Medieval Recipes

Newly-discovered 12th century recipes to be recreated at Durham University event.   

Newly-discovered food recipes from a 12th century Durham Priory manuscript are to be recreated at a Durham University event later in the month. The manuscript in question, MS51, was completed in Latin in the late 12th century, as dated by the palaeographer, Dr Greti Dinkova-Bruun. Professor Faith Wallis who have studied the manuscript tells that “it was owned by Durham Cathedral Priory, but whether it was written there is uncertain. It may well have been a gift to the Priory (my personal view is that this was the more likely scenario), like the medical books donated in the latter part of the 12th century by two doctors, Herebertus and Gervase. The manuscript is a composite volume of four booklets, assembled in the Middle Ages. The recipes are in booklet 3. Who bound the recipes together with two expositions of the Mass and a gloss on the Psalter has not yet been established. Lots of research still to do!” It consists of 102 leaves plus 5 blank leaves. It came to Sidney Sussex’s archive collection through Samuel Ward, who was himself born in County Durham.  Ward became a Fellow of Sidney Sussex in 1599 and Master of the College in 1610. The manuscript is now held at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge University.

The manuscript contains medieval recipes for medical ointments and cures and was compiled and written at Durham Cathedral’s priory around 1140. The work was recently re-examined and found to contain some food recipes, which experts claim to be amongst the oldest in the western medieval culinary tradition, preceding the previously known examples from circa 1290. However, such recipes may also be found in the oeuvre of Hildegard of Bingen (1098 –1179). Whether the recipes in the Durham collection are echoed in those of Hildegard of Bingen remains to be seen.

Dr Giles Gasper from Durham University’s Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (IMEMS), says in a press-release: “Some of the medical potions in this book seem to have stood the test of time, some emphatically haven’t! But we’re looking forward to finding out whether these newly-discovered recipes have done so. The recipes were noticed recently by Professor Faith Wallis, an expert in medical history and science and an international member of IMEMS. She immediately realised the significance of these recipes, since they so markedly predated the previously earliest-known ones by a century and a half. I encouraged her to translate them and send them to our colleague, food historian Caroline Yeldham who could best work out how to interpret the instructions with a view to recreating them. The recipes are for sauces to accompany mutton, chicken, duck, pork and beef. There’s even a seasonal version of the chicken recipe, charmingly called “hen in winter”. We believe this recipe is simply a seasonal variation, using ingredients available in the colder months and specifying “hen” rather than “chicken”, meaning it was an older bird as it would be by that time of year. The sauces typically feature parsley, sage, pepper, garlic, mustard and coriander, which I suspect may give them a Middle Eastern, Lebanese, feel when we recreate them. According to the text, one of the recipes comes from the Poitou region of what is now modern Central Western France. This proves international travellers from and to Durham brought recipes with them.”

The recipes are to be used as part of a cookery workshop for English and archaeology Master of Arts (MA) students from Durham. They will be attempting to recreate the sauces and dishes for the first time in hundreds of years. This workshop will take place on April 25th at Blackfriars Restaurant in Newcastle, led by Caroline Yeldham and Andy Hook, Blackfriars’ owner.

The same recipes will then be recreated for lunch the following Saturday, April 27th, to accompany a lunchtime lecture in the banqueting hall of the restaurant by Professor Chris Woolgar entitled “Food In Medieval England.” Prof Woolgar has been invited by IMEMS to speak as part of an on-going series of historical lectures on food at Blackfriars.

Andy Hook from Blackfriars said: “We’re delighted to be continuing our relationship with Durham University and IMEMS with this latest lecture. It’s an intriguing thought that we’ll be tasting food that hasn’t been experienced for hundreds of years and predate so markedly the earlier recipes we knew about.”

Medieval Cooking – 25.04. 2013



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