Thursday, June 25, 2009

Even More on "Forme of Cury"

On Monday I griped a bit about the lack of a way to link directly to the John Rylands University Library images of "Forme of Cury". There are some things that I can't just leave alone, and seeing as I'm somewhat of a web geek, I did what I could to correct the situation.

I put together a web page of links to the manuscript images. That way others can have some place to link to that provides clear and simple access. Note that the images are still hosted on the John Rylands University Library's servers (I'm not violating their copyright). This means that they could easily fiddle with their servers or add some kind of authorization process that would break the links, so I don't know how long this page will be useful.

Monday, June 22, 2009

More on "Forme of Cury"

So the latest big news in medieval cuisine is that the John Rylands University Library in Manchester has made images of their copy of "Forme of Cury" online.

One oddity though about the BBC news story on this event is that there is no link provided to the images. There is a link in the sidebar to John Rylands University Library (and their "Medieval Collection") though, so perhaps it's there.


The images are indeed there, and can be viewed free of charge - so I guess I really shouldn't complain - but the university has them (and all their images of other beautiful manuscripts) tucked away behind some clunky code. There is no clear and simple way to link directly to them (it apparently can be done - folio 4, verso - but it's not clear and simple). Instead you need to go to the Rylands Medieval Collection website, click on the link for the Insight Browser (the page says you can use the username 'uman' password 'est1824'), and then find the manuscript (it's reference number English MS 7). Then you can look at each page, one by one.

Really, I'm very happy that they've gone to the effort of digitizing this manuscript and putting it online with FREE access. What keeps echoing in my mind though is the bit from Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy where the demolition orders were on display in the cellar in the back of an unmarked filing cabinet, stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying "Beware of the Leopard".

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

What's wrong with this Picture?

Ok, take a good look at the image below ...

Now let's think about how people really use refrigerators - assuming of course that we're talking about people who cook rather than those who open and heat. No, I'm not talking about how freakin' empty this fridge is, or how clean it is, or even the lack of mysterious containers of food leftover from some forgotten meal in a previous decade. What really stinks my cheese here is how the clueless engineers intended the fridge to be used.

Let me give you a hint. You're going to make beef stroganoff, or maybe grill steaks, or Thai curried chicken, or whatever, so you get the meat out of the freezer to thaw overnight in the fridge. Where do you put it?

Do you see the problem now?

Food safety guidelines have stated for the past million years that raw meats should NEVER be stored above ready-to-eat foods. Yet the bottom of the fridge is specifically set up with bins for fruit and vegetables (my fridge at home helpfully has the bins labeled, with a special little sliding lever to switch from "Fruits" to "Vegetables" - one's vented, the other isn't, I can't remember which is which though). So the frozen meat is set on the lowest open shelf where it can drip bacteria-laden grossness all over those nice grapes or apples or salad greens (my fridge at home helpfully has that little sliding lever and vent to allow the meat juice better access to the produce). I suppose you could rinse the produce with bleach before consuming, but that doesn't sound like a very safe idea either.

Here's a model from a different manufacturer:

This isn't an isolated thing. I can't remember ever having a fridge that didn't have produce drawers at the bottom. Are the people who design these things completely clueless, or do they just not think? Maybe they're all vegetarians?

As to the cause of this rant, suffice it to say that I had to sanitize the bottom of my fridge and pitch all sorts of leftovers that I'd been saving for the next nuclear apocalypse. Time to re-organize, re-purpose, and re-label.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Medieval Catering

So here's the fun news: on Tuesday I cooked for the OSU Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies.

They did an interview with me last year for their newsletter (Nouvelles/Nouvelles) and I'd been in contact with them off and on.

So when they asked if I could prepare some medieval dishes for their end of year get-together I was thrilled. I planned out a menu that would have a good number of dishes so they'd be able to get a sense of medieval French and English cuisine. Here's what I selected:

Kristen was kind enough to make some of the dishes (the bread, wafers, and breny) and also take a day off from work to go to Columbus with me and serve. Things wouldn't have gone nearly as smoothly without her help (especially as my dishwasher died on Sunday in the middle of preparations). She drove down to Cincinnati in the morning, and we loaded up the van and left just after noon for Columbus. It's a two hour drive, with nothing but flat farmland on both sides, ending in a twisting route through OSU's campus. We found the building where the party was going to be held about 45 minutes ahead of schedule. Then it was unload, park, and get to work. We were just getting the last dishes plated and out onto the buffet table when the guests started showing up.

The food was very well received, with a couple of surprises. The stuffed eggs always do well, as do the pumpes, but I'm not used to people being that excited about the compost. The average American just doesn't seem to go for pickled root vegetables. Maybe academics have more adventurous palates than lesser mortals. Maybe the vegetarian students were really hungry. Whatever the reason, they ate more of it than I expected.

Oddly, the big winner was the hypocras. I'd never worked up a proper recipe for it before (don't ask me why), but they'd requested some kind of medieval beverage, and hypocras was the easiest of the alternatives. Because the party was held on campus, I had to make it a non-alcoholic version - essentially grape juice and powder douce with a little vinegar added to make it taste more like wine.

The only glitch in the whole thing was that there was waaay too much food, which made it all cost more than it should. This was due to a combination of things, including an overestimate of the number of guests (50 instead of the 30 that showed up) and my typical tendency to overfeed people. Got to watch that for future events.

And there's the good news: the CMRS director, Richard Firth Green, seemed very happy with how things turned out and asked if I'd be willing to do similar events in the future. I, of course, said "Yes!"

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Kalendarium Hortense - June

The Kalendarium Hortense was published by John Evelyn in 1683. It contains instructions for what a gardener should do throughout the year. The excerpt below is the list of what is to be done in the "Orchard and Olitory1 Garden" for the month of June.

Sow Lettuce, Chervil, Radish, &c. to have young and tender Salleting.

About the midst of June you may inoculate Peaches, Abricots, Cherries, Plums, Apples, Pears, &c.

You may now also (or in May before) cleanse Vines or exuberant Branches and Tendrels, cropping (not cutting) and stopping the second Joynt immediately before the Fruit, and some of the under branches which bear no fruit; especially in young Vineyards when they first begin to bear, and thence forwards; binding up the rest to Props.

Gather Herbs in the Full to keep dry; they keep and retain their vertue and sweet smell, better dryed in the shade than Sun, whatever some pretend.

Now is your season to distill Aromatic Plants, &c.

Water lately planted Trees, and put moist and half rotten Fearn, &c. about the foot of their stems, having first clear'd them of weeds and a little stirred the earth.

Look to your Bees for Swarms and Casts; and begin to destroy Insects with Hoofs, Canes, and tempting Baits, &c. Gather Snails after Rain, &c.

1 - Olitory: of or pertaining to, or produced in, a kitchen garden.

Monday, June 1, 2009

NOT The Medieval Diet™

Got a lot I'm up to (more on that later this week) so I haven't posted much lately, but a friend just sent pointed out a website that I must comment on.

I've talked about the Medieval Diet™ before. It's a very rich and complex topic, and there's a lot we can learn from medieval Europe about healthy eating. This site however has nothing to do with medieval Europe.

Apparently the site was designed (if you can call it that) by one of those sad individuals who think that liberally sprinkling words like "ye" and "verily" through a text make it sound more medieval. There are no medieval recipes in their medieval diet and no information on what was eaten in medieval Europe. I'm surprised they didn't spell it "mid-evil".

Oh, and from what I can tell the advice given isn't all that good from a dietary viewpoint either. Sad. Just plain sad.