Episode 28: Food


Hungry? Grab a snack and join Em and Jesse for a discussion of food in the Middle Ages–what did a well-equipped kitchen contain? What kind of dishes were cooked, with what ingredients? And who did the cooking and baking? With some digressions on international variations of hand pies and sandwiches, Wisconsin fish fries, and some modern recreations of Medieval recipes.

Annotations and Corrections

1/ [0:56] For more on the eucharist, check out episode 3 (on Passover and Easter) and episode 6 (especially the long section on the feast of Corpus Christi).

Caroline Bynum’s Holy Feast, Holy Fast. Amazon link.

2/ [5:45] We recorded this on a different day than usual, and for some reason three or four trains went by Dr. Jesse’s house in less than an hour and a half. [I love trains! We’ve got both freight and Amtrak. Invest in train travel!–JN]

3/ [8:30] Actually, my research suggests that the German immigrants who came to Wisconsin were Catholics, so that is where the fish fry tradition came from.–Em

4/ [9:45] Dr. Jesse alludes to the fact that in the laws of Kashrut, fish is considered pareve, meaning it can be eaten with both meat dishes or dairy dishes. (This means specifically fish–not seafood like shrimp or clams.)

5/ [11:00] The Seal of New York City: BEWARE stereotypical/racist Native American imagery! We are linking to the image for the beavers. And the Wikipedia article is here. As of July 2020, Bill de Blasio was in favor of a commission to rethink the seal.

6/ [15:00] The Chester Harrowing is discussed in episode 8 note 26 and episode 27 note 18 [1:02:03].

7/ [16:40] Hrotsvit has come up several times, but the best place to look for more on her is in her own episode, which was number 22.

8/ Chaucer’s Cook: Here’s the description of the Cook in the General Prologue of The Canterbury Tales (lines 379–387). You can also link to the Cook’s Tale from here (sidebar on the left).

9/ [24:20] An Aga is basically a cast iron box that gets hot slowly and then stays hot for a long time. They seem to use a lot of fuel, and (consequently?) they are very posh in Britain.

Here’s a nice blog on hearths and ovens.

10/ [24:30] Maggie Walker came up in episode 10 (note 2), Icons and Iconography. I don’t know who’s blog this is, but if you scroll down you’ll see a picture of the kitchen with the stove (and the kitchen table with an awesome yellow checkered tablecloth).

11/ [30:10] For the frequency (or lack thereof) of communion, see Miri Rubin’s Corpus Christi esp. pp. 147–148. Amazon link.

12/ [31:20] Writing and Rebellion: England in 1381, by Steven Justice. Amazon link.

13/ [32:30] For a lot of the specific information in this episode from utensils to foodstuffs, I recommend Melitta Weiss Adamson’s Food in Medieval Times. For the possibility of roasting a whole ox on a spit, see Adamson, bottom of page 60.

14/ [34:51] Spoons: we don’t talk about it a lot, but I think it’s interesting to mention that spoons and knives existed for quite a while before the idea of having your own personal flatware for eating with at a meal became a thing.–Em

15/ [35:40] Making cheese is pretty easy–bring a gallon of, for example, goat’s milk to a simmer, add some salt and lemon juice, strain out the curds and squeeze out the liquid. Boom, you have chevre. (If you do this with cow’s milk and don’t squeeze out too much liquid, you have ricotta.) However, making really good cheese is much more complicated and can involve different types of rennet, starters, kneading, aging, etc. [Cheese is one of humanity’s greatest discoveries!–JN]

16/ [36:45] Weird Al’s Amish Paradise. (Also note the call out to Buster Keaton with the wall falling over Weird Al. We discussed Buster Keaton in episode 22 note 2–including the falling house façade–and in episode 21, note 3.)

17/ [38:00] Soap tho? [The Middle Ages had soap! It was made using tallow and lots of lye, generally speaking.–JN]

18/ [41:00] Somehow, suggesting that a pastie and a taco are essentially the same thing is like suggesting that a Pop Tart is a kind of ravioli–technically correct, but likely to start a fight. [Food fight!!–JN]

19/ [42:15] Banh mi: apparently, “banh” as a corruption of “pain” or “banh mi” as a version of “pain de mie” is a folk etymology, and the use of “banh” to mean a type of rice cake (like banh Tet) dates to the 13th century. It is written in Nom (Vietnamese Chinese characters) with 餅, pronounced “bing” in Mandarin! “Mi” means “wheat.” “Pho mai” DOES actually come from “fromage,” and inevitably meant Vache Qui Rie (Laughing Cow) brand cheese. The term “banh mi” is used to mean a sandwich, I believe, in the US and other places that aren’t VN. This is an example of synecdoche. In VN you’d say the filling, like “banh mi pho mai” (cheese sandwich). Are they like a taco? This assertion makes me uncomfortable. [I mean no, except in as much as a taco is like a sandwich… 🙂 –JN]

20/ [46:00] Le Viandier. Some fun translations of these recipes can be found here.

21/ [55:00] Liber de Coquina.

22/ The Forme of Cury. For the recipes, see here, and also here.

23/ Clarissa and the King’s Cookbook: Part 1, part 2, part 3. Part two begins with a reading of the recipe for stuffed goose Dr. Jesse recited.

24/ [1:00:40] Again, a shout out to Melitta Weiss Adamson’s Food in Medieval Times. Amazon link. This quote is from pages 63–64.

25/ [1:05:15] Pater Noster = Our Father = Lord’s Prayer. A “Miserere” is Psalm 51 (or 50 in the Vulgate): “Have mercy upon me, O God” (miserere = mercy).

26/ [1:08:25] Meryl Streep savages an onion. [Love this moment!–JN]

27/ [1:11:05] “We haven’t started cooking chicken with sound waves or anything.” Technically we have started cooking chicken with microwaves though, which is a form of non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation. Although, thermal radiation (heat) is also a type of electromagnetic radiation, so… I’m actually torn on whether this counts as an improvement in existing technology or something fundamentally different.

28/ Other cooking shows:
The always awesome Sohla El-Wayly has just started a historic food cooking project with the history channel.

I think the Alton Brown episode of relevance here is season 14, episode 16: A Bird in the Pie Is Worth Two in the Bush. Sadly not freely available, but you can probably stream it on YouTube or something.

This guy does historical baking.

Ann Reardon also cooks historical dishes…here, she’s also cooking from The Forme of Cury.

29/ [1:14:15] St. Apollonia was mentioned in episode 10, note 37.