walkitout (walkitout) wrote,


So I was reading the apple pie recipe from the Forme of Cury:



I was scratching my head about an assertion made on a page pointing to it, about how sugar wasn't common then and so the coffyn wasn't eaten it was just a container; later when sugar became available, the pastry would be eaten. This makes no sense; I make apple pie to this day with little or no sugar in the filling or certainly no sugar in the crust and believe me, we eat all of both. I was thinking, at the time, that this sounded a whole lot like that assertion that British people didn't eat vegetables until such-and-such a century, which has always struck me as implausible at minimum, if not flat out untrue. I figured as long as I was looking at a really freakishly old cookbook, I might as well look for vegetables. Sure enough, the first two recipes are for beans. Go figure.

In any event, I went looking for a different copy of the Forme of Cury, because I'm relatively certain that the one scanned in at the link above was written by an absolute idiot who believes a lot of things (like, rich people didn't eat beans) that just don't make any sense. Failing that, I took a look at a reference to the Form of Cury in Karen Hess' appendix to Martha Washington's Booke of Cookery. It was an interesting enough essay for me to get my lazy butt out of the rocker, walk across the room, and pull the book off the shelf to read it. And now, I'm going to share little bits and pieces with you, because if that never-to-be-sufficiently-damned Theophano had bothered to do the _least_ amount of reading about cookbooks, she would have run across Karen Hess, who could have set her straight about manuscript cookbooks. Oh, and Aresty's book _The Delectable Past_ has arrived. Hopestill Brett is listed in her catalog, and there's a brief paragraph about her booke, mentioning the dowry list (ha!) as being pinned (ha! ha!) to an early page. So it _really was_ a legal document. I knew it. Gah!

Karen Hess begins with a physical description of the manuscript book (this book is also described in Theophano, and let's just say Theophano swallowed a load of horse pucky about this thing, too), putting it firmly in the context of similar manuscripts of the era -- you know, the way history is _supposed_ to work. She notes that a wealthy household would typically have two books, one for the kitchen and one for the stillroom. Households a notch down would have both books copied into a single volume by a daughter when she went to her own household. Ha! Working documents! I knew it! Grrrr. In this case, the cookbook started from one end, and stillroom book started from the other (upside down from the cookbook, like those Ace doubles, for you sf fans out there), preceded by the indices for both books. In the middle were originally blank pages that acquired more recipes and notes over time. When the daughter(s) of the woman who owned this copy were about to run their own household, they would have copied the whole thing. Hess notes that the layout of the recipes suggests the book was carefully copied line by line, mimicking an earlier ms. One recipe per page (unless it was too long), etc.

Hess then goes on to describe the history of manuscript cookbooks, starting with the Forme of Cury, and how this clutch of things were really virtually identical and all from noble households. As gentry households wanted to be like noble households, they, too, put together manuscript cookbooks, but they were accretive -- collections of recipes put together over a lifetime, and then copied by daughters, each generation adding to them. Very, very different from the noble manuscripts, further evidence (not that we needed it) that Hopestill Brett was _not_ noble.

Hess then goes on to explain how accretions would be carried through in later generations: when the book was copied, those accretions would be placed in the appropriate section, and the index would be modified. She also explains how you can spot errors that were introduced, even when the book is written in a single hand, and how you can make some guesses as to age and region based on dialect and ingredients, based on when, say, chocolate showed up.

It's hard not to conclude that Theophano's long discussion of scribal publication has to be the wrong explanation for the fair copy manuscript cookbooks she was looking at. Which means _another_ big chunk of _Eat My Words_ utterly failed to capture what life was like for women in earlier centuries.
Tags: food, geekitude, not-a-book-review

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