Saturday, September 10, 2011


"Here Beginnethe A Boke of Kokery . . . "

This makes no sense until you remember that garbage is a term that comes from the seemingly useless remains of a butchered carcass. Folks were poor back in 1450 so your average housewife had to make delicious soups from the scraps one might otherwise throw away.

In case you can’t read the old English too well, here is a translation.

Chicken Soup

Clean the leftover chicken parts (heads, skin, feet, liver, gizzard). Cook in a big pot with beef broth, pepper, cinnamon, cloves, mace, and finely chopped parsley and sage. Soak some bread in the broth, press it through a strainer, and add to the soup, letting it come back to the boil. Add ginger, grape juice, salt, and a little saffron. Serve.

Grape juice was added as a necessary acid. Sometimes sour apple was used instead. Today we use lemon juice, but citrus fruit would not have been readily available. The pepper would be black pepper, since Columbus had not yet breached the New World. Hence it is a cookbook devoid of the solanaceae family (potatoes, tomatoes, aubergines, tobacco). The thickener here is strained bread rather than potato starch. The profusion of strong spices would have gone a long way to mask the flavor. 

Chances are these spices came to England via the Venetians just as the Byzantine Empire was falling apart at the hands of the Ottomans. The chicken fell apart at the hands of just as determined a force: a hungry woman.

Harleian Manuscript 4016, c. 1450
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