Bread and Thread: The Forme of Cury

Opening music
LIZ
Hello and welcome to bread and thread, a podcast about food and domestic history. I’m liz.
HAZEL
I’m hazel. We’re two people who studied archaeology together and love history.
LIZ
Today we are joined by our lovely producer and also my spouse Nick Blake.
NICK
Hello
HAZEL
I like this, podcast with Nick.
LIZ
If you listen to the other podcast i do you will have heard them as mod not paper on probablybad so hazel what have you been making and or baking
HAZEL
I probably have one of each – i made hot cross buns the other dad
LIZ
Oh nice
HAZEL
It was very fun i’ve been getting back into bread it’s so soothing kneading forcefully needing and punching the dough is great
LIZ
It is a spiritual experience isn’t it.
HAZEL
I found some very old raisins i hope they’re ok, i haven’t expired yet and mary berry’s recipe is very good.
LIZ
I think i’ve heard of mary berry, yeah.
HAZEL
Oh mary berry of bakeoff fame. so i’ve been doing that and i’ve been crocheting this giant lacy thing.
LIZ
You do lean towards the gigantic lacy thing.
HAZEL
I do i have a thing for massive projects which doesn’t go well with my tendency to not finish things but it’s fun it’s absorbing what about you
LIZ
So about a week ago from time of recordngi or asbout three weeks from when thids episode goes up it was our first anniversary so we made … so for our wedding i made um with nick’s help but largely i made a three tier raspberry adn white chocolate cake which you probably remember
HAZEL
The same one that was your wedding cake
LIZ
So for our anniversary i made a two person raspberry and white chocolate cake.
NICK
Because marriage is a cake you bake together.
HAZEL
Aaw
NICK
I was hoping you’d cringe at that but.,..
LIZ
You’re getting podcasts mixed up, this is the sincere one.
NICK
This is an irony free zone
HAZEL
This is a wholesome area nick
LIZ
I’m also very excited because ages ago i went to afflecks palace in manchester ad they have this little creation space and one of the things they had was a reversible crochet chameleon.
HAZEL
I think i’ve seen that
LIZ
I’ve obtained the book that pattern is from it’s Crocheted Animals by vanessa i’m excite, technically i haven’t done anything yet because it arrived an hour ago but i’m very excited
HAZEL
That is news of epic proportions
LIZ
I will be doing progress pics on my instagram and let you know when it’s complete.
NICK
Do you want to explain whats Afflecks Palace is.
LIZ
No.
NICK
Ok
LIZ
It’s basically this three storey no four floors independent shops of varying levels of weirdness in the hipster part of manchester.
HAZEL
It’s like an independent department store with very alternative booths.
LIZ
And also this one space that’s just for being creative in which is quite fun. And very northern quarter, which is where it is in Manchester.
NICK
It’s like the department store in Carol, but with more lesbians and fewer santa hats.
LIZ
Not inaccurate. Nick do you want to talk about why you’re here?
NICK
Ok because i make bad life decisions i have a masters in medieval and early modern studies and one of the things being discussed today is a medieval thing so that’s one half of what i’m qualified to talk about.
LIZ
The other half being punctuation but we’re not going to get into that.
NICK
No we’re not going to get into that.
LIZ
You may want to talk a little louder.
NICK
Because we’re going to be discussing the form of cury which may have come up in previous episodes in passing.
HAZEL
Is that how you pronounce it?
LIZ
Yep. It looks like curry but it’s pronounced cury.
HAZEL
I’ve ben saying curry for years.
LIZ
Does it contain anything curry related?
NICK
Not especially. It’s got some spices but nothing more potent than cinnamon and nutmeg.
LIZ
I don’t know it’s got peppercorns.
NICK
Yeah but that’s about it so if you think peppery or aromatic over spicy and you’re about there.
LIZ
I am sad to say i cannot find a recipe book called the form of curry.
HAZEL
I’m hungry now.
NICK
Like i said i’ve got a background looking at medieval things specifically medieval manuscripts and this is about cooking which i’m qualified to talk about due to having a mouth so i’m feeling confident about this.
HAZEL
this is great i’ve already learned how to pronounce it. I’m excited.
LIZ
I don’t know how frequent having nick will be but we’ll be doing an episode about a book or a person every five episodes.
NICK
I’ll be popping up if i have anything of note to say about things otherwise i just gestures in the background when things are recording.
LIZ
And you do the recording. And the editing. And most of the transcripts.
NICK
Yeah. And that.
LIZ
So aside from medieval which is a vague term that spans about 1000 years in western europe what is the forme of cury.
NICK
The forme of cury is a cookbook written by the chef of richard II.
LIZ
So 14th?
NICK
Yeah 14th century and it properly runs the gamut there’s basic dishes there’s fancier stuff basically everything you need to prepare that classic high medieval banquet often presented in period shows as people grabbing and chewing big legs of meat.
LIZ
So the Knights Tale party.
NICK
N
The knights tale party yes. It contains recipes for pies and cakes and instructions on constructing a rudimentary heath ledger.
HAZEL
Was he a particularly extravagant king?
NICK
I think so. He was like Richard… twice. One thing that really cemented the popular perception of him is Richard II the play by Shakespeare which is a lot less covered than Richard III which has better lines and plot and…
LIZ
If we’re not talking tudor propaganda. He was the king during the peasants revolt is his actual main thing.
NICK
There was a lot of controversy as well over local taxation, lots of money going from smaller settlements intro the king’s coffers which is probably part of why the peasants were so unhappy.
HAZEL
Their money was spent on pies.
LIZ
A combination of pies and plague.
NICK
Yeah pretty much. It’s quite a Masque of the Red Death situation where a rich and powerful person has a wonderful meal, big banquets while things are going south elsewhere. The main thing i found interesting while looking into this was i looked up a digitised copy of the manuscript on LUNA which is a publicly available resources at the university of manchester where you can properly look at manuscripts in detail…
LIZ
Which are stored at the john rylands library which is one of my favourite buildings. Nick go tot study there and i am so jealous.
NICK
It’s an amazing neogothic building.
HAZEL
Forever jealous., The JR is fantastic.
LIZ
This amazing public gothic library… Or former public library.
HAZEL
I used to just waft around in there like a victorian gothic scholar.
NICK
It’s very good for that, a lot of it is open to the public, it’s got small exhibitions things on display you can go to like the reading room… do some quiet studying
LIZ
Look up a picture of the john rylands reading room it’ll blow your mind.
NICK
It will. The ceiling is so good that sometimes when you go there you can get – cause the ceiling is worth gawping at – they don’t want you to strain your neck too much so you can get a special mirror. Which is lovely. Anyway in the digitised copy i88 saw this comment in the margins where it mentioned a date for this book – june 1374 and then a note that was about 234 years ago – that givers us a point where we can say 230 years later and change people were still looking at it and using it.
LIZ
So it’s not just a question of we think it’s important because it survived it’s we know people were using it.
NICK
And it’s interesting to speculate about its new owner. So around 1600 you’d have somebody looked at this book and it’s possible that some of the stuff that was fancier, stuff that used to be for the chef of Richard II it could be that it could have been a lawyer or someone who managed to find a copy and went “ok i’ll be able to find this stuff”. Because the world is such a different place.
HAZEL
It’s really cool to think that recipes were still being used and gone back to0 even hundreds of years ago which – would that make it one of the oldest continually used cookbooks?
NICK
It’s quite possible.
LIZ
Yeah because Apicius is one of the oldest cookbooks but fell out of use because of the whole fall of the roman empire thing. The babylonian one we know wasn’t used cause we forgot how to read it.
NICK
Yeah that’s one big barrier and it feels like when Rome fell eating dormouse fell out of the window.
HAZEL
What language is Forme of Cury in?
LIZ
Middle english?
NICK
Yeah, middle english.
LIZ
Chaucer English.
NICK
Basically the way i think of it is middle english is understandable for most people most of the time if you squint a little, i found a way to understand it is to read it out loud because you sound like you’re speaking english with a very strange accent.
LIZ
Which you do anyway, being from the west country.
NICK
Yeah.
LIZ
Middle english is like welsh you look and it’s a little confusing and then you say the words and you get it.
NICK
Yeah one interesting thing is between the 14th century and the 1600s you have two different forms of English…
LIZ
From Chaucer and Shakespeare…
NICK
Yeah it’s an English survey course. And this person would have been able to read it with relative ease and still been able to cook a lot of the stuff.
LIZ
What if he took it and wrote down the recipes he liked in his version of english.
NICK
There’s a good chance. It’s something where people could have copied it in various forms which is how books used to be circulated before printing.
HAZEL
Is it possible that any of these things have diffused out into becoming traditional recipes? Or is it the other way around?
NICK
There is a recipe we particular like, less a meal now nut used in a popular phrase – humble pie.
LIZ
Which we had at my birthday a couple years back.
HAZEL
Yeah it was pretty good.
LIZ
Yeah so recipes back then – offal would generally be referred to as oumbles or houmbles – it’s what you give the peasants after a hunt and you eat the good stuff. Though there are later recipes that are fancier and use cloves. I think castle howard.
NICK
Sounds right. One thing i like is they sometimes call it Noumbles.
HAZEL
Noumbles sounds like a nickname you’d give a cat.
NICK
Sounds like a celebrity easily gets a kid’s picture book deal and makes The Noumbles, they live in a shoe and eat strawberry bootlaces. But they’re not, they’re hunks of flesh.
HAZEL
New children’s book coming from Bread and Thread.
NICK, BUT ANOTHER TIME AND LOUDER
If you enjoy this podcast subscribe to our patreon at patreon.com/breadandthread. Rewards include recipes, instructional videos and a discord server where you can discuss crafts and food.
LIZ
So i think i remember rightly that the person who originally published this in the 1300s got the permission of the royal physician.
NICK
That’s right.
LIZ
That’s cool, so you’d got a concept we’re bringing back that’s been around for a while – food as medicine, especially if you look at the spices in it and the four humours.
NICK
It’s medieval clean eating basically.
HAZEL
Yeah, it’s a big trend at the moment especially with superfoods and things. Are there any recipes in the book that are medicinal.
LIZ
I don’t think there’s anything that’s medicinal.
NICK
Don’t think so.
LIZ
Just instructions. It’s not like now with the stories with recipes.
NICK
It’s possible with the way things were distributed that someone might have bound this with a medical book.
LIZ
Did that happen?
NICK
Yeah, the way i think of it is as a DIY encyclopedia. You might have some scraps of Pliny, but… Because of the way information was so disparate, you would have to grab bits and pieces and assemble it however you could.
LIZ
So speaking of the concept fo food as inherently good or not good… am i right in thinking from what i’ve read that it does contain raw fruit and vegetables which is rare for the time. Actual salads.
NICK
It’s interesting how modern it is. You don’t think of salads at a feast. Because you don’t win friends with salad.
LIZ
And the medieval thing of you eat this raw thing you’ll die.
NICK
Yeah. I think i like to give credit where it’s due, generally trying not to eat raw stuff – a good plan they got overzealous with. And i think another thing that i think is impressive is talking to physicians. Almost like a bit of legal protection to say – i’ve checked you probably won’t die.
LIZ
Considering we’ve had kings that died from too much lamprey, it’s a good plan. Not Richard II but a lot of his line died of eating bad stuff.
HAZEL
It’s an occupational hazard.
LIZ
You drink bad water once you die basically. That’s why people drank beer. We’ll do a different episode on beer and small beer and all that stuff.
HAZEL
We absolutely should. Is there much foreign influence in the recipes? I guess in ingredients you’d guess there’d be exotic ones but are the recipes representative of what most british people would have eaten or are they a lot more internationally influenced?
NICK
I’d say more international.
LIZ
When you say internationally influenced are we talking people we nicked stuff from? Like we talked about in the jam episode?
NICK
Basically, Eurasian basically you will get nutmeg and things like that as i’ve said before, you get a broader array of things. It’s post norman invasion so y9u[’ve got a big connectio to the mainland there, and by this point you’d had continued arabic influence through… say, Spain and through Sicily as well…
LIZ
Was sicily a big centre? I’m only really aware of sicily under the romans.
NICK
In the previous couple centuries Sicily was quite important as a hub of trade and culture.
LIZ
I guess it’s got a good spot in the med.
NICK
There was a king of Sicily, Frederick the II, I think he’d have birds of prey imported from Finland, i think because he wanted to go hunting. the main thing is there were links there, as a king you’d be able to get a lot of variety while other people are eating the same turnip.
LIZ
Ok what’s the weirdest meat in there, you’ve got to have some weird stuff in there?
NICK
Whale, crane, curlew, heroin-no, heron… seal and porpoise. So, i was talking about encyclopedias earlier that’s basically… a natural history course in several courses.
Crosstalk.
HAZEL
Those are some status foods. I don’t think you’d eat those except to show you could.
LIZ
Like Charles Darwin, he ate everything he came across.
HAZEL
Didn’t they take on several tortoises and ate them all?
LIZ
We know what the weirdest meats are but what’s the most spectacular thing? Cause this is the era of skin the peacock cook the peacock put the skin on the peacock, are there any good centrepieces?
NICK
You’d get a lot of sculptures brought out.
HAZEL
Food art.
NICK
I don’t know how much is edible but probably about as edible as candy corn.
HAZEL
It’s like those amazing showpiece cakes that are half made of foam.
LIZ
But even more extravagant because sugar in the 14th century.
NICK
Yeah. You’d get scenes like towers and birds and that. It’s a way to announce hey everyone the banquet’s coming sit down, if you don’t care there’s some dinner theatre. This knight? Soft cheese. This priest? Also a candle.
HAZEL
I’ve heard about some banquets at royal courts just going on for hours and hours so this is also food as a form of entertainment?
LIZ
I feel like we’re going back to the conspicuous consumption annoying the peasants stuff… if you were a servant, imagine taking a sugar castle, one single piece of this is sweeter than anything you’re going to taste in your entire life.
HAZEL
Do you think people were discussing the personal habits of the royal family like they do now? Look at Harry and meghan, look at richard II’s sugar castle?
LIZ
We know they did. We have the receipts. I mean, mostly letters and journals.
NICK
What i do like is how you get several things for pies and pottages…
LIZ
Pottage is thick oaty stew.
NICK
That’s what you think of when you think of medieval food – stews and pies, a whole pig, you get that and then you get pheasants.
LIZ
You need to speak louder.
NICK
I am
LIZ
No you’re not.
NICK
Oh wait, i’m in my own head that’s why i think i’m being loud.
LIZ
Yeah.
NICK
Then you get weird sounding things like Crustards of fish.
LIZ
Crustards of fish?
HAZEL
Oh, crustard…. It sounds like what happ0ens when you leave a custard in the back of a fridge.
NICK
Turns out it’s a pie but it sounds so bad.
LIZ
So it’s been crusted…
NICK
You could have some lombard mustard alongside your fish crustard…
LIZ
Now i know it’s a fishy pie with some mustard i’m into it.
NICK
I’d eat that.
HAZEL
I’d serve that a dinner party – are you ready everyone, we’re having crustard…
LIZ
I want to announce it at a banquet – bring out the crustard.
HAZEL
And crumpets. May i now present the crustard.
LIZ
Would you have a decorative crustard with pastry shapes?
NICK
You probably would. i wonder what the heston blumenthal of crustards would be? Here’s a nice foamy crustard to start the day.
LIZ
That makes me uncomfortable in a way i cannot describe.
NICK
May i treat you to some chewettes on flesh day in this trying time?
LIZ
I do like chewets but are they the strawberry ones or the green ones no-one eats?
HAZEL
I think they’re different chewettes.
LIZ
Let me dream.
NICK
I can’t work out what it is but it sounds like they liked to move it, move it.
LIZ
That was a reference to an ad that stopped airing 10-15 years ago.
NICK
Yeah it was.
LIZ
I remember flesh day is a catholic thing where there’s so many days you’re not allowed to eat meat. You can eat this on the meaty day.
HAZEL
Are there a lot of fishy recipes? Because fish wasn’t considered meat?
LIZ
Yeah, there were some attempts to move around it. There was one monastery in france that said fetal rabbits counted because they are in water. Beavers is more legit than foetal rabbits but neither is a fish.
HAZEL
Neither is a thing you want to eat.
LIZ
You say that but beaver glands were used as a substitute for vanilla for ages.
NICK
I’m very curious what they would have made of platypus.
LIZ
Crustard. But probably a fish if a beaver is.
HAZEL
One of us has to make crustard now.
LIZ
Nick does make a good shortcrust.
NICK
It’s my one skill.
LIZ
When we next get a food shop in.
NICK
I may crustard a fish.
HAZEL
Was it the three courses we’re used to or…
LIZ
There wasn’t any concept of courses just put the nice things by the rich people.
NICK
Yeah. It’s like going to a buffet with a strict caste system.
HAZEL
Like sweet and savory at the same time?
NICK
I found a fun fact about modern recreations. So the cafe at the John rylands… the cafe’s very good btw. One thing was nice on a cold winter’s day, they’d always do a stew. Warm stew and bread. In 2009 they cooked tarte in ymber day, compast, payn puff, frumenty and gingerbread washed down with piment or spiced wine.
LIZ
The last two of them, that’s just Christmas market stuff.
HAZEL
I’d try frumenty.
NICK
The other stuff i wouldn’t like so much.
LIZ
Frumenty sounds like a posh aunt who rides horses.
NICK
Frumenty is often served with porpoise.
LIZ
What is it?
NICK
A porridge.
LIZ
A porpoise porridge.
NICK
You’d have cracked wheat boiled milk or broth and if you want to get fancy you’d put in currants and saffron.
HAZEL
Actually doesn’t sound too bad.
NICK
I’d have porpoise.
HAZEL
I’d try it but there wasn’t any porpoise in lidl last time i was there. If there was going to be a shop that would have it…
LIZ
It’s not a meat to mess around with you’ve got to be porpoiseful.
NICK
As bad as one of mine.
LIZ
You’re being the smart one.
NICK
Playing against type.
LIZ
At the risk of going on forever, shall we end it there?
HAZEL
I wanted to learn so much more.
LIZ
If you want to suggest ideas you can go to breadandthreadpodcast@gmail.com.
HAZEL
You can tweet at us at breadandthread on twitter.
LIZ
And we have a patreon. You can donate at 1, 5, 10 dollar, pound, whatever amounts. You can get access to recipes and instructional videos. I think the first one has gone up. You can find that at patreon.com/breadandthread. And we will see you next time.
HAZEL
Bye!
Closing music

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