Friday, March 26, 2010

Hey! Where's My Swan Neck Pudding, Wench?

I stumbled across two 15th century cookbooks this week! If that isn't a neat foodie-find I don't know what is.

So I've been reading through these cookbooks and I'm amazed at what they ate. There are some interesting things on the menu, and I'm not just talking about ol' Vlad:

Medieval banquets included now-uncommon meats like porpoise, seal, whale, peacock and swan.

I know what your thinking, finally a cookbook to tell me what to do with all these exotic dead animals I previously had no had recipes for!

Too many swan guts laying around needed a use? Why not try some delicious Chawdwyn?

Take Gysers, lyuers, and hertes of Swannes, or of wilde gese; And if þe guttes be fatte, slytte hem, and cast hem there-to, And boile hem in faire water; And then take hem vppe, And hew hem smale, and caste into þe same brotℏ ayene, but streyne hit þorgℏ a streynour firste; And caste thereto pouder of peper and of caneƚƚ, and salt, and vinegre, And lete boile; And þen take þe blode of þe swan, and fressℏ brotℏ, and brede, and drawe hem þorgℏ a streynour and cast thereto, And lete al boyle togidre; And þen take pouder of Gynger, whan hit is al-moost ynougℏ, And caste there-to, And serue it forthe.
Swan bits with blood and ginger.

Om nom, right?

Now I'm thinking, about about the menu at Medieval times? What gives there? Where is the Chawdwyn?

Of course, I'm referring to the is a chain of dinner theaters in the U.S. which offer dinner featuring staged medieval-style games, 'sword-fighting', and jousting followed by a 'tournament'.

To my European and UK readers who were not aware of this silly concept, we Americans are strange... but you probably already know that.

photo credit: Phil Guest via Wikipedia

For the poor souls who have not had the pleasure of dining at Medieval Times I have their menu here, reprinted from their website:

Medieval Times' noble guests feast on garlic bread, tomato bisque soup, roasted chicken, spare rib, herb-basted potatoes, pastry of the Castle, coffee and two rounds of select beverages. A full-service bar is also available for adult guests. Vegetarian meals are available upon request.

The vegetarian meal includes tomato bisque soup, garlic bread, large Portobello mushroom cap stuffed with whole grain, rice and bean blend, large skewer of roasted vegetables, hummus with pita chips, pastry of the castle and two rounds of select beverages. (Please advise your server of special meal requests once you are seated at your table.)

Then you wash it all down with a big mug of Pepsi. Rock on.

Never mind the fact that potatoes and tomatoes are native to the Americas and did not make an appearance in any European cuisine until it was brought back by the Spanish in the early 16th century. Oops?

Don't get me started on the absurdity of the garlic bread. Though it was likely cultivated before the 16th century it was still a rare ingredient in any medieval English cuisine. Coffee is equally silly.

So what do you do when you crave some real medieval fare?

Skip Medieval times and start cooking from this online cookbook. Don't worry, not every recipe requires you to swipe animals from your local park/zoo/aquarium/pet store. Several recipes use more accessible ingredients.

Take this stew for example:

vj. Beef y-Stywyd.—Take fayre beef of þe rybbys of þe fore quarterys, an smyte in fayre pecys, an wasche þe beef in-to a fayre potte; þan take þe water þat þe beef was soþin yn, an strayne it þorw a straynowr, an sethe þe same water and beef in a potte, an let hem boyle to-gederys; þan take canel, clowes, maces, graynys of parise, quibibes, and oynons y-mynced, perceli, an sawge, an caste þer-to, an let hem boyle to-gederys; an þan take a lof of brede, an stepe it with brothe an venegre, an þan draw it þorw a straynoure, and let it be stylle; an whan it is nere y-now, caste þe lycour þer-to, but nowt to moche, an þan let boyle onys, an cast safroun þer-to a quantyte; þan take salt an venegre, and cast þer-to, an loke þat it be poynaunt y-now, & serue forth.

Ability to read Middle English not so great? Don't worry, I've roughly translated it for you.

Medieval Beef Stew:

Take fair beef of the forequarters, and cut into fair sized pieces, and wash(?) the beef into a good pot. Than take the water that the beef was soaking in and strain it through a strainer(remove the scum?) and set the same water and beef in a pot and let them boil together. Than take cinnamon, cloves, mace, grains of paradise, cubebs (substitute allspice/black pepper?), and minced onions. parsley and sage, an cast into the pot, let them boil together.

Take a loaf of bread and soak it with broth and vinegar, and than draw the bread through a strainer and set aside. When the stew is nearly done, cast the bread mixture into the stew but not the bread too much (not the mulch?) and let it boil, and add the saffron and the salt. "Look (to see) that it be thickened enough and serve it forth. (With a mug of Pepsi)


Oh, and if someone makes this stew and sends me photos, I will love you forever.


  1. wow! wherever did you find this!?
    too cool.
    do you think you'll ever make any of the dishes?

  2. A lucky find and yea, I will most likely cook from it at least once.

  3. I took Medieval Lit a year and a half ago. My professor would've loved these cookbooks! :)

  4. I love historical cook books! One of my favorites is Monet's Table ( If you ever run out of challenges, please try the vert-vert cake from the book. It's green and is colored with spinach. It looks like it might take the better part of a day to make it, and I'm too chicken to try it.

  5. I have a set of cook books from the 60s that my mom gave me with a recipe for roast beaver. I've been wanting to host a dinner party with a course from each of the books. (Not the beaver though, I'm vegetarian).

  6. So the image with the people impaled on spikes - was that in the cookbook? My old-style German isn't quite up to the challenge of figuring out how that image has anything to do with food. :)

    Love the post! If anyone wants to have a real medieval style meal (not Medieval Times!), I recommend contacting your local Society for Creative Anachronism branch and see if they're having a recruiting dinner sometime. I didn't end up joining SCA, but the recruitment dinner I was served was one of the best I had in college!

  7. One of my cookbooks from the 1960's tells you how to cook whale. Apparently you cook it like you would beef.

  8. Oh no, that's just Vlad dinning before a bunch of impaled corpses.

    The cookbook online is devoid of images, so I threw in any ol' woodcut I could fine of people dining to liven up the post.

  9. I would go CRAZY if I found those books! My oldest book is from 1891 and I am always on the lookout for more old cookbooks.

  10. Hi, do you know the English chef Heston Blumenthal? He had a TV show where he cooked amazing historic meals, he modified the ancient recipes but also explored how the original one tasted and looked like.

  11. Ooooh how very very cool!! I love food history. In fact I've been a food geek for so long that one of my favourite books when I was young was a Barbara Cartland historical romance about a girl who secretly became a chef, it was set in the 18th century and Barb had done lots of research, as she does, to make the book full of wonderful descriptions of dishes and banquets of the time. LOVED that book, despite it being a cheesy romance.

    The show yael describes sounds like something I would love!

    Please post more from these books, they sound fascinating!

  12. Nice. My favorite weird ancient food is probably glazed lark tongue. The Romans were into that. Must have been a crap job pulling enough of them out to feed an orgy. Like gathering saffron, only gross. Heh.

  13. Interestingly enough my husband and I attended a ball at a medieval castle in Hessen Germany last Saturday. After reading your post I am relieved to say the food was less than authentic. Thank goodness!

    I included a link to this post when blogging about the food at the ball. If this bothers you I will remove it right away. Love your blog, keep up the good work.

  14. I have a modern edition of Markham, a late 16th-early 17th century book of receipts (recipes) and household management. I love the pippins in a coffin (apple pie) and the stews. No self-respecting household in early Plimoth would be without it. (Grew up in Plymouth MA and worked as a Pilgrim, including cooking)

  15. "an loke þat it be poynaunt y-now,"

    That means, "Look (to see) that it be thickened enough"

  16. A Boke of Gode Cookery ( has translations for many of the recipes in the book you found. I'm planning to make bite-sized pies from the Torta Invire (chicken pie topped with sugar and rosewater) for an SCA event later in the year, and my favourite dish, chicken, cherry and walnut pie is based on the Basic Meat Pie instructions.

  17. Wow that's really interesting. And Medieval Times is fun when you're a kid! :) (I guess it could be fun when you're an adult too.) And ugh! Eating with impaled people for guests?!

  18. Oh, these Medieval events are rather common in central Europe. I've been to several, here in Germany.

  19. Sweetie, With this post you have totally ruined my surprise for you. When you come to London in May I was planning a nice swan and seal bowel pie with a sow blood pud. Damn, now we are going to have to just have chicken nuggets. Kisses, MH

  20. Fantastic post! My favorite historical cookbook is The Gentleman's Companion (set of two, one for food, one for drinks). I've never made anything from it, but it's hysterical reading. The dedication, for example, reads that "Contrary to current routine this volume is not dedicated to Publisher, Wife, Friend, Mistress, or Patron, but to our own handsome digestive tract without which it never could have seen the light of day." It only gets better from there.

  21. Your mom is a stitch!

    Our Friends group received a donation of a book called "The Art of Homemaking" from 1898. I'm sure it has recipes of some sort. If anyone is interested, you can go to on Monday - I'm going to post it there for sale at that time. I'll try to extract a recipe to post as well!

    It is funny how these old books have some timeless advice that works well and some (what in the heck were they thinking) kind of advice...

  22. Your medieval challenge intrigues me (although it may take me a couple weeks to get things organised)! But what are "grains of paradise" - or what can be used as a substitute?

  23. A few years ago in the UK, I found "The Medieval Cookbook" by Maggie Black. It is thin (143 pages including index) but has culinary commentary and lots of recipes. No swans, but lots of recipes for venison, bread, monastic and Lenten fare, and a number of desserts that are surprisingly good, like cherry pudding and various custards. One of the entertaining things about the book is that the recipes are first given as direct copies from medieval sources, with spellings and ingredient names, followed by a modern "translation." Lots of yummy stuff, and a cookbook I use regularly.

  24. MotherHumble,

    First comment in weeks! Don't think I haven't noticed.


    Grains of paradise have a peppery flavor, so I imagine you could just substitute a bit of ground pepper.

  25. I HAVE this recipe! My step-mom used to work in a second-hand bookstore and would cull some of the interesting finds - many of them odd cookbooks for me. One such find was "A Fifteenth Century Cookry Boke" compiled by John L. Anderson, copyright 1962. The first recipe is the one you have posted. I found the introduction to the glossary hilarious: "These recipes have not all been kitchen-tested for your protection; you are entirely on your own." I haven't been brave enough to attempt any of the recipes thus far, but it is fun to try to figure them out once in a while!

  26. It's not that ancient, but when I asked my grandmother what her favorite cookbook was, she replied, "1934 Fannnie Farmer." Hers was by then a pile of stained pages, so I searched a service and got her another in better condition, and got one for myself as well. My personal fave: the banana bread. It begins, "Mash one banana with a silver fork."

  27. So that's a picture of Vlad eating, huh? And here I thought it was merely a warning of what happens to diners who don't tip the waiters.

  28. I Challenged my brother to make this dish today, after browsing your site, since he is fascinated by all things medieval. His verdict was "tastes a thick and spicy corned beef stew."


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