The Forme of Cury is a 14th century tome and an extensive cookbook, one of the oldest extant examples in the history of Britain! I say!
It’s actually the oldest known cookery book in English. But it has little to do with curry. “Cury” in Middle English means “cookery”, you see. Let’s have a gander.
Forme of Cury: One of England’s Oldest Cookbooks
The Master Cooks of King Richard II likely penned the thing, although it’s a bit unclear if that’s the case.
Eventually, around 1780, English clergyman Samuel Pegge gathered the notes together into a collection and they were published.
This tome kind of has the sense of mysticism that something like the Voynich Manuscript enjoys.
Along with its enigmatic ways, it’s also the earliest known work to mention olive oil and spices such as cloves.
Spices were hellish difficult to come by in the Middles Ages (see Over the Edge of the World for more there) and only the wealthy could come by them.
And the collected works are, essentially, dishes for a King. So, if you fancy living like one then you should hunt down copies of this work.
It includes the recipe for loseyns (lasagne). Behold!
The old English of this reads, rather delightfully, as follows:
“Take gode broth and do in an erthen pot, take flour of payndemayn and make þerof past with water. and make þerof thynne foyles as paper with a roller, drye it harde and seeþ it in broth take Chese ruayn grated and lay it in disshes with powdour douce. and lay þeron loseyns isode as hoole as þou mizt and above powdour and chese, and so twyse or thryse, & serue it forth.”
And if you’re too stupid to understand any of that, here’s the translation:
“Take good broth and put in an earthenware pot, take fine white flour and make with it a paste with water, and make from that foils as thin as paper with a roller, dry them hard and seethe them in the broth. Take grated soft cheese and lay it in dishes with spice powder, and lay over it the pasta layers as many and as thick as you wish, and above powder and cheese, and so two or three times, and serve it forth.”
Lasagne originated in Italy (of course) during the Middles Ages. Likely in Naples. So it’s interesting to see it also became popular in Britain pretty quickly.
Anyway, in total the book has some 196 recipes.
And some believe it was written to go one better than Le Viandier of Taillevent, which was written circa 1300 in France. Because, you know, the Brits have always got to try to outdo the French.
The Forme of Cury remains the most extensive remaining guide to medieval cooking we have.
And many of its recipes consist of animal meats (including whale, heron, seal, and crane). But there are 10 vegetables recipes in total, showing the roots of veganism were well established as in the Middles Ages.
And further evidence of Italy’s influence are present, with multiple pasta dishes.
All of which shows us Brits have been happy to merge cuisine from different nationalities into our collective hotpot, all in the name of better tastes.
Interesting, huh? As a topic, you can explore this further in Medieval Bodies (2018) for all sorts of weird curiosities of those heady days.
Can You Cook From the Forme of Cury?
You can indeed cook from the Forme of Cury! Tasting History with Max Miller has gone out of his way to bring back to life many of these old recipes.
Capon, for example, in the old style of Lorna J. Sass’ dish requires one heck of a lot of ingredients.
Considering the lack of Tesco and other supermarkets back in the 14th century, acquiring this lot would have been a real drag:
3 – 4 lbs capon (or chicken) cut into serving size pieces
1/2 Cup flour mixed with 1/2 tsp salt and 1/8 tsp fresh ground pepper
3 tbsp oil
3 cups milk
1/3 cup honey
3 tbsp minced fresh parsley
2 leaves fresh sage, minced
1 tsp hyssop
1/2 tsp savory
1/4 – 1/2 tsp saffron
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp fresh ground pepper
1/3 cup pine nuts
Yes, well you can follow the cooking instruction on Miller’s video.
There are many others available, of course, and it can add a sense of history to your standard weekly cooking.
Either that or just head to your local McDonald’s and get a Big Mac.
Why did we ever get rid of þ? That was a perfectly good letter.
It’s also interesting to know that people were eating lasagna in England even back then. Or at least the king was. Though I still wouldn’t trade places with Richard II considering how he ended up.
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I agree, readymade lasagnes must have been a treat in Medieval times. Into the microwave after a day on the fields picking turnips. Bliss!
Plus yes on the loss of certain letters. It’s a disgrace they’re gone!
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I actually ate a medieval dinner once. A local society put on a banquet in the old style, complete with trenchers and alternative savoury and sweet courses. They didn’t serve lasagne, but it would have been interesting served on a trencher.
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That’s certainly something I’d like to try as a one off. Also, we all know lasagne is best served in a bucket. 🪣