International Gothic Cuisine

Food: A Cultural Culinary History—Episode 14

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Ironically, the horrific bubonic plagues in 14th-century Europe produced societal shifts that led to a resplendent era in food. In today’s podcast we’re going to look at the influence of three seminal Gothic era cookbooks and the craze for spices and sugar in the flourishing of “Gothic” cuisine. We’re going to study specific recipes, take a look at gothic cooking techniques, and even discuss the culture of medieval court banquets.

Images for this Episode:

Culinary Activities for this Episode:

• Taillevent—Cinnamon Brouet

Melegueta pepper, or Grains of Paradise

Although the name brouet in this dish is cognate with broth, this is more of a thick stew. The flavors are absolutely typical of the Middle Ages, as is the technique of cooking twice. For a comparison of the four surviving manuscripts of this cookbook, see Terence Scully, ed., The Viandier of Taillevent, p. 55–56. The following translation combines the four manuscripts for the greatest sense and ease of cooking. Grains of paradise, or melegueta pepper, can be found online or in some specialty shops. It comes from the west coast of Africa and is similar to pepper, though much fruitier and more closely related to cardamom. Do not substitute what is referred to as malaguetta in South America, which is a chili pepper. Also, verjus is the juice of unripe grapes; any tart grape juice will work fine.

Cook your chicken in wine or in water. Or use whatever meat you like. Cut it into quarters and fry in lard. Then take dry unskinned almonds and toast them and mix with a great deal of cinnamon, pound them and mix with hot beef broth and strain. Let this boil with the meat, with a little verjus, and add ginger, cloves, grains of paradise. It will be nice and thick.

• Seymé of Chicken or Veal

Gravé or seymé is a winter pottage. Peel onions and cook them all cut up, then fry them in a pot; now you should have your chicken split down the back and browned on the grill over a charcoal fire; and the same if it is veal; then you must cut the meat into pieces if it is veal, or in quarters if it is chicken … and put it into the pot with the onions.

Then take white bread browned on the grill and soaked in broth made from other meat; then crush ginger, cloves, grains of paradise, and long pepper, moisten them through with verjuice [that’s the unripe grape juice] and wine without straining this, and set aside; then crush the bread and put it through a sieve [remember, everything wants to be smooth], and add it to the brouet [brouet is sort of the ancestor of the word broth], strain everything, and boil, then serve.

Notice that the flavoring has changed dramatically—some of the spices are now completely extinct in the West now; the sauce, the bread-crumb thickener—but on the other hand, this dish wouldn’t be completely unfamiliar: It’s grilled chicken over a charcoal fire and it’s in a thick, kind of spicy, let’s call it barbecue sauce

• Vegetable-Cheese Tart

To make a tourte, take four handfuls of chard, two handfuls of parsley, a handful of chervil, a sprig of fennel, and two handfuls of spinach, trim them and wash in cold water, then chop very fine [actually, you can use any greens here]. Then crush two kinds of cheese, soft and medium, and mix in eggs, yolks and whites, and beat into the cheese. Then put the herbs in a mortar and pound everything together, and put in some fine powder [that’s the spice mix] …take it to the oven, have a tart made and eat it hot.

Suggested Reading:

Adamson, Food in Medieval Times.

Adamson, Regional Cuisines of Medieval Europe.

Albala, Cooking in Europe.

Austin, Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery-Books.

Brears, Cooking & Dining in Tudor & Early Stuart England.

Forster, Food and Drink in History: Selections from the Annales; Economies, Societies, Civilisations.

Freedman, Out of the East: Spices and the Medieval Imagination.

Greco, ed., The Good Wife’s Guide (Le Ménagier de Paris): A Medieval Household Book.

Heiatt and Butler, eds., Curye on Inglysch: English Culinary Manuscripts of the Fourteenth Century

Heiatt, Pleyn Delit: Medieval Cookery for Modern Cooks.

Henisch, The Medieval Cook.

Keay, The Spice Route: A History.

Redon, The Medieval Kitchen: Recipes from France and Italy.

Santanach, ed., The Book of Sent Soví: Medieval recipes from Catalonia.

Santich, The Original Mediterranean Cuisine: Medieval Recipes for Today.

Scully, The Art of Cookery in the Middle Ages.

Images courtesy of:

• Map of Plague: By Roger_Zenner “Atlas zur Weltgeschichte” [CC BY-SA 2.0 de, via Wikimedia Commons
• Oriental rat flea: By National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases-photographer not listed [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
• Bubonic plague: CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
• The Harvesters: Pieter Brueghel the Elder [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
• Peasant revolt: Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons
• Peasant wedding: Pieter Brueghel the Elder [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
• Map of Venice: By G. Braun (1541-1622) and F. Hogenberg(1535-1590), from the engravings by Bolognino Zaltieri (fl. 1560-80) (Middle Earth at bibliodyssey.blogspot.com) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

• Map of the Hanseatic League: By Credited as London: Wm Heinemann / Friedrich Graf. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
• Viandierof Taillevent: By Unknown derivative work by JPS68 (Bibliothèque nationale de France Scan book) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
• Guillaume Tirel: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
• Amadeo VIII: By Michel Wolgemut, Wilhelm Pleydenwurff (Hartmann Schedel, editor) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
• Breadcrumbs: Shutterstock
• Roasting on a spit: Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons 
• Lard: Shutterstock
• A medieval butcher: By unknown master (book scan) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
• Turducken: Shutterstock 
• Blamanche: By Maderibeyza (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
• Feast of the Pheasant: By Anonymous (www.rijksmuseum.nl : Home : Info) [Public domain or CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
• Olivier de La March: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
• Salt cellar: Shutterstock
aquamanile: CC0, via Wikimedia Commons