Medieval culinary glossary: mulberries

Morus nigra (black mulberry). Public Domain image. Original source, via Wikimedia, Prof. Dr. Otto Wilhelm Thomé Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz 1885, Gera, Germany.

We have arrived at the letter m, which is for mulberries.

This is an excerpt from the working script of the glossary in my forthcoming book, How to Cook in the Fourteenth Century. My book is an accessible edition and modern English translation of the oldest and best version of Richard II’s Fourme of Cury (located in the John Rylands Library, Manchester). As well as the encyclopaedic glossary of all ingredients, equipment, and culinary terms mentioned in King Richard’s cookery treatise, there is thoroughly researched commentary for each of its 194 recipes.

mulberries mulberyes. The fruit of the black mulberry tree, Morus nigra, native to Central Asia and eastern China, and almost certainly introduced to England by the Romans (McMorland Hunter & Hughes, pp. 27 and 29).

The mulberry tree (Old English, morbeam) is listed in Abbot Ælfric’s glossary, which was written at the end of the tenth century, suggesting mulberries were cultivated in English monastic gardens from at least that time (Harvey, 1981, p. 175; ASOEV, p. 138). Mulberry stones have been found in pre-1500 archaeological sites in both London and Beverley, Yorkshire (Moffett, pp. 48 and 54).

In Fourme of Cury, mulberries appear just twice, both times used as a red food colourant: in ‘Vyaund ryal’, a richly spiced rice pottage served on special occasions (no. 97, ch. 6); and in the dish ‘Peerus in confyt’, pears in syrup (no. 130, ch. 9). The more commonly used red colourant sanders is, in both of these recipes, given as an alternative to mulberries.

Another dish, ‘Morree’ (no. 38, ch. 6), though its name derives from Anglo-Norman moré, meaning ‘mulberry-coloured’, does not in fact make use of mulberries, relying instead on red wine and sanders for its chromatic impersonation. A similarly named dish, ‘murrey’, found in the near-contemporary English collection Diuersa servicia, directs that mulberries be crushed in a mortar, then wrung through a cloth, before being put into a pot to be cooked with other ingredients (CI, p. 69). This process may indicate that it was the extracted juice, rather than whole fruits, that was utilised as the food colourant in fourteenth-century cookery. The modern redactor should be aware that mulberry juice readily stains both skin and clothing (Renfrow & Fleming, p. 26).

Cited works

ASOEV, Thomas Wright & Richard Paul Wülcker (ed.), Anglo-Saxon and Old English Vocabularies, Second Edition (London: Trübner & Co., 1884).

CI, Constance B. Hieatt & Sharon Butler (eds.), Curye on Inglysch: English Culinary Manuscripts of the Fourteenth Century (Including the Forme of Cury), EETS SS 8 (London, New York, Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1985).

Harvey, John, Medieval Gardens (London: Batsford, 1981).

McMorland Hunter, Jane, & Sally Hughes, Cherries & Mulberries: Growing and Cooking (London: Prospect Books, 2018): available here.

Moffett, Lisa, ‘The Archaeology of Medieval Plant Foods’, in Food in Medieval England: Diet and Nutrition, ed. C. M. Woolgar, D. Serjeantson, and T. Waldron (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006).

Renfrow, Cindy, & Elise Fleming, ‘The Colorful Cook’, The Compleat Anachronist 109 (2000).

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If you want to learn more about mulberries, then this book by Jane McMorland Hunter & Sally Huges is well worth the read, and right now it’s on sale:

Published by Christopher Monk

Dr Christopher Monk is creating Modern Medieval Cuisine

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