My novel, Conjurers (coming in April), is set in the 14th century and, for it, I did some research on medieval food. It seems—no surprise—that peasant fare was coarse stuff with little meat and even less variation.
On the other hand, there are many surviving medieval cookbooks that show at least some people were living the gastronomical Mardi Gras. And they ate strange things. Of course, the entrails of almost every animal were on the menu. These were known as Nombuls.
The fact that, among birds, we eat chicken, turkey and duck these days seems shabby and limited. And really, how many people eat duck, other than in Chinese restaurants or in godforsaken Turducken?
In medieval times, everything with wings was on the list. One cookbook included dishes for swans, ducks, cranes, geese, herons, peacocks, woodcock, snipe, curlews, blackbird, skylark, cormorant (with bill roasted open for elegance), and pigeons.
And about that Turducken…
Even as late as 1807, people enjoyed tasting the full array of our avian cousins. A cookbook from that year contains a recipe for “Roast without Equal,” comprised of a bustard, stuffed with a turkey, a goose, a pheasant, a chicken, a duck, a guinea fowl, a teal, a woodcock, a partridge, a plover, a lapwing, a quail, a thrush, a lark, an ortolan bunting, and a garden warbler. Some of these are creatures only the most geeked-out birdwatcher even knows exist. If you follow the Turducken nomenclature, this dish would be known as a Buturgoophechiduckguifotewoparplolapquathrularortbubbler.
One of my favorite recipe titles, “Roo in a Sewe,” comes from the Liber Cure Cocorum, penned around 1430. This is not, as I’d hoped, a recipe for Pooh’s friend, but Old English for “deer in broth.”
Lamprey was also widely enjoyed among the rich throughout Europe. Personally, I don’t see the allure of the lancet-mawed, ichor-sucking lamprey. In fact, it has to be one of the least appealing of all slippery creatures sidling through the darkness and cold murk of the world’s waterways. If anything, these should be eaten by the Great Nameless Ones of H.P. Lovecraft’s stories.
Tune in for my post later this week, in which I reveal the (almost) infallible secret stratagem that, for many years, allowed me and my cousins to avoid eating foods we detested while appearing to be sweet, obedient children.
Drop me a line in the comments section and answer this question: what is the most disgusting food you have ever eaten in your life?