Livres-rev-art - 6/25/99
A review of "Livres de cuisine medievaux" by Martha Carlin. This book
tells the history of medieval cookbooks.
NOTE: See also the files: cookbooks-msg, cookbooks-bib, books-food-msg,
merch-cookbks-msg, cb-rv-Platina-msg, cb-rv-Apicius-msg.
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Mark S. Harris AKA: Lord Stefan li Rous
Date: Thu, 27 May 1999 14:37:43 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: SC - BMR: Laurioux, Livres de cuisine medievaux (Carlin) (fwd)
I don't know French, so I'll probably never read this book, but it looks
like something others on the list might be interested in.
I've been reading the list for a month or so now, but have been on the
(extreme) fringes of our SCA group for years (I go so seldom to meetings
and events that most Myrkies probably don't know I exist).
- ---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Thu, 27 May 1999 13:52:43 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: BMR: Laurioux, Livres de cuisine medievaux (Carlin)
Bruno Laurioux. "Les livres de cuisine medievaux".
Typologie des sources du moyen age occidental, fasc. 77.
Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 1997. Pp. 86. Notes. Bibligraphy
of printed sources, pp. 7-12. Index of manuscripts cited, pp.
85-86. 950 BEF (About US$25.00). ISBN 2-503-36000-9;
Reviewed by Martha Carlin
Department of History
University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
In this slim volume Bruno Laurioux, a leading scholar of medieval
culinary history, establishes a typology for medieval cookbooks.
He examines in turn the nature and raison d'etre of cookbooks,
their contents, language, evolution, physical appearance,
organizational format, topical and geographical links and
influences, and historiography, and goes on to formulate
suggestions for future editors. Brief, like all the volumes in
this series, and densely but clearly written, it is a valuable
analysis of an important, but until recently little-studied,
genre of texts.
Laurioux begins with a definition: medieval cookbooks are
collections (not stray examples) of culinary recipes. They range
in size from small texts containing fewer than ten recipes, to
complete, homogeneous volumes consisting entirely of recipes.
Between these two extremes are the more common collections:
modest in size, seldom representing the main element in a
manuscript, and often anonymous. Laurioux traces the history of
recipe collections throughout Western Europe, from their first
appearance at the end of the thirteenth century, to their advent
in printed form two centuries later. Around 140 manuscripts
survive in all. The greatest number (c. 50 mss) are in German or
Dutch, followed closely by English (44 mss), and distantly by
French and Italian (c. 12 mss each), with a scattering of
manuscripts in Latin, Anglo-Norman, Catalan, Portuguese,
Occitan, Danish, and Icelandic.[]
Although there were numerous Greek and Roman culinary texts, the
only Classical cookbook known in the medieval West was the one
attributed to Apicius, and it survived merely as a grammarian's
curiosity rather than as a living, practical culinary manual.
Abruptly, in the years around 1300, a cluster of cookbooks
appeared in Western Europe in Denmark, France, Catalonia, Italy
and England. Laurioux links this re-appearance to contemporary
intellectual interest in the mechanical arts, medical interest in
nutrition, and the rising professional status of cooks in magnate
These first recipes were very terse, consisting of brief
instructions for the preparation of individual dishes, and
lacking lists of ingredients and detailed descriptions of
procedures and cooking times. However, from the beginning their
vocabulary was already technical and precise. During the
fourteenth and fifteenth centuries cookbooks were profoundly
transformed in both content and form. Authors began to be
identified, not only by name, but also by a recitation of their
credentials. The fourteenth century saw experiments in
manuscript form (roll or codex), size, length, medium (parchment
or paper), and organization, but in the fifteenth century
cookbooks began to appear in an increasingly standardized format.
Most common was a small, paper codex, in which culinary recipes
were bound together with related texts, especially on health or
medicine (medical texts were dominant in 75 percent of composite
manuscripts). The recipes became increasingly numerous and,
probably under the influence of medical texts, their contents
became fuller and their instructions more detailed. Some
collections also included ancillary recipes for drinks, preserves
and confectionery, and Laurioux notes that recipes for drinks,
such as hippocras, always stand out from strictly culinary
recipes by their use of precise proportions, a sign of their
medical origins. By the late fifteenth century some cookbooks
appeared with such reader's aids as tables of contents, topical
chapter divisions, numbered entries and rubricated initials.
Together, such features could raise cookbooks to the level of
scholarly works, and physicians, in particular, frequently owned,
and sometimes wrote, culinary texts.
However, Laurioux describes the earliest, laconic, generation of
cookbooks as basically "aide-memoires" (p. 29), and speculates
that they were intended primarily for the maitres d'hotel of
magnate households, who used the collections in controlling and
supervising the cooks. The cooks themselves, according to
Laurioux, did not need cookbooks, since they were illiterate and
relied on memory and experience, not written instructions.
(Laurioux might have noted here that the "Enseingnemenz qui
enseingnent a apareiller toutes manieres de viandes", which
dates from the beginning of the fourteenth century, states that
anyone who wishes to serve in a good household should either
memorize this text, or keep a written copy of it.) By the end of
the fourteenth century some culinary collections also served to
demonstrate or enhance magnate prestige, and were used
propagandistically. For example, Master Chiquart's "Du fait de
cuisine", a collection of the menus and recipes for a series
of banquets given by Amadeus, the first duke of Savoy, for his
father- in-law, the duke of Burgundy, was used as part of a
"strategy of legitimation" (p. 31) for Amadeus's
recently-acquired ducal title. The encyclopedic "Menagier de
Paris" may represent a similar use of the genre for
self-promotion as well as practical aid by the wealthy Parisian
bourgeois who compiled it. Other culinary collections were
evidently assembled by amateurs anxious about their health, or
naturally conjoining medicine and cookery.
Laurioux argues that the oral and practical methods by which
medieval cooks learned and transmitted their art kept culinary
tradition fluid and receptive to change. When, periodically, a
collection of recipes was written down, it became stablized, but
once in circulation, other arrangers and compilers constantly
revised it, so that these texts were never firmly fixed, but
always remained "open." Paradoxically, when cookbooks were
printed for a mass audience, beginning in the late fifteenth
century, their contents quickly became fossilized, since
successive editions mechanically reproduced their predecessors.
It was not printed, but manuscript, recipe collections -- still
abundant in the sixteenth century -- that helped to transmit the
"living cuisine" (p. 38).
However, Laurioux argues, although medieval culinary traditions
were open and supple, they were transmitted along strongly
national lines. Translations were rare and took place between
Latin and vernacular texts (in both directions), rather than
between two vernacular texts. (An exception was the Anglo-
Norman "Coment l'en deit fere viaunde e claree", which was
translated into Middle English.) According to Laurioux, there
was little real influence by Arab cuisines on Western cuisines,
even in places such as Catalonia where Muslim-Christian contact
was extensive, nor was there extensive overlapping among the
national cuisines of neighboring Christian countries. Laurioux
thus sees medieval cuisine as international in its technical
terminology but essentially insular in content. He attributes
this largely to language barriers, noting that only a Latin
collection such as the "Liber de coquina" had a truly
international circulation, whereas vernacular collections
remained within their own linguistic boundaries. Thus, it was
only via Latin that the rare culinary exchanges took place at
all. (Laurioux does not, however, address the circulation of
French-language texts between francophone England and France.)
Laurioux concludes with a useful historiographical survey, some
trenchant observations on editorial practice, and a list of
suggestions for future work. Straightforward, plainspoken, and
clearsighted, this is an intelligent summing-up of current
knowledge, and an important point of departure for future editors
of culinary texts.
1. Laurioux's index of manuscripts names only the 61 mss that he
discusses in his text. For a more complete list, numbering 133
mss (and from which the above list of languages was taken), see
Constance B. Hieatt, Carole Lambert, Bruno Laurioux and Alix
Prentki, "Repertoire des manuscrits medievaux contenant des
recettes culinaires," in "Du manuscrit a la table", ed.
Carole Lambert (Montreal: Les Presses de l'Universite de
Montreal, and Paris: Champion-Slatkine, 1992), pp. 315-62.
Copyright © Mark S. Harris (Lord Stefan li Rous)
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