I’ve messed around some with medieval recipes over the years, enough so that I regard “tyl it be y-now” as a normal cooking instruction, and I’d gotten to thinking I pretty much knew the basic corpus of surviving medieval recipes. I’m delighted to report that I was not only wrong, but that the material that gives me the lie is extravagantly and gloriously weird. It’s collected together on the Incredible Foods, Sotelties, and Entremets page.
They’ve got all the classic medieval solteties and bizarreries I expected to find when I went to check out the page: cooked peacock re-clothed in its skin and feathers, check; fruited meatloaf made to look like a giant peasecod, check; roasted chicken dressed in helmet, shield, and lance, riding on a roasted pig, check; three recipes for cockatrice, check check check.
There are directions—unkind, but it must have been very funny if the gag came off—for treating a live plucked chicken so it looks and acts like it’s been roasted, until such time as it wakes up and takes off across the dinner table. I don’t know, maybe it’ll run past the fire-breathing peacock that’s cooked but looks like it’s alive. That’d be weird. It would be even better if you served both of them at the same time as the roast chicken that sings. That would give you one edible bird out of three, since the live chicken can’t be eaten, and the method for making the roast chicken sing involves stuffing the neck cavity with sulphur and quicksilver.
But for my money, the real showstopper is the recipe for decorating a perfectly good roast “That flesh may look bloody and full of worms, and so be rejected by smell-feasts”—a smell-feast being a schnorrer, someone who always shows up at dinnertime looking hopeful. This jolly trick, it turns out, is from How to drive Parasites and Flatterers from great men’s tables, the thirteenth chapter of Giambattista della Porta’s Magia naturalis:
How to make good meat appear rotten:Most ingenious! Which is just about right for that period; medieval Europe was full of gifted techies. It’s just that most of them weren’t real big about writing it down.
Boil Hares blood, and dry it, and powder it. Cast the powder upon the meats that are boiled, which will melt by the heat and moisture of the meat, that they will seem all bloody, and he will loath and refuse them. Any man may eat them without any rising of his stomach. If you cut Harp strings small, and strew them on hot flesh, the heat will twist them, and they will move like Worms.