[Loch-Ruadh] Ancient book lists foods fit for a king

Spence Mabry Spence.Mabry at radioshack.com
Fri Jun 28 07:55:26 PDT 2002

Ancient book lists foods fit for a king

Historians whip up a zesty recipe for pike and eels from 1500


Chopped sparrow, roast swan, poached pike, conger eel, porpoise and lamprey:
If it walked, swam or flew, the English medieval nobility ate it -- usually
with a dash of cinnamon, ginger or cloves -- according to an ancient
cookbook released to the public Thursday.

DATING FROM 1500, "A noble bok of festes ryalle and cokery, A bok for a
Prynces housholde" is the earliest copy of a printed cookbook in English,
according to the British Library. It has been in the archives of Longleat
House, the country seat of the Marquess of Bath, since the 18th century, but
until now has been reserved for scholarly use.
       Longleat staff now plan to publish copies of the book. They have
reproduced and eaten some of the recipes, including "pyke and eles in
balloke broth", a dish of pike and eels spiced with cloves, cinnamon and
saffron, and a mixture of milk and colored eggs called "ledlardes."
       "The pike and eels were very strong ... and when we made the dish we
weren't as liberal with the spices as they were -- so it was pretty clear
that medieval nobles didn't like bland food," said Kate Harris, Longleat's
librarian and archivist.
       At least one noblewoman adored the dish: "That must our dame have or
els she will be wrothe (angry)," the book notes.

       Historians say the 80-page book offers new insight into the life of
England's nobility, including its kings and archbishops, and was designed
for the merchant and gentry classes who aspired to copy their betters.
       It is divided into three sections: a history of noble feasts,
including the banquet at King Henry V's coronation in 1413, a calendar of
seasonal foods and a list of ingredients.
       Unlike modern cookbooks, it does not give quantities or cooking times
-- cooks to the nobility were expected to be skilled enough to judge that
for themselves. Scribbled Latin notes in the margin show that the book was
       The book was printed by London-based printer Richard Pynson, a Norman
who later became the king's official printer.
       Harris said it was brought to Longleat when Elizabeth Harley, whose
mother Margaret later became the first Duchess of Portland, married the
first Marquess of Bath in 1759.

         The book reveals that Henry V's coronation feast featured a first
course of 31 swans, roasted and probably redressed in their feathers. All
carried signs praising the king.
       This was followed by dishes of venison, antelope, porpoises and a
range of fish, including carp, perch and lamprey, on which King Henry I is
said to have gorged himself to death.
       There is no mention of vegetables, and desserts are mentioned in
passing as "dowcetes."
       Harris said menus for a feast for George Nevill, who became
archbishop of York in 1465, list a wide range of bird dishes including
sparrows, gannets, gulls, larks and peacocks.
       Presentation was lavish, with many animals served whole. Tables were
often decorated with sugar sculptures that were painted and sometimes even
       Harris said that contrary to popular belief, the nobility ate tidily
and wasted little. They had knives and spoons, but used fingers instead of
forks, which were a later Italian invention.


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