Language of cookery 5: What does Crutoun mean?

I find it so easy to get waylaid by curiosity when translating Forme of Cury, Richard II’s official cookery book. Give me a strange recipe name, and I’ll spend hours trying to work out what it might mean and where it’s from, instead of simply offering a modern English title that captures the essence of the dish, and moving on to the next recipe.

So as I restarted my book project last week, after a hiatus due to health issues, it wasn’t too long until I came across the unusual ‘Crutoun’ in the John Rylands Library manuscript, from which I’m working.

Rather than just leave it at ‘Offal of capons in an enriched sauce’, my eventual title, I had no choice but to dig and dig until I exhausted all possibilities. Well, I’m not convinced I’ve actually done just that, but I can certainly say I felt exhausted after trying!

Recipe 59, ‘Crutoun’ (there is an abbreviation mark over the ‘n’ which signifies a preceding ‘u’). From Forme of Cury, Richard II’s official cookery book.

Manchester, John Rylands Library, English MS 7, folio 33r. Image by permission of the University of Manchester.

Before we take a look at the details of my etymological quest (I’m trying hard to make it sound sexy), let’s take a look at the recipe in full. If I’ve failed to inspire you to join me on my adventure, you can at least read this and think about how you might adapt it for tomorrow night’s dinner.

Crutoun (59)

Tak þe offal of capouns oþer of oþer bryddes, make hem clene & perboyle hem; tak hem vp & dyce hem; tak swete cow mylke & cast þerinne & lat hit boyle; tak payndemayn & of þe self mylk & drawe þorowe a cloth & cast it in a pot, and lat it seeþ; take ayroun ysode, hewe þe white & cast þerto, and lye þe sewe with ȝolkes of ayroun raw; colour hit with safroun; tak þe ȝolkes & frye hem & florysche hem þerwith and poudour douce.

Offal of capons in an enriched sauce

Take the offal of capons or of other birds, clean them and parboil them; take them up and dice them; take fresh cow’s milk and cast [the offal] therein and let it boil; take pandemain and the same milk and draw through a cloth and cast it into a pot and let it simmer; take boiled eggs, chop the white and add thereto, and thicken the sauce with raw egg yolks; colour it with saffron; take the [pre-boiled] yolks and fry them, and decorate [the offal] with them and powder douce.

Text and translation © Christopher Monk 2020

What we have here, then, is a rather sophisticated dish of diced poultry offal – likely livers and hearts – covered in a golden saffron hued, milk-based sauce, which is thickened with posh white bread (pandemain) and egg yolks and enhanced by adding chopped egg whites. Finally, the dish is decorated with cooked egg yolks and seasoned, perhaps at the table from spice plates, with a spice mix likely containing ginger, cinnamon, Indian bay leaves, and cloves. (See this post for more information on powder douce.) I will get around to cooking this.

A capon (a neutered cockerel). Image: Copyright © 2004 Mai-Linh Doan. This file is licensed under a Creative Commons license.

The offal of capons or ‘other birds’ is used in the fourteenth-century dish Crutoun. Using chicken livers or hearts makes for a a good substitute.

So what do the dictionaries say?

[Please note, the section below on creton has been amended. My thanks to Kay Tomlinson.]

Well, a starting point for all language research is the online Middle English Dictionary (MED). It goes with the form croton, which as far as I can see does not appear in any of the surviving Forme of Cury manuscripts, but rather seems to be a mistake: the MED appears to have missed the fact that in the British Library roll (see folio 5r), on which it appears to be basing the croton entry, the letter ‘n’ has an abbreviation mark over it indicating a preceding ‘u’; therefore the MED should have crotoun.

Leaving that error aside, the MED offers a probable etymology of Old French cretonée which it defines as ‘prepared with cracklings’, presumably referring to crisped-up bits of pig fat (in the UK we use the singular ‘crackling’ to refer to the crisped-up fatty skin of roast pork). Also, it gives a rather disappointing definition of ‘a meat dish’ and provides a single associated quotation, our Forme of Cury recipe.

Well, I’m sure you can see that our recipe is, strictly speaking, a dish of offal, and there’s not a rumbling of pork cracklings to be heard. So where is this idea of ‘prepared with cracklings’ coming from?

Well it’s complicated.

The link, linguistically, appears to be to the medieval French word creton, which according to the online Dictionnaire du Moyen Français (1330-1500) means ‘morceau de panne de porc frite’, that is, ‘small piece of fried pork fat’. If you fry a piece or pieces of pig fat, you get something akin to pork cracklings.

(Here’s a traditional French Canadian recipe using cretons, in which you can find the author’s link to a picture of ‘panne de porc’).

In Randle Cotgrave’s A Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues, published in 1611 so admittedly not medieval, creton is defined as ‘The crispie peeces… remaining of lard’ that has been processed. So we’re still with cracklings, here.

Now, from creton we get cretonée which therefore means ‘prepared with cracklings’ (or, alternatively, prepared with pieces of lard; see Hieatt and Butler’s comments, Curye of Inglysch, p. 181, ‘Craytoun’).

But the questions going through my mind were: are we sure the name of our recipe, Crutoun (or Crotoun), is derived from, or a corruption of, this word cretonée? And, could there be a more straightforward derivation? After all, I have previously come across other unnecessarily convoluted etymologies for recipe names which turn out to have a simpler answer (see, for example my post on Bursews).

Now, to complicate things further, there is at least one early French recipe called Cretonée that does have some similarities to our Crutoun. This is found in the earlier fourteenth-century work, The Viandier of Taillevent, by Guillaume Tirel (alias Taillevent), who was the chief cook of King Charles V of France (r. 1364-1380).

Terence Scully has edited and translated into English the fourteenth-century culinary work, The Viandier of Taillevent.

The dish, Cretonnee de pois nouveaulx, is not one of offal but, as the name suggests, one of fresh peas (actually puréed) along with chicken. The similarity lies in the sauce: like Crutoun, it is made from cow’s milk, thickened with bread and egg yolks, and coloured with saffron. This French dish doesn’t have pork cracklings in it, though the peas are fried in ‘pork grease’ (see pp. 50-51 and 281 in Scully’s edition).

(Scully observes (p. 52) that ‘the term cretonnee appears to be a derivative of [Latin] cremium [‘firewood] and cramare [‘to burn’]’, which, he argues, points to the deep frying of the peas in this dish. But, I’ll be honest, this seems a torturous etymology. Thanks to ‘Kiriel’ for referring me to Scully’s comment.)

So, I thought: is the Crutoun of Forme of Cury simply creating an adaptation of this ‘cretonnee’ dish, or another similar French dish, and using an anglicised form of the name? Or does Crutoun perhaps just mean the enriched milk sauce? I was not convinced of either of these possibilities.

A further dictionary find, this time in the French Etymological Dictionary (Französisches Etymologisches Wörterbuch) suggested to me another possibility. There I found that there is a regional cognate of the French creton, namely greton (see ‘kerte’ 1), which is used to mean ‘dernier reste d’un pain’, i.e. the ‘last remnant of a loaf of bread’, presumably the crusts.

Though the dictionary didn’t provide a date for this cognate word, it nevertheless got me wondering if cretonée (and its various forms) should be understood to have a wider meaning than just ‘prepared with pork crackling(s)’, namely, that it could also mean ‘prepared with crusts‘. Since, both the French Cretonnee recipe, above, and our English Crutoun use bread to thicken their sauces, most likely from the previous day’s leftover crusts, this seemed a reasonable deduction.

But I still didn’t feel satisfied. So on I went.

A corruption of a Latin word?

I have often found that links to Latin words are present in recipe titles, at least in an indirect route via Anglo-Norman, the Old French dialect used in England, post-Conquest (after 1066). So I scratched my head to think of medieval Latin words that Crutoun resembled. I put a few possibilities into the search box of the Dictionary of Medieval Latin from British Sources, another favourite resource of mine, and stumbled across crutum.

Crutum is a variant form of scrutum and what does scrutum mean? Its second definition is: ‘tripe or sim[ilar]’.

Ta dah! Tripe is a type of offal, the stomach of ruminants, to be more precise. OK, capons are not ruminant mammals, but essentially, we’re still talking offal here. It’s the ‘similar’ bit of the definition, I was thinking.

Could it be that our Crutoun is simply a corruption of Crutum, and simply means offal and refers to the main ingredient, capon offal? Other recipes in Forme of Cury are called after the main ingredient, including Noumbles, which again is an offal dish.

In the end, I do think this is one of those weird recipe names that it is not quite possible to grasp. And in my book, I did write to that effect. One thing for sure, Crutoun is not a dish ‘prepared with pork cracklings’, and I remain very dubious about the name having that association here.

If you have any thoughts yourself on the name, or if you think my etymological wanderings are somewhat off-piste (quite possible), please don’t hesitate to offer your thoughts in the comments, below.

Published by Christopher Monk

Dr Christopher Monk is creating Modern Medieval Cuisine

21 thoughts on “Language of cookery 5: What does Crutoun mean?

    1. Thanks Kay. I took ‘panne de pork frite’ to mean ‘a rendering down of fried pork’, since ‘panne’ as a noun means ‘breakdown’ rather than ‘lard’ (or ‘fat’) per se. My translation was more interpretive than literal but still not that good, so I’ve changed it. However, I couldn’t find any definition for the phrase ‘panne de porc’ in the French-English dictionary I checked. If you could point me to a source, that’d be helpful and appreciated. I’m wondering if you’re familiar with French idiom and that’s why you suggest ‘lard’. Thanks as always for commenting. 😊

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      1. Sure! If you google “panne de porc” you’ll see photos and stuff in French–Wikipedia, for instance: “La panne est la graisse entourant les reins aussi appelés rognons des porcs” (basically defining panne as the fat around the kidneys of a pig). This page (https://www.larousse.fr/dictionnaires/francais-anglais/panne/57313), in the third definition: “[d’un cochon] Pig’s fat ou Lard”. My French is rusty but serviceable.

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  1. I wonder if there is a connection to the modern ‘crouton’, cubes of lard-fried bread sprinkled on soups or stews. Love the article and the recipe!

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  2. My dictionary of medieval French (Hindley etc) has cretonee as a stew or pure made with cracklings and Cotgraves similarly has cretons as crispy bits.
    Scully writes that it is a derivative of cremium and cremare referring to the deep frying of the peas/beans.
    My brain is leaping, however, to whether this term turned eventually in to gratine!!
    My medieval french dictionary has gratiner as meaning scrape. Cotgraves has gratin as “the remnants of children’s pap, leggy in, or sticking to the bottome of the skellet wherein it was boiled.”
    You needed more added to your investigation didn’t you. Lol

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. I need the Hindley dictionary! I too wondered about gratinée. I was aware of Scully’s comment but it doesn’t make much sense in connection with the recipe. Hieatt and Butler (eds of 14th-century English cookery texts) found the suggested connections of the English name to lard and/or cracklings — the ‘crispy bits’ — didn’t fit the recipes. That essentially is my contention.

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