FABULOUS FEASTS: Medieval Cookery and Ceremony by Madeleine Pelner Cosman

FABULOUS FEASTS: Medieval Cookery and Ceremony

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Braziller's new Christmas offering is a luxuriantly illustrated treatise on the food of the Middle Ages, with a happy selection of recipes and detailed scholarly apparatus. The author, director of CCNY's Institute for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, has attracted some media attention for her stylish evocations of the edible past. She is also a student of medieval health and medicine: some of her most interesting materials are on civic regulation of food shops in Chaucer's London and the stormy history of the city's public water supply. But for the great part of her audience, the recipes and descriptions of meals will be the thing. We are introduced to the ritualized structure of noble and royal banquets, and explore the culinary resources and techniques that went into medieval meals. There is much that scholars can only surmise (cooking times; unidentifiable ingredients like ""verjuice""), but Professor Cosman is a supremely educated guesser. She has recast some hundred recipes (mostly 15th-century English) into reasonable modern compromises. There is much here to startle the modern palate. Sweetenings and fruit flavorings crop up in the most unlikely places, and spices are used with abandon in virtually everything. There are many unexpected flavor contrasts (Bric cheese with honey and mustard; fried fish with a sweet almond-and-rose-petal sauce) and exotic textures (cranberry-topped baked pears stuffed with lentils). Vivid color effects and decorative invention are stressed, in keeping with the somewhat wearying emphasis on banquet pageantry. The recipes, though detailed and careful, are demonstrably not the work of a professional food writer: there are ambiguities and lacunae. The prose style is also on the arch side, with much parallelism and alliteration. But make no mistake: Professor Cosman has rendered a wonderful service to medievalists, cooks, and questers after gastronomic adventure. Beautiful, informative, and exciting.

Pub Date: Nov. 15th, 1976
Publisher: Braziller