Monday, May 21, 2012

A review of Constance Heiatt's most recent book on medieval cookery: Cocatrice and Lampray Hay

Reproduced from the excellent review source, The Medieval Review 
Hieatt, Constance B. ed. and trans. Cocatrice and Lampray Hay: LateFifteenth-Century Recipes from Corpus Christi College Oxford.
Totnes: Prospect Books, 2012. Pp. 176. GBP30.00/$60.00. ISBN: 978-1-903018-84-2.
 Reviewed by Melitta Weiss Adamson     The University of Western Ontario

For nearly four decades the study of food in medieval England has beeninextricably linked with the name Constance B. Hieatt.  Her 1976 bookPleyn Delit: Medieval Cookery for Modern Cooks, which she co-authored with the late Sharon Butler, became a best-seller.  Apaperback edition in 1979 was followed by a completely revised secondedition in 1996 with Brenda Hosington as her collaborator.  In 1985,Hieatt and Butler published Curye on Inglysch, and in 1988appeared Hieatt's edition of An Ordinance of Pottage.  TheLibellus de Arte Coquinaria, published in 2001, was the resultof her collaboration with the late Rudolf Grewe.  To the books fromthis period must be added many shorter pieces which appeared inSpeculum, Medium Aevum, and elsewhere.  In addition tomaking more of the medieval manuscripts available in scholarlyeditions and translations, and offering modern adaptations for many ofthe recipes, Hieatt soon recognized the need for a comprehensive listof extant culinary manuscripts from medieval Europe and collaboratedwith Carole Lambert, Bruno Laurioux and Alix Prentki on the 1992Répertoire des manuscrits médiévaux contenant des recettesculinaires, which is included in the book Du manuscrit à la
edited by Carole Lambert.  The Répertoire remains to
this day one of the most important reference works for medievalEuropean cookbook manuscripts.  With a good number of the extantculinary manuscripts from England accessible in print by the beginningof the new millennium, Hieatt set out to collate the various versionsof individual recipes and in collaboration with the late Terry Nutterand Johnna H. Holloway published the Concordance of EnglishRecipes: Thirteenth Through Fifteenth Centuries in 2006, which she
followed two years later with her book A Gathering of MedievalEnglish Recipes containing editions of various shorter culinary
manuscripts and a supplement to the 2006 Concordance.
With Cocatrice and Lampray Hay Constance Hieatt returns to amanuscript she and the late Sharon Butler had first begun totranscribe around 1980, but put aside on account of its manydifficulties (22).  Corpus Christi College Oxford MS F 291 is amanuscript from the end of the fifteenth century, written in MiddleEnglish and possibly originating from Norfolk (10).  Its recipes,unlike most in the earlier cookbook manuscripts from England and thecontinent, are very detailed and provide quantities for manyingredients.  The dishes usually serve between sixteen and eightydiners (20).  The recipe titles in the table of contents on fols. 1v-2v correspond largely but not completely with the recipes that followon fols. 3r-68r.  The main differences are due to some recipe titlesomitted in the table of contents, and two sheets now missing from thecodex.  All in all, Hieatt calculates that the cookbook likely oncecomprised 101 recipes of which 99 are extant today, most of themwritten in one hand (10-11, 19).  For each recipe, the editor providesthe transcription of the original text, a modern English translation,and a commentary which in most cases also contains notes for moderncooks who would like to interpret the dishes.  Since she does notoffer modern adaptations of the recipes complete with exact quantitiesand cooking instructions, the notes are geared more towards theexperienced cook than the novice.  Although many recipes havecounterparts in other manuscripts, the Corpus Christi College cookbookis not directly related to any of those recipe-collections, as Hieattpoints out (11).  What becomes clear from reading her comments to therecipes is that vocabulary, some of which not found anywhere else,confused instructions, and scribal errors pose the biggest problems toour understanding of the manuscript today.  We are fortunate thatConstance Hieatt decided to publish the recipe collection late in hercareer when she had the extant cookbook tradition of medieval Englandat her fingertips and was able to solve more of the problems than anyof her peers or she herself at an earlier time would have been ableto.  The book concludes with a supplement to the Concordance of2006 which combines the new material from the Corpus Christi Collegemanuscript with that contained in the 2008 supplement of AGathering of Medieval English Recipes (145-172).  Future users
will therefore only need to consult one supplement to theConcordance rather than two.  As in the 2006Concordance, Hieatt also provides a helpful "Glossary of RecipeTitles Used as Lemmas and Cross-Index of Variant Titles" at the end(173-176).
The cuisine reflected in the ingredients and recipes of the CorpusChristi College manuscript is that of a wealthy household.  Pepper,cinnamon, saffron and salt are the standard seasonings; honey in morethan half of the recipes, together with the ubiquitous figs and datespoint to a preference for sweetness.  Other prominent ingredients arealmond milk and grated bread used as a thickener.  The cookbook startson a flamboyant note with a recipe for "cocatrice," or basilisk, afabulous creature half piglet and half chicken (Recipe 1), and endswith a recipe for apple sauce (Recipe 99).  Hieatt describes the orderof the recipes in the collection as "quite eccentric" and detects "nodiscernable overall rationale" (11).  And yet, the collection doesfall into various sections which may point to different medievalsources from which it was compiled and/or various attempts to sort therecipes.  Many of the first thirteen recipes would have been suitablefor a banquet as a sotelty or surprise dish such as the aforementioned"cocatrice" or the skillfuly stuffed chicken (Recipe 4) or stuffedmackerel (Recipe 5).  Following the group of pastries under thesubheading "Baken Mete" (Recipes 14-19), we find two recipes forkeeping foodstuffs for extended periods of time, namely pea pods(Recipe 20), and venison (Recipe 21).  The recipe for "Lampray Hay"opens a long list of fast-day recipes (Recipes 22-55) featuring a vastarray of fish and seafood interspersed with some fruit and vegetabledishes, and a group of four pastry dishes (Recipes 48-51) under thesubheading "Baken Mete for Lentyn."  That "Lampray Hay" containsneither lampray nor hay causes Hieatt to surmise that we may bedealing with a "deliberate joke" (58).  The seventeen recipesfollowing the Lenten dishes are for meat dishes and various pottages(Recipes 56-72).  While most of these are standard recipes also foundin other collections, the five subsequent dishes and dish names notfound anywhere else leave even an expert such as Constance Hieattmystified (Recipe 73-77).  Quite the opposite is the case with thenext set of eight recipes starting with the popular "Morterews"(Recipe 78), "Mawmone" (Recipe 79) and "Blawmanger" (Recipe 80) andending with the simplest of cabbage recipes (Recipe 85).  The editoris unable to place the next recipe with the rather distasteful name"Capoun in Urinele" (Recipe 85) in the medieval English cookbooktradition but vaguely remembers having seen such a recipe before.  Infact, chicken cooked in a glass is a standard recipe in Italiancookbooks of the Liber de coquina tradition where it issometimes referred to as "de gallina implenda" or "gallina cocta incarafia."  The subsequent recipe for "Two Cunnyngs of One" (Recipe 87)in the Corpus Christi College collection also points to an Italianconnection.  The idea of skinning an animal, albeit not a rabbit but adove, roasting the carcass, stuffing the skin with other meat andserving both side by side, is found in the fifteenth-century CuocoNapolitano as Recipe 67, and interestingly followed there by a
recipe for chicken in a carafe (Recipe 68 in the 2000 edition andtranslation by Terence Scully).  In her comments to Recipe 87, Hieattmakes reference to a recipe for two capons from one that is containedin another manuscript from England but does not mention the Neapolitanparallel.  The final set of twelve recipes in the Corpus ChristiCollege cookbook brings an assortment of dishes ranging from pottages,fish and seafood dishes, to gruel, a pudding, pie, tart, and applesauce, all of which may well have been later additions (Recipes 88-99).
Cocatrice and Lampray Hay is Constance Hieatt's latest book onmedieval food but it will not be her last.  Prior to her passing inDecember 2011, she worked on the draft of another book entitled TheCulinary Recipes of Medieval England, which will be published
posthumously.  With her editions, translations, adaptations,concordances, and in-depth studies of medieval and early moderncookery, this prolific scholar has given us tremendous tools withwhich to study early European culinary history.  Now it is up to thenext generation to continue the work and bring the picture that hasemerged thanks to her tireless efforts into an ever sharper focus.Constance Hieatt will be missed by many.

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