The recipes, which include both food and medical ointment concoctions, were compiled and written in Latin. Someone jotted them down at Durham Cathedral’s monastery in the year 1140.
It was essentially a health book, so the meals were meant to improve a person’s health or to cure certain afflictions. The other earliest known such recipes dated to 1290.
Many of the dishes sound like they would work on a modern restaurant menu. Faith Wallis, an expert in medical history and science based at McGill University, translated a few for Discovery News:
“For “hen in winter’: heat garlic, pepper and sage with water.”
“For ‘tiny little fish’: juice of coriander and garlic, mixed with pepper and garlic.”
For preserved ginger, it should kept in “pure water” and then “sliced lengthwise into very thin slices, and mixed thoroughly with prepared honey that has been cooked down to a sticky thickness and skimmed. It should be rubbed well in the honey with the hands, and left a whole day and night.”
Re – the “hen in winter” dish, Giles Gasper from Durham University’s Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies said, “We believe this recipe is simply a seasonal variation, using ingredients available in the colder months and specifying ‘hen’ rather than ‘chicken,’ meaning it was an older bird as it would be by that time of year.”
Gasper added, “The sauces typically feature parsley, sage, pepper, garlic, mustard and coriander, which I suspect may give them a Mediterranean feel when we recreate them. According to the text, one of the recipes comes from the Poitou region of what is now modern central western France. This shows the extent to which international travel and exchange of ideas took place within the medieval period. And what more evocative example of cultural exchange could there be than food?”
Gaspar and colleagues are recreating some of the dishes for a workshop to be held on April 25 at Blackfriars Restaurant in Newcastle, U.K. A lunch the following Saturday will feature the same dishes. The researchers are also putting together a translation of the cookbook under the title “Zinziber” (Latin for ginger).
While much of the food is still tasty to modern palates, not all of the medical cures would work today.
Gaspar explained, “Some of the medical recipes in this book seem to have stood the test of time, some emphatically haven’t! But we’re looking forward to finding out whether these newly-discovered food recipes have done so and whether they also possess what you might call a certain Je Ne Sais Quoi — or Quidditas, to use the Latin.”
Viegas, Jennifer. 2013. “Oldest European Medieval Cookbook Found”. Discovery News. Posted: April 17, 2013. Available online: http://news.discovery.com/history/oldest-european-medieval-cookbook-found-130417.htm