[Sca-cooks] Il famoso convito 1561

Johnna Holloway johnnae at mac.com
Sat Dec 5 07:02:33 PST 2009

I did a summary on beets and beet roots sometime back.
Let's see... back in early 2004.

Since those archives are gone, here's in the information again


They turn up in various places in the English texts.

More on Beets and Beet Roots

As promised here is more material on the topic of beets and beetroots.
This has taken longer than expected but has proven rather interesting. I
will not make reference to the material already contained in the
Florilegium files on beets and what Gerald said about them in his
editions of his Herbal as well as what others have said in the past few
years on various lists. See the file

The question I set out to answer would be references to eating the roots
of beets prior to the publication of The Good Huswifes Handmaide for the
Kitchen and its recipe for “Lumbardy tartes.” There were also questions
raised as to the colors of the beets being raised at that time. It
should be noted that while there are earlier English recipes for such
foods as ‘leche lombard,’ ‘Lombard stew,’ ‘Crustard Lombard,’ and
‘Fritters Lombard’, I have not found an earlier English version of the
“lumbardy tartes” recipe as given in the GHwHm. It also does not appear
in any of the editions of Partridge that I have examined.

Beets are not mentioned in a number of the more common dietaries, so I
turned to a selection of the herbals, husbandry, and gardening books to
see what can be learned. It took a great deal of time to both identify
possible items to examine and once located to actually examine the works
online. Many of these works lack indexes or tables which made the
finding of relevant sections time consuming. The actual downloading and
adjustment of the images for reading was also very laborious.

Earlier references than 1600 include—


William Turner. The Names of Herbes in Greke, …..etc. from 1548. STC
(2nd ed.) / 24359

Writes of beets:


Beta named in greeke Seution a Teution (the Greek is hard to decipher
from the online copy)

Is called in Englishe a Bete, in Duche Mangolt, in French poree, ou
Jotte. It is called of Plenie and Theophrastus, Sicula. Betes growe in
England, as farre as I knowe in gardines only.

[OED includes a quotation from Turner
1551 Turner Herbal. (1568) F iij a, There are twoo kyndes of
     Betes, the white bete whyche is called sicula, and blake betes.]


William Turner. The Seconde Part of Vuilliam Turners Herball (STC (2nd
ed.) /24366) includes illustrations for Beta Nigra and Beta Candida. He

“The brothe of the roote and leaves scoureth away scurse and scales and
nittes out of the head.” He then continues to list a number of other
things that this brothe does.

Thomas Hill in the Mabey edition below gives the Greek as Sostion. This
is an early and small work of William Turner and dates from before the
first part of his ‘Herbal’ of 1551. Turner is credited as being the
earliest of the English born botanists. A religious Noncomformist, his
books were banned and often burned during the reigns of both Henry VIII
and Mary I. Part two of his ‘Herbal’ was published in 1562 and part
three in 1568, shortly before his death.

A generation later in 1574 one finds:

Hill, Thomas. The Gardener’s Labyrinth. 1577. 1652. [I own the hardcover
edition edited with introduction by Richard Mabey and published by
Oxford University Press in 1987. Mabey used the 1652 edition which means
that I had to go back to EEBO to read the earliest editions. I then read
the hardcover edition to see about differences between the two. It was
published at least six times in the first 75 years. It was also not the
first gardening book that Thomas Hill published. His A Most Briefe and
Pleasaunte Treatyse came out in 1563 followed by The Profitable Art of
Gardening in 1568.]

The 1577 edition STC (2nd ed.) / 13485 is very hard to read due to print
show through. The section on beets begins on page 13 of The Seconde
Parte of The Gardener’s Labyrinth. On page 15 Hill writes: “The roote of
the Beete boyled in water, and” ; the rest of the paragraph is

The 1578 edition STC (2nd ed.)/ 13486 reveals that the rest of the
sentence above should read: three or foure droppes of the licoure
dropped into eares doth remove the rage and pain of the’. He also
mentions that “The juice of the rawe Beete, anointed on any bald place
of the head, procureth the heare to growe, and killeth Lyse. The
decoction of the leaves and rootes, doe also clense the head off Nittes
and Dandrie.” [Wouldn’t the raw beet called for be the raw beet root?]

In the OUP edition, Mabey notes in the glossary that red beetroot was
just arriving in England from Italy at the time of Hill’s original
writings in the 1560’s and 1570’s. The white beetroot had been grown
from Anglo-Saxon times. One thing that strikes one about Hill and his
very complete and detailed account regarding the growing of beets is
that he was very certain that they require ‘much dung’ when growing. The
adage that “The Beet rosted in embers, taketh away the stinking smell
and savour of Garlike eaten, if the same be eaten upon or after the
Garlike, as the Greek Menander hath noted.” is again repeated here. It’s
interesting to read who he thought commonly ate beets. He writes, “The
Beete more often eaten at poor mens tables, ought to be bestowed in a
moist fat earth, and sowen at any season….” Mabey’s text is abridged, so
he does not give recipes nor does he cite much medical lore regarding
them. For that information, one must return to EEBO. One wonders would
the poor have ever required recipes telling them how to cook their
beetes or what parts to eat?

Heresbach, Conrad Heresbach’s [1496-1576.] original work entitled Rei
rusticae libri quatuor was translated into English as:
Foure bookes of husbandry, collected by M. Conradus Heresbachius,
Nevvely Englished, and increased, by Barnabe Googe. It first appeared in
London in 1577 [ STC (2nd ed.) / 13196 In 1578 it again appeared as:
Foure bookes of husbandry, ….Newely Englished, and increased, by Barnabe
Googe, Esquire, At London : Printed [by John Kingston] for Iohn VVight,
1578. [STC (2nd ed.) / 13197] This edition was by a different printer
and although some records indicate it was substantially longer at 893
pages, this is a misprint and the edition is still only 193 pages.

Heresbach says that one should sowe beetes at the same time as spinnage.
He calls them a “common countrey hearbe” and says that “No Garden hearbe
hath greater leaves, so that with due ordering, it growth like a yound
tree. It is called Beta, because when it seedeth, it is (as Columella
affirmeth) to the likenesse of the Greeke letter B. There bee two sortes
of them, the white and the blacke…”

Dodoens, Rembert, 1517-1585. [English edition of the Cruydenboeck.] A
Nievv herball, or historie of plantes

1578. STC (2nd ed.), 6984 Later editions are: 1586, 1595, 1600.

Dodoens was Flemish and never lived nor visited England, but his
Cruydenboeck of 1554 was translated by Henry Lyte from the French
edition and became one of the standard texts of the Elizabethan age.
Dodoens continued work on the Cruydenboeck, according to Frank J.
Anderson, and added and changed it in rather piecemeal fashion until it
“eventually metamorphosed into the Pemptades” of 1583. (Although printed
in English, the 1578 edition of Dodoens was actually printed in Antwerp.
A number of the illustrations found in Dodoens, according to both
Anderson and Eleanor Rohde, are adapted from or printed from the same
woodblocks used to print the 1545 edition of Fuchs, so one finds similar
illustrations when comparing editions of Fuchs and Dodoens.)

On pp.549-551 the text of the 1578 English edition reads:

Of Beetes. Ch. V

The Kindes. There be two sortes of Beetes, the white and red. Ind of the
red sorte are two kindes, the one having leaves and roote lyke to the
white Beete, the other hath a great thicke roote, and is a stranger
amongst us.

[the pictures then show and are labeled:

Beta candida. White Beete Beta nigra. Redde Beete.

On page 550: Beta nigra Romana. The Strange red Beete.]

Dodoens/Lyte goes onto describe both the white and red beetes and then

The strange red Beete is like to the common red Beete, in leaves,
stalkes, seede, proportion, & color, saving that his roote is much
thicker, and shorter, very well like to a Rape or Turnep, but very redde
within, and sweeter in tast then any of the other two sortes.

The Place. They sowe the Beete in gardens amongst pot herbes. The
strange redde Beete is to be founde planted in the gardens of  

Dodoens/Lyte then includes much of the information that is given later
by Langham, except he does state that “the rootes of Beetes put as
suppositorie into the fundament” which makes that clearer.
The section ends with: “The Common red Beete boyled with Lentils, and
taken before meate, stoppeth the belly.

The roote of the Romaine or strange red Beete, is boyled and eaten with
oyle and vinegar before other meates, and sometimes with pepper, as they
use to eate the common Parsenep.”

So is this final instruction not a recipe?

Langham, William. The garden of health…. 1597 STC (2nd ed.) / 15195 was
previously mentioned by Mistress Huette who cited the OED.
Unfortunately, The OED entry saying “1579 Langham Gard. Health (1633) 66
Strake a little salt on a Beete roote, and put it into the fundament”
under beet-root is wrong as Langham is 1597, not 1579 according to ESTC
In any case in that work published in 1597, Under Beetes on pp. 66-67,
Langham writes:

3. Seeth white Beetes in water, and wash running sores therewith. Put
the juice of the roote into the nose to purge the head. 4. Roste the
roote in the embers and eate it, to take away the smell of Garlicke,
Onions, or Leekes.

6. Headache, megrim, swimming, put the juice of the barke of the roote
into the nose…

7. Belly hounde, strake a little salt on a Beete roote, and put it into
the fundament….

8. Head ache of murre or reume, put the juice of a greene roote with a
tent into the nose, the white some being scommed off.

11. Use the hearbe but little inwardly, especially rawe, because it
breedeth evill humors….18. The ashes of the roote with hony, restoreth
haire, and keepeth the rest from falling. 19. The roote of Black or red
Beetes put into the nose, being first bruised, cleanseth the braine. 20.
The broth of the roote and leaves skowyeth away skurse, skales and nits
of the head, and swageth the paine of kived heeles, and it helpeth
freckles and spots, if they be first rubbed over with salt peter
naturall, and so it helpeth the falling of haire, it helpeth running
sores which spread abroade and waste by the fleshe as they goe.

The 1600 edition of Estienne, Charles and Jean Liébault. Maison
rustique, or The countrie farme. Translated by Surflet, Richard, fl.
1600-1616. 1600. [Translation of: L'Agriculture et Maison Rustique.
Charles Estienne: 1504-ca. 1564; Jean Liébault, ca. 1535-1596;. Richard
Surflet, , fl. 1600-1616.
on pages 224-225: reads:

The eighteenth chapter. Of beetes and blites, white and red.

Beetes, as well the white as the blacke and red, which called Bette &
Iotte of the inhabitants of Tourraine, or Romane of the Picardes, are
sowen not only in lent, but at all times, especially after December
until March, and in August, to the ende that there may always be in a
readiness both olde and young, and for to gather seed which may indure
good three yeeres.

Otherwise the advice regarding them repeats the admonition to use dung,
they take away garlick, etc.

Other Non-English mentions:

Leonhart Fuchs (1501-1566) New Kreuterbuch or The New Herbal of 1543.
(Taschen’s reprint is 2001)

Colored plate CXX “Rotruben” depicts a red beet ‘Beta vulgaris’ vr.
‘Rapa’ complete with a substantial red root. The given chapter is
LXXVII. The combination of German and the typeface used in the volume
make it difficult to transcribe and I will leave it to someone else to
decipher the text here. (and I do mean decipher.)

The digital version of Fuch's Botany of 1545 has been scanned by Richard
Siderits, M.D. and is online at:

One must note that the 14th century Latin manuscript Tacuinum Sanitatus
in Medicina includes beetroot. The edition of this published as The Four
Seasons of the House of Cerruti. [translation by Judith Spencer. NY:
Facts On File, 1984] On page 102 the text reads:

There are white, black, and red varieties. The red ones are much
appreciated when thinly sliced in salad, being first boiled in water or
cooked under hot embers, thinly sliced, and dressed with oil, vinegar,
and salt. The sweet white ones are the best. Their juice aufert furfures
capiti, removes dandruff from the scalp and loosens the belly. With
regard to this last point, some recommend that the root be scraped with
a knife, and covered with honey and a little salt, to be used as a
suppository. The disadvantage of beetroot is that it hinders digestion,
because of its moisture and laxative nature, and it heats the blood. It
is suited to the winter and to old people.

The edition published as Herbarium. Natural Remedies from a Medieval
Manuscript [Text by Pazzini and Pirani. NY: Rizzoli, 1980] uses the
Casanatense illustrations and from “those descriptions and from notes
found in other late medieval herbaria” translates into English the
following about beets:

XXX Beet (Blete)

Beet is both hot and dry in the first degree, the best roots being those
that are sweet to the taste. Its juice removes scurf, but it should be
eaten in moderation as it dries the blood. This defect is prevented by
using vinegar and mustard.

It’s interesting to note that the illustration from the Taschenbucher
edition titled Das Hausbuch der Cerruti. [Nach der Handschrift in der
Ossterreichischen Nationalbiobliothek, 1979.] seems to show clearly that
both the leaves and roots of “blete” are being gathered and placed in
the garden basket. This is a far better reproduction of the illustration
than that depicted in the Spencer Four Seasons of the House of Cerruti.
The Rizzoli edition from the variant manuscript appears to show only the

It is worth noting that Mary Ella Milham’s edition of Platina includes
the old adage regarding garlic and beetroot. Given that Platina in print
dates from the 1470’s, it seems the advice on beetroots and garlic was
being circulated in even the earliest of printed texts. On page 185 of
Book III, she translates Platina’s advice “On Sharp Seasonings, and
First on Garlic.”

“The more cloves garlic has, the sharper it is. It causes bad breath,
like onions, leek, shallot and all bulbs. They say, however, that beet
root roasted under coals and later eaten over garlic takes away its foul

Some sidelines to this search are interesting to note: Searching in LoC
revealed that there are hundreds of items on the thrip that eats the
modern sugar beet, but very little on the history. There are modern
journals on the growing… Biatas: the beet grower. One of the earliest
books just on beets is: An account of the culture and use of the mangel
wurzel, or root of scarcity which
was written by the Abbe de Commerell in French. It was translated and
published in London in 1787. Mangel wurzels are the beets that are
generally fed to cattle, but they also serve to provide a form of modern
amusement. http://www.mangoldhurling.co.uk/html/rules.html lists the
rules of mangold hurling which is a sport akin to pumpkin tossing.

Tracing beets back to the Anglo-Saxon texts by using the MED, one finds
them mentioned as early as c1150 Hrl.HApul.(Hrl 6258B)
112.86/1: Nim þisse wyrte seaw, þat man persinacam & engle bete nemneð.

(a1398) Trev. Barth.(Add 27944)
217a/b: Beta is a comune herbe of Gardyns..and þer of is double kynde,
blak and white..me may graffe on a beete stok [L radicem] as me doþ on a
caule stok

For more about these works one might consult as I have: Rohde, Eleanor
Sinclair. The Old English Herbals. 1922, 1989 and Frank J Anderson. The
Illustrated History of the Herbals. 1977.

Hope this helps--

Johnnae llyn Lewis 02/17/04

Sca-cooks mailing list
Sca-cooks at ansteorra.org
On Dec 5, 2009, at 9:23 AM, Louise Smithson wrote:

> snipped
> Now what caught my eye was the roots of beet.  The only other  
> reference I found to beets was from much later (1620) and mentioned  
> them as something new that was coming in from germany, most of the  
> other references to Biete or bietole are referring to the leaves  
> (aka swiss chard).
> Book marking this one.
> Helewyse

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