Today, October 25th …
Geoffrey Chaucer died on this day in the year 1400, with his Canterbury Tales still unfinished. The Tales consist of a collection of stories in prose and verse told to while away the time, by a group of pilgrims on their way to Canterbury. One of the pilgrims is a Cook:
A Cook they hadde with hem for the nones,
To boil the chiknes with the marybones,
And powdre-marchant tart and galingale.
Wel coude he knowe a draughte of London ale.
He coulde roste, and seethe, and broile, and frye,
Maken mortreux, and wel bake a pie.
But greet harm was it, as it thoughte me,
That on his shine a mormal hadde he.
For blankmanger, that made he with the best.
In other words, the Cook is skilled at roasting, boiling and frying, he can make pies and stews and many other dishes, he knows how to use spices, and can determine the quality of ale. Unfortunately he also has a running sore on his shin (possibly leprous or syphilitic), which disgusts the narrator, as does his habit (mentioned later in the story) of repeatedly re-heating his pies – after he has drained off the gravy so that he can re-use it – and his shop is full of flies, which may make up some of the “parsley” in his stuffed goose. The reader is equally disgusted, and is grateful for modern times and modern food laws.
Rather than focus on bakers who ooze pus, and thereby risk losing our appetites for dinner, let us look at food words instead.
“Marybones” are marrow-bones, for many centuries prized for their rich, unctuous, fatty, contents that were added to sweet and savoury dishes alike – although as we have discussed before, there was no such distinction in medieval times.
“Poudre Marchant” appears to have been some sort of prepared spice mix, which seemed to be “tart”, although it seems that no-one recorded its exact composition. “Galingale” is interesting. Does it mean what we now call “Galingal”, or Alpinia galanga, the slightly gingery root familiar to us in South East Asian cuisine, or the European sedge Cyperus longus, which also has an aromatic root? The latter, most likely?
“Blankmanger” means “white food”, and originally was a sort of custard or thick pottage made with almond milk and chicken – nothing at all like its modern bastard offspring – the sweet, insipid children’s party food we call “blancmange”.
“Mortreux” (or Mortrews) meant a sort of meat stew which was ground up in a mortar (hence the name) and was sometimes (as in the recipe following) meant to be so thick “that it be standing” – in other words, similar to a meat paste or paté. The recipe uses two other spice mixes, powdour fort (strong) and powdour douce (sweet) – and again we must guess at the actual blend.
Recipe for the Day …
The cookbook of the Master Cooks of King Richard II, and called “The Form of Cury”, was published in the last decade of Chaucer’s life.
Take hennes and pork and seethe hem togyder. Take the lyre of hennes and of the pork and hewe it small, and grinde it al to doust; take brede ygrated and do thereto, and temper it with the self broth, and alye it with yolkes of ayren; and cast theron powdour fort. Boile it and do therin powdour of gynger, sugur, safroun and salt, and loke that it be stondying; and flour it with powdour gynger.
Which means, very loosely:
Take chicken and pork and simmer them together. Take the liver of the chicken and pork, and chop it fine, and grind it until smooth. Take grated bread and add it, and blend it with some of the broth and thicken it with egg yolks, and sprinkle on some “powder forte”. Boil it and add “sweet powder” of ginger, sugar, saffron, and salt, and make it stiff, and dust it with powdered ginger.
Tomorrow’s Story …
In the name of Coleslaw.
Quotation for the Day …
We may live without poetry, music and art;
We may live without conscience and live without heart;
We may live without friends;
We may live without books;
But civilized man cannot live without cooks