Party Time Reenactor: A 14th Century Feast for Your 21st Century Table

14thc_1Dishes from the Forme of Cury, the oldest English cookbook. Photo by Will Heath.

Furmente wyth Porpays,” is a wheat and milk gruel/drink mixed with slivers of porpoise. Why would you want to eat Furmente wyth Porpays? Well, you’re rich, and its a fast day, and it happens to be 14th century England.

This recipe comes from the oldest cookbook written in English, The Forme of Cury–“cury” being a Middle English word for cooking.  The document is believed to be compiled in 1390 by the master cooks of King Richard the II; one of the oldest and best copies of this extraordinarily rare manuscript is on display RIGHT NOW at the Morgan Library & Museum. I stopped by the Morgan because I was determined to revive 14th century recipes that could be served, and enjoyed, at a 21st century dinner party.

The History

Curator of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts, Roger Wieck, took me into the library where the manuscript is on display. He casually pointed out the document was on display across from “…One of our Gutenberg bibles.” The collection has several. The Gutenberg was printed about the same time the Morgan’s copy of the Forme of Cury was written; one book to feed to the spirit, the other to feed the body.

The cooking manuscript is written in navy blue ink on animal-skin vellum, which looks soft and semi-translucent.  It’s rolled in a way that reminds me of a Torah, the top and bottom having to be coiled and adjusted to reach each recipe. Wieck choose to display a recipe for coneys–or rabbits, the origin of the name of Coney Island–and another for Blanc Mange, a tribute to his love of Monty Python.

Middle English, on first glance, looks closer to Klingon than English. Luckily, the University of Manchester Library, has not only digitized their version, but offers a transcription of each page, which I referenced to plan my 14th Century Dinner Party.

Prepping for a Medieval Dinner

The manuscript contains about 200 recipes, many of them fascinating in more subtle ways than sea mammal stew.  One dessert is delicately flavored with hawthorn flowers, a blossom I wasn’t aware was edible–I’ll have to give it a try in the spring.  Another is made with cherries, and uses ground cherry pits for flavor, a technique that would have delivered a gentle almond flavor, as well as a gentle dose of arsenic.

I emailed a few friends, inviting them to a “14th Century Dinner Party,” and set about selecting a few recipes that were within my abilities to prepare. I skipped the arsenic and the dolphins and decided to start with Appulmoy, an applesauce-based pudding.  Pared and cored cooking apples went into a pot with a bit of water and were cooked until soft.  The original recipe says to push them through a strainer, but I took a 2013 shortcut and used an immersion blender. To the hot apple mush, I added one cup each rice flour, honey, and almond milk as well as 1 tsp salt and 2 tsp “powder fort,” or strong spice.

Strong Spice is a medieval spice blend that may have been sold pre-mixed; there are very few recipes on how to make it. A 14th century Italian cooking manuscript, Libro di cucinarecommends a blend of black pepper (I used half “smoked black peppercorns” to try to emulate some of the flavor of cooking fires), long pepper (and Indian spice that fell out of favor in Europe after the American chili pepper was introduced), cloves and nutmeg.  I put the first three ingredients in my pepper grinder and cracked them into the Applemoy, and then grated half a nutmeg into the dish.

One of the most significant aspects of this cooking manuscript is the lack of herbs and the prominence of spices. Spices screamed wealth, as they were extremely expensive to import, and the rich covered everything with copious amounts of spice.  One of my guests would comment on the strength of the flavors in the food, when one would might expect bland cooking from the medieval era.

I slowly simmered the thickening Applemoys. Dense and gluey, it popped and bubbled like a witch’s cauldron, and tasted only of the heat of black pepper. I stirred in a pinch of saffron and put it in the refrigerator, hoping the flavors would mellow by the next day.

I decided my main dish would be Cormarye, a roast pork loin, so I washed and pricked two pork tenderloins and rubbed them in two tablespoons of the powder fort mixture, with the addition of a tablespoon each coriander, caraway, and garlic powder.  I placed them in a plastic bag and added a quarter bottle of wine, and set them away to marinate overnight.

14th Century Dinner Party

Although no one arrived in costume, I’m sure they would have if I had given them more time.  Wine was uncorked and my guests chatted as I finished cooking the meal. After being removed from their overnight stay in the fridge, the applemoy was golden from the saffron and the pork was purple from the wine–Medieval cooks loved to play with color. I reheated the applemoy and consulted a modern recipe to finish the tenderloin.  I seared it in olive oil (the Form of Cury is the first English cooking document to mention it), then added the marinade as well as chopped mushrooms and leeks before placing it in a 450 degree oven.

Another remarkable aspect of the manuscript is the quantity of vegetable recipes. The inspiration to add mushrooms and leeks to the pork was taken from a recipe for “Funges.” Another, called “Salat,” describes a fresh dish made from garlic, onions, fennel, sage, mint, borage and other leafy herbs. One recipe, titled “Aquapates,” is for boiled garlic colored with saffron.  The English, contrary to most Europeans at the time, liked the taste of garlic, and it appears fairly frequently in the manuscript. However, it was likely also served with regard to its medicinal abilities.

The food hit the plates steaming hot, and was DEVOURED. I selected recipes I thought would go well together, but the results were above and beyond my expectations. Strongly flavored, but not overly seasoned, the intense sweet and savory sensations seemed different, but not foreign, and wholly modern. Earthy, rich, salty and spicy, even the appulmoy had magicked into a tart and sweet polenta-like starch. It was sincerely enjoyed by all.

Who knew a medieval document could provide food suitable for a typical Sunday dinner? Recipes from my party are below, but I encourage the adventurous among you to explore the Forme of Cury online to seek out more dishes. Catch the manuscript in person at the Morgan Library & Museum, on display through October 7th.

14thc_2Appulmoy, Cormarye, and Funges. Photo by Will Health.



Tak colyanndre. careaway smal gro(u)nden. poudo(ur) of pep(er) & gar-lek y gro(u)nde & rede wyne. medle alle þes to gider and salt hit. tak loynes of pork rawe & fle of þe skyn and pryk it wel wiþ a knyf & lay it i(n) þe [sew] sause. rost þer of what þou wolt & kepe þat þat falliþ þ(er) fro i(n) þe rostyng& seeþ it i(n) a possynet wiþ fayr(e) broth & s(er)ue it forth w(i)t(h) þe rost ano(n).

Pork Tenderloin with Mushrooms and Leeks

1 Pork Tenderloin
Spice Rub: 1 tablespoon each cracked whole coriander, cracked caraway seeds, cracked black pepper, garlic powder and salt.
8 oz red wine
2 cups each sliced mushrooms and leeks
1 cups chicken or vegetable stock

The night before: rinse and dry tenderloin; prick the surface all over with a fork. Rub with spice blend, seal in a ziplock bag. Place in the refrigerator for 12-24 hours, turning over once.

Remove pork from refrigerator and bring to room temperature. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Heat 2 tb olive oil in a cast iron or steel skillet over high heat; sear tenderloin on all sides, about 10 minutes total. Add marinade, mushrooms, leeks, and stock; place in oven for twenty minutes or until a thermometer stuck in the thickest part reaches 137 degrees. Remove from oven and set meat aside; place skillet back on stove top and bring to a boil. Boil until sauce reaches desired thickness. Slice meat and serve with sauce and vegetables.


Tak applen & seeþ he(m) i(n) wat(er). drawe he(m) þorow a strayno(ur). tak alma(u)nd mylke & hony & flo(ur) of rys. safro(u)n & poudourfort & salt. & seeþ it stondy(n)g.

Spicy Apple Pudding

6-8 cooking apples (I like to mix several varieties)
1 cup honey
1 cup rice flour
1 cup almond milk
2 tsp Spice Blend: 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves, 1 teaspoon each cracked black peppercorns, ground long pepper, and grated nutmeg
1 tsp salt
Pinch saffron

Pare, core and slice apples; add to a large pot with 1/2 cup water.  Cook over medium-high heat until extremely soft. Puree. Ad remaining ingredients and cook over low heat, stirring reguarly, until it thickens, about 15-25 minutes. Serve hot, or refrigerate overnight to allow flavors to matures, before reheating.

Appetite City: Soul Food. Full Episode, Recipes and More!

Premiere episode of Appetite City.  I get a montage!

Last night marked the premiere of Appetite City!  I cooked up some piggy feet, which to be honest, have always given me trouble.  As I say in the episode, the pork has a good flavor; but my pig’s feet always comes out a little on the tough side instead of soft and supple.  Thoughts? Suggestions?

The recipe I used in the show came from Rufus Estes’ Good Things to Eat, As Suggested By Rufus; A Collection Of Practical Recipes For Preparing Meats, Game, Fowl, Fish, Puddings, Pastries, Etc., considered to be one of the most important early cookbooks by an African American.   Born into slavery, Estes lost two brothers in the Civil War, and from a young age was the man of  his household: carrying water and pails of milk for his mother and working to keep the family afloat.  Estes worked at his first restaurant at the age of 16 and spent the better part of his adulthood working as a chef for the Pullman railways car service, catering to an exclusive clientele: “…Sir Henry Morton Stanley, the explorer, Ignace Paderewski, the Polish pianist and politician, President Benjamin Harrison (1889 – 1903) and President Grover Cleveland…”  By the time his cookbook was published, he was cooking for some of the most wealthy families in America.

Estes seems like a pretty trustworthy reference in the matter of pig’s feets.  His slim cookbook contains recipes for “…Sheep’s Brains with Small Onions, Sheep’s Kidneys, Broiled, and Sheep’s Tongues; Candied Violets, Southern Corncakes, Coffee Cup Custard, Roasted Canvasback Duck, Kedgeree, Rolled Rib Roast, and Scotch Snipe. They also include ten Souffle recipes, including those for corn, Guernsey cheese, tapioca and tomato; and five kinds of Sherbet – Cranberry, Currant, Lemon, Lemon Ginger and Tea.”  Although few original copies of his book remain, it can be read in its entirety on Feeding America.

Broiled Pig’s Feet
From Good Things to Eat, by Rufus Estes, 1911.
Modern directions inspired by Soul Food and Southern Cooking.

8 pig’s feet
1 bunch fresh parsley
3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
3 allspice berries
2 medium onions
2 carrots
4 egg yolks
2 tb butter
1 cup bread crumbs
1 tb shallot 

1.When you purchase pig’s feet, ask your butcher to split them in half for you.  Wash them, pat dry with paper towels, and tie halves together with kitchen twine.

2. Coarsely chop parsley, carrots and onion.  Add to a slow cooker along with thyme, bay leaf and allspice.  Cover with water, and cook on high four hours, or until extremely tender.

3. Remove pig’s feet from cooking liquid to cool.  Finely dice shallots and parsley and mix with  bread crumbs.  Whisk the egg yolks with the butter and set aside.

4. Dredge pig’s feet in egg and butter mixture and then the bread crumbs. Place in a baking pan and broil 10-15 minutes until well browned. Unbind and arrange on a platter; garnish with parsley.


Fun Fact: Raw pig’s feet feel exactly like human hands.

Tune in next Thursday for another episode of Appetite City!  Every Thursday at 8:30 on NYC Life Channel 25.  And for those of you who live around the country, stop by my blog on Fridays for the entire episode, recipes and more!



Retronovated Recipes: Make Yourself a Ham and Apple Cornbread Sandwich

Toasted apple cornbread, melted butter, and hot ham.  Sound ok to you?

I served this delicious sandwich at an 1864-style baseball game where  I was charged with providing a few period-appropriate concessions.  I was inspired to create this flavor combo after stumbling across this recipe (albeit from 1884) from Mrs. Lincoln’s Boston Cook Book for Apple Johnny Cake:

Apples stirred in to cornbread? Awesome!  Why had I never heard of this before?

I initially made the cornbread according to the historic recipe; it was very dry, grainy, and crumbly.  Not pleasant. I prefer a cakier, modern cornbread.  So I retronovated: I grabbed my favorite contemporary cornbread recipe (Mark Bittman’s) and folded in about a cup of chopped apples at the end.

A cross section of cornbread and apples.

Cornbread and ham were common foods served at fairs and political rallies in the 19th century, so it only made sense to pair my apple cornbread with a thick slice of ham.  At the baseball game, I toasted the cornbread on a griddle and heated a slice of ham alongside.  The cornbread got a healthy smear of fresh, handmade, sooo-yellow butter I got at Saxelby’s Cheese in the Essex Street Market.  Seriously, one forgets how yellow fresh butter is.

Anyway: cornbread, butter, and hot ham on top.  It was a damn good sandwich.

Taste History Today: Heritage Pork Belly

You know your meat’s fresh when it still looks like an animal.  This belly’s got nipples.

Last month, I was a presenter in a very special tour of Central Park: a walk-through of the lives of the residents of Seneca Village.  Seneca Village was a rural suburb of New York until 1858, when the property owners were forced off their land in the city’s first use of Eminent Domain.  The property, which was owned largely by Irish and German immigrants and free African-Americans, was seized to build Central Park, and the town disappeared from New York City’s landscape and our collective memory. Only recently has scholarship surfaced exploring the lives of the residents of Seneca Village, and Imagining Seneca Village presented some of what we know.

The residents of Seneca Village had a huge advantage over their southern Manhattan neighbors: they could self-produce food.  Although many immigrants were coming from rural areas, once they arrived to the tenements of the Lower East Side, there was little room to grow a garden.  But according to the New York Tribune, “(Seneca Village contained homes)…of varying degrees of excellence…a number of these have fine kitchen gardens, and some of the side-hill slopes are adorned with cabbage, and melon-patches, with hills of corn and cucumbers, and beds of beets, parsnips and other garden delicacies. (1857)”

Not only gardens, but livestock as well: geese, chickens, goats and swine.  The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy lists seven American pig breeds as critically endangered; these are pigs that have been bred in the States for a hundred years or more, and are often close descendants of 17th and 18th century pig breeds.  They’re breeds that are known for their foraging skills and their mothering skills.  A mother and her brood can be released into the fields to fend for themselves with very little care.  For residents of Seneca Village, pigs represented and immense amount of food that came at very little cost: a pig’s foraging diet would have been supplemented with kitchen scraps and food waste; by fall, they would be plump enough for slaughter.  These foraging breeds also acted like early garbage disposals on the crowded city streets of New York, before public sanitation and garbage pick-up existed.  Dickens, on his 1842 trip to America, mentions the handsome pigs rooting around the streets for discarded cabbage leaves and offal.

But after WWII, pig breed preferences turned toward those who did well for mass production.  These foraging breeds did not have a high survival rate in a pen and people stopped breeding them.  But thanks to a return to all things delicious, small farms have focused on preserving these breeds; and, by creating a demand for their pork, we’re helping them survive as well.

So, at Imagining Seneca Village, I prepared a pork belly I obtained from Flying Pigs Farms, a ranch outside of New York that breeds Large Blacks, Gloucestershire Old Spots, and Tamworth pigs.  When I served it, everyone demanded the recipe.  I admit, it was crispy, salty, meaty, and just awesome.  But I can’t give credit to my cooking skills — I owe it all to the meat itself.  Covered with a thick layer of fat that kept it moist while roasting, the belly’s meat was rich with the flavors of a well-exercised pig who had grown fat on fall acorns.

To make your own pork belly, start with a slab of heritage pork.  If you’re in New York, Flying Pigs is at the Union Square Greenmarket Fridays & Saturdays.  They also sell online, as do several other heritage pork purveyors around the country, like Caw Caw Creek in South Carolina.  Then, I followed Jamie Oliver’s simple recipe available here.  I didn’t even bother with the gravy, and it came out divine.

The Gallery: Eating What the Presidents Ate

Left: Wine Jelly.
Recently, I’ve been reading The First Ladies Cookbook: Favorite Dishes of all the Presidents of the United States. It was printed sometime around 1976, in the history-loving fervor surrounding our bicentennial. I’m always a little suspicious of historic books printed in this era, as the research often seems a tad sketchy. But TFLC (as it shall hereby be known) seems fairly trustworthy, and has footnoted its references. I always appreciate a good footnote.

I learned a few interesting facts after glancing over the introduction, “Notes on Early American Cookery.” It speaks of the early housewife, who regulated “…the temperature (of) the Dutch oven so that she would not have a ‘sad cake…'” Meaning: a cake that was baked unevenly, so that it was tragically lopsided and irrevocable burnt. A sad cake! Aw.

I also discovered a thing or two about Gelatin: “Gelatin was made from calves’ feet, or from a product called isinglass, taken from the swim bladders of fishes…In the elaborate molded desserts they gave a meaty or fishy flavor to the pudding.” Jee-sus.

Additionally, I found out Thomas Jefferson was not only quite the gourmand, but also a consummate host. I’ve added this new knowledge to my list of reasons to love Jefferson–in fact, thinking of him makes my heart flutter.

Being a widower, Jefferson would occasionally call upon the aid Mrs. Dolley Madison, the wife of his secretary of state. She seems like she was a real firecracker–she saved all those paintings and popularized ice cream!

A guest at one of Jefferson’s dinner parties recounts his first experience with Macaroni:

“…A pie called macaroni, which appeared to be a rich crust filled with onions or shallots, which I took it to be, tasted very strong, and not very agreeable. Mr. Lewis told me there was none in it; it was an Italian dish, and what appeared like onions were made of flour and butter, with particularly strong liquor mixed in them.”

What was this strong liquor? I need to seek out a recipe contemporary to this account; I’ve become very curious about the evolution of macaroni and cheese in America. After all, “He stuck a feather in his hat and called it macaroni.”
One of Jefferson’s favorite recipes was Wine Jelly, which is exactly what it sounds like: booze-flavored Jell-o. I think I’m going to try out the recipe, although I will probably use unflavored gelatin for simplicity’s sake, instead of extracting isinglass from the swim bladders of fishes.
Right: Turban of Chicken.
Below: “Sausage Rolls.”
Other presidential favorites: Martin Van Buren loved Huguenot Cake, an apple torte I’ve been jonesing to bake. Grover Cleveland was fond of “Turban of Chicken, Cleveland style,” a molded pate-style ring made from mushrooms and mushed chicken pieces. And Benjamin Harrison’s favorite dish? Pigs in a blanket. Who can blame him?

In The News: Bacon Beer Hits the Nation

The New York Times ran this infatuating article on different bacon brews across the country.

The Times also had a rather inspiring article about vacationing in my hometown of Cleveland. Two items of interest in the article are the Velvet Tango Room, a Tremont bar housed in an old speakasy that features home-made bitters and a bevy of classic cocktails; and L’Abatros, the new French restaurant housed in a 19thc carriage house on the Case Western Reserve University campus.
Edible Manhattan reminds us that the Bloody Mary is turning 75 on October 5th; head over to it’s origin point at the St. Regis hotel to get one.
I did a video with The Feedbag at the annual, South American-style pig roast at Il Buco. The prized pigs in the spotlight? An 150 lb Ossabaw and 250 lb Crossabaw (ossabaw crossed with a modern breed). Watch the video to learn more about these breeds, and to see some serious pig fat action.

Taste History Today: Ossabaw Pork

From the ossabaw tasting dinner at Boqueria

New York chefs have been going ga-ga about a new type of upscale pork, that is actually from a very old breed: The Ossabaw.

The Ossabaw breed is descended from some of the 700 animals left along the Southeast coast by Spanish explorer Hernando De Soto in 1539. The idea was that the hogs would give future colonists a ready supply of meat.

The swine left behind were Ibericos, which Spaniards let graze on acorns and then cured into their famous Jámon Iberico, a flavorful pink ham with droplets of fat that makes pork lovers swoon…Although many of the Ibericos in America eventually died out or assimilated with dominant barnyard breeds over the years, some Ibericos remained genetically pure. These are the Ossabaws, whose name comes from the remote Georgia barrier island where the breed thrived in the wild for centuries. (The News and Observer: High on this Hog)”

There has been a recent movement to save the pig, by breeding it and marketing it’s meat to upscale restaurants, mostly in New York. “It’s oxymoronic to think that eating a rare breed is actually saving it, but it’s true,” said Chuck Bassett of the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy of Pittsboro. I’ve never tasted it, but the meat is supposed to be exquisite.

Only a few Mennonite farmers agreed to industry-defying lunacy: raising these pigs in the open, and finishing them on acorns, beech and hickory nuts. The six-week autumn feast lays on an incredible layer of burnished yellow, nutty-tasting fat. At 250 to 300 pounds each, 40 Ossabaws are slaughtered each autumn, and the parts sent off to people ready to accord them due reverence.

The back fat was doled out to a who’s who of four-star and locally focused enclaves. Everyone from Craft and Craftsteak, Aureole, Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Gramercy Tavern,Café Boulud, and Four Seasons, to Savoy, A Voce, Tao, Tabla, Morandi and Commerce got their slab. Salumeria Biellese takes the bellies for pancetta, the front legs for coppa(thanks, shoulders) and the trim for cured salami including sopressata and cacciatorini. (Time Our New York: Ossabaw Pig Legs Ready for the Eatin)

The meat is also occasionally available at Murray’s Cheese. You can see the pigs in the flesh at Mt. Vernon, in Washington DC, where they are bred every spring. Ossibaw is also being championed because it is raised organically on wild forage, and it’s fat has healthy properties similar to olive oil. I’ve heard, however, that they can be extremely aggresive, particularly the males.

For more on this heritage breed, read this great article at Rural Intelligence.