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Fabulous-Fsts-msg – 4/12/08


Reviews and comments about the book "Fabulous Feasts" by Madeleine Pelner Cosman.


NOTE: See also the files: cookbooks-msg, cooking-bib, cookbooks-bib, cookbooks2-bib, cookbooks-SCA-msg, cb-rv-Apicius-msg, cb-novices-msg, books-food-msg.





This file is a collection of various messages having a common theme that I have collected from my reading of the various computer networks. Some messages date back to 1989, some may be as recent as yesterday.


This file is part of a collection of files called Stefan's Florilegium. These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org


I have done a limited amount of editing. Messages having to do with separate topics were sometimes split into different files and sometimes extraneous information was removed. For instance, the message IDs were removed to save space and remove clutter.


The comments made in these messages are not necessarily my viewpoints. I make no claims as to the accuracy of the information given by the individual authors.


Please respect the time and efforts of those who have written these messages. The copyright status of these messages is unclear at this time. If information is published from these messages, please give credit to the originator(s).


Thank you,

    Mark S. Harris                  AKA:  THLord Stefan li Rous

                                          Stefan at florilegium.org



From: TALLAN at flis.utoronto.CA (David Tallan)

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: re:forwarded recipe

Date: 19 Apr 1993 13:46:43 -0400


> Greetings from one who is new to the net and the SCA, but not to medieval

> cooking:


> I have a very good book of recipes called "Fabulous Feasts" by Madeleine

> Pelner Cosman which covers what was eaten, how it was presented and what

> what was available.  Definitely two thumbs up!  This book has a whole

> section on Appetizers.


As someone who has been collecting medieval cookbooks for quite a

while I would advise anyone new to medieval cookery to treat

_Fabulous Feasts_ with a great deal of caution. While it does indeed

contain many recipes which purport to be medieval, there is no

indication of what the basis is on which they make that claim. In

other words, unlike many medieval cookbooks on the market today, the

original recipes are not given with the author's adaptations, nor is

there ANY indication of what the source is. As a number of the

recipes include Out Of Period ingredients, I think it is fair to say

that, while any particular recipe in the book MIGHT be period, it

might just as well not. And one has know way of telling which is





David Tallan (tallan at flis.utoronto.ca)

snail: 42 Camberwell Rd. Toronto ON M6C 3E8



From: silbrmnd at acf4.nyu.edu (The Dark Mage)

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Fabulous Feasts  (was: Re: veggie feasts)

Date: 4 Apr 1994 05:32:34 GMT


Hey....  I was at the Met on friday, got a couple of neat books (and

drooled over a bunch more ;) including one called "Fabulous Feasts:

Medieval cookery and ceremony" by Madeleine Pelner Cosman...  Started

reading it the other day, it's really kew-ul...  The first half of it

talks about everything from descriptions of feasts in contemporary

literature to a discussion of ingredients to how to prepare a medieval

feast today (including setting up the room so it looks period and has

lots of atmosphere without completely remodelling your house ;)

The book has lots of illustrations from period manuscripts (some b&w,

some color plates).

Some of the chapter headings:  "A Chicken for Chaucer's Kitchen:

Medieval london's market laws and Larcenies", "Fountain, River, Privy,

Pot:  Medieval London's Polluted Waters", and "Sex, Smut, Sin, and

Spirit:  Medieval Food and Character"....  The second half contains

"Over 100 recipies from medieval manuscripts" translated into modern

english (just wish she'd included the original text, tho, those are fun

to try and figure out :)  The bibliography is a 20 page list of

manuscripts, archive aids, and readings.  Haven't tried anything yet (I

sorta have a vague idea how to cook ;)  but once I move out of the dorm

and get a place that has a kitchen I'll try out some of this stuff and

write up some sort of review...  


ObVegetarianStuff:  She divides the recipies into 9 categories, and

mentions that there should be at least 1 dish from each category in a

feast...  merging meat fish and fowl into one group, and making

"Spectacle, Sculpture and Illusion Food" very optional, that still

leaves 5 categories:  m/f/f; Appetizers, cheese, and appetizing

aphrodisiacs; soups, sauces, and spiced wines; breads and cakes;

vegetables and vegetarian variations; fruit and flower desserts.  There

usually _are_ all well represented at feasts - there's a lot of room for

_everyone_ to be able to eat _something_...  :)


                       -Gabrielle the Clueless


"Life -- and I don't suppose I'm the first to | net.name: DarkMage  

   make this comparison -- is a disease:      | IRC handle: Morpheus

sexually transmitted, and invariably FATAL..."| SCA persona: Gabrielle

                - Death                      | silbrmnd at acf4.nyu.edu




From: sbloch at ms.uky.edu (Stephen Bloch)

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Re: Fabulous Feasts  (was: Re: veggie feasts)

Date: 4 Apr 1994 12:41:59 -0400

Organization: University Of Kentucky, Dept. of Math Sciences


The Dark Mage <silbrmnd at acf4.nyu.edu> wrote:

>Hey....  I was at the Met on friday, got a couple of neat books (and

>drooled over a bunch more ;) including one called "Fabulous Feasts:

>Medieval cookery and ceremony" by Madeleine Pelner Cosman...  Started

>reading it the other day, it's really kew-ul....


Fabulous Feasts does indeed have plenty of good illustrations, and some

interesting commentary.  The recipes, unfortunately, are questionable.  As

you pointed out, she doesn't give the originals; in a few cases, this is

apparently because she made them up (the Parsley Bread comes to mind).

Also, she makes substitutions and uses new-world ingredients

without warning.  Haslett, one of the few for which I was able to find the

original, calls for almonds, dates, and raisins (don't have the recipe in

front of me, unfortunately; there may be one or two more ingredients);

Cosman's Haslett calls for these and also pears, filberts and dried

pineapple rings (!!)


Authenticity aside, other cooking buffs in my acquaintance have pointed out

that Cosman's recipes are weird, and just don't taste good.  Some SCA folk's

aversion to medieval food can be traced to early exposure to Cosman



Fab Feasts is a good source for feast illustrations and the like, but a

better source for recipes is Pleyn Delit, by Constance Hieatt and Sharon

Butler.  The redacted recipes are tasty and easy to follow, and the editors

print the original recipes and variants.  Medieval cooking is fun and

rewarding; I hope you'll give it a try soon.


D.Peters (posting from SBloch's account)


                                      Stephen Bloch

                                  sbloch at s.ms.uky.edu



Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

From: marian at world.std.com (marian walke)

Subject: Re: Fabulous Feasts (was: Re: veggie feasts)

Organization: The World Public Access UNIX, Brookline, MA

Date: Thu, 7 Apr 1994 06:54:26 GMT


For a long time I thought, well the recipes in FF are bogus, but at least

there are all those great illustrations....


Then one day I started reading the small print next to the illos and

realized some of THEM are bogus, too - attributed to a 19th C. forger!


Really: Plein Delyte, Curye on Inglysch, etc - anything that gives you

all the ORIGINAL recipes so that you can judge the reconstructions -

these are the books to go with if you need other people's versions of

Medieval cookery (and Dining with Will Shakespeare, if you can find it,

for 16/17th C recipes).  


If you're willing to dispense with the

reconstructions, Duke Cariodoc's cookbook collections are the best

because they have more recipes in one volume than anyone else's. If you

can't get those, try Falconwood Press, 1983 Colonic Street, Albany NY

12210-2501; they've put out quite a few (mostly 16th/17th C) cookery

books (retyped from original publications, usually). They'll send you a

catalogue if you send an SASE.  


--Old Marian

(marian at world.std.com)



From: sbloch at ms.uky.edu (Stephen Bloch)

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Re: Fabulous Feasts (was: Re: veggie feasts)

Date: 7 Apr 1994 11:24:47 -0400

Organization: University Of Kentucky, Dept. of Math Sciences


marian walke <marian at world.std.com> wrote:

>For a long time I thought, well the recipes in FF are bogus, but at least

>there are all those great illustrations....


I should say a word in defense of FF.  There's an hypocras recipe that is

paraphrased in either _Pleyn Delit_ or _To the King's Taste_ (I forget which)

and printed in full in FF.  There's also a lot of information about food

and sanitation regulations; I'm not knowledgeable enough in that area to

know whether it's sound.


                              mar-Joshua ibn-Eleazar ha-Shalib

                                      Stephen Bloch

                                  sbloch at s.ms.uky.edu



From: Philip & Susan Troy <troy at asan.com>

Date: Wed, 07 May 1997 19:05:51 -0400

Subject: Re: SC - "Fabulous Feasts"


linneah at erols.com wrote:

> I know everyone has bad things to say about the recipies in "Fabulous Feasts",

> but how accurate is all that other information included in the book?  You

> know, like who ate what, how and why?  I haven't had time to read the copy I

> was given and I'd like to know if I should make the time or forget it and

> donate it to a library.


> Linneah


How odd it is to hear myself complimenting that book! I feel that most

of what's in it is pretty good, except for the redactions, which aren't

strictly speaking, redactions at all, since they bear so little

resemblance to the recipes they are based on.


Cosman has much useful information on how a SCAdian can eat a meal as a

member of a medieval society, using medieval manners in a medieval

world. An interesting perspective that we often forget.


Now, about the frumenty made from Grape-Nuts, and whatever dish it was

that was garnished with red liquorice whips...





From: Mark Schuldenfrei <schuldy at abel.MATH.HARVARD.EDU>

Date: Thu, 8 May 1997 11:16:47 -0400 (EDT)

Subject: Re: SC - "Fabulous Feasts"


  I know everyone has bad things to say about the recipies in "Fabulous

  Feasts", but how accurate is all that other information included in

  the book?  You know, like who ate what, how and why?  I haven't had

  time to read the copy I was given and I'd like to know if I should

  make the time or forget it and donate it to a library.


I feel it is all of a piece.  Don't put it in a library... burn it.  Then,

burn the libraries copy....  (:-)


I truly enjoyed the review of "A Buttock Of Beef", where the reviewer

claimed it made Fabulous Feasts look good....  and it does.  I wasn't sure

until then that it was possible to write a worse book than Fabulous Feasts.


To be sure: most people tell me that the recipes, if made, are delicious.

But that's not what I am on about.  One guys opinion.





From: Stephen Bloch <sbloch at adl15.adelphi.edu>

Date: Thu, 8 May 1997 22:24:41 -0400 (EDT)

Subject: Re: SC - "Fabulous Feasts"


> I truly enjoyed the review of "A Buttock Of Beef", where the reviewer

> claimed it made Fabulous Feasts look good....  and it does.  I wasn't sure

> until then that it was possible to write a worse book than Fabulous Feasts.


I bought _Take a Buttock of Beef_ for one reason: unlike _Fabulous

Feasts_, it includes original recipes, so you can just shut your eyes at

the facing-page redactions and learn something.  I'm assuming, of

course, that the "original recipes" are in fact reprinted accurately.


                                      mar-Joshua ibn-Eleazar ha-Shalib

                                                 Stephen Bloch

                                           sbloch at panther.adelphi.edu


                                        Math/CS Dept, Adelphi University


P.S. Yes, _Fabulous Feasts_ includes at least one original recipe --

IIRC, a lengthy series of instructions for preparing hypocras which was

omitted from _Pleyn Delit_ in the interest of brevity.



From: Stephen Bloch <sbloch at adl15.adelphi.edu>

Date: Fri, 13 Jun 1997 07:35:46 -0400 (EDT)

Subject: SC - Re: Fabulous Feasts


> So far as availability of other sources at the time is concerned, I am

> reasonably sure that _Two Fifteenth Century Cookery Books_ predates

> _Fabulous Feasts_ by quite a bit.


The EETS edition of _Two Fifteenth Century Cookery Books_ is copyright

1888, reprinted 1964.  _A Fifteenth Century Cookry Boke_, which contains

most or all of the same source, was published in a mass-market form (by

Scribner's) in 1962.  The latter gives most or all of the recipes in the

same source, in Middle English without translation, redaction, or

commentary, but with a moderately-accurate glossary in the back, and

with with hand-drawn illustrations that will make even the average

costume-ignorant SCAdian laugh.


Lorna Sass's _To the King's Taste_ was originally printed in 1975, and

is much better documented than _Fabulous Feasts_.  Sass too makes some

questionable substitutions for hard-to-find ingredients (many of which

are easier to find now), but she documents each recipe individually

and distinguishes clearly among the original recipe, her translation

into modern English, and her redaction.


But I had the same impression on reading _Fabulous Feasts_ as the

original poster: there's a lot of information here, which seems to reach

a low point in the actual recipes.  Could anybody who's familiar with

sumptuary laws, sanitation laws, and the other subjects Cosman touches

on tell us how accurate those parts of the book are?


                                      mar-Joshua ibn-Eleazar ha-Shalib

                                                 Stephen Bloch

                                           sbloch at panther.adelphi.edu


                                        Math/CS Dept, Adelphi University



From: Stephen Bloch <sbloch at adl15.adelphi.edu>

Date: Sat, 14 Jun 1997 19:54:47 -0400 (EDT)

Subject: Re: SC - _Fabulous Feasts_


> Note to Lord Ras:  I did try (just out of twisted, morbid curiosity)

> the recipe for "Fruytes Ryal Rice: Artichokes in Blueberry Rice"...it

> was GHASTLY, so your comment cheered me up immensely - maybe it's not

> me, maybe it's the recipe itself!!


After a few years of SCA feasts and pot-lucks, you develop the ability

to detect a Fabulous Feasts recipe, even if you haven't read that

particular recipe.  I think Cosman decided that medieval food gloried

in contrasting or surprising flavors and colors, and therefore

concluded that anything with contrasting or surprising flavors and

colors was medieval food, even if many of the ingredients are native

either to the New World or to the laboratories of General Foods.

Almost every dish must combine sweet, fruity flavors with savory ones.

There's a lot of fish, but mysteriously never served by itself with a

simple sauce -- it requires fruit.  Some of the more infamous recipes

are the "artichokes in blueberry rice" you discovered, the "pears

stuffed with lentils and cranberries", the "chicken stuffed with

lentils, cherries, and cheese", the "salmon and fruit tart", and the

parsley bread.  The parsley bread differs from the rest in being

actually fairly tasty, but since there is indeed (as Cosman says) a

severe shortage of medieval bread recipes, it draws people's

attention, and nobody else has been able to find a source for it.


_Fabulous Feasts_ also includes a roux-based white sauce, dated

precisely to 1357 Cesena, Italy (we ought to be able to pin down the

source from that, wouldn't you think?), hundreds of years before any

other roux-based sauce I've heard of.


                              mar-Joshua ibn-Eleazar ha-Shalib

                                           Stephen Bloch

                              sbloch at panther.adelphi.edu


                        Math/CS Dept, Adelphi University



Date: Wed, 08 Sep 1999 08:31:31 -0400

From: Philip & Susan Troy <troy at asan.com>

Subject: Re: SC - favorite sweet


swbro at mail.telis.org wrote:

> Speaking of Esther Aresty's _The Delctable Past_, I picked up a copy of it

> at an auction this weekend.  It looks like a survey type of book, has

> anybody read it, and what do you think about it?


As I recall it had two or three recipes that were immensely popular (and

incidentally good food) and which were considered state-of-the-art in

the SCA 25 or 30 years ago, when there were fewer primary source

materials easily available. As with a lot of the older, less-used source

materials, it lives in the buried-and-only-semi-accessible layer of my

bookshelves, along with things like "Dining With William Shakespeare". I

recall Aresty's adaptations of such period recipes as the Mustard Sops

from Le Viandier de Taillevent, and an adapted eighteenth-century recipe

for Richmond Maids of Honor doing double-duty for both the

Georgian/Regency sweet and medieval darioles, even though they're pretty

different. Aresty is also the source of the recent hubbub on this list

regarding the Great Rosti Question.


In general I'd say she represents state-of-the-art SCA cookery, also

incidentally tasty food, from 30 years ago, which has been superceded by

just as tasty food made through better research.


As I've frequently said in the past, many of us unfairly revile books

like "Fabulous Feasts", and the one discussed above, for their

inadequacies, while at the time of their publication there wasn't a lot

else available in the way of source materials for those who didn't want

to deal with untranslated or unmodernized primary sources. There was no

"Take a Thousand Eggs or More", no second edition of "Pleyn Delit". No

first edition, in fact. Also, these books don't address the specific

needs of SCAdians very well at all, but they weren't designed to. They

were designed more for people to play at home with doing a medieval

feast that was more about costume-party fun than about education.

Authenticity wasn't considered important, and since it sold fewer books,

why include it as a criterion?


In any case, I have a soft spot in my heart for such books, and can't

bear to get rid of them, but I rarely cook from them today.





Date: Sat, 18 Oct 2003 03:50:27 -0400

From: Alex Clark <alexbclark at pennswoods.net>

Subject: RE: [Sca-cooks] Book - The Medieval Kitchen

To: Cooks within the SCA <sca-cooks at ansteorra.org>


At 10:06 PM 10/17/2003 -0400, Elewyiss wrote:

>Can I interperate this to mean you do not like Fabulous Feasts? Is there

>a problem with the text?


My recollection (from some years ago) is that there are problems with

almost every recipe in _Fabulous Feasts_. Most of the recipes in this book

are not attributed to any period source, and many of them look like heavily

modified adaptations of period recipes, or substitutions, or outright new

inventions. Though of course it's hard to prove this when you aren't told

where these recipes are supposed to have come from.


The only recipe that I remember as coming from a specific, identified,

period source is mammenye bastarde. The quoted recipe seems to have many

serious errors; in particular, several of the spices are said to be one

pound each. By comparison with the other recipes from _Two

Fifteenth-Century Cookery-Books_ (Cariadoc's reprint, 1988) it seems very

likely that the spice measurements were scribal errors, and that where the

_Fabulous Feasts_ recipe calls for almonds the original called for amydon.

If this is indeed (as I think I remember) the only recipe in FF to provide

its source, then for interpretations of cited/quoted period recipes FF

scores 0 out of 1.


More generally, it seems to include more non-period (or at best

implausible) recipes than almost any other book on period cooking that I've

read, with the possible exception of _How to Cook Forsoothly_.


Alex Clark/Henry of Maldon



Date: Sat, 18 Oct 2003 21:09:50 -0400

From: "Christine Seelye-King" <kingstaste at mindspring.com>

Subject: [Sca-cooks] Fabulous Feasts.

To: "Cooks within the SCA" <sca-cooks at ansteorra.org>


This is very funny. I am saving it for posterity.

However, I feel I have to put in at least one vote for nostalgic reasons.

It was one of my first historical cookbooks, and there are a couple of

recipes in there that I like, even if they aren't documentable.  Mine has

notes in the margins, has had art work copied out of it countless times, and

has provided much good information.  Yes, all of the previous comments are

correct, no, I wouldn't recommend it now, but by golly, it was one of the

few things we had in the early days, and I liked it!

Ok, back to FF bashing, but it's such an easy target.


off to cook a galantine pie and fry up some oranges....


I do not like Fabulous Feasts.

I will not use it, Elewyiss.


I will not use it to cook feasts.

I will not use it to roast beasts.


I will not use it at a war.

I will not keep in my drawer.


I will not use it for day board.

I will not use it to feed the Horde.


I will not keep it in my kitchen.

I do not think that it is bitchin'.


I will not use it for Iron Chef,

Even if the chef's named Jeff.


Its best use is as a weapon;

Flung via catapault beyond Japan.


I do not like Fabulous Feasts.

I will not use it, Elewyiss.


Dr. Huette Seuss



From: "Phil Troy / G. Tacitus Adamantius"

        <adamantius.magister at verizon.net>

Subject: Re: [Sca-cooks] food on St Val's day

To: Cooks within the SCA <sca-cooks at ansteorra.org>


Also sprach Linda Anderson:

> I don't know the author pilloried earlier but enjoyed the idea that

> no one could figure out how "That accent came from Brooklyn" as

> priceless.


Ah. Back in the old days, when the SCA was a couple of groups on the

West Coast of the US and a group in New York City shortly thereafter,

one of the first things an East Coast SCAdian cook did was go to the

bookshop at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and get a copy of

"Fabulous Feasts". Well-meaning friends would award copies for

birthdays, Christmas gifts, etc., because when people found out about

your weird hobby, that was the only book they could find on the

subject. People began to use stacks of "Fabulous Feasts" to hold up

the coffee table with the broken leg. Made a good doorstop...


It actually has a fair amount of good information on medieval eating

habits, but the adaptations of period recipes are pretty dreadful,

probably because the author didn't (and still doesn't, I'm told)

actually know how to cook, and saw no need, since she was not

specifically catering to the needs of reenactors, _not_ to go for a

rather fanciful approach, one which posits that a drab-looking dish

can be brightened up with a bit of color, so dressing it up with some

shredded red licorice whip candy is an excellent idea. Never mind

that a period cook would have solved this problem, if a problem were

in fact perceived, in a totally different way. There are also some

recipes, allegedly, made up out of whole cloth, as it were, with no

foundation in any extant period recipe.


New York City SCAdians (such as myself, for example) have more reason

than those above to find the lady fairly silly: for years she helped

run the annual Cloisters Medieval Faire (at the Cloisters, the series

of relocated and reconstructed medieval European monasteries now

owned and run by The Metropolitan Museum of Art in uptown Manhattan).

She made herself fairly unpleasant to SCAdians trying to do demos at

that fair, doing things like cancelling parking privileges for

SCAdians at the last minute, so people had to park their cars about a

mile from the fighters' lists and lug their armor in and out. And

then there was the time she cancelled the SCA's entire demo one year

about fifteen minutes before it was scheduled to begin, and decided

to read from Chaucer with E.G. Marshall instead.


She used to hold medieval feasts for various organizations, and

trained her servers, as well as the diners, with the little speech I

paraphrased in my earlier post, about eating with the manifold

extensions to the hands, thah finnngaaaaaahhhs.


She ingratiated herself especially to my lady wife, who, while

enrolled in a class on Chaucer at the City College of New York, was

told by Professor Cosman that nobody without an English heritage (my

wife is of Chinese ancestry) could fully appreciate the subtlety of

Chaucer's language, so taking her class would be a waste of

everyone's time... her own heritage consisting of birth into, and

growing up in, a Polish-speaking Jewish community in Brooklyn, where

her grandfather's name (originally something like Pielzcsnewsky,

later changed by a clerk at Ellis Island) had become Pellner.


Currently, I understand she's made a fortune selling medical

practices, starting with that of her husband, when he passed away,

and expanding this into a sort of brokerage. And she really does talk






Date: Sun, 8 Apr 2007 14:26:19 EDT

From: Aldyth at aol.com

Subject: Re: [Sca-cooks] "Fabulous Feasts"

To: sca-cooks at lists.ansteorra.org


In a message dated 4/8/2007 12:13:07 A.M. Mountain Daylight Time,

StefanliRous at austin.rr.com writes:

<<< Actually  the first half of "Fabulous Feasts", the section which talks

about the history of various medieval foods and cooking isn't that

bad.  The problem is with the recipes in the second half, since many

aren't that good, and no original recipes or attributions are given.

So, it isn't a bad read, just don't use the second half of the book

as good examples of medieval recipes. >>>


I was gifted with this book at 12th night some 15 years ago. The person who

did the "deed" was convinced it was a wonderful source for me to  continue my

cooking education.  That said,  I agree with Stefan.   Although I did try St.

Johns Rice from the recipe section.  Once.  That volume "disappeared" from my

collection a few years ago.  So I had to re buy it online. Just to have it

and show my guild members how far we have come.




<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org