Category Archives: 14th Century

DO drink the Water: Water Consumption in Medieval Europe

Food Fallacies: Medieval people drinking Ale or Wine only because the water available was not safe.

When dealing with Medieval food and food history, there are numerous fallacies out there on a variety of topics. One of the more annoying ones is the quality of safe water that was available to drink in Medieval times. I believe this idea, the thought that all water was terrible to consume, goes back further that just Medieval Europe, but this is something I am not sure about. But what is a fact is that while, I’m sure there were unsafe and stagnant waters within pre-17th century culture, that not “ALL” water was poisonous, and as such, people did, in fact, drink out of fresh streams, fresh water rivers and natural springs.

There are a number of online sources for this myth buster, but the best one I found was this link which is a book search result from Water: A Spiritual History by Ian Bradley. While the chapter mostly discusses holy wells, several pieces of his commentary go over the consumption of water in medieval times. Page 73 states: “In fact, the majority of water sources were probably seen in purely utilitarian terms, as providers of water for drinking and washing and not regarded as especially sacred.”

There are earlier examples of water being drunk as well. This goes to an article about Greek and Roman ideas about water.

There are some very good blog posts from Beer brewers and other food historians on the subject of water purity and the Ale and Wine myth. This one from Jim Chevallier has a lot of great examples of drink water references.

Myth spreading is bad. Don’t be part of the water myth! Drink up!

Simple Cheese in Period

Cheese is an ancient food (from the dairy family) that predates recorded history. There is no conclusive evidence indicating where cheesemaking originated, either in Europe, Central Asia or the Middle East, but convincing evidence of dairying in Egypt and Sumer, ca. 3100 BCE, is preceded by fourth-millennium evidence for the Saharan grasslands. Proposed dates for the origin of cheese follow at some distance the earliest domestication of sheep and goats around 8000 BCE. Around 3000 BCE dairying is first documented in Egypt and Sumer; dairying seems to have begun earlier in the grasslands of the Sahara. Cheese-making had spread within Europe at the earliest level of Hellenic myth and, according to Pliny the Elder, had become a sophisticated enterprise by the time the Roman Empire came into being, when valued cheeses were exported long distances to satisfy elite Roman tastes.

The idea of how the original cheese was made came from a story of traders storing milk form their journeys into an animal bladders for storage. As they traveled, the heat from the sun activated the enzyme, rennet, found in the stomach lining (usually the bladders/sacks were made of sheep or goat stomach’s). The motion helped stir the contents. This made the milk turn into its liquid whey and solid curd and cheese components. Thus cheese was discovered.

Here are some of the bullet points of history that could have lead to pressed cheesemaking as we know it:

• Sherds of pottery pierced with holes found in pile-dwellings of the Urnfield culture on Lake Neuchatel are interpreted as cheese-strainers
• Secure evidence for cheese (GA.UAR) is in Sumerian cuneiform texts of the early second millennium BCE Third Dynasty of Ur.
• Visual evidence of cheesemaking has been found in Egyptian tomb murals, dating to about 2000 BCE.
• In Late Bronze Age Minoan-Mycenaean Crete, Linear B tablets record the inventorying of cheese (tu-ro), as well as flocks and shepherds.
The flavor of early cheese were likely sour and salty, similar to cottage cheese or feta.


Original recipe from Platina:
De Recocta. We heat the whey which was left from the cheese in a cauldron over a slow fire until all the fat rises to the top; this is what the country-folk call recocta, because it is made from leftover milk which is heated up. It is very white and mild. It is less healthful than new or medium-aged cheese, but it is considered better than that which is aged or too salty. Whether one is pleased to call it cocta or recocta, cooks use it in many pottages, especially in those made of herbs.
– Andrews, E. B. trans. Platina. De Honesta Voluptatae. L. de Aguila. Venice, 1475. St. Louis: Mallinckrodt, 1967.

What I did:

I played with a cheese recipe that I found in one of my cheese books. In my cheese research, I noticed that some recipes for Ricotta called for vinegar and others asked for citric acid. I’ve also seen natural ricottas that used lemon for the acid. So I decided to experiment a bit as I wanted a creamy texture as I needed to add many herbs for this cheese I wanted to make.
1 ½ citric acid powder (dissolve in Luke warm ¼ water)
1 gallon whole milk
¼ calcium chloride (dissolve in cool ¼ water)
¼ liquid rennet (dissolve in cool ¼ water)

1 tsp kosher salt
½ tsp fresh Parsley
½ tsp fresh Sage, chopped fine
½ tsp fresh Rosemary, chopped fine
½ tsp fresh Thyme, chopped fine

1. Sterlize equipment before using and take large double boiler, and combine milk and dissolved citric acid powder. Stir in an up and down motion making sure the combination mixes up thoroughly.
2. Heat milk slowly to 88 degrees over medium heat. Stir gently to avoid scorching.
3. Add rennet and calcium chloride into the water using an up and down motion in order to make sure the entire milk gets totally combined with the new indredients.
4. Remove from heat in order to keep at the same temperature at this point. Cover and let set for 30 minutes. Check for clean break. If its too fragile, leave for another 15 minutes or until the break is achieved.
5. Cut into 1” cubes with a long blade knife. Let stand for about five minutes to firm up.
6. Place pot back over the double boiler and slowly bring up to 106 degrees slowly (twenty minutes if possible). Once you hit temperature, turn off heat and stir.
7. Drain off the majority of the whey (I held back about 1/3rd or it) draining the cheese through a cheese cloth.
8. Take the cheese and add back the reserved whey, herbs and salt. Mix and put in the fridge to settle and combine flavors for several hours. Serve.

200 Easy Homemade Cheese Recipes, Amrein-Boyes, Canada, Robert Rose Inc, 2009.
History of Cheese website:
Period Illumination: Cheese-making, [Tacuinum sanitatis Casanatensis (14th century)

Some cheese research in period…

From Ein Buch von guter Spice is the earliest known German language cookbook. It is dated from between 1345 to 1354. My translations were taken from this website over here.

q Ein gut fülle (A good filling)
Nim mandel kern. mache in schoene in siedem wazzer. und wirf sie kalt wazzer. loese die garsten und stoz die besten in einem mörser. Alse sie veiste beginnen. so sprenge dor uf ein kalt wazzer. und stoz sie vaste und menge sie mit kaldem wazzere eben dicke. und rink sie durch ein schoen tuch. und tu die kafen wider in den mörser. stoz sie und rink sie uz. schütez allez in ein phannen. und halt sie über daz fiur. und tu darzu ein eyer schaln vol wines. und rüerez wol untz daz ez gesiede. nim ein schün büteltuch und lege ez uf reine stro. und giuz dor uf die milich. biz daz sie wol über sige. swaz denne uf dem tuche belibe. do von mache einen kese. wilt du butern dor uz machen. so laz ein wenic saffrans do mit erwallen. und gibz hin als butern oder kese.

Take almonds. Make them beautiful in boiling water (Blanch them). And throw them in cold water. Remove the rancid (almonds) and pound the best in a mortar. When they begin to be oily, so sprinkle thereon a cold water. And pound them strong and mix them with cold water smooth and thick. And wring it through a fine towel. And do the pods/husks in the mortar again. Pound them and wring them out. Pour all in a pan and hold it over the fire. And add thereto an egg shell full of wine, and stir it well and (so) that it is boiled. Take a good servant-cloth and lay it on clean straw. And pour thereon the milk, until it drops well over that (Probably means until the whey runs out.), (and) which then stays on the towel. Therefrom make a cheese. If you want to make butter out of it, so let a little saffron boil with it (but this needs to be done when the almond milk is made). And give it out as butter or cheese.

Ein cygern von mandel (A cheese of almonds) (This type of cheese, cygern, is made from curdled whey, rather than from curds.)
Wilt du machen ein cyger von mandeln. so nim mandelkern. und stoz die in einem mörser. und die mandelmilch erwelle und schüte sie uf ein schoen tuch. und einen shaub drunder. und laz in erküeln. und slahe in uf eine schüzzeln. und stoz dor uf mandelkern. und strauw da ruf zucker und gibz hin.

How you want to make a cheese of almonds. So take almond kernels. And pound them in a mortar. And boil the almond milk and pour it on a fine cloth. And tangled straw thereunder. And let it cool. And put it on a bowl. And pound thereon almond kernels. And strew thereon sugar and give out.

Einen kese von mandel (A cheese of almonds)
Wilt du machen aber einen kese von mandeln. so nim mandelkern und stoz die. und nim die milich und slahe eyer dor in. giuz einer guten milich dorzu. und erwelle daz abe. und schütez uf ein tuch. laz in erkalden. und lege in uf einen kesenapf. und mache in. und lege in denne uf ein teler. bestrauwe in mit eime zucker. daz heizzet ein mandelkese.

How you want to make but a cheese of almonds. So take almond kernels and pound them. And take the milk and mix eggs therein. Pour a good milk thereto. And boil it down. And pour it on a cloth. Let it cool. And lay it on a cheese bowl. And make (shape) it. And lay it then on a plate. Strew it with a sugar. That is called almond cheese.

Cooking Over a Fire

One of the classes that I was able to watch a bit of at the West Coast Culinary Symposium last weekend was Baroness Tangwystyl verch Morgant Glasvryn “Cooking over a Fire.” As a potter, I’ve been making stoneware cooking pots for over 12 years now, selling pipkins, pans and a variety of cookware over the years, but I’ve never seen anyone actually use them. I knew in theory how to use them and have had clients of mine test the pots to make sure they work, but this experience was very different for me.

Alton Brown has used Earthenware pots in a number of his episodes. The ones I’ve seen have been mostly baking, but to let my readers know that ceramics were the first “dutch oven” pretty much. Ceramics were used in ancient Rome and Greece, as well as in other ancient cultures around the world. They were used for the usual things one would cook in a stainless steel pot (i.e. stews, soups, sauces, vegetables, meats, rice, etc). You can even bake bread in clay (there is a roman/greek clay cloche I found the documentation for), serve wine, prepare your items (mortars and kitchen items)… well, I think you get the picture. The thing with Alton was he usually uses flower pots to cook in. It’s nice to see the pots I’ve made being used for what I intended them for, and them being enjoyed.

Anywho, the way to use clay cookware is actually fairly simple. To avoid thermal shock, you need to make sure you evenly warm the clay vessel and slowly heat them. No open flames at all.

Usually they start with coals. If a pot doesn’t have feet (it’s a sauce pan instead of a pipkin…) then a trivet is put down on a sturdy fire proof area. Someplace dry and away from a lot of wind is an ideal spot. If your pot as feet, don’t worry about the trivet.

This woman is heating up the coals and trying to get some air into them. Bellows would be fairly helpful at this point, but not needed when skirts and lungs are had. Just be careful not to set yourself on fire.

I’ve always told to slowly warm the pots by keeping the pot next to the coals as you are building the fire (a few feet) and as the coals settle into gray, hot useable goals, slowly move the pot closer and closer to the pile. Even heat to the pot. You don’t want to drop a cold pot into a hot fire because the pot may crack due to thermal shock (think of a glass of ice and pouring boiling water into it and the usual ramifications of that).

Pans of french toast added. Cooking commences. More coals are added as cooking is done.

Here are more examples of pots and cooking with fire.

Differences in handles… the hallow handles you would use a long stick in order to help pull it out of the fire. Some of the ladies would also use a mitt in order to help steady the pot and the stick to remove the cookware from the coals.

Items that were being cooked: french toast, custard, apple fritters and a game hen of some sort in wine sauce. There were also pancakes/prizelles I believe being made. From what I ate, it was all very yummy.

Heston’s Christmas Feasts

Heston Blumenthal is a chef in the UK and owner of a the Michelin-starred restaurant called The Fat Duck in Bray, Berkshire. He did a number of TV shows, showing how inspired he is by history and how he has created menus and “feasts” based on tastes of the past.

With Christmas only days away, I thought I would post his Christmas Feast show for those of you to enjoy. You can see how he takes from the past and gives it his own twist.

Heston's Christmas Feast part 1

Heston's Christmas Feast part 2

Heston's Christmas Feast part 3

Heston's Christmas Feast part 4

History of Britain as seen by Samuel Pegge

Some interesting points, made as far as I can tell about History, by Samuel Pegge in the 18th Century (which was published in the forward of “The Forme of Cury” cookbook):

The Aborigines of Britain, to come nearer home, could have no great expertness in Cookery, as they had no oil, and we hear nothing of their butter, they used only sheep and oxen, eating neither hares, though so greatly esteemed at Rome, nor hens, nor geese, from a notion of superstition. Nor did they eat fish. There was little corn in the interior part of the island, but they lived on milk and flesh; though it is expressly asserted by Strabo that they had no cheese. The later Britons, however, well knew how to make the best use of the cow, since, as appears from the laws of Hoel Dda, A.D. 943, this animal was a creature so essential, so common and useful in Wales, as to be the standard in rating fines.

Hengist, leader of the Saxons, made grand entertainments for king
Vortigern, but no particulars have come down to us; and
certainly little exquisite can be expected from a people then so
extremely barbarous as not to be able either to read or write.
‘Barbari homines a septentrione, (they are the words of Dr. Lister)
caseo et ferina subcruda victitantes, omnia condimenta adjectiva

Some have fancied, that as the Danes imported the custom of hard and deep drinking, so they likewise introduced the practice of
gormandizing, and that this word itself is derived from Gormund,
the name of that Danish king whom Ãlfred the Great persuaded to be christened, and called Ãthelstane, Now ’tis certain that
Hardicnut stands on record as an egregious glutton, but he is
not particularly famous for being a curious Viander; ’tis true
again, that the Danes in general indulged excessively in feasts and
entertainments, but we have no reason to imagine any elegance
of Cookery to have flourished amongst them. And though Guthrum, the Danish prince, is in some authors named Gormundus; yet this is not the right etymology of our English word Gormandize, since it is rather the French Gourmand, or the British Gormod.

So that we have little to say as to the Danes.

I shall take the later English and the Normans together, on account of the intermixture of the two nations after the Conquest, since, as lord Lyttelton observes, the English accommodated them elves to the Norman manners, except in point of temperance in eating and drinking, and communicated to them their own habits of drunkenness and immoderate feasting. Erasmus also remarks, that the English in his time were attached to plentiful and splendid tables; and the same is observed by Harrison. As to the Normans, both William I and Rufus made grand entertainments; the former was remarkable for an immense paunch, and withal was so exact, so nice and curious
in his repasts, that when his prime favourite William Fitz-
Osberne, who as steward of the household had the charge of the Cury, served him with the flesh of a crane scarcely half-roasted, he was so highly exasperated, that he lifted up his fist, and would have strucken him, had not Eudo, appointed Dapiser immediately after, warded off the blow.

For more of Samuel Pegge’s opinion/history and all the references that I edited out (as well as the recipes), download a Form of Cury here for free.

Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice

Edited text (by me) from “Forme of Cury” discussing Sugar and Spice used during their period and previously. Some interesting points, made as far as I can tell, by Samuel Pegge in the 18th Century (which was published in the forward of the cookbook):

“Honey was the great and universal sweetner in remote antiquity, and particularly in this island, where it was the chief constituent of
mead and metheglin. It is said, that at this day in Palestine
they use honey in the greatest part of their ragouts. Our cooks had a method of clarifying it, which was done by putting it in a pot with whites of eggs and water, beating them well together; then setting it over the fire, and boiling it; and when it was ready
to boil over to take it and cool it. This I presume is called clere honey. And, when honey was so much in use, it appears from Barnes that refining it was a trade of itself.

Sugar, or Sugur, was now beginning here to take place of honey;
however, they are used together. Sugar came from the Indies,
by way of Damascus and Aleppo, to Venice, Genoa, and Pisa, and from these last places to us. It is here not only frequently used,
but was of various sorts, as cypre named probably
from the isle of Cyprus, whence it might either come directly to us,
or where it had received some improvement by way of refining. There is mention of blanch-powder or white sugar. They, however,
were not the same. Sugar was clarified sometimes with wine.

Spices. Species. They are mentioned in general, and whole
spices, but they are more commonly specified, and are
indeed greatly used, though being imported from abroad, and from so far as Italy or the Levant (and even there must be dear), some may wonder at this: but it should be considered, that our Roll was
chiefly compiled for the use of noble and princely tables; and the
same may be said of the Editor’s MS. The spices came from the same part of the world, and by the same route, as sugar did. The spicery was an ancient department at court, and had its proper officers.

As to the particular sorts, these are,

Cinamon. Canell. Canel, Editor’s MS. Kanell, ibid. is the Italian Canella. See Chaucer. We have the flour or powder, See Wiclif. It is not once mentioned in Apicius.

Macys, Editor’s MS. 10. Maces, 134. Editor’s MS. 27. They
are used whole and are always expressed plurally, though we
now use the singular, mace. See Junii Etym.

Cloves. Dishes are flourished with them, Editor’s MS.
10. where we have clowys gylofres, as in our Roll. Powdour gylofre occurs. Chaucer has clowe in the singular, and see him v. Clove-gelofer.

Galyngal, and elsewhere. Galangal, the long rooted cyperus,
is a warm cardiac and cephalic. It is used in powder and was
the chief ingredient in galentine, which, I think, took its name
from it.

Pepper. It appears from Pliny that this pungent, warm seasoning, so much in esteem at Rome, came from the East Indies, and,
as we may suppose, by way of Alexandria. We obtained it no doubt, in the 14th century, from the same quarter, though not exactly by the same route, but by Venice or Genoa. It is used both whole, and in powder. And long-pepper occurs, if we read the place rightly.

Ginger, gyngyn. 64. 136. alibi. Powder is used, 17. 20. alibi. and
Rabelais IV. c. 59. the white powder, 131. and it is the name of a
mess, 139. quÃlre whether gyngyn is not misread for gyngyr, for see Junii Etym. The Romans had their ginger from Troglodytica [109].

Cubebs, 64. 121. are a warm spicy grain from the east.

Grains of Paradice, or de parys are the greater cardamoms.

Noix muscadez. nutmegs.

The caraway is once mentioned and was an exotic from Caria,
whence, according to Mr. Lye, it took its name: ‘sunt semina, inquit, carri vel carrei, sic dicti a Caria, ubi copiosissimè nascitur.’

Powder-douce, which occurs so often, has been thought by some, who have just peeped into our Roll, to be the same as sugar, and only a different name for it; but they are plainly mistaken, as is evident from where they are mentioned together as different things. In short, I take powder-douce to be either powder of galyngal, for see Editor’s MS II. 20. 24, or a compound made of sundry aromatic spices ground or beaten small, and kept always ready at hand in some proper receptacle. It is otherwise termed good powders or powder simply. White powder-douce occurs, which seems to be the same as blanch-powder, called blaynshe powder, and bought ready prepared, in Northumb. Book. It is sometimes used with powder-fort for which see the next and last article.

Powder-fort, 10. 11. seems to be a mixture likewise of the warmer
spices, pepper, ginger, &c. pulverized: hence we have powder-fort of gynger, other of canel. It is called strong powder, and perhaps may sometimes be intended by good powders. If you will suppose it to be kept ready prepared by the vender, it may be the powder-marchant found joined in two places with powder-
douce. This Speght says is what gingerbread is made of; but Skinner disapproves this explanation, yet, says Mr. Urry, gives none of his own.

Name of the Cook

How did cooks socially rank in the 14th century England? How about in BC Rome? “The Forme of Cury” (from 1390) has some ideas for you to chew on. Some interesting points, made as far as I can tell, by Samuel Pegge in the 18th Century (which was published in the forward of the cookbook):

Though the cooks at Rome, as has been already noted, were amongst the lowest slaves, yet it was not so more anciently; Sarah and Rebecca cook, and so do Patroclus and Automedon in the “Ninth Iliad.”

It were to be wished indeed, that the Reader could be made acquainted with the names of our “master-cooks,” but it is not in the power of the Editor to gratify him in that; this, however, he may be assured of, that as the Art was of consequence in the reign of Richard, a prince renowned and celebrated in the Roll, for the splendor and elegance of his table, they must have been persons of no inconsiderable rank: the king’s first and second cooks are now esquires by their office, and there is all the reason in the world to believe they were of equal dignity heretofore. To say a word of king Richard: he is said in the proeme to have been ‘acounted the best and ryallest vyaund [curioso in eating] of all esten kynges.’ This, however, must rest upon the testimony of our cooks, since it does not appear otherwise by the suffrage of history, that he was particularly remarkable for his niceness and delicacy in eating, like Heliogabalus, whose favourite dishes are said to have been the tongues of peacocks and nightingales, and the brains of parrots and pheasants; or like Sept. Geta, who, according to Jul. Capitolinus, was so curious, so whimsical, as to order the dishes at his dinners to consist of things which all began with the same letters.

Sardanapalus again as we have it in Athenæus, gave
a præmium to any one that invented and served him with some novel cate; and Sergius Orata built a house at the entrance of the Lucrine lake, purposely for the pleasure and convenience of eating the oysters perfectly fresh. Richard II is certainly not represented in story as resembling any such epicures, or capriccioso’s, as these. It may, however, be fairly presumed, that good living was not wanting among the luxuries of that effeminate and dissipated reign.

[Addenda: after “Ninth Iliad,” add, ‘And Dr. Shaw writes, p. 301,
that even now in the East, the greatest prince is not ashamed to
fetch a lamb from his herd and kill it, whilst the princess is
impatient till she hath prepared her fire and her kettle to dress

[Addenda: after heretofore add, ‘we have some good families in
England of the name of Cook or Coke. I know not what they may think; but we may depend upon it, they all originally sprang from real and professional cooks; and they need not be ashamed of their extraction, any more than the Butlers, Parkers, Spencers, etc.]

Handwashing, Serving and Gifting in 14th Century

In about 1390, The Forme of Cury was compiled by Samuel Pegge (18th Century Vicar and Antiquarian). The actual book was written by the Master-Cooks of King RICHARD II, then much later, presented to Queen Elizabeth. Elizabeth, queen of king Henry VII. was crowned A. 1487.

As with many historic cookbooks, the forward has a great amount of historic data about their current life (what they ate), social commentary, as well as some ideas as what happened before them. I will be posting some of the more interesting comments they make over the next few months in the blog.

Here is something about meat, how it is usually served, and why handwashing is done. There is also some other interesting points, however made by as far as I can tell, Samuel Pegge in the 18th Century:

“My next observation is, that the messes both in the roll and the
Editor’s MS, are chiefly soups, potages, ragouts, hashes, and the
like hotche-potches; entire joints of meat being never served, and animals, whether fish or fowl, seldom brought to table whole, but hacked and hewed, and cut in pieces or gobbets [77]; the mortar also was in great request, some messes being actually denominated from it, as mortrews, or morterelys as in the Editor’s MS. Now in this state of things, the general mode of eating must either have been with the spoon or the fingers; and this perhaps may have been the reason that spoons became an usual present from gossips to their god-children at christenings [78]; and that the bason and ewer, for washing before and after dinner, was introduced, whence the ewerer was a great officer [79], and the ewery is retained at Court to this day [80]; we meet with damaske water after dinner [81], I presume, perfumed; and the words ewer plainly come from the Saxon or French eau water.

Daz buoch von guoter spise

For the person that wants to cook historically, it’s certainly a real challenge.  There are a number of types of enthusiasts out there with varying levels of involvement, i.e. “how much time and money do I want to put into cooking historically?”  Some people love going to the library (yes, Virginia, those things are still around) and research old texts, while others would prefer finding recipes online.

With the internet, there has been a great insurgence of information, which is both good and bad.  Sometimes you have to wade through the bad stuff to get to the good.  Things that you would think would be online, just aren’t on, and well… I think most people that have been online for research, get this.

Daz buoch von guoter spise, is a German manuscript dated between 1345 and 1354, which the original being in the university library at Munich.  The translation is over here if you are looking for some Historical German recipes to have some fun with.  These aren’t redacted, but at least they give you some ideas of what to use.