Introduction to medieval recipes

Yield: 1 servings

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DE HONESTA VOLUPATE ET VALETUDINE (OF HONEST VOLUPTUSNESS AND HEALTH) OR VIRTUOUS ENJOYMENT AND GOOD HEALTH) BY BARTHOLOMAEUS DE PLATINA Printed in roman Type in Venice 13 June 1475 THE title of Platina's work, as is true of many books of the period, appears in various forms. One variant, De obsoniis ac honesta voluptate, can be freely translated as: "On meat dishes and their virtuous enjoyment." Platina stresses that his recipes do not lead to the sin of gluttony. So you can enjoy your three-inch charcoal-broiled steaks and still feel virtuous. This book is important not only as the first printed cookery text, but also as an excellent source of knowledge of daily life in the mid-fifteenth century, and particularly for insights into dietary customs of the time. Platina, I discovered, was not a cook.

He is recorded first as a soldier and later as a distinguished scholar. In 1474 he presented the handwritten manuscript of his now famous Lives of the Popes to Pope Sixtus IV. The original is still in the Vatican Library. His reward was an appointment to the extremely important post of Librarian to the Vatican. How did this scholar come to write a cookbook? The clue may be found in the book itself, where he mentions his "good friend Martino" the chef of one of the Chamberlains to the Pope. They must have become acquainted at the Vati- can. A manuscript treatise on food and cookery written by Martino is in the Library of Congress. It is quite evident that Martino's manuscript formed the basis for Platina's book, for he says of his friend in Chapter VI, "which cook, by the immortals, could compare with my companion Martino of Como, by whom these things I write have for the most part been considered? You will call him another Carneades if you hear him discussing extemporaneously the things put forth here." Platina's book is rather casual in its approach to actual cooking, and the entries in the long table of contents may not guide the reader to any hint of a recipe. For instance, the chapter on edible birds deals with swans and storks, but only relates their living habits. It must be remembered, however, that in the fifteenth century the common people could neither read nor write. Books were commissioned by rich patrons who collected handwritten books with elaborate hand-painted illuminations. Any cookery manuscript would have been a carefully guarded secret, available only to professionals. I suppose the student apprentices who had to pay for their training were sworn to secrecy and learned not by reading but by working with their masters, who probably couldn't write out directions anyway. But Platina, a trained scholar and experienced writer, turned out a well-written book by the standards of his time, even though the recipes lack specific information. What fascinates me is that so many of the same foods we use today were being used then in practically the same way. Platina refers to eggs, pastry, bread and grains, cheese, all the vegetables, practically all the fruits, including cherries, grapes and eggs, chicken, frogs, salted meat, squid, octopus and all our modern spices. And his chapters of advice concerning healthful habits seem amazingly timely today, when exercise and recreation are considered of vital importance for good health. All of Platina's recipes are frustrating, for no quantities are given and no definite cooking directions appear. You were just supposed to be a "born cook" in those days. Have a look at these old recipes, but, for goodness sakes, don't try them unless you are the gambling type. Use the modern versions--I can guarantee them, for we have eaten them one and all. Source: Pepperidge Farm Cookbook, by Margaret Rudkin -----

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