[Sca-cooks] Med. foods discussed at Leeds Medieval Conference 2006

Johnna Holloway johnna at sitka.engin.umich.edu
Sat Aug 19 16:30:29 PDT 2006

SCAtoday.net had this item listed. Johnnae

Here's a taste of life in those medieval dining halls

Europe's largest medieval convention arrived at Leeds University this
week to reveal some surprising facts about how our ancestors lived.
Education Reporter Ian Rosser reports.

FANCY tucking into roast chicken with strawberry sauce and pomegranate
seeds? Or what about leeks in almonds and spiced ginger bread?
No, these two adventurous dishes are not on the menu at a fancy Leeds
restaurant. Rather, they were the dishes lords and ladies would have
been tucking into more than 500 years ago.
The culinary habit of late 15th century England is one of hundreds of
topics on the timetable at Europe's biggest medieval convention at Leeds
University this week.
The International Medieval Congress (IMC), founded in 1994, provides the
platform for intellectual debate in the field of medieval studies.
Hosted by the university's Institute for Medieval Studies, the IMC
attracts about 1,400 medievalists from around 40 countries. It is the
largest annual academic conference in the UK based on the numbers of
papers delivered, and the largest annual conference in the humanities in
And one of the hottest topics at this year's four-day event was – what
early westerners have in their larder? Apart from the oatmeal bread and
boiled beef, there was a surprisingly rich and varied list of
ingredients which included valuable spices such as caraway, nutmeg,
cardamom, ginger, garlic and pepper.
"Wealthy noblemen in late 15th century England would serve spicy food to
guests to demonstrate their social standing," said Caroline Yeldham an
historian who has specialised in Medieval and Tudor cookery for 14 years.
"Spices and other commonly used ingredients such as sugar, honey,
almonds, dates, figs and raisins which came from foreign lands, and were
therefore extremely expensive, were added to everything from pork pies
to fruit compote."
Caroline and Mark Dawson, head chef at Weetwood Hall in Leeds, cooked up
their own version of medieval food for visiting scholars, historians and
museum professionals attending the Congress
Their choices consisted of dishes derived from Forme of Cury, the first
English Medieval cookery book, attributed to the chefs of the court of
Richard II.
Guests helped themselves from platters of food which included the
aforementioned roast chicken with strawberry sauce and pomegranate
seeds, and the leeks in almonds and spiced ginger bread, alongside a
mutton with onion salsa.
But there were also reminders that not all medieval folk ate like lords.
For mere commoners, dinner was more likely to have consisted of
wholemeal bread, boiled beef or mutton, bean, pea or oatmeal potage with
vegetables, and mustard as a flavouring.
Caroline has been sharing her knowledge of medieval food with IMC
delegates since 2001. This year, in between attending presentations of
papers covering all manner of subjects from reluctant virgins to female
undertakers, from courtly knights to grumpy old men, from popes to
prisoners of war, dinner guests have once again been converted to
Caroline's cause.
"There's always an element of surprise to how tasty the dishes are," she
While the modern British palate is accustomed to exotic combinations of
foods from afar the Victorian and Edwardian editors of the first
reprints of medieval cookery books were less enthusiastic.
"The word 'disgusting' is often mentioned in the accompanying notes,"
laughed Caroline.
"It's a lovely cuisine, with wonderful recipes giving a wide variety of
subtle flavours, using an enormous variety of ingredients. They were
much more active than modern people, and the food is very healthy,
dominated by what is in season.
"Although meat was very important, it has a surprising emphasis on fish,
fresh fruit and vegetables. Gardeners also grew a wide variety of fresh
herbs ."

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