Sunday, July 8, 2018

Table Manners and Food History

Remember the nursery rhyme about “four and twenty black birds” flying out of a pie? That recipe “To Make Pies That the Birds May Be Alive in Them and Flie Out When It Is Cut Up" exists. It was translated into English from an Italian man named Epulario who wrote a cookbook in 1598. The pie, whose bottom part is edible, is baked with a cavity large enough to put “as many small live birds as the empty coffin will hold.” 

Of Culinary Classics and Manners for Them

The history of the culinary arts is a fascinating one. It is curious to read not only the recipes and ingredients, but the table manners and lifestyles of our forebearers. In writing about the culinary and household intrigues of the British royal family, my taste for other histories of food, diet and recipes was sharpened. “The Delectable Past,” by Esther B. Aresty, is a unique history of cuisine. Written by a collector of rare and antique cookbooks, Mrs. Aresty translates recipes from ancient Rome, to the Renaissance and Elizabethan periods to early American cooking into modern recipes that we can make in our own kitchens. 


She shares recipes written in crude early English with its irregular spelling and quaint words. One medieval recipe for “King Richard's Salat” goes like this: “Take parsel, sawge, garlec, chibollas (small onions) onyons, leeks, borage, myntes, fenel and ton tressis (cress), rew (rue), rosemarye, purslayre (purslain). Lave, and waishe hem clene; pike hem, pluk hem small with thyn hande and myng hem wel with rawe oile. Lay one vynegar and salt, and serve it forth.” 

The recipes from this 1390 royal cookbook titled “The Forme of Cury” are written in the blunt language of medieval England and sometimes sound as violent as the events that were transpiring there,” writes Mrs Aresty. These following descriptions are for the making of hash: “Take hares and hew them into gobbets . . Take conies (rabbits) and smite them to pieces; seeth them in grease. Take chickens and ram them together, serve them broken.” Can you imagine being in a restaurant in that time?: “Hey, Harry, gimme a rammed, broken chicken heavy on the grease!” Apparently, the reason most foods were minced or hashed was because there were no such thing as forks. Most foods were eaten with spoons and were heavily spiced and often combined with an almond paste used like a cream sauce! 

Mrs. Aresty, who seems to be a culinary historian, gives in original manuscript form, a recipe “that started its career in medieval days and made its way down through the centuries.” Here it is in original form: “Take creme of cowe mylke (or) almandes. Do thereto ayren (eggs), with sugar, safron and salt. Medle it ifere (mix it together). Do it in a coffyn of two ynche depe; bake it wel and serve it forth.” In a more updated version this creamy tart that sounds like a forerunner of cheesecake or custard pie.

A couple of hundred years later, when printing had been invented, cookbooks (written by men, then) were also put to press. Fortunately for us, those prizes also give us ground to believe our fantasy and literature. Remember the nursery rhyme about “four and twenty black birds” flying out of a pie? That recipe “To Make Pies That the Birds May Be Alive in Them and Flie Out When It Is Cut Up" exists. It was translated into English from an Italian man named Epulario who wrote a cookbook in 1598. The pie, whose bottom part is edible, is baked with a cavity large enough to put “as many small live birds as the empty coffin will hold.” 

Another Italian, Bartolomeo Scappi, wrote one of the most important of the Renaissance cookbooks, according to Mrs. Aresty. This 1570 “Cooking Secrets of Pope Pius V” gave a recipe for a doughnut-type cookie, which was boiled first, then baked Mrs Aresty adapts the recipe so it is a rather buttery cookie that is baked only.  – The Desert Sun News, 1981

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