Firstly, dearest reader(s), allow me to share a recipe with you from a medieval manuscript I recently downloaded. It is called the Forme of Cury and can be downloaded for free from Project Gutenberg in several formats; it is now tucked away safely on my Kindle. Mind you, it’s entirely in Middle English so be forewarned. I’ve taken the liberty of translating this recipe into modern English so you needn’t shake your head in confusion. Enjoy!
Bukkenade: Take hens or coneys or veal or other flesh. Hew and hem to gobettes (that is, to join). Wash the mix and smite it well. Grind almonds, unbleached, and draw them up with a broth. Cast in raisins, sugar, powdered ginger, herbs stewed in grease (lard), onions, and salt. If it is too thin, mix it well with rice flour or with other things. Color it with saffron.
There you go. A simple recipe to make a bukkenade. Oh, I’m sorry. Were you expecting a legitimate recipe? What, with instructions, measurements, and timing? Ha.
Obviously I’m fascinated by all aspects of medieval history. Low and behold, there’s been a free cookbook (for lack of a better term) circulating for years now that provides some insight into the culinary habits of the era. Here I am, late to the game, and oblivious as always. Without getting too deep into the history behind it, a cookbook is quite the novelty from the time period. A chef didn’t need to be able to read to do his job, nor would he bother writing anything down. Like many jobs and arts throughout the Age, one learned via apprenticeship and practical application. The fact that this thing exists in the first place is rather astounding. I spent my lunch hour reading through it, and some time after work devoted to researching the topic further.
Whilst chatting with that delightful CrossFitter over at The Ascent Blog about my new-found book, an idea dawned upon me that would appeal both to Historical Bruno and Needs to Stop Being Such a Fatass Bruno. Hark! Why not create a diet based upon the historicity of the Middle Ages? To quoth Izma, of Disney fame, “It’s brilliant! Brilliant! Brilliant! Genius I say!”
And so, fair reader(s), I set out upon my quest to research the food and drink available to the average Medieval man. It is important to note that sumptuary laws existed throughout this time period, though to think of them as a medieval creation is simply absurd. Social order was strictly defined in medieval Europe, Arabia, and Asia at this point in time. However, as a product of the 21st century, I won’t limit myself to social class eating restrictions; I’d rather be able to sample things from every way of life when conducting this experiment. Sumptuary laws be damned! I’m eating that suckling pig stuffed with dates!
My research indicated that the overall diet of a medieval man was actually quite healthy; it provided him with enough calories and food groups for him to live and work within his social class. It consisted mainly of vegetables, eggs, bread, dairy, nuts, and stewed meat. For example, a farmer might eat upwards of 3000 calories a day between 2 heavy meals and several lighter snacks in between. A knight in the field could eat upwards of 4000 calories a day! Riding a horse, wearing over 40 pounds of armor, and swinging a heavy sword is sure to burn some calories pretty swiftly. As such, if I eat enough for my daily activities (to include physical exercise and working at my desk), I should be within the clear. As we all know, dieting is nothing without proper physical application.
Finally, what sort of things would I be able to eat if I were to stick to a historically accurate Medieval diet? Why, dutiful reader(s)! How clever of you to ask! I’ve listed some things below:
- Meat (pork, beef, chicken, rabbit, deer, horse, lamb, etc.)
- Most vegetables, fruits, and nuts
- Spices (Pepper, saffron, ginger, salt, sugar, etc.)
What about restrictions? Medieval law and custom had an awful lot of regulations about what you could eat and when you could it eat. Not to mention, from a historical standpoint, many things I enjoy today would be unavailable to your average Medieval man. Even though the Vikings landed in North America, they neglected to bring back any delicious jalapenos to Europe. I’ve listed some things below and my reasoning behind them being excluded for consumption:
- Turkey (Pre-Columbian)
- All of my favorite vegetables (tomatoes, potatoes, corn, beans, squash, etc. PC)
- Meat on Sundays and Fridays (Religious reasons; fish is OK)
- Chili peppers (PC)
- Cashews (PC)
- Peanuts, pecans, and pumpkins (PC)
- Tobacco (PC)
- Some strains of rice (PC)
- Cocoa (PC)
- Alpaca, guinea pigs, and capybara (PC)
Of course there’s plenty things on either side of the list I can/cannot have, but many of them aren’t factors into my current diet, native to my region, or desirable in my opinion to begin with, so losing them isn’t a great concern. I will miss peppers though. Holy hell do I love peppers. Losing tobacco isn’t a bad thing. Not that I’d eat it (can you do that?), but now I have a better reason to not smoke: history is at stake!
I’m going to stop here before I get too long-winded (900 words later). Consider this a taste of things to come. I’ll keep you updated on the progress of my plans for this dietary excursion. I’m quite excited to see this come to fruition. For now, I have to continue researching, draw up a plan of execution, and start shopping around for ingredients and a large pot. If all goes well, I hope to be starting this new diet come Monday. Thanks for reading, and have yourself a great day.