pheasant, rabbit and hare) but the methodology is clear and the end results are great.
There’s some random factoids about manners and culture (14th Chaucer England mostly) sprinkled between the recipes which makes for interesting reading although it’s light on compared to the facts that Brears (Cooking and Dining in Medieval England) talks about.
Recipes are not sorted by type of food or even century or area of food. This makes it difficult to be able to find a particular recipe within the book without either knowing where it is or looking it up in the index. I enjoying knowing the category of food that I want to make (pottage, leech, pastry, sweets) and this style or recording is very frustrating to me.
While, as stated above the recipes are clear and the methodology easier to understand, I don’t agree with all the interpretations of the recipes given. For instance, Black has a redaction of “mushroom pasties” originally given in Le Ménagier de Paris (14th Century French manuscript). The translated copy of the texts (and as a non French speaker I’ve relied on various translations into English) states to “add spices”. Other interpretations call for ginger and cumin. Black calls for dry mustard. Which, I mean it does work. It’s a perfectly good, tasty recipe. I just don’t believe it’s what the original recipe intended.