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BNYeast-art - 4/24/97


"A Brief Note on Yeast" by Terry Nutter (Katerine Rountre).


NOTE: See also the files: yeasts-msg, beer-msg, brd-mk-sour-msg, bread-msg,  breadmaking-msg, brewing-msg, wine-msg, vinegar-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: gfrose at cotton.vislab.olemiss.edu (Terry Nutter)

Date: Fri, 11 Apr 1997 09:39:15 -0500

Subject: sca-cooks Yeast


Hi, Katerine Rountre here.  Mistress Ceridwen o Cahercommaun asked about

yeast in period cookery.  As it happens, this issue came up in a recent

issue of Lady Therica's _Boke_or_Diverse_Knowledge_.  What follows below

my signature is a brief article I wrote, in response to the claim that

yeast was unknown in period.  I hope it's helpful.




-- Katerine/Terry



A Brief Note on Yeast

Katerine Rountre (Terry Nutter)


In their article "Winemaking in the Modern Middle Ages" in volume ten of the

_Boke_of_Divers_Knowlege_, Lord Ivan Kalinin and Lady Valentina Krasnaya (Jay

Toser and Christa Toser) write: "Yeast is not mentioned as a separate entity

until Louis Pasteur discovered it in 1857."  Claims of this sort must, I think,

be very carefully stated, or they risk misconstrual.  It would be natural to

concluded from this, that medieval brewers, bakers, and cooks had no notion of

an ingredient corresponding to yeast, let alone of different strains of it.

That conclusion would be false; and the culinary recipe corpus clearly attests

its falsehood.


Certainly, medievals had no notion that yeast was a microorganism, and their

view of what it did when it worked, whatever it was, surely did not closely

resemble the view since Pasteur.  In that sense, they did not know the entity

that we today recognize.  But they used the term "yeast" to refer to the stuff

that makes leavens flour and that causes fermentation in grain, honey, and

fruit based beverages, and they had developed specialized strains.


One would not expect much evidence on the subject of yeast from the medieval

culinary recipe corpus.  Brewing and baking, the two activities that most use

yeast, took place primarily in the brewery and the bakery, not in the kitchen.

But it is kitchen recipes, not brewery and bakery ones, that survive in those

collections.  Certainly the most ample record in the English corpus is

post-medieval, and found in a collection notorious for its extensive repertoire

of brewing recipes.  In the 17th century, Kenelm Digbie's brewing and baking

recipes provide ample evidence that varying strains of yeast were recognized

and distinguished more than two centuries before Pasteur. But there is far

earlier evidence, if one looks for it.


The earliest evidence I am aware of in the recipe corpus for a direct

recognition of yeast occurs in a late 13th century Anglo-Norman collection

(B.L. MS Additional 32085), recipe number 4 in which ("Mincebek") includes the

ingredients "un poi de gest ou un poi de past egre", that is, "a little yeast

or a little sourdough".  In the 14th century, two recipes from _Forme_of_Cury_

(number 154, "Frytour of pasternakes, of skirwittes, & of apples", and number

156, "Frytour of erbes") call for "ale & 3est"* and "a lytel 3est"



A 15th century recipe from MS Harleian 279 (recipe LV 54, "Fretoure") indicates

specialization of yeasts by calling specifically for "Ale 3est", as do MS

Harleian 4016 recipe 133 ("Lente ffrutours": "Ale yeest"), MS Beineke 163

recipe 107 ("Bastons": "A lytyll yest of new ale"), and the

_Noble_Boke_off_Cookry_ recipe 46 ("To mak rostand": "alitill yest of new



These may not be all the references to yeast by name, even in the culinary

record alone, retricted to England between the 13th and 15th centuries and

considering only collections of which printed editions exist: to date, I have

analyzed only the first fifty of 252 recipes in the _Noble_Boke_off_Cookry_,

and none of Pepys 1047, or _Liber_Cure_Cocorum, which may contain more

references to yeast. In addition to recipes that specifically call for yeast by

name, there are six more to my certain knowledge that call for barme (two in MS

Harleian 279, three in MS Harleian 4016, and one in _Noble_Boke_off_Cookry_.

Significantly, of these, two are for rastons, and one is for fritters -- both

dishes other recipes for which call for yeast, suggesting that the cooks who

developed these recipes recognized yeast as the active ingredient in barme.


A 14th century French manuscript provides further evidence of specialized yeast

strains.  In the _Menagier_de_Paris_, the recipe for "Bouchet" (a weak mead)

under the heading "Beverages for Invalids", includes the following passage:

"and add one chopine ... of beer-yeast, for it is this which makes it the most

piquant, (and if you use bread yeast, however much you like the taste, the

colour will be insipid),...."


In short: by the late 1200s -- six hundred years before Pasteur -- recipes

called for yeast by name, and by the 1400s, recipes routinely specify a

particular variety of yeast (ale yeast).  The existence of dishes for which one

recipe calls for yeast and another, in its place, for barme strongly suggest

that the authors of the collections recognized barme as containing yeast; and

the presence, in the 13th century recipe, of sourdough as an alternative to

yeast indicates the awareness that yeast is what makes dough work.  It follows

that not only were they able to provide yeast as an ingredient, but they knew

that it persisted, and continued to work, in certain forms of the products made

with it (barme and sourdough) but not significantly in others (ale or bread).


There is a sense in which, prior to the development of the modern theory of

atomic structure and the understanding of the periodic table, nobody understood

gold.  They did not know that it was an element -- or indeed, know what

distinguished chemical elements -- and did not know its position relative to

the rest, and so on.  But no one would claim, on that ground, that nobody was

familiar with gold before this century.  Likewise, there is a sense in which,

prior to Pasteur's discovery, nobody understood yeast. But in the middle ages

-- and indeed, there is good reason from Jewish dietary law to believe, far

earlier, people knew what yeast was, and had developed specialized strains, and

used them with discretion.





MS B.L. Additional 32085:

Hieatt, Constance B. and Jones, Robin F., Two Anglo-Norman Culinary Collections

Edited from British Library Manuscripts Additional 32085 and Royal 12.C.xii,

_Speculum_ 61/4 (1986),



Forme of Cury:

Hieatt, Constance B. and Butler, Sharon, eds., _Curye_on_Inglysch_, Oxford

University Press (London, New York, Toronto) 1985.


MS Harleian 279, MS Harleian 4016:

Austin, Thomas, _Two_Fifteenth-Century_Cookery-Books_, Oxford University Press

(London, New York, Toronto) 1888.


Noble Boke off Cookry:

Napier, Robina,


Houssolde_, Elliot Stock (London) 1882.<P></dd>


Beinecke 163:

Hieatt, Constance B., _An_Ordinance_of_Pottage_, Prospect Books (London) 1988.


Menagier of Paris:

Hinson, Janet, trans., _Le_Menagier_de_Paris_ (unpublished; available from

Cariadoc of the Bow [David Friedman]).




* In the quotations in this article, "3" represents the letter yoch, which

corresponds roughly, in a medial position, to modern "gh", or in an initial, to

the consonantal use of "y".  "3est" would, in more modern orthography, be

rendered "yest".



Copyright 1996 by Jane Terry Nutter, Rt. 1 Box 118-1, Oakland, MS 38948.  Permission granted for republication in SCA-related publications.


If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.


<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