a medieval feast Table manners, exotic spices and the odd porpoise: Medieval cooking has a lot to answer for... EMMA BIGG
A self-taught molecular gastronomist, Heston Blumenthal has brought us x-rated vibrating jelly: changing our perception of food by recreating feasts from throughout history. In his latest restaurant venture, Dinner in London’s Knightsbridge, he encourages us to look back rather than forward to our very British culinary heritage. A throwback to the past, the menu is impressive, featuring dishes such as cod in cider and meat-fruit (no, we’re not too sure about that one either) from as early as the 16th Century in dramatic surroundings that mirror ancient banquet halls. It seems that we have to look back to move forward… While Dinner’s menu is similar to a culinary history book, to explore the unique origins of British cookery as we know it today, we have to look right back to the late 14th Century and the reign of King Richard II. During his reign from 1377 to 1399, the master-chefs of Richard II were responsible for the creation of Britain’s first instructive cookery book and the foundation modern food. The Forme of Cury, written in Middle English, is a vellum manuscript and an impressive six metres long.
A single feast in 1383 is recorded as costing £67,000
Like recipes by today’s greatest chefs, The Forme of Cury does not give timing or quantities, which stems from the belief that true culinary masters have an inbuilt knowledge and sense for such trivial things. To document almost 200 recipes is quite a feat, particularly in a kitchen of up to 300 staff. Celebrity chef and half of cookery partnership Two Fat Ladies, Clarissa Dickson Wright has said of the manuscript, “I imagine they penned recipes throughout the year as the Forme of Cury reads like an almanac of seasonal food.” While it contains traditionally obscure medieval dishes containing ingredients such as porpoise, herons and whales, closer inspection shows just how much influence 14th Century cooking and The Forme of Cury have had on modern tastes today. Two favourites that have particular parallels to the modern diet are Tostee and Blank Mang. Tostee or ‘toastie’ as we know it, is toasted bread in a spicey honey and wine sauce, and Blank Mang was a sweet dish which would eventually evolve into the blancmange we eat today. It is clear from these recipes that terminology used in the kitchen has not changed in the hundreds of years since The Forme of Cury was produced. It was not just the manuscript that had a huge influence on our relationship with food in the 21st Century. The Court of King Richard II was different to all other Royal Courts in British history. Known as ‘The Dandy King’, Richard did not share the bloodthirsty penchant for war his predecessors had shown; he could be considered, in contrast, the first culturally civilised monarch. An ostentatious dresser, he was the first to introduce the handkerchief to Britain, insisted on washing at least once a week and was a stickler for manners. He also gave us cutlery, which is rather useful if you think about it…
Medieval chefs worked around the clock in intense heat, often with little clothing on... The original naked chefs