Cookbook Reviews

I have been on a bit of a cookbook buying spree, thanks to cleaning up my list of books to find. I had three cookbooks on the list and I no longer remember when I decided I needed them, or what prompted me to find the titles in the first place. Luckily, all three books became available about the time I started searching again, so now I have three books that are very different from each other and pose interesting challenges.

Speisen wie die Äbte und essen wie die Mönche (Dine Like the Abbots and Eat Like the Monks) is a transcript of the Mondseer Cookbook, from 1453 in the Mondsse Cloisters in Austria (its church was the setting for the wedding scene in The Sound of Music). The book also includes Master Cook’s Instructions from 1593 through 1645, a chapter on food chits from 1538 to 1632 (these seem to be short menus for different months and days of the year), and the business brook (regular communes) from 1538. This is the most challenging book for me, but also the most interesting in some ways. As I have a Germanic persona, I am always trying to learn more about German cooking and housewifery. Unfortunately, my German is not very good and Google Translate doesn’t work very well for medieval German. I do recognize lots of individual words and the basics of recipes, so I will spend some quality time over the next few months comparing it with my good translation of Das Buch von Guter Speise.

The next book is Relieves de las mesas, acerca de las delicious de la comics y Los deferents platos, a Spanish translation of the 13th C Andalusian cookbook by Ibn Razin al-Tugibi. This one is much more straightforward, except that it is only in Spanish. The original Arabic text is not included – not that I speak or read Arabic. The author (Manuela Marin) is a Spanish academic specializing in the social history aspects of Arabic and Islamic studies, has written a history of food in the Islamic world, and is a member of the executive committee of the the European Institute of Food Hisory, so I’m going to assume that this is a decent translation. This is a very comprehensive cookbook but I hesitate to plunge in because the first recipe I saw when I flipped it open was for rice pudding. I dislike rice pudding.

The final book is Byzantine Cuisine, by Henry Marks, known in the SCA as Demetrios  Misthophoros aka Demetrius il Condiottiero. He was  a Master of the Laurel and one of the founders and first Guild Master of the Calontir Cooks Guild. The book was originally published in 2002 by a company that is no longer in business, and Dr. Marks himself died in 2014. I finally found a copy on EBay, and it was worth the hunt. His articles on Byzantine culture are scattered around the internet and I have found them to be interesting. Byzantine Cuisine is not a translation of any single cookbook, but rather a description of categories of foods, dining customs, some recipe re-creations, and translations of several Byzantine texts with food references in them (all of which are new to me). I have found one blog post that claims Marks was a good translator but not a good recipe writer (based in part on her view that phyllo dough was not used). However, I did a bit of digging myself and found reasonable evidence that baklava-type recipes, and recipes using layers of dough like phyllo did indeed exist in the Turkic and Byzantine worlds. He is also very clear where he moves into the role of speculation due to the lack of detailed information (eg using beaten egg whites as a leavening agent because the recipe for honey cakes makes no mention of anything except flour and honey, and it is reasonable to assume some sort of liquid and a learning agent). On that basis, while I am not prepared to take all the recipes at face value because I can’t read the original documents, I am prepared to use them as a starting point for more research, and make some of them just for fun.


For the record, I just calculated where I am on the 100 Days of A&S challenge, and I am at Day 375. I have completed a full year of doing at least 10 minutes of A&S every single day, and I’m now 10 days into year 2. Go me!


Back in the fall, when I was drowning in horseradish, I came across this 15th C Spanish recipe for candied horseradish:

Recipe by Daniel Myers


1/4 cup fresh horseradish (approx.)
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water


Wash and scrape horseradish until it’s clean and white. Cut into two inch strips about half the thickness of a pencil. Place in lightly salted, boiling water and cook until tender – about 15 minutes. Drain and set aside. Put water and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil. Add horseradish and reduce heat to keep it at a low simmer, stirring regularly. If you use chopsticks to stir the pieces around then you can easily test the syrup to see if it forms soft threads. When it does, remove the pan from heat and take out the horseradish pieces one at a time and lay on a wire rack to dry briefly. Coat each piece with sugar and store in an airtight container.

Source [Libre de Totes Maneres de Confits]: CAPITOL .VIIJ.e PER CONFEGIR LO RAVE GUALESCH Pendreu lo rave gualesch e reu lo e feu lo net be ab aygua. E apres telar l eu menut tot, e apres metreu lo al foch ab aygua e metreu hi un bon puny de sall e bulla tant que sia ben mol. E apres treureu lo n e metreu lo en aygua freda .viiij.o jorns mudant tots jorns l aygua. E, com sia be deselat, aureu fussa vostra mell, e, ben escumada axi com dit es, metreu lo ab la mel o axerop e bulira ferm tro que lo axerop sia fet que fassa fills. E a mester en una llr. de rava galesch .j. llr. de mel.

Chapter Eight To Candy Horseradish. Take the horseradish and scrape it and make it clean with water. And then chop it all finely, and then put it on the fire with water and add a good handful of salt and boil it enough so that it is very soft. And then take it and put it in cold water for nine days, changing the water each day. And, once all the salt is removed, have your honey made, and, well skimmed as it is said before, add it all to the honey or syrup and boil it rapidly so that the syrup is done when it makes threads. And for one pound of horseradish one pound of honey is enough. (Vincent Cuenca, trans.) http://medievalcookery.com/recipes/horseradish.html

I made a small batch, following the instructions of the redaction exactly. It was okay, but still had a slight horseradish flavour.

I decided to try again, this time winging it a little and cooking the syrup until it crystallized in the pan. I may also have boiled the horseradish a bit longer. The resulting candy was crisp and heavily caramalized (to the edge of burnt) but didn’t taste of horseradish. I think this version is actually my favourite.

Then I visited my friend Lucia and she showed off her version. She had used hone, as in the original, and sliced the horseradish far smaller than the recipe called for. She said she had boiled the heck out of her horseradish before cooking in the honey. It was beautiful, and very tasty, so of course I had to try another batch. Thankfully, it’s the last of the horseradish for this year. I cut my pieces very tiny, and I definitely boiled it much longer than the recommended 15 minutes. I think it would have benefitted from several changes of water as it soaked for a day or so, because there is still a bit of horseradish taste to the candy. The honey is much stickier, of course, but it does give a lovely colour and texture, and it is quite tasty.

From left to right: original recipe, crystallized in the pot, cooked in honey. For the record, the bowls on the left hold only a fraction of the candy. I really do have a lifetime supply.



While in Afghanistan, I discovered jujubes. No, not the sickly sweet jelly candies. These are fruits. They come from a small tree first cultivated in South Asia. Jujubes are drupes, with a single seed similar to an olive pit.


In Persian traditional medicine it is used in combination with other herbal medicines to treat colds, flu and coughing, according to Wikipedia. This is consistent with what the man displaying them told me.

The jujube tree was probably known in the Greek world from the time of Alexander the Great. One of the scientists accompanying Alexander to India described what appears to be the jujube. It also appears in Latin literature as a an exotic tree “recently arrived to Italy” (Pliny’s Natural History, cited in “The Jujube Tree by Alain Touwaide in Health and Healing from the Medieval Gardewn, p 88). Galen knew of jujubes but did not think highly of their nutitious value (ibid, p 92). Medicinal uses for jujubes were recorded in the 3rd C, but jujubes disappeared from Western medical and botanical literature in the 4th C. However, they continued to be recorded occasionally in Byzantine literature. They seem to have been rediscovered after the 10th C, and in the 11th C, the reputation of jujubes changed from being low quality and difficult to digest, possibly because the author (Simeon Seth) used Arabic sources. It appears that physicians valued jujubes and grew them from Baghdad to Andalusia. However, there is no archaeological evidence to show that jujube trees grew in the Byzantine world. (Ibid, pp 94-100)

The other pictures have little to do with jujubes, but I wanted to save them someplace. The upper picture is of different varieties of pomegranates. The lower picture has dried fruits and nuts including grapes, raisins, jujubes, and pine nuts (not the white ones we are used to, but large dark brown-black nuts).

Twelfth Night

I have been working on a super secret project for Twelfth Night festivities this year and it turned out even better than expected. My belly dance class had developed a fun dance based on a Soca dance from St. Lucia, which we performed at the big class party in December. Since then, I have spent many hours adding more beads and sequins to the costume, and today I performed the dance as a solo for the silly arts and sciences contest at the event. I had lovely documentation that plagiarized liberally from Wikipedia and a few other sources to link early Germanic winter festivities to Carnival in 13th C Speyer (not too from my home city of Metz), to the discovery of St. Lucia and its colonization, and African influences on Carnival costumes. I even worked in a reference to Tacitus.

There is something rather fun about being a stodgy middle-aged housewife in your medieval game for many years, then showing up in something foolish. Today I chose my heraldic fool’s costume, which hasn’t seen the light of day in at least a decade. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find either of the matching hats, so I had to settle for the one from another costume. This should have been enough to warn people something was up, but I still managed to shock by slipping off my big cloak, putting on a feather headdress, and dancing to Allez Allez. I don’t have any pictures of the solo, but I’m the one on the left in this group picture from our Chrismas show:


To make my day even sillier, I found a bean in my cake and became the King (or possibly co-Queen) of Misrule with the lovely Lady Gwendolyn. We had a very silly court with knecht Ruprecht doling out punishment for sins reported to us by people at the event.



A while ago, my sister decided to raise chickens. After they had been slaughtered, she gave me all the feet and giblets, figuring I would have some use for them. I did! I finally had a way to make garbage, a soup recipe that appears in Two Fifteenth Century Cookbooks and A Noble Boke off Cookry (you can find them on-line, with a redaction, here.

I didn’t follow the recipe exactly. I had 24 chicken feet but no heads, and the chicken hearts were frozen in with the bag of gizzards and livers. I boiled up everything in my biggest pot, then removed all the feet. I left in the giblets, though I did break them into bite-sized chunks. Separately, I soaked about half a loaf of baguette in bread, and when it was nice and mushy I added it to the meat along with some beef broth concentrate. Finally, I added approximately double the amount of spices recommended in the redaction. It is remarkably tasty, especially when one considers the rather unattractive beginnings.

I spent about 1 1/2 hours shovelling manure out of my horse’s shelter. She lives with four other mares and it hasn’t been done for a while, so there was a lot. It was my second day working on this, and I still have barely made a dent. The first time, I ended up with a very sore wrist after moving about 2 cubic metres of manure, so I decided today that I would reflect on my life as a medieval groom.

1) I take orders from my mistress without complaint (aka my daughter, who sent me to fetch her forgotten helmet from the wagon).

2) I can’t take the day off just because I have a sore arm. I need to deal with the muck before it freezes solid. Also, the horses kept filling the shelter even as I tried to empty it.

3) A real medieval groom would probably not be making mental comparisons to the Augean Stables. They would, however, likely do as I did and stop for frequent visits with other peasants. They would probably also debate whether it was worth dumping some of the manure on their own fields to fertilize them, rather than hauling it all the way to the manure pile as instructed.

4) A real medieval groom probably used a shovel, rather than a pitchfork. I needed the pitchfork because the manure had gotten too hard to pick up easily with the shovel. A medieval wooden pitchfork wouldn’t have stood up to the stress I put on my metal-timed pitchfork. You can read more about medieval farming tools here: http://wyrtig.com/EarlyGardens/British/Tools/CultivationTools.htm. I was pleased to note that there is an old English word for manure shovel: Meoxscofle.

5) I couldn’t fine any direct evidence for medieval grooms using a wheelbarrow to carry manure, though they were used to carry everything from building materials to wine casks to people (http://www.larsdatter.com/wheelbarrows.htm). In this image, the men are using shovels to shovel ash: IMG_0771

(Konzil von Konstanz (ÖNB 3044, fol. 82r), c. 1465-1475)

6) My horse has a modern, if simple, shelter. You can learn more about medieval farm buildings and stables here and here.


I have long thought that rhubarb was not known in medieval Europe, but recently was surprised to discover two references to it in the book Faith and Healing From the Medieval Garden (edited by Peter Denzel and Alain Touwaide, Boydell Press: 2008).

The first was in Chapter 3 (Plants in the Early Medieval Cosmos: Herbs, Divine Potency, and the Scalia Natura). It describes Kiranides, a text of five books on stones plants and animals attributed to Kyranus, the King of Persia. Often appended to it was a document on seven plants and planets (often known as Compendium Aureum and written by Alexius Affricus). The Compendium may be of Egyptian origin. The Greek text dates from 1-2C CE and was translated into Latin from Greek in the 1160s in Contantinople. In the Compendium, planetary powers were conferred on plants. However, there is very little information on exactly what powers were conferred. Artemesia, linked to the sun, made people take off their clothes (maybe an analogy to heat of sunlight?). Another text linked Mars to acrid grains like mustard, inclined to excessive heat (p 35). Herbs associated with the moon were good for the eyes because of the mystical affinity between the light of the eyes and the substance of the moon (p 37). While the Greek and Latin versions are fairly consistent in the plants associated with each planet, medieval translations of the Compendium into Middle English have many different plants. One version is in British Library MS Sloane 2948, which lists rubarbe with Mercurius (p 37-38).

The second reference appears in Chapter 5 (The Jujube Tree in the Eastern Mediterranean: A Case Study in the Methodology of Textual Archeobotany). It refers to a pharmaceutical treatise or recipe book known as Dynameron by Nickolaos Myrepsos from 14th C Byzantium (found in MS Paris, Bibliotheque Nationals de France, graecus 2243, fold. 11v-12r). It has a recipe for the golden antidote from Alexandria, which includes rhubarb among its many ingredients:

Golden antidote from Alexandria…it is active against…prepare it…in this way: it contains osari, the fruit of the balsam tree, henbane, two drachms; clove tree, opium, myrrh, galingale 2 drachms; balsam, cinnamon, cinnamon leaf, zedouarion, kikubrin, costus, coral, cinnamon, spurge, tragacanth, incense, styrax, reed, sage, baldmoney, celery, mustard, saxifrage, dill, anis, 1 drachm; aloe wood, rhubarb, alita moschata, castoreum, horehound, galanga, opopanax, anacardium, mastic, red sulfur (unburnt and crude), peony, thistle, flesh of palm trees, meadow saffron (red and white), rose, thyme, yellow flag, pennyroyal, birthwort, great gentian… – this is the Italian word; it’s a red root -, the bark from the root of mandrake, wall germander, spikenard, baldmoney, bays, carrot, long pepper, white pepper, balsam, karnabadin, amomum, myrtle, seed of lovage, seed of rue, seed of stone parsley 6 drachmas…Ibid, p 85).

It also shows up in the 1926 book “The Commerce Between the Roman Empire and India”, by E.H. Warmington. He claims that trade in rhubarb was not fully established until the “Arabian epoch” and by the 14th C it was being brought to Europe from Asia through the ports of Aleppo and Smyrna, where it was known as Turkey rhubarb.

More compelling evidence comes from Frances Wood, The Silk Road: two thousand years in the heart of Asia (University of California Press: 2002, p. 13), in which rhubarb appears in Ruy Gonzáles de Clavijo’s report of his embassy in 1403–05 to Timur in Samarkand (a city in Uzbekistan): “The best of all merchandise coming to Samarkand was from China: especially silks, satins, musk, rubies, diamonds, pearls, and rhubarb…”. Given the fact that it was listed with gemstones and fine fabrics, it is likely that rhubarb was considered a valuable commodity.

There are also two references to rhubarb in An Anonymous Andalusian Cookbook, translated by Charles Perry and edited by Candida Martinelli (http://italophiles.com/andalusian_cookbook.pdf):

The Great Drink of Roots (p 12)

Take the skin of the stems of fennel, the skin of the stems of celery, the skin of carrot and the stem of chicory and Mecca fig, half a ratl [1 ratl=468g/1lb] each; three handfuls each of halhâl [pos. lavender], cilantro of the spring [growing by the water source], dawmirân, tamarisk, pennyroyal, ghâfit, chicory, mint, clove basil and citron basil; two ûqiyas [1 ûqiya=39g/7tsp] each of the seeds of celery, carrot and roses, fennel, and habba hulwa and nânûkha [two names for, or perhaps two varieties of, nigella seed], and half an ûqiya [1 ûqiya=39g/7tsp] of dodder seed.

The bag [a bag of spices that is boiled in the honey and then removed]: half an ûqiya [1 ûqiya=39g/7tsp] each of cinnamon, flowers of cloves, ginger, Chinese rhubarb, Indian spikenard, mastic, nutmeg and aloe stems, a mithqâl [1 mithqâl=5.7g/1tsp] of saffron, [added to] six ratls [1 ratl=468g/1lb] of honey, cleansed of its foam.

Cook the herbs and seeds in water that covers them until their force comes out; then take the clean part of it [strain it] and throw it in [spiced] honey.

Put this on the fire, and put the spices in the bag [and in the honey and] after they have become mushy, throw them into the drink and macerate them time after time, until their force passes into the drink. Lay it [the spice bag] aside. Take it [the honey] from the fire, let it cool, and keep until needed.

Drink one ûqiya [1 ûqiya=39g/7tsp] of this with three of water on arising, and see that the water is hot. Benefits: fortifies the stomach and the liver, opens blockages of the liver and spleen, cleans the stomach, and is beneficial for the rest of the phlegmatic ailments of the body.

 The Great Cheering Syrup: Way of Making It (p 14)

Take half a ratl [1 ratl=468g/1lb] each of borage, mint, and citron leaves, and cook them in [enough] water to cover until their strength comes out. Then take the clean part [filter it] and add it to a ratl [1 ratl=468g/1lb] of sugar.

Then put in the [spice] bag: a spoonful each of aloe stems, Chinese rhubarb, Chinese cinnamon [cassia], cinnamon and clove flowers. Pound all these coarsely, place them in a cloth, tie it well, and place it in the kettle [with the sugar and herb essence], macerate it again and again until its substance passes out, and cook until [the liquid] takes the consistency of syrup.

Take one ûqiya [1 ûqiya=39g/7tsp] with three of hot water. Benefits: It profits weak stomachs, fortifies the liver and cheers the heart, digests foods, and lightens the constitution gently, God willing.

 Finally, rhubarb appears in The Alphabet of Galen, a Latin handbook of ancient Greek pharmacy that circulated in Europe from the 7th to the 12th C AD. It has no connection to the 2-3 C physician Galen; in fact the content and style dates to before Galen’s time. The book describes 300 medicinal products. Item 231 is rhubarb:

Rhubarb, which some call “root” is rather large and somewhat black, delicate and very smooth, with a bitter fragrance and taste that is mildly astringent. When scoured and chewed it becomes sticky and turns saffron-coloured. The best rhubarb is Pontic. Rhubarb contains astringent properties, hence is crushed with wine and applied in the form of a compress to drain swellings, agglutinate wounds, and prevent discharges of blood. It is also used in antidotes. (The Alphabet of Galen, a Critical Edition of the Latin Text with English Translation and Commentary by Nicholas Everett. University of Toronto Press: 2012, p. 323).

Syrian rhubarb (rheum ribes) growing in Turkey

rhubarbBy Zeynel Cebeci – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48779247