Category Archives: Premodern

Henri’s kitchen: 4. Boeuf Bourguignon

Harry Hayfield, a resident of Ceredigion in Wales, has long had an interest in the stories of the Musketeers which are set in early 17th century France, this led in turn to an interest in the Stuart period of history and joining a living history group. However, as a registered carer for his grandparents, he is unable to get to many of the events and yet wanted to do something to help. One day he was watching “The Little Paris Kitchen” broadcast on the BBC and thought “These are recipes designed by the French, therefore could they be converted in the 17th century versions of themselves?”. Doing some research he found that they could. Harry will therefore contribute four of the recipes as shown in the programme as if cooked by Henri de Ceredigion (Harry’s Stuart persona) a cadet member of the Musketeers, with able assistance from Planchet, his manservant cum stable lad.

Picture the scene for a moment, you open the door to your house and find a person who blows a bugle in your face. Once you have finished twiddling with your eyes he declares “Henri de Ceredigion, Musketeer Cadet, you are hereby summoned to attend His Majesty at once. God Save the King!” That is precisely what happened to me a week before my first Christmas in Paris, and let me tell you, it was not an invitation you could ignore. So what had I done to warrant such a meeting? I had been challenged by no less a personage than the King himself to, as he put it himself, “on the day of the celebration of the birth of our Lord, the King commands that you give your Captain, Musketeers Porthos, Athos, Aramis and your manservant a present to be given at the end of a meal for those aforementioned!”. After bowing so meekly I wondered if I would ever get back up again, I reversed out of the throne room, leant against a wall and just gasped with disbelief. I had to make a full-blown meal for six people, including someone with the most voracious appetite possible, in just a week! Needless to say when Planchet got back from his trip to the market he found me absolutely in a state of panic. Thankfully he managed to calm me down a bit and set a plan in action. It would be a combination of all the things I had cooked up to that moment in time, which I have told you about, plus something from the Planchet school of cookery, Boeuf Bourguignon with Baguette Dumplings. 

Needless to say, the following day I was rushing around the market like a man about to face execution, so the fact that just as was about to return home Jussac, the captain of the Cardinal’s guards, decided to interfere was not welcome. He and I have a bit of a history, that I shall not go into, and fearing the worst I was about to draw my sword when he thrust a small envelope into my face. I cautiously opened it and found a card with the message: “This month is a month of peace to all men, be they living in the moors or the fen, and so I wish to say to you, Joyeux Noel and god speed too.” This took me a little by surprise, but as he explained being employed by a Cardinal of Rome, Christmas is the one time when normality reigns. Thus with the ingredients bought, it was time to make everything. The ingredients were: beef shin cut into six large chunks, some flour, oil, a small collection of lardons, peeled onions, a bay leaf, some parsley, thyme and rosemary, peppercorns, red wine, a small amount of sugar and salt and some mushrooms and then we got to work with Planchet doing the rest of the meal and me tackling this monster of a dish.

You will need a good wine for this dish! Credit: Agne27, Wikipedia

First, I dusted the beef with flour, and then placed them into a hot pan until they browned, and when they had done I added the lardons, onions, one of cloves of garlic, and some of the peppercorns. Now, whilst I was doing all this, there was a knock at the door. My Englishness came to the fore and I answered it. It was the butcher’s son from down the lane asking for something for the family for Christmas but as I found him a coin I smelt something burning and rushed back to find the bottom of the pan burnt. I was devastated, the meal ruined before it had begun, but Planchet placed a friendly hand on my shoulder and reassured me that it was a good thing. I knew he would never tell me a lie so I carried on by adding the meat back to the pan. Next I went to add the red wine, the usual bottle that I serve for Athos, but as I went to pour it in, Planchet grasped my hand firmly and said “Use a wine that you can drink” and with that handed me a bottle of wine I was going to give to Aramis for Christmas. Again, I knew he was in the right and so added the wine, followed by the same amount of water (rainwater, before you raise any eyebrows) and with that put the lid on and placed it in the oven, where it stayed for three hours. As I said, this was a mammoth task, and so during that time we made up all the things that I have mentioned earlier, the cheese and potato nests, the croque madames and the chouquettes and just in time too, because an hour before the meal was due to start in walked Athos, and demanded feeding. Thankfully, Aramis arrived a short while later and put a stop to his devouring, followed by Porthos and then the Captain, during which time I had to act like a host.

About fifteen minutes before the meal was due to be served, Planchet asked me to attend him in the kitchen and gave me some very bad news. We had forgotten to make the dumplings that go with the dish, mainly due to having so much to do anyway. I immediately panicked and when I do I sometimes have flashes of inspiration. And that’s what happened here. I grabbed a very old baguette and sliced it into large cubes, placed it in a bowl with some herbs, poured over some milk, added an egg and gave the whole thing a good mash together, then added some flour mixed it all up, grabbed a large handful, squeezed in my hand and said to Planchet, “Remind you of anything?” to which he declared “Dumplings, master!”. We then quickly made up six of them, fried them in a pan with some oil and just as they cooked I heard a voice saying “Henri, time to serve!”.

Taking a deep breath I pulled the pot out of the oven, placed the dumpling replacements on top and carried it to the table declaring “Henri has completed his task!” From the looks on their faces they were very impressed indeed with the end result, so much so that, and I don’t like to sound too boastful about this, the King declared me to be “un gentilhomme” which Aramis explained was a very high title for someone like me to hold and I will admit that for the rest of that Christmas I did rather have my nose up in the air on a large number of occasions, but it was all in the name of fun.

Henri’s kitchen: 3. Croque Madame

Harry Hayfield, a resident of Ceredigion in Wales, has long had an interest in the stories of the Musketeers which are set in early 17th century France, this led in turn to an interest in the Stuart period of history and joining a living history group. However, as a registered carer for his grandparents, he is unable to get to many of the events and yet wanted to do something to help. One day he was watching “The Little Paris Kitchen” broadcast on the BBC and thought “These are recipes designed by the French, therefore could they be converted in the 17th century versions of themselves?”. Doing some research he found that they could. Harry will therefore contribute four of the recipes as shown in the programme as if cooked by Henri de Ceredigion (Harry’s Stuart persona) a cadet member of the Musketeers, with able assistance from Planchet, his manservant cum stable lad.

Whenever I invite people to have a meal with me, they are always very surprised by how little I actually have. I explain this by saying that both Planchet and myself are very careful about what we eat for two reasons. Firstly, I don’t want to be as big and rotund as Athos and secondly, I have always had a very small appetite and therefore all my meals are very small. That does not mean that they are boring, as demonstrated when Planchet introduced me to what he called Croque Monsieurs, which were absolutely delicious, but so filling I could only manage one of them. So I wondered if I could make a version just a little smaller, and that’s when I came up with the idea of Croque Madames (after all, most ladies are smaller than me) with a few English connections.

The first thing that you need is to make a sauce, which is the simplest thing in the world to do. Take a knob of butter and melt it in a pan, then take roughly the same amount of flour, give it a good mix then pour a good quarter pint (English I should point out) of milk slowly into the mixture whilst still mixing. Then, depending on your opinion on the subject, add some mustard and then start to make your croques. These are so simple even Porthos could make them (but don’t tell him that I said he was simple). First you take a loaf of bread and slice it into as many slices are you want croques, ignoring the comments from a certain manservant about how dull and uninspiring that sounds, then cut off the crusts. Then flaten them with a roll until they are as half as thick as they were to begin with and then brush them with butter on both sides. This is the get the crunch. As Planchet has often told me “Monsieur, no crunch, no croque”, and who I am to argue with him!
A nice piece of ham for my croque madame. Credit: Wellcome Images.
Place the buttered slices into a cup, adding some ham, a small egg and the sauce last of all before dusting them with a liberal amount of cheese of your own choice and brushing the exposed pieces of bread with some more butter before placing into the oven. Now, depending on how runny you like your egg, you leave them in for about fifteen minutes for a soft egg (as Planchet prefers) or twenty minutes for a set egg (as I prefer). Once you take them out of the oven, don’t worry if the edges of the bread look a little burnt as this adds to the crunch. Then simply serve and enjoy your meal as myself and Planchet will in about thirty minutes, as writing about these has made me rather peckish. Planchet, have you got any sliced bread not doing anything? I would like a Madame.


Distilling and Deflowering

A friar in an apothecary
Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

By Peter Murray Jones

Between 1416 and 1425, English friars put together a Latin medical handbook. This handbook, called the Tabula Medicine (‘Table of Medicine’), mostly consisted of remedies, arranged alphabetically by name of ailment, instead of the head to toe order of the standard medical Practica. The friars seem to have assembled the text by accumulating remedies in a sort of medieval Wikipedia. Some copies preserve the ‘open’ format by leaving room for additional remedies under each heading.[1]

Many remedies are medicinal recipes culled from books. Most often they cite the works of Avicenna, Galen and native authorities, Gilbertus Anglicus, Bernard de Gordon, John of Gaddesden, and John Arderne. But a lot of other remedies are attributed to English friars who flourished c.1370-1420.[2] The friars mentioned were identified as authorities (expressed as “per fratrem Peter Russell”, for example) for recipes of all kinds. But they had a particular fondness for distillations. Under the heading “Gutta arthetica” (Gout of the joints), we find:

King’s MS 16, fol.1. The opening of the Tabula medicine

“According to brother William Holme, for cold gout take the dregs of a pottle (two quarts) of beer; boil down a pennyweight of boar’s flesh for a day, stirring it with a ladle; and take a handful each of chamomile, pellitory, cowslip, lavender, honeysuckle, and marjoram. Cut up the cooked meat and the herbs into tiny pieces and distill together with the dregs in an alembic. The water collected in a glass can be kept and used as wanted.  Apply it warm, and it is called flesh-water.”

Holme, like Hieronymus Brunschwig, held that distillation ensured your remedy did not go off.

More ambitious distillations aimed at producing the heavenly quintessence, or at the very least aqua ardens (burning water). The friars must have had a copy of John of Rupescissa, Liber de consideratione quintae essentie to hand, for they quote from it accurately under headings for “Cor” (Heart), “Demon,” “Facies” (Face), “Frenesis” (Frenzy), “Melancholia,” “Spasmum” [Convulsion] and “Venenum” (Poison). They never identify him by name, although Rupescissa was a Franciscan friar, writing from prison in France c.1350. Under the heading “Facies”, they tell us that wild strawberries are a hundred times more powerful against outbreaks of pustules on the face if administered as a quintessence. Rupescissa uses exactly the same words at two points in his text. We are not told in the ‘Table of Medicine’ how to extract a water from wild strawberries and combine it with quintessence, although Rupescissa does give a recipe.

The only heading in the ‘Table of Medicine’ that names a remedy instead of an ailment is “Balsamum” (Balsam). Native balsam was extraordinarily rare and expensive in late medieval Europe, in all its three forms, and friar William Holme is credited with two different recipes for making an ‘Artificial Balsam.’ One simply requires powdered exotic spices to be put successively into hot but not boiling oil. The second requires small quantities of natural balsam, as well as twenty-five other ingredients. They are mixed and pulped in a mortar before distillation. This distillate comes in three degrees of strength, and is said to be just as effective as the native kinds in treating a long list of ailments. Holme is the only one of the friars mentioned in the ‘Table of Medicine’ who can now be identified as author of a surviving text, De simplicibus medicinis (‘On medicinal simples’) of 1415. This was “deflowered” as the bibliographer John Bale later put it, by Holme “from twelve doctors of medicine”. The ‘Table of Medicine’ itself went in for “deflowering”, though it also credited experienced friar practitioners.

King’s MS 16, fol. 144. Wistanton’s recipe for distilling blood and Forman’s hand in the margin.

Friar Robert Wistanton gives a recipe to make use of distilled human blood in surgery. The blood is kept for forty days in a glass vessel under dung, then cooked in a copper pot for a day, cooled, then skimmed. Afterwards it is distilled with a filter, mixed with aqua ardens, then distilled again with an alembic, and that distillate is the best of all waters. It will consolidate a wounded limb within three days and heal the sick. What remains in the bottom of the vessel should be kept, cooled and dried, and the resultant powder is best for fractured bones. Friars were not supposed to dabble in alchemy and surgery, but that does not seem to have stopped Wistanton and his brothers.

King’s MS 16, fol. 8b. Insert in Forman’s hand on Catalepsis.

In 1574 Simon Forman, astrologer and alchemist, purchased a manuscript of the ‘Table of Medicine’ in Oxford. He added recipes drawn from his own experience, or from Andrew Boorde’s Breviary of Healthe (1557), in the margin opposite the entries for particular illnesses. He also interleaved the manuscript to add remedies for illnesses not covered in the ‘Table of Medicine’. In this enhanced form the text continued in use into the seventeenth century.[3]

[1] Peter Murray Jones, “The ‘Tabula medicine’: an Evolving Encyclopedia,” English Manuscript Studies 1100–1700, vol. 14, Regional Manuscripts 1200-1700, ed. A. S. G. Edwards (2008), 60-85.

[2] Peter Murray Jones, “Mediating Collective Experience: the Tabula Medicine (1416–1425) as a Handbook for Medical Practice,” in Between Text and Patient: The Medical Enterprise in Medieval & Early Modern Europe, ed. Florence Eliza Glaze and Brian K. Nance (Florence: SISMEL-Edizioni del Galluzzo, 2011), 279-307.

[3] Cambridge, King’s College MS 16. See Lauren Kassell, Medicine and Magic in Elizabethan London. Simon Forman: Astrologer, Alchemist and Physician (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2005).

Peter Murray Jones: I am Fellow Librarian of King’s College, Cambridge and a historian of medieval medicine. I have a particular interest in relations between knowledge and practice as expressed through recipes. My current project is on the contribution of friars to practical medicine and science in late medieval England.

Living in Seasons: Mulberry Wine, or the Moral Perils of Recipes in Times of Austerity

By He Bian

April and May on the US east coast = temperature swings = confusing and sickly weather. This year especially reminds me of the sobering admonition from the ancient Chinese classic of medicine, <The Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon>: “when there is damage from cold in winter, one suffers from warm diseases in spring (Dong shang yu han, chun bi bing wen)” (see Marta Hanson’s insightful book on this subject). Seasonality is well known as a central preoccupation in the Chinese medical tradition: the cosmic resonance of the body and the larger world according to the quadruple division of the solar year – the cyclic fluctuation of temperature, directionality of wind, and the loci of corporal vulnerability that furnished essential cues for a master practitioner of medicine.

But if etiology in Chinese medicine is classically understood as seasonal, surely the therapeutics should also follow a seasonal rhythm? To my surprise, a search for pre-modern monographs that contain the keyword “four seasons” (sishi) yielded few results. In addition, they tend to focus on agriculture (which of course also follows a seasonal rhythm) or popular festivities around the year. I decide to take a closer look at the latest text that featured “four seasons” in its title – a title attributed to Qu You (1341-1427), Si shi yi ji (Auspicious and Inauspicious Deeds in Four Seasons). I thought this text might teach me something about how a learned scholar approached the notion of seasonality in the early fifteenth century, and how that might align or depart from the canonical medical model of seasonality.

The book consists of twelve chapters, each describing the dos and don’ts for a specific month. I flipped to the chapter on the fourth month (which corresponded roughly to this present moment in Western calendar). I learned, to my surprise and delight, a ton of practical advice with specific recipes: how to properly dry and insulate book and painting cases before the advent of rainy season; “use eels that have been sun-dried, burn them inside the house to thwart the thirst of mosquitoes” (seems appropriate for New Jersey habitat); “wrap your battle gears along with Sichuanese peppers (huajiao) or powder of Daphne flowers (yuanhua) to prevent worm damage… wrap windshield collars and earmuffs and store them in a vat, tightly seal it up, so as the fur will not fall off.” After the first full moon this month, one “should drink mulberry wine” to prevent “wind heat” illnesses (see Shigehisa Kuriyama’s discussion of wind in classical Chinese and Greek medicines). The recipe goes as follows:

Use Mulberries, get its juice of three dou (1 dou ~ 18 liter). White Honey four ounces (liang); Butter (suyou) one ounce; raw ginger juice two ounces.

Bring mulberry juice to a boil in a pot, and reduce its volume to three sheng (1 sheng = 1/10 dou), and then add honey, butter, and ginger juice. Add three drachm (qian) of salt and keep boiling till the texture is thick.

Store in porcelain utensils. Each time, take a small cup with wine. This effectively cures various wind-induced illnesses.

Not only does this sound completely delicious and doable to me, I also realize how recipes like this are in fact completely grounded in the seasonal rhythm of biological life (I just saw a friend posting the harvest of fresh mulberries in her backyard in China).

In sum, what Qu You did in this book was to cull from a wide range of medical and non-medical sources (a rough count yielded over 60 different titles) for hints and tips on how to live according to the seasons. Some of his references were archaic almanacs that offered divinations on the most auspicious dates to travel, have sex, trim your nails, or remove grey hair, as well as dates one should abstain from such activities. Some were quasi-ethnographic accounts of “customs” (fengsu) in ancient cities that still lend to a viable reading as practical guides to festivities. Still others draw from esoteric Daoist literature on the preservation of vital essence (I have blogged on a related topic here), a decision on Qu You’s part that raised many eyebrows both during his lifetime as well as centuries later.

A Daoist talisman in Qu You, Si shi yi ji (1920 reprint of an 1836 edition).

We must remember that Qu lived through the Ming dynasty’s founder, Hongwu emperor’s reign (1368-1398) – a period known for its austere message of moral purity and simplicity. His fourth son, who usurped the throne shortly after Hongwu’s death to become the Yongle emperor (r. 1404-1424), was not exactly friend of the letters either. Those were not easy times for a literary aficionado with keen interests in morally dubious subjects, and yet Qu You continued to compose and comment on poetry, wrote short stories featuring ghosts and women, and collected esoteric recipes. He even managed to publish those works, prefacing them with loud self-defense of his moral stature. Qu eventually got into trouble, endured decades of exile in the north, and yet again outlived the Yongle emperor, who threw many a undisciplined scholars like him into jail, by three years.

Perhaps the seasonal recipes did work well for him after all?