Med-Cook-rev-art - 9/29/99

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                               Thank you,
                                    Mark S. Harris
                                    AKA:  Stefan li Rous
                                         RSVE60@email.sps.mot.com
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From: pat@lalaw.lib.CA.US (Pat Lammerts)
Newsgroups: rec.org.sca
Subject: Book Review Request
Date: 19 Jun 1996 23:07:17 -0400

al Thaalibi wrote:

        Greetings to all.  I'm planning on adding to my library, and have my 
        choices narrowed down.  What I would like is for any who have had first 
        hand experience with these titles to advise as to whether they are a 
        waste of my resources or not.

        The titles follow:

        _The Medieval Cookbook_ by Maggie Black

Here is my book review, which was originally printed in the
wonderful cooking newsletter, "Serve it Forth".

Black, Maggie.
  The medieval cookbook / Maggie Black. -- London : British Museum
  Press, c1992. 143 p. : ill. ; 22 X 22 cm.  ISBN 0714105562

Ms. Black writes in a light, breezy style.  Her book, "The Medieval
Cookbook" is an easy, pleasant read, and beautifully illustrated,
but not particularly scholarly in tone.  In my opinion, she appears
to write this book for the average cook who knows nothing about
medieval cookery, and in a sense of irony, redacts her recipes in
such a way that I would not want to recommend it to anyone wanting 
to learn about medieval cookery.  While her text seems to be 
essentially correct, it is not well documented.

This is a "theme" cookbook.  Using mostly 15th century sources,
she tries to illustrate what food was eaten from William the
Conquerer through Richard II, using English and French sources.
Chapter 1 looks at the Bayeux Tapestry and gives six recipes that
she thinks approximates the pictures on the tapestry.  Chapter 2
looks at Chaucer and gives six recipes that might have been used
by some of Chaucer's characters.  Chapter 3 looks at life in a
cloister and gives seven recipes that could have been used therein.
Chapter 4 looks at the Goodman of Paris and gives six recipes, but
only one of them is from the Goodman of Paris manuscript.  Chapter
5 looks at "The Babees Book" by John Russell and, very briefly,
discussed how children of good birth were educated.  It gives six
recipes that I suppose are to represent the foods that they were
given to eat.  Chapter 6 looks at the Court of Richard II and
gives six recipes.  Chapter 7 looks at courtly and Christmas
feasting and gives seven recipes.  Chapter 8 looks at herbal
cures and give five untested "recipes" for varying ailments.

In her recipes, Ms. Black does give the original recipe and then
her redaction.  At first she starts to explain any changes
she made from the original, but very quickly ceases to do so.
Occasionally, she will explain an unusual term, but is just as likely
to ignore others or be inconsistant as to its substitution.  She
changes verjuice to Seville orange juice, to lemon juice, to cider
vinegar and to white wine vinegar.  She does not explain powder
fort or powder douce and what she uses in their place varies from
recipe to recipe.  (Yes I know that this is a quibble, but it would
be confusing to someone not knowledgeable with these terms.)
She does not explain saunders, substituting red food coloring
in one recipe and juniper berries or bay leaf in another.  

My biggest concern is when she wants to add a thickener not called
for in the recipe she usually adds "rice flour or cornflour".
While I have no problem with using rice flour,  I wonder why
she wishes to add cornflour and give the impression that it is
a period substance.  She never says, "I found this to be rather 
thin, so you might want to add a thickener, even though the
recipe does not call for one."  

In her "Piment" recipe, which is a version of hypocras, she drops 
three ingredients from the recipe because they "are virtually 
unobtainable today", i.e.: long pepper, grains of paradise and 
spikenard.  She offered no explanation of what they are and no 
substitutions.  

Two of her bread recipes are not from any period source, although
she does mention this herself.  I just wonder why she added
them to the book.

I do not know that I would recommend this book to a beginner.
It is not a bad book, just one that has enough problems that
could trip someone up who would not be able to recognize them.
It is definitely for a journeyman-type cook and up.

_____________________
I hope that you find this helpful.

Yours,
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+ Mistress Huette Aliza von und zu Ahrens und Mechthildberg +
+         Ars non gratia artis, sed gratia pecuniae         +
+                     Kingdom of Caid                       +
+        Barony of the Angels, Canton of the Canyons        +
+                   (pat@lalaw.lib.ca.us)                   +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

<the end>
Mark S. Harris  Med-Cook-rev-art