Cooking in the Middle Ages, recipe reconstruction

Medieval cooking display at History Alive: A Journey Through Time 2015

Andrew’s medieval cooking display at History Alive: A Journey Through Time 2015

The Forme of Cury was compiled and written by the master chefs of King Richard II of England, around 1390 CE. It gives us a great insight into the foods that would have been served into the royal household. As such, many people of wealth and affluence would be seeking to emulate this.

However, many of the recipes are not for great feasts and I think it is reasonable to assume that this is every day cooking for the royal household. By understanding what our ancestors ate we can get a better picture of how they lived. Food has a great influence on how someone lives, for it is more than just sustenance it is a way of live for many.


The Cury – what is that?

It may come as a surprise to most people, but the word ‘curry’ or ‘cury’ is actually an English word – not an Indian word. Cury or curye was English – referring to the cooking of food. As referred in the book title, The Forme of Cury. The word was most likely a bastardisation of the french ‘curie’ (to cook).

Alan Davidson, in The Oxford Companion to Food, proposes that Europeans misunderstood the Tamil word kari – a thin soup-like spiced sauce – to refer to all dishes of this kind. Hence becoming the word curry.

At History Alive this year, my re-enactment group, Ex Libris cooked a few dishes over the weekend. One of which was Mawmeny a dish that appears in The Forme of Cury and a personal favourite of mine. I have made this before at home and it is delicious.

First we’ll discuss the original extract from the book.

The Original extract reads:

FOR TO MAKE MAWMENNY. XX.IX. XIIII. Take þe chese and of Flessh of Capouns or of Hennes. & hakke smale in a morter. take mylke of Almandes with þe broth of freissh Beef, oþer freissh flessh. & put the flessh in þe mylke oþer in the broth and set hem to þe frye. & alye hem up with flour of Ryse. or gastbon. or amydoun. as chargeant as with blanke desire. & with zolkes of ayren and safroun for to make it zelow. and when it is dressit in disshes with blank desire styk above clowes de gilofre. & strewe Powdour of galyngale above. and serue it forth.

That looks like a confusing mess, but with a bit of translation we can make sense of it.

Andrew Fraser with fellow group members in the Ex Libris encampment at History Alive: A Journey Through Time 2015

Andrew Fraser with fellow group members in the Ex Libris encampment at History Alive: A Journey Through Time 2015

Firstly, when the recipe is speaking about ‘Blanke Desire’ – it is referring to another dish that Mawmeny is supposed to be served with at the time so this can be disregarded.

Take the Cheese and of Flesh of Capon or of Hens and make small in a mortar. Take the milk of the Almonds with the broth of the flesh of the Beef, other fresh flesh. and put the flesh in the milk other in the broth and set them to be fry. And set them up with flour of rice or of gastbon or amydoun as chargeant as with blanke desire. And with egg yolks and saffron for to make it zelow. And when to serve it in dishes with blank desire stick above it Clove – gilliflower and strew powder of Galangal above it. and serve it forth.

That’s still really hard to follow and still confusing. Some of these things are easily understandable: almond milk, chicken and broth. But others still are confusing and speak in terms we no longer use or understand.

To clarify, amydoun is wheat grains that have been soaked in water, and then cooked and then dried to be used as a thickener. Gastbon is also known as wastrel bread – a good quality bread. To read more about medieval breads go here and here.

So I’ll simplify it again:

Take cheese and the meat of a chicken and pulverise in a mortar. Take some almond milk and beef broth, and other flesh. Put the flesh in the milk and the other in the broth and set them to fry. Thicken them with rice flour, or white flour or amydoun. Whisk in egg yolks and saffron. When serving, garnish it with cloves and galangal.

This is in no way helpful to us in a modern context, medieval recipes do not give measurements – there was no standardisation of cooking as we have it today. We do not get a teaspoon of this a cup of that. When it comes to reconstructing a medieval receipe, it tends to involved a lot of experimentation, and trial and error.

Many assumptions are made in culinary reconstruction. For starters, there are many different sources for Mawmeny, some that call for Greek wine and no almond milk. The first step is to find a modern reconstruction of a Mawmeny recipe to work from.

I got this recipe from Medieval Cookery:

  • 1 pound chicken
  • 2 cups almond milk
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 Tbsp. rice flour
  • 1 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. galingale
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp. cloves
  • 1/8 tsp. mace
  • pinch saffron
  1. Chop the chicken finely and place in a large pot.
  2. Whisk together almond milk egg yolks and rice flour, and add to chicken.
  3. Add spices and bring to a low boil. Simmer until thick, and serve hot.

Source [MS Harley 5401, S. Wallace (trans.)]: Mawmeny. Recipe brawne of capons or of hennys & dry þam wele, & taise þam small; þan take thyk mylk of almonds & put þe saide brawne þerto, & styr it wele ouer þe fyre, & seson it with suger & powder of canell, with mase & quibibs & anneys in confete, & serof it forth.

This is a later recipe, however we can see that the this original also did not have measurements. The writers make an assumption that their audience know how to cook, they are merely passing on how to achieve a dish.

When asked by people how much spice they should add my advice is the same for them in both a modern context as in a medieval one. Use enough that pleases your taste, if following the recipe the first time make sure you follow it close enough to understand the intention of the flavour. But don’t be afraid to add a bit more or less to suit your own palate. The medieval palate was as refined as ours, and they did crave flavour.

My interpretation of The Forme of Cury Chicken Mawmeny

  • 500g chicken
  • 1 cup beef stock
  • 1 cups almond milk
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 Tbsp. rice flour
  • pinch saffron
  • 1/8 tsp cloves
  • 1/4 tsp galangal
Andrew Fraser

Andrew Fraser

  1. Finely cut chicken and place in a large pot, whisk together almond milk, stock egg yolks and rice flour add to chicken.
  2. Bring to the boil.
  3. Serve hot and sprinkle with fine ground galangal and cloves.

You’ll note that I have left the cheese out of the mix for now for now as I am not too sure of the type I am supposed to be using and how much. I will be fiddling around with this, but if I would hazard a guess, I would say 100 grams of a basic cheddar.

Reconstruction of recipes is hit and miss, sometimes you make something great, other times it ends up in the sink. Those sink times you know you are on the wrong path so you go back to the shops and try again.

Feeling curious/brave? You can find a copy of The Forme of Cury from the University of Adelaide here.

Andrew Fraser is a 14th Century re-enactor with re-enactment group, Ex Libris. He loves talking about medieval cookery (Ed: and we enjoy reading it!). You can find him on his Modern Medieval Man blog and Facebook page.

Your day at History Alive

So you’ve made the decision to bring the family to History Alive: A Journey Through Time on the Queen’s Birthday long weekend and you’re ready for an awesome day. But with 2000 years of history in one place, where do you begin?!

If you’re coming by car, you’ll need to drive to 91 Sandy Camp Road, park the car and take the free shuttle bus to Fort Lytton National Park. Or you can take the train to Wynnum North train station and take the free shuttle bus to Fort Lytton.

Accessible parking is available at Fort Lytton, please have your Australian Disability Parking Permit clearly visible so traffic management can wave you through.

The shuttle buses are provided by the Queensland Omnibus and Coach Society.


So what is happening at History Alive this year?

Below is just a sample of the events during the day. Make sure to check out the program here.

64-pounders10am: The day kicks off with a World War I Memorial Service and the firing of Fort Lytton’s 64-pounder cannons to commemorate the Anzac Centenary, followed by a WWI scenario in the Riverfront Arena where you’ll get to see our WWI groups in action.

11am: Take a wander through the encampments and learn about 14th Century cooking with the Knights Order of Lion Rampant or head over to the Lytton Arena for a 1930-40s Dance workshop and show the kids some new (old) moves! Immediately afterward in the Lytton Arena Dance Kaleidescope will be hosting a Regency dance workshop so there is no excuse for not getting some fun exercise in for the day.

TankNoon: You can watch WWII re-enactors in action with an Eastern Front battle playing out in the Riverfront Arena. For those of us who are hopeless romantics, Company of the Phoenix is hosting a 15th Century betrothal ceremony in their encampment.

1pm: Lunch time! Go visit our food vendors for a yummy feed. There really is something for everyone. Pancakes on the Go, Roam’In Pizza and Hungarian Langos (to name just a few) will all be on hand to satisfy the whole tribe. A new addition this year is The Curious Caravan, a 1957 vintage caravan coffee bar. Do not miss it!

Once everyone is fuelled up for the rest of their adventure, head to the Riverfront Arena to catch a tribute to the Battle of Waterloo by La Belle Alliance, or work off some energy at the Lytton Arena with a Medieval dance workshop.

Knights2pm: Knights! That’s all we need to say to get you back up to the Riverfront Arena to catch the 14th Century Tournament of War. Also, don’t miss the Costume Competition in the Lytton Arena. Open to all children up to the age of 14. Find more details here.

3pm: Learn some techniques in the noble art of fencing from the Prima Spada School of Fence in their encampments. The Saga Vikings close out the action in the Lytton Arena with Viking Shield Walls, while Army Group South have the final battle for the day on the Riverfront Arena with the Pacific Theatre Battle.

4pm: After a full day of fun the 64-pounders fire for the last time and we sadly say goodbye for another year and start getting excited for next year. Of course you can make a whole weekend of it and come on both Saturday and Sunday to make sure your family doesn’t miss a thing!

See you there!

Mother’s Day and re-enactment

Image0030I started re-enacting in 1991, when my girls were 5, 2 and 2; so they’ve been around the re-enactment scene for most of their lives.

Re-enactment has taught them to be self-reliant, to research and critique things (one of my daughters is a teacher), do risk assessments, make a fire, sew, embroider (one of my daughter’s first embroidery was better than my best after 20 years!), work timber, work metal (another of my daughters is a blacksmith), cook, negotiate and talk to people (visitors at events we attend).

Re-enactment has been a vehicle for passing on skills that a parent should pass on to a child and has made it easier, interesting, and more relevant.

CIMG3111After a few years’ sabbatical I started re-enacting again, this time with my father, my partner and two of my daughters (the third was living interstate at the time) and we had a small (but informative!) family-based re-enactment group going.

One of my daughters and I even dabbled in WWI re-enactment when another daughter moved overseas.

After taking another short break from re-enactment, daughter number three moved back to Brisbane – an opportunity to give the group bit of a re-vamp. Instead of a static display in our period tent ( made up of 25,000 words!) we decided to have the group portray an extended family’s living quarters traveling in 1229 on pilgrimage to the Holy Land (facilitated by the Knights Templar’s invitation to join them and be their ‘pilgrims’).

ha13_brettcroese-8490This has meant that, in between teaching and being a mother, my girls have been sewing costumes, embroidering, beading, leather working, (hand) sewing another tent…and all the other necessities to get a believable encampment up and running.  My daughters have become adept researchers and can rattle off a list of museums and resources that make my eyes cross. They have also become used to the annoyance of re-making items when new information – that indicates it’s not as good as it could be (or is just plain wrong!)- comes to light.

Re-enactment has taught them that nothing’s certain, nothing’s set in stone, and to always have a back-up plan!

999039_10151477270786537_1681628122_nNow we’ve got the next generation coming along – my 4-year old grand-daughter is learning to sew, and she and her younger brother understand about knives and sharp things, fires, manners… and the cycle is beginning again.

Mother’s Day is so much more special when you have a connection like this with your children and grandchildren – I look forward to it every year.


Mim has been re-enacting for over 20 years and is currently part of re-enactment group, Oltramar. You can catch Mim and her daughters at History Alive: A Journey Through Time 2015 at the Knights Templar encampment.

Keeping it real – or as real as it can be!

Rosalie with her tent and a fellow re-enactor at History Alive: A Journey Through Time

Rosalie with her tent and a fellow re-enactor at History Alive: A Journey Through Time

Going to historical events is fun! The displays, the costumes, the food the atmosphere!

One of the most popular things for members of the public to do is to visit the camps and see what’s going on- see a lunch being prepared over the campfire, wood being turned on a lathe, sewing and craft activities. It looks like a little slice of history. What a lot of people don’t realise is how much effort and research happens before the public gets to see it.

Lunchtime? Those knives and plates are all the correct ones – many based on museum finds. The pottery cups? The colour of the glaze and the patterns on them are specifically chosen to match the time period, right down to the type of clay used to make them.

The ingredients used for the lunch itself depends on what was available at that point in history. The recipes themselves are researched and the same as those used hundreds of years ago. A German 15th century group will be lunching on some very different food to the 12th century English Knights.

People often ask about the clothing, and where it comes from, and very often, that too, has been hand stitched using the same construction methods that were used back then. Buttons might be hand-made. Even the lacing on the dresses is likely to be made by hand using skills from history.

Rosalie with fellow re-enactors at History Alive: A Journey Through Time

Rosalie with fellow re-enactors at History Alive: A Journey Through Time

All this is not very obvious at first glance, because it looks “right” and cohesive, but there’s a lot of work behind the scenes researching 14th century tableware for a noble or what kind of chair is right in 16th century Italy. You might not notice if everything fits together in our displays, but you sure can tell when things are wrong.

So, next time you’re passing a camp, look close, then closer. Come on in and ask some questions about what you’re looking at, who made it  and where the stuff comes from.

Why do we do it? It’s our passion. We’re trying to keep it real. Or as real as it can be.

Rosalie is a 14th Century re-enactor with re-enactment group Ex Libris. She also runs her own blog: Rosalie’s Medieval Woman – if you want to know how people of the 14th Century really lived, stop by and check out what goodies she has for you!