Medieval culinary glossary: oblées

Image credit: see below.

We arrive at the letter o in the excerpts from my medieval culinary glossary of the ingredients, equipment and culinary terms found in Richard II’s Fourme of Cury, written about 1390.

And o is for oblées or, to use the Middle English spelling, obleys:

oblées obleys. Wafers or thin waffles, used in Fourme of Cury as a substitute for pasta: see recipe 24; but elsewhere in medieval literature their consumption occurs alongside sweet and spiced wines, such as hippocras (see recipe 189, chapter 5). They draw their name from Old French oblee, the word for the Host or wafer of the Eucharist (Holy Communion), which was made unleavened from wheat flour (see Robert of Brunne, lines 10,091 and 10,097-98).

By the time of Fourme of Cury, it seems quite probable that oblées were made from a flour and egg batter that was cooked between a pair of irons designed for the purpose, there being such an item in the account rolls of Durham Abbey for 1346: ‘j par de ublihirnes’, ‘1 pair of oblée irons’ (Fowler, p. 118). This may indicate that elite and royal kitchens of the fourteenth century produced their own oblées and other types of wafers, as Brears (pp. 343-45) suggests.

However, speciality ‘oblée-makers’ probably also existed at this time. Less grand households may have availed themselves of oblées from the shops of such artisans, though the earliest English reference to this occupation appears to date to 1427, with the naming of a certain freeman, ‘Robertus Kyldale, obletmaker’ (Collins, p. 134).

In the contemporaneous Old French Le Menagier de Paris, ‘oublees’ appear on a shopping list for a grand dinner, to be served at the finish of the meal alongside hippocras, Grenache wine (‘garnache’), and other wafers known as ‘supplications’ (Le Menagier, pp. 183-84). In their glossary, Greco & Rose describe the ‘oublies’ of Le Menagier as ‘slight, waffle-like pastries, decorated with religious symbols and sold in some churches’ (Good Wife’s Guide, p. 340).

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Next: Parsley root

‘Wafering iron’, dated 1481. © Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

These irons (also shown at the top of the page) are from fifteenth-century Italy but they give us an idea of what oblée-irons may have looked liked in England at the time of Fourme of Cury (c.1390). For more images of both fifteenth- and sixteenth-century European irons, follow the links here.

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Brears, Peter, Cooking & Dining in Medieval England (Prospect Books, 2008).

Collins, F. (ed.), Register of the Freemen of the City of York from the City Records, vol. 1, 1272-1558, Surtees Society Publications 96 (1897).

Fowler, C. (ed.), Extracts from the Account Rolls of the Abbey of Durham, vol. 1, Surtees Society Publications 99 (1898).

Good Wife’s Guide. Gina L. Greco & Christine M. Rose (trans.), The Good Wife’s Guide: Le Ménagier de Paris, A Medieval Household Book (Cornell University Press, 2009).

Le Menagier de Paris, ed. Georgine E. Brereton & Janet M. Ferrier (Clarendon Press, 1981).

Robert of Brunne. Robert of Brunne’s Handlyng Synne, ed. F. J. Furnivall (Early English Text Society/Trübner & Co., 1901); online edition here.

Published by Christopher Monk

Dr Christopher Monk is creating Modern Medieval Cuisine

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