Friday, April 29, 2016

Quest for Broccoli

So this evening I was leafing through my copy of The Herbs & Vegetables of Italy by Giacomo Castelvetro (What?  Doesn't everyone spend their spare time looking at books about vegetables?), and I came across this painting ...

Still Life with Christ at Emmaus, Floris van Schooten, c. 1630
Rijksmuseum -

This sort of thing is an addiction for me. I start looking at all the stuff in there and then I'll turn to the next one, and then the next. Pretty soon I've wasted hours muttering things to myself like "That's a medlar. Are those gooseberries? I think they are." But every now and then I spot something exciting.

Yes, I said exciting. You want to make something out of it?

In this particular case, what caught my eye was a bunch of something to the right of center in the painting.


Whatever that thing is, it's not the dense head like the cauliflower depicted in other paintings from the same time period, but it doesn't quite look like modern broccoli either. I've written elsewhere about the uncertainties of medieval broccoli, so this is something that has been long upon my mind and it's the biggest lead I've had in *mumble* years.

I said to myself, "Self, I think that's broccoli."  Ok, actually I said something more along the lines of, "ZOMGWFTBBQSQUEEEEEEE! [insert happy little dance here]" but you get the idea.

Still, it doesn't look like modern broccoli - for example the modern stuff can flower, but the blossoms are usually yellow. Brassica oleracea has a lot of weird variants though. Is there a white flowering variant of broccoli? I do a quick google image search and guess what I find. No, don't guess because I'll show you.

White Sprouting Broccoli
Image from

That looks pretty much like the same thing to me. Now I have to find a source nearby and see what it's like.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Review: The Medieval Cookbook

Sometimes you need to go back and take a second look at a book.

I first came across references to The Medieval Cookbook sometime around 1998. At the time I was seriously getting into research and what I really wanted was access to unedited medieval sources. I wasn't especially interested in other people's interpretations of medieval recipes, and so I basically ignored this book. It simply didn't have what I needed.

Fast forward to the present. I now run a website devoted to medieval European cuisine which gets a huge number of hits from folks who are looking for authentic medieval recipes or basic information about cooking in the middle ages. Very few of them have experience in working from medieval sources, especially those written in languages other than modern English.

With that in mind, The Medieval Cookbook suddenly looks very different. It's a perfect starting place for someone with little to no background in medieval cooking. There are eighty recipes, all with their original source, and all worked out with modern measurements. The book is also broken into sections, like "Chaucer's Company", each with a section of text to help put the recipes into context.

Finally, there are lots of beautiful, full-color images taken from medieval manuscripts and paintings to illustrate the myriad aspects of medieval life and food. All of this is bound in a beautiful, high-quality book - the kind that bibliophiles like me love to hold.

The Medieval Cookbook
Maggie Black
J. Paul Getty Museum
ISBN: 9781606061091

Monday, April 18, 2016

Anonymous Tuscan ... Now in English!

Let me speak plainly here - translating a medieval cookbook is a bite in the butt. It's tedious, there's no real money to be made from it, and there are thousands of people out there ready to tell you that you've got it wrong.  That's why I take such joy in seeing new translations popping up online. Not only did someone go to all the effort of teasing out the meaning of an archaic source, but they went and put it out there for every amateur cooking historian to use.

Today's joy comes from Ariane Helou's translation of An Anonymous Tuscan Cookery Book (a.k.a. Anonimo Toscano / Libro della Cocina, Italy, late 14th or early 15th c).  While the Italian text of the source has been online for quite some time, there hasn't been a readily available English translation.

The text contains 184 recipes, and Ariane has done a fantastic job of crafting them into clear and easily understood English. If you're at all interested in medieval European cuisine, it's well worth browsing through - especially if (like me) you can't read medieval Italian.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

La Maison Rustique - On Rice

Going back through some files, I came across a portion of La Maison Rustique (Rouen, 1658) that I had translated in an effort to deduce the color of medieval rice (something I still haven't proven). The text didn't provide me any answers, but it still has some interesting aspects. There are sections on other grains, as well as on a whole bunch of other foods, so perhaps I should translate some of them as well.


From: L'agriculture et maison rustique, by Charles Estienne, p. 528 (Rouen, 1658)


Si voulez semer du ris, faire le pourrez: mais plustost par curiosité, que profit: car le ris est un grain propre aux Indiens, dont aussi nous est apporté en France, Donc pour semer le ris, tant blanc que rouge, choisissez quelque lieu fort humide, & au cas que ne l'ayez entre vos terres labourables, chosisissez quelque champ maigre, sale & mal nettoyé, ou autre qui soit leger & foible, bien uni ce neantmoins, par lequel puissez faire escouler quelque ruisseau ou canal d'eau. Donnez trois façons de labeur à ce champ ou voudrez semer le ris, estant trois fois cultivé, semez-y vostre graine de ris, laquelle aurez fait tremper premierement un jour entier dedans l'eau: si tost que l'aurez semée, faites-y entrer l'eau du ruisseau, laquelle y souffrirez cinq mois entiers de la hauteur de deux doigts: & quand verrez que l'herbe vient à se former en espic (sçachant qu'an mesme poinct elle florit & graine) lors redouble l'eau pour garder que le fruit de soit niellé & gasté. Si ainsi le gouvernez, non seulement recueillirez grande quantité de ris: mais aussi le pourrez semer trois aunées de suite sans laisser reposer le champ, & si la derniere année ne sera moins seconde que la premiere: outre plus rendez le champ plus gras, plus puissant, plus gaillard & plus purgé de roure herbe nuisible, & des bestes dommageables qui y estoient auparauant. Qui plus est, vous y pourrez semer par apres deux ou trois ans continus bled fur bled, soit froment ou meteil, la cueillette dequel en sera fort belle & profitable. Un mal y a au ris, c'est qu'il cause mauvais air, à raison de l'abondance d'eau qu'il demande l'espace de cinq mois: mais en recompense it est fort profitable pour la mourriture, d'autant qu'on en use en potage, & en fair l'on du pain avec seigle ou millet, ou les trois ensemble. Vray est qu'il estouppe beaucoup & restraint fort, c'est pourquoy ceux qui ont le ventre lasche en usentle plus fouvent, principalement estant torresié, & cuit en laict de vache, auquel plusieurs petits cailloux de riviere soient esteints; si vouse le faires cuire en laict, y adioustant succre & canelle, il stimulera au ieu d'amours. Plusieurs pensent qu'il engraisse. Mais puis que selon les Medecins il ne se digere dans l'estomach qu-avec peine, ains nourrit peu, comment seroit possible qu'il engraisse, il enfle plustost qu'il n'engraisse.



If you want to sow rice, try to do so: but more from curiosity than benefit: because rice is a grain suited to the Indians [Indies?], that is also imported to France, thus to sow the rice, both white and red, choose a place that is very wet, and in the case you have none in your workable land, choose a field that is thin, salty, and badly cleaned, or one that is light and weak, but still one that can be connected by some art to a running stream or water channel.

Here is given three ways to work this field for those who want to sow rice, which has grown three times, to sow your seed rice, which will first soak an entire day in the water: As soon as it is sown, let in water from the stream, which will suffer for five full months at the height of two fingers: and when you see that the grass forms a spike (knowing that it's the same point for flower and seed), then double the water to keep the fruit from mildew or rot.

If this is governed well, not only will you gather large quantities of rice: but also can sow three years in a row without letting the field rest, and so that the last year will not be less than the second or the first: Moreover it will render the field fatter, stronger, more lively, and better purged of strong and noxious weeds, and the harmful beasts that were there before.

Moreover, after that you can sow two or three years continuous corn for corn, either wheat or Roman wheat, the harvesting of which will be very beautiful and profitable.

Rice has a bad side, because it creates bad air, because of the abundance of water it requires in the space of five months: but in recompense it is highly beneficial as food, especially when used in soup, and made into bread with rye or millet, or all three.

True that it closes well and restrains strongly, which is why those with loose bowels use it most often, primarily hot, and cooked in cow's milk, in which several small river stones are quenched; if you cook it in milk, add therein sugar and cinnamon, it will stimulate the game of love.

Many believe it is fattening.

But according to the Doctors it is digested in the stomach with difficulty, and so nourishes little, how could it possibly fatten, it swells more than it fattens.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Gen Con 2016 Schedule

Gen Con Indy 2016,  August 4 - 7

I've just heard back from Gen Con that my seminars are now active and viewable by the public, so I thought I should do a quick post about them. I'm not part of the Writer’s Symposium this year but I'll likely be in the audience for several of their panels.

For my own events for Blackspoon Press and Medieval Cookery, I've scaled it back to just two this year.

SEM1686243 – Creating Medieval Fantasy Cuisines  A subterranean culture probably wouldn't eat roast beef and an arboreal one wouldn't eat sushi. A fantasy world should have a cuisine that takes into account the resources and technology of the people that inhabit it. This seminar demonstrates how to make up a consistent, believable cuisine using a simple template.  08/04/2016 (Thursday), 8:00 PM, Crowne Plaza : Grand Central Ballroom A 
SEM1686244 – Fictional Languages & the Name of this Seminar  AEver have a story or game ruined simply by the choice of a name? This seminar looks at language creation in general along with the pitfalls inherent in creating names. 08/05/2016 (Friday), 8:00 PM, Crowne Plaza : Grand Central Ballroom A 

For the Fantasy cuisine seminar I'm trying something different in that I intend to create - with the help of the audience - a fully functional cuisine. That seems a bit ambitious for a two hour seminar, but I think it's doable and should at the very least be entertaining.

The Language seminar is an offshoot of the one I've done before. Bad names in fantasy and science-fiction drive me nuts, and most of the time they're pretty easily avoided.