Cooking & Dining in Medieval England – Peter Brears
Ah Brears. Brears, Brears, Brears. This is my all time favourite cooking book. While it helps that the time period I re-enact is 14th Century English and this book is bang on for what I do, it is also a fantastic resource.
While I recommend Pleyn Delight to beginning cooks and those who just want recipes, Cooking and Dining is the one I recommend to anyone wanting a bit more depth and knowledge to their medieval cooking. Brears goes through all aspects of cooking and dining, describing in detail the places where cooking and dining happened and separating out by categories of food. The Dairy, the brewhouse, the bakehouse, the pastry, the kitchen etc. Brears goes through each one detailing finds and written sources to bring the areas to life.
Although it has recipes, it is not a recipe book. Brears does not provide the original transcript of the recipe before his redaction but does have a comprehensive bibliography. (Which is an excellent place to find the primary sources) and the recipes make up only a small fraction of this book. First and foremost it is one of the most knowledgable books about all aspects of cooking and dining and is a good information source to anyone wanting to take their medieval cooking to the next level.
[tabs] [tab title=”Publishers Description”] This new work by Peter Brears, perhaps Britain’s foremost expert on the historical kitchen, looks at these important elements of cooking and dining. A series of chapters looks at the cooking departments in large households: the counting house, dairy, brewhouse, pastry, boiling house and kitchen. These are illustrated by architectural perspectives of surviving examples in castles and manor houses throughout the land. There are chapters dealing with the various sorts of kitchen equipment: fires, fuel, pots and pans. Sections are then devoted to recipes and types of food cooked. The recipes are those which have been used and tested by Peter Brears in hundreds of demonstrations to the public and cooking for museum displays. Finally there are chapters on the service of dinner and the rituals that grew up around these. Here, Peter Brears has drawn a strip cartoon of the serving of a great feast (the washing of hands, the delivery of napery, the tasting for poison, etc.) which will be of permanent utility to historical re-enactors who wish to get their details right. [/tabs]
Treasures of the Black Death is a collection from two hoards found at Colmar and Erfurt. What makes it unique is that they are hoards buried by Jews fleeing persecution during the Black Death (coins in the finds have dated it to 1349). Many of the surviving pieces of jewellery are religious in nature and this collection shows some of the surviving secular pieces of the time. It also has photos of Jewish jewellery, such as the Jewish wedding ring used as the cover photo.
The test?is a bit dry for my taste in places – there?s a lot of text on the history of the Black Death, on the history of the artifacts found, and on scientific analysis on the metal make up of the pieces. I’m mostly interested in jewellery books for the prettiness, but if the analysis of the metal used and detailed descriptions of how the finds were likely made . But it also has some beautiful photos of the artifacts and some very detailed descriptions which is good for anyone interested in 14th jewellery and silver work.
[tabs] [tab title=”Publisher’s Blurb”] In the middle of the 14th century, Europe was devastated by an appalling epidemic which killed a third of its population. Accused of having spread the disease, Jewish communities faced terrible persecutions, which often led them to bury their most valuable goods. Two of these hoards, discovered at Colmar in 1863 and at Erfurt in 1998, are discussed and illustrated here. Comprising a great variety of jewelry, gold- and silversmiths’ work, and coins, these two hoards constitute an exceptional source for the study of secular metalwork in the 13th and 14th centuries, very few examples of which have otherwise come down to us. They provide precious evidence of the economic activities and daily life of the medieval Jewish communities, but also of their precarious position within Christian Europe. In Erfurt over 1,000 people were killed, the entire Jewish population. Some of the objects, because of their very personal character, are deeply poignant. [/tab] [/tabs]
[dropcap style=”no-background”] T [/dropcap]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 M?nagier 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.