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The anti-Basilisk plant

This year I’ve grown sweet basil from seed for the first time. I only wanted a few plants, so this morning, after thinning out my seedlings a couple of weeks ago, I potted up my six basil babes to grow them on to adulthood.

Sweet basil, Ocimum basilicum. My first go at growing basil from seed. Headed for home-made pesto later in the year.

Photo: © Christopher Monk 2020

I wasn’t sure if sweet basil was grown in medieval British gardens; it’s far too tender to survive the winter but I wondered if it was grown from seed during the spring and summer. I knew of the edible wild basil that is native to these shores, which I’m going to be growing in my own garden very soon, but sweet basil?

Wild basil, Clinopodium vulgare, native to Britain.

Photo: © Daniel D. McClosky 2017. Licensed via Wikimedia Commons; click on image for license information.

Well basil is listed in the Middle English Dictionary: there are two quotations given, one from c.1450 and one from about 1500, spelt basyl and basyle respectively. The first of these was in a bit of poetry in praise of a lady – so not real evidence of basil being grown here; the second appears to be from a herb list quoted in Alicia Amherst’s A History of Gardening in England, published in 1895, and without checking the manuscript to which she apparently alludes (not something I feel up to on a sunny Sunday afternoon), for all I know this is just a list of all known herbs, whether native or not to Britain.

So, I thought I’d check my trusty Leechcraft by Stephen Pollington, an indispensible work about plantlore in early medieval (Anglo-Saxon) England. Sweet basil, Pollington explains, is mentioned in the Old English Herbarium, a translation of a Latin compendium of texts written by various late-Antique authors, and which survives in four manuscripts, including a marvellous illustrated version dating to the first quarter of the eleventh century.

In this work it goes by the name of nædderwyrt (‘adderwort’) in Old English and, according to the medieval scribe, basilisca in Latin.

This plant which one calls ‘basilisca’ and by another name ‘adderwort‘ is produced in those places where that adder is which is called by the same name, basilisk. Truly it is not of [just] one kind, but of three kinds: … olocryseis… stillatus… singuineus…; this plant basilisca has all these kinds, then if anyone has these plants with him, then none of this kind of adder can harm him.

Stephen Pollington, Leechcraft: Early English Charms, Plantlore, and Healing (Anglo-Saxon Books, 2000), p. 343.

The text continues to explain that there are three types of adder that basil protects the user from, and since we are also told that these three adders are higly destructive: the first ‘blows away and sets fire to whatever it sees’; the second, whatever it looks upon ‘shrinks away and disappears’; and the third, ‘whatever it sees or touches melts away so that nothing remains except the bones’; then it seems like everyone should be running down to their garden centre right now to avail themselves of this protection.

Do not wander the woods on your daily lockdown excursion wihout a punnet of basil in your pocket, I say. Asda sell it for 75p, I believe.

More seriously, and getting back to the question of whether sweet basil was actually grown or even used in medieval Britain, I’m afraid it’s not quite possible to say. This Old English text is simply a translation of a Latin text from the fourth century that itself borrows from the likes of Pliny and Discorides. So, hardly an English text, culturally speaking.

That said, there is evidence that the Old English Herbarium was actually more than just a list of plants, as Pollington explains:

The Herbarium may have influenced English medical thought and theory, and there is some evidence for this text having been used as a practical working manual – for example, the fact that the Old English text has its own table of contents in which the chapter number, plant and ailments are mentioned.

Pollington, Leechcraft, p. 70.

The evidence is tantalising really. But I shall nevertheless grow on my baby sweet basils into vigorous adults, and as I then whizz them in my food processor with pine nuts and pecorino cheese, I will no doubt recall that in consuming my pesto I will be fortified against any nasty basilisk lurking in my neighbourhood.

Sweet basil saves you from the nasty snakes! Nædderwyrt, basilisca. From the Old English Herbarium. London, British Library, Cotton MS Vitellius C.iii, folio 57r. © British Library Board. By permission. Click on image to go to source.

Red as… alkanet

Yesterday, I was making a few revisions to one of the chapters in the book I’m writing, which at the moment has a working title of Sugar and Spice: The Cookery of Richard II.

Whilst changing the font and the layout of the commentary sections – fiddling really – I came to the dish with which I experimented a few months ago, Pynnonade, and was reminded that it was meant to be coloured red.

& colour it with alkenet a litull.

Pynnonade, Forme of Cury (c.1390)

Alkanna tinctoria, alkanet. Also known as dyer’s alkanet and dyers’ bugloss.

Photo: © Jean Tosti 2005. Licensed via Wikimedia Commons; click on image for further details.

I rather liked my pynnonade – very moreish in fact. But as you see, below, red it was not. But before you chastise me for my dreadful disregard for authenticity, let me explain.

Pynnonade, ‘version 2’: a kind of thick savoury custard with sweetened and spiced pine nuts. Quite delicious… but not red!

Photo: © Christopher Monk 2019

At the time, I didn’t fancy using the ingredient in the recipe: alkanet. It wasn’t that I couldn’t be bothered to find it; it’s easy enough to buy online; but, rather, in the UK it is not licensed for food use. If I were dyeing clothes or making soaps, well maybe I would avail myself of some alkanet – though red really isn’t my colour.

So what exactly is alkanet? It is a herb in the borage family; its Latin name is alkanna tinctoria, and it is also known as Dyer’s bugloss or Dyer’s alkanet, and several other names besides. It is native to the Mediterranean, so it is perhaps unlikely to have been grown in English gardens of the fourteenth century.

It is the root of alkanet that provides the red colour Richard II’s cooks – and presumably the king himself – admired so much, and it would have been imported dried along with other ‘spices’, including sanders (a variety of sandalwood), which was also used to colour food red. They did like other colours for their food besides red, but that’s for another post.

Just to finish off my snippet of research, I’ll leave you with the full list of dishes in Forme of Cury, Richard II’s cookery book, that alkanet appears in. And, if you like, you can tell me (in the comments here or on Facebook) which appeals the most to you and, who knows, I may experiment with the recipe in the next few weeks or so. But I won’t be using alkanet: it’s beetroot powder for me.

The dishes of Forme of Cury coloured with alkanet:

Brewet of Almayn (Broth of Germany): a stew of rabbit or kid meat with spices and thickened with rice flour.

Pynnonade (Pine nut custard): a thick, savoury almond milk and egg yolk custard with sweetened and spiced pine nuts. [I could always make this again!]

Fonnell: a rich, cinnamon-spiced stew of roast lamb, stuffed ‘small birds’ (think blackbird, starling, thrush, cuckoo or lark!), decorated with cinnamon-coated hard-boiled eggs.

Sauce sarȝyne (Sauce Saracen): a spicy rosehip sauce, made with almonds, rosehips, ‘good red wine’, and adorned with pomegranate seeds; ideal on ‘flesh days’ with shredded capon.

Vyaund cypre of samoun: essentially the very best salmon, poached and pulverised, with spices.

The anti-Basilisk plant

This year I’ve grown sweet basil from seed for the first time. I only wanted a few plants, so this morning, after thinning out my seedlings a couple of weeks ago, I potted up my six basil babes to grow them on to adulthood. I wasn’t sure if sweet basil was grown in medieval BritishContinue reading “The anti-Basilisk plant”

Red as… alkanet

Yesterday, I was making a few revisions to one of the chapters in the book I’m writing, which at the moment has a working title of Sugar and Spice: The Cookery of Richard II. Whilst changing the font and the layout of the commentary sections – fiddling really – I came to the dish withContinue reading “Red as… alkanet”

Three medieval soft fruits

Wild strawberries ripening 2020 May
‘Wild’ strawberries ripening in my garden. Strawberries are found widely across the medieval British archaeological record. The native wild strawberry (Fragaria vesca) was what was eaten, though it seems to have been grown in gardens, too. The variety shown here is a cultivar of the native plant (it doesn’t produce runners as the true wild strawberry does). The fruits are tiny compared to those from modern varieties of British strawberries available in supermarkets or from garden centres, but they are usually sweeter and more perfumed. If I get enough this year, I may use some in a medieval cheesecake recipe, so stay tuned. Photo: © Christopher Monk 2020.

I love this time of year: late spring. My strawberries are just beginning to ripen — I’m going to have a fully ripe strawberry in May for the first time in about 10 years! My patio raspberries are being visited by many a bumblebee — I have quite a small garden, so dwarf fruit bushes and trees suitable for pots work well. And my patio cherry is going to yield up fruit for the first time since I bought it three years ago. Not quite self-sustainable, but hey, I’m trying!

May strawberry 2020
Yes! This strawberry will be fully ripe before May is out. We’ve had a relatively warm and sunny spring here in Manchester, England. I’ve been growing strawberries for ten years. This year I decided to get serious and I’m growing about twice as many as last: I decided to grow on the ‘baby’ plants from last season’s runners, and they are doing rather well in my fruit and veg trough. Photo: © Christopher Monk 2020

Continue reading “Three medieval soft fruits”

Interruptio studii

Wild garlic, close-up
Images: wild garlic, Outwood country park. © Christopher Monk 2020

Hello folks,

I just wanted to bring you up to date and explain why there has not been much activity on the website (or my Facebook page) recently.

I’ve not been keeping so well the last couple of months and have needed to put my medieval cookery research and writing to one side. I hope to pick things back up as soon as possible.

I’m presently under referral to a neurologist but due to the impact of the Covid19 epidemic the tests I need carrying out at hospital have been delayed, though I have had a rudimentary investigation at my GP surgery. Hopefully, the scan(s) can go ahead soon.

In the meantime, please bear with me. I will try to post a few pics – random things related to food and/or medieval cookery over the next few weeks, just to keep our appetites whetted.

The picture above is of wild garlic growing at the edge of woodland, very nearby to where I live. Wild garlic is also known as ramson (Old English hramse) or wood leek (Old English wuduleac), amongst other names. If you want to read more about it, the Woodland Trust has some useful and interesting information on it.

Language of cookery 4: meat ‘purses’

Bursews
‘Bursews’, title of recipe 177 in the Forme of Cury, Manchester, John Rylands Library, English MS 7 (c.1390), folio 83 verso. By permission of the University of Manchester.

I love discovering the meanings behind the names given to medieval dishes. Call me scholar, call me nerd, I just can’t help myself.

Many of the recipe titles in Richard II’s official cookery book, Forme of Cury (c. 1390), have bamboozled antiquarians and academics for centuries, so I get a kick out of working out what they may mean. It’s not always possible to be absolutely sure about some of my conclusions, and sometimes I simply reach a dead end, but with a spirit of persistence, I am finding more of these names are indeed making better sense.

In this, my fourth Language of Cookery note, I am looking at the name ‘Bursews’, one of the last recipes in Forme of Cury.

Bursews, full page
‘Bursews’, full page, from Forme of Cury, Manchester, John Rylands Library, English MS 7 (c.1390), folio 83 verso. By permission of the University of Manchester.

The Middle English Dictionary (MED), though often so very useful, doesn’t yield up much help in this case; it simply states that burseu (the singular form) was a ‘dish of minced meat’. That much is self-evident from our ‘Bursews’ recipe, one of four the MED refers to as examples. Here’s my edition of the text from the John Rylands copy along with my translation:

Bursews 

Take pork, seeþ hyt & grynde hyt smale wiþ soden ayroun, do þerto gode poudours and hole spyces & salt wiþ sugur, make þerof smale balles & cast hem in a batour of ayroun, & wete hem in flour & frye hem in grece as frytoures & serue hem forth.

Take pork, simmer it and grind it finely with boiled eggs; add to this good powders and whole spices and salt with sugar; from this make small balls, and cast them into a batter of eggs, and roll them wet in flour, and fry them in fat as fritters, and serve forth.

Text and translation by Christopher Monk © 2020

Continue reading “Language of cookery 4: meat ‘purses’”

Fit for a king?

This week I take a look at the problem of visual aesthetics when reconstructing two of Richard II’s recipes

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a1/Richard_II_King_of_England.jpg
Portrait of Richard II, Westminster Abbey, London, c. 1390. Image credit: Westminster Abbey / Public domain via Wikimedia.

During the last two weeks I finally got back into some recipe development. It’s easy to become preoccupied with writing about the recipes of Richard II’s cookery book and not actually cooking them. Don’t get me wrong, I do love reading from and translating medieval manuscripts (even digitised versions thereof) and I like researching around the text, in this case finding out more about medieval food and cooking, but there is nothing quite like bringing history to life than, well, cooking it up!

However, it isn’t always as straightforward as I’d like it to be. As many of you know, medieval recipes are often sparse on detail, and invariably don’t include quantities of ingredients or timings for cooking. And so it takes time to work things out, patience to get something that tastes good and not just interesting – which might as well be a curse to the aspiring, or is that deluded, medievalist MasterChef contestant.

And, then, there is the problem of looks.

There is, alas, no visual inspiration to direct my artistic eye, no glossy photos or pretty watercolours, not even a crude sketch in the 14th-century manuscript I work with, Forme of Cury – most inconsiderate of Richard’s master cooks, don’t you think? And being as I’m neither professional chef nor “food designer” (I will try not to cough derisively, here) my own attempts at prettifying food sometimes are way down low on the Gastronomic Aesthetics Scale.

This unpardonable lack was much in evidence in the two dishes I’ve been exploring these last two weeks: Grewel Forced (Enriched Gruel) and Mounchelet, a mutton stew. But I will do my best to ignore the voice in my head, with its distinct Klingon accent, shouting Gagh, and present to you my research and development of these two recipes.

Posh grewel

For to make grewel forced 

Take grewel & do to þe fyre with gode flesch & seeþ hit wel, take þe lyre of pork & grynd hit smal and drawe þe grewel þorow a straynour & colour hyt wiþ safroun.

How to make enriched gruel

Take gruel to the fire with good meat and simmer it well; take the meat of pork and grind it small and pass the gruel through a strainer and colour it with saffron.

Text and translation by Christopher Monk © 2020

Grewel forced
‘For to make grewel forced’, Forme of Cury, Manchester, John Rylands Library, MS English 7, folio 12v. By permission of the University of Manchester.

Continue reading “Fit for a king?”

Language of Cookery 3: 14th-century English Pappardelle?

Exploring the linguistic influences on medieval English cuisine

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/ec/Pappardelle.jpg
Pappardelle. Image by Popo le Chien / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

Medieval English recipe names are frequently odd. And sometimes, as a translator, I’m led down a dodgy etymological path by a name that looks like a mangled concoction of Middle English and Old French or Anglo-Norman, only for it to turn out to be something quite different.

A good example of this is from my early days of translating Forme of Cury, Richard II’s famous cookery book. I came across Buknade – a stew of either chicken, rabbit, or veal – looked it up in the Middle English Dictionary, which suggested a possible derivation from Old French buquet ‘bucket’, and leapt at the rather exhuberant, if not endearing, translation, ‘bucket of stew’!

Fortunately, I was saved from eternal embarrassment by the editors of Curye on Inglysch, an edition of various fourteenth-century cookery texts, published by The Early English Text Society in 1985. And so Constance B. Hieatt and Sharon Butler brought to my attention the fact that the root buk- signifies the meaning of ‘veal dish’; the very smart ones amongst my readers will recognise the etymological link to the famous Italian veal shank dish ossobuco.

There are occasions, however, where I’ve had a hunch about a particular recipe name that turns out to be surprisingly sound. And the example I’m going to give you is another Middle English name which shows Italian, rather than French, influence: papdele.

Pappardelle
Hares in Papdele, from Forme of Cury, Manchester, John Rylands Library, MS English 7 (c.1390), folio 21 recto. Photo by permission of the University of Manchester.

Hares in papdele

Tak hares, perboile hem in gode broth; cole þe broth & waische þe flesch, cast ageyn togyder; tak obleys oþer wafrouns in defaut of loseyns & couche in disches; tak poudour douce and lay on; salt þe broth & ley onoward and messe hit forth.

Hares in pappardelle

Take hares, parboil them in good broth; cool the broth and wash the meat, return together again; take oblées or wafers, as a substitute for lasagne, and lay into dishes; take and lay on powder douce; salt the broth and lay it over, and serve it forth.

Text and translation by Christopher Monk © 2020

Continue reading “Language of Cookery 3: 14th-century English Pappardelle?”

Language of Cookery 2: Ground beans?

In the second of my short language notes I take a look at a culinary essential of Richard II’s cookery book

Website header photo
Forme of Cury, Manchester, John Rylands Library, MS English 7 (c.1390), folios 11 verso–12 recto. Photo by Christopher Monk © 2020. By permission of the University of Manchester.

For to make grounden benes.

Take benes & drye hem in an ovene & hulle hem wel and wyndowe out the hulkes & waysche hem clene & do hem to seeþ in god broth & ete hem wiþ bacon.

Take beans and dry them in an oven and hull them well and winnow out the husks and wash them clean and simmer them in good broth and eat them with bacon.

Edited and translated by Christopher Monk © 2020. All rights reserved.

The image above shows, on the right-hand folio, the opening recipe to Richard II’s famous cookery book, Forme of Cury. Immediately following the red text, or rubric, which is written in Latin (‘Incipit forma’ = ‘[Here] begins the method’), we can see the Middle English title for this first dish: ‘For to make grounden benes’.

Now, we would be forgiven for thinking this means, ‘How to make ground beans’, since the Middle English word grounden is indeed the past participle of the verb grinden ‘to grind’, and so does indeed mean ‘ground’.

However, the sense from the instructions is that these beans are prepared in order to be suitable for grinding. This recipe is, in effect, the essential how-to for all bean recipes that follow, whether they use ground or unground beans — essential for the medieval cook, I should add.

As we can see, the beans in this recipe are not actually ground up. Rather, they are dried in an oven so that they can be hulled; that is, their husks, or outer skins, are removed; and then these husks are winnowed out, leaving just the beans, which are then washed.

The final product of this whole process is actually what we today call split beans. The variety of bean used back in the fourteenth century is essentially the same as today’s fava bean (also know to Brits as the broad bean). When they were prepared as the recipe directs, the beans would have naturally split into two.

The modern process for creating split beans is rather different, as a heat-drying method to loosen the outer skins is not used. Instead, fully mature fava beans, which actually dry in the pod, are harvested by combine, which removes them from their pods, before they then go into a grain store in which they receive some light drying, provided by forcing air through the store’s ventilated floor. Once this is done, the husks or skins are removed by mechanical abrasion, which results in the bean splitting into its two halves.*

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c8/Tuinboon_voor_zaad.jpg

Mature fava beans in the pod. Image credit: Rasbak [CC BY-SA (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)]

In the Forme of Cury‘s opening recipe, the beans are simply cooked in a good broth and eaten with bacon. They are not ground up. In a later recipe, however, known as Makke, the cook is told to take ‘grounden benes’ and cook them in water, before casting them into a mortar in order to ‘grynde hem al to doust tyl þey be white as eny mylke’ — ‘grind them all to dust until they are as white as any milk’. A little heated red wine is added to form a purée and the dish is garnished with browned onions. I think it is screaming out for garlic!

A final observation on the medieval method of drying ‘grounden benes’: I attempted to replicate this in my own oven; and though I found I could, with a dregree of grumpy resentment, crack and remove the husks from my oven-dried favas, I was left in no doubt that life really is far too short to be making my own split beans. So I heartily recommend the shortcut of purchasing ready split ones!

Split beans
Split beans or, as medieval cooks called them, ‘grounden benes’. Photo by Christopher Monk © 2020. All rights reserved.

*My thanks to Nick Saltmarsh, Managing Director at Hodmedod, for passing on his knowledge about split fava bean production.

Answers to: Ten things about me (one is a lie)

I hope you all have had a lovely time over the Christmas holidays. If not, or if Christmas is a tough time for you, all I can say is well done for getting through it.

Of course, the one big thing on everyone’s mind over this holiday has been the answer to my last post, ‘Ten things about me (one is a lie)’, which I set a few days before Christmas.

I jest, of course. But for those of you who were kind enough to indulge my vanity by providing me with their answer/viewpoint/opinion, here are the truthful things, followed by the big lie:

NINE TRUTHFUL THINGS:

1. I have three times made myself ill cooking for Monk’s Modern Medieval Cuisine.

Yes, I really have done this. Unforgiveable, you might think.

In the first instance, I experimented with the recipe Tart de Bry, from Forme of Cury (Richard II’s cookery book) and, because I am gluten intolerant, I substituted sorghum flour for wheat flour to make the pastry, as sorghum is gluten free.

Tart debry
Tart de Bry, from Forme of Cury. Manchester, John Rylands Library, MS English 7. Photo by Christopher Monk © 2019. By permission of the University of Manchester.

Now I had never used sorghum flour before. I thought I was being very careful. Alas!

I won’t go into detail about the aftereffects, but suffice it to say that it was decidedly unpleasant and extremely painful. At first, I blamed it on some poppadoms I’d eaten at a restaurant, assuming wrongly that the waiter had fibbed about the poppadoms being gluten free. But when I repeated the recipe experiment a week later, the exact same symptoms occurred.

I followed up my discovery of intolerance to sorghum flour by doing a little research, which confirmed that some people with wheat intolerance unfortunately react badly to sorghum, too. Lesson learnt.

The third time I made myself ill was consuming a large quantity of a fava bean purée, again based on a recipe in Forme of Cury, which though not causing quite as severe a reaction as the sorghum experiments, nevertheless had me cursing my luck with the discovery of another new medieval method of torture!

2. I drank cocktails with Sir Lancelot.

Yes, it is true. I sipped cocktails at a party with Sir Lancelot du Lac, also known as actor Gareth David-Lloyd!

Gareth, pictured below with his wife Gemma, is the voice actor for Sir Lancelot in the video game Dance of Death: Du Lac & Fey. I was invited to the party in London to celebrate the launch of the game, for which I was one of the historical consultants.

341A0240
Gareth David-Lloyd and his wife Gemma James. Gareth played the part of Sir Lancelot du Lac in the video game Dance of Death: Du Lac & Fey. Photo by Christopher Monk © 2019.

3. I started a pastry fight in my cookery class at school.

Well, I should first thank all the folk who responded to this by saying that I’m much too peaceable to get up to such a wicked act of violence.

But, alas, it is true. Though rather an angelic child in general, at times the halo slipped. Fortunately, I was the teacher’s pet. So when Mrs Rollings (what a great name for a cookery teacher) returned after absenting herself briefly from class, she took it all in good humour.

The kitchens were scattered with balls of shortcrust dough, served, I might add, with varying degrees of accuracy by me and my fellow students using our sieves. Perhaps ‘pastry tennis’ rather than ‘pastry fight’ is a fairer description of what I started.

Anyhow, I confessed immediately to being the instigator and was forgiven, in part I think because I was the first ever boy at our school to take an O Level in cookery (these were the days of strict gender stereotyping), and Mrs R didn’t want to throw me out the class. Aww!

4. I have held in my hand the oldest copy of King Richard II’s cookery book.

Of course I have! I’ll just leave this picture as evidence.

Website header photo
Forme of Cury, the official record of cookery of King Richard II (c. 1390), and my fingers. Manchester, John Rylands Library, MS English 7. Photo by Christopher Monk © 2019. By permission of the University of Manchester. The Rylands copy of Forme of Cury is considered to be the oldest version, and made during Richard’s lifetime; by comparison, the more famous British Library copy (in scroll form) dates to several decades later, and was therefore made after Richard’s death.

(For Mary: generally speaking, medieval manuscripts are best handled with clean hands, rather than with gloved hands, so I did actually have skin contact with the book as I handled it at the Rylands Library. And we can call it King Richard’s cookery book, rather than the book of his cooks, because the preamble to the recipes states that it is the king’s official record. Hope that explains I’m being honest here!)

6. I have been in a pop video drinking bubbly.

Yes, I get about a bit!

I had the great pleasure of working with the brilliant musician-singer-songwriter, Ben McGarvey, better known as Minute Taker. I can be found, I think, four times (totalling about 5 seconds of fleeting fame) in his video for the 2019 single Hearts (We’ll Never Know). In the screenshot below, Ben pushes past me as I’m drinking a glass of bubbly.

(Here’s the video in full.)

Hearts video

7. I sat down to drinks and nibbles with the White Witch of Narnia.

This is rather like the answer to no. 2. So perhaps mildly duplicitous of me, and also I don’t have any photographic evidence to support this.

So, no White Witch of Narnia as such, but it is true that I sat down to drinks and nibbles with actress Tilda Swinton who played the White Witch in the 2005 Disney film, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

This event happened by chance about five or six years ago in the American Airlines executive lounge at Chicago O’Hare Airport. I was sitting down eating olives and a gin and tonic, and who should walk in and sit herself in the adjacent armchair but the terrifying Jadis herself!

Tilda Swinton, 2019
Tilda Swinton, who played Jadis, the White Witch of Narnia in the 2005 Disney film, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Photo credit: Myles Kalus Anak Jihem; Link to licence.

8. I have dined at a MasterChef winner’s restaurant.

True! In fact I’ve dined in this restaurant twice.

The place is Wood, in my hometown of Manchester, and the chef-patron is Simon Wood, who won MasterChef in 2015. The food is superb!

9. I have eaten medieval cheesecake.

Obviously I have not eaten cheesecake that has survived since the medieval period, but I have eaten my own reconstruction of the fourteenth-century recipe known as Sambocade, a rosewater and elderflower curd cheese tart (see image below).

I made the curd cheese from scratch and reported on this experiment on my other website, The Medieval Monk: Making cruddes (curds).

20190323_183223
A gluten-free version of Sambocade (and some apricot tarts), based on a fourteenth-century recipe from Forme of Cury. Photo: Christopher Monk © 2019.

10. I have eaten 14th-century French tarts whilst dressed in an authentic 11th-century English monk’s habit.

True.

This is related to No. 1. During the filming of my experimention with making Tart de Bry, a recipe that, as the name implies, orginated in Normandy in medieval France (Bry=Brie, the French cheese that seems to have originated in eigth-century Meaux), I decided to appear as an English Saxon monk snaffling the goodies.

My costume, seen below, was made for me by Aidan Campbell and was based on manuscript drawings from the eleventh century. I blogged about it on my other website.

20150711_171039

AND SO TO THE LIE!

5. I once dressed as Queen Wealhtheow, serving mead, whilst teaching Beowulf at the University of Manchester.

And so no one worked out the fib. Not even my partner of 19 years!

It is true that I once dressed as a make-shift Queen Wealhtheow in a Beowulf class -— I made her long locks of plaited hair out of wool and her crown out of shiny gold card —  but this was during my own undergraduate studies at the University of Manchester. And it is also true that later I taught Beowulf at this same university. But, come on! Serve mead to my students? I’d have got the sack!

Wealhtheow
Queen Wealhtheow. From the children’s book Stories of Beowulf by H. E. Marshall (1908). Illustration by J. R. Skelton [Public domain].

Hope that was at least mildly entertaining. And, once again, a big thank you to all those who responded on Facebook, and to Kay who responded conscientiously in the comments section on here xxx.

Wishing you all a great 2020. See you all in the New Year.

Ten things about me (one is a lie)

Seasons greetings everyone!

Here’s something light and jolly for the Christmas holidays — perhaps best reserved for when you’re completely bored out of your mind! (You can only eat so many mince pies.)

I’ve listed ten food and drink related facts about me; but one of them is a bit of a fib. See if you can guess which is the porky, and leave your answer in the comments below.

I can’t really think of a suitable prize for the cleverest deducers, but I may get them to help me decide which recipes to film in the New Year for Monk’s Modern Medieval Cuisine.

TEN THINGS:

  1. I have three times made myself ill cooking for Monk’s Modern Medieval Cuisine.
  2. I drank cocktails with Sir Lancelot.
  3. I started a pastry fight in my cookery class at school.
  4. I have held in my hand the oldest copy of King Richard II’s cookery book.
  5. I once dressed as Queen Wealhtheow, serving mead, whilst teaching Beowulf at the University of Manchester.
  6. I have been in a pop video drinking bubbly.
  7. I sat down to drinks and nibbles with the White Witch of Narnia.
  8. I have dined at a MasterChef winner’s restaurant.
  9. I have eaten medieval cheesecake.
  10. I have eaten 14th-century French tarts whilst dressed in an authentic 11th-century English monk’s habit.

 

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/fe/324_The_Romance_of_King_Arthur.jpg
Did I drink cocktails with Sir Lancelot? Image: “How Sir Launcelot fought with a fiendly dragon.” From The Romance of King Arthur (1917). Abridged from Malory’s Morte d’Arthur by Alfred W. Pollard. Illustrated by Arthur Rackham.  Public Domain.