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Aguecheek's Beef, Belch's Hiccup, and Other Gastronomic Interjections LITERATURE, CULTURE, AND FOOD AMONG THE EARLY MODERNS
By Robert Appelbaum
The University of Chicago Press Copyright © 2006 The University of Chicago
All right reserved.
Chapter One The Cookbook as Literature
"INCIPIT LIBELLUS DE ARTE COQUINARIA," the manuscript starts off: "Here begins the little book on the art of cookery." Its first entry, with a heading in Latin and a recipe in Old Danish, reads as follows:
Quomodo fiet oleum de nucibus.
Man skal takae en dysk mæthe nutæ kyænæ, oc en æggy skalæ full mæth salt, oc latæ them samæn i en heet mortel oc stampæ thæt wæl, oc writhæ gømæn et klæthæ; tha warthær thæt oly.
The modern editor renders it in English thus:
How to make walnut oil.
One should take a dish of walnut kernels and an eggshell full of salt, and place them together in a heated mortar; pound them well and wring through a cloth. Then it becomes oil.
The "little book" may be the oldest surviving manuscript of its kind written in a modern European language, though similar manuscripts show up from about the same time, perhaps only a few years later, in Italy, France, and England. Dating from about 1300, the book is a carefully produced, decorated manuscript bound in codex along with a text onplants (that is, an "herbal") and a text on the art of stonecutting. Its headings are all in Latin: "De salso ad carnes recentas apto" (About a sauce for fresh meat); "Quomodo conficatur pastellum de medullis cervorum" (How to prepare a pasty of deer marrow); "Item aliud temperatum pullorum" (Another way of preparing chicken). The rest is in idiomatic Danish, though with some borrowings from other European languages. Editors have long suspected that the collection is a translation of an earlier work written in Middle Low German, which itself may have been based on a text of Mediterranean origin; and slightly later versions of the text appear in Icelandic and Low German as well as a second Danish manuscript. It is not a lengthy or elaborate book. In its first extant version, it contains only twenty-five recipes and speaks to only a small repertory of ingredients and procedures. But the text is not unsystematic or lacking in thoroughness. After it explains how to make walnut oil, it goes on to specify the making of almond oil, almond butter, and almond milk. Then it discusses sauces of various kinds, made of basic vehicles like almond milk, vinegar, broth, and honey, to which seasonings like mustard, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, garlic, and ginger are added. Next it gives directions for serving fish with sauces, preparing a pair of custards and a pair of gruels (including a "hwit moos," which the translator renders as "white mush"), deer marrow pasty, and a number of chicken dishes, where the chicken is either stewed, roasted, or baked. The food is typical of what we know of thirteenth- and fourteenth-century cookery in western Europe, although the dishes are not as complex or heavily spiced and sweet as in other texts of the same kind. An especially interesting dish that appears toward the end is "Chickens Hunter Style" (in Old Danish, honær [chickens] inder iæghæt), perhaps the earliest recorded recipe for a preparation that is still common today in the form of pollo alla cacciatore and poulet au chasseur:
About a dish called Chickens Hunter Style
One should roast a hen and cut it apart; and grind garlic, and add hot broth and lard, and wine and salt and well beaten egg yolks, and livers and gizzards. And the hen should be well boiled in this. It is called "Chickens Hunter Style."
Though most of us are most familiar with a cacciatore where sautéed chicken parts are finished in a sauce of fresh tomatoes and mushrooms, one also finds southern Italian versions in bianco, made as in the Danish recipe with stock and egg yolks. A quick search of the Internet even shows recipes where the chicken, as here, is roasted rather than sautéed before it is steeped in a liquid.
Recipes were nothing new even in the Middle Ages. But it was one thing to pass recipes along by oral demonstration, as most had been passed on from cook to cook since the beginning of cooking, and another thing to do so by written communication. The written recipe contains an added element of what historians of the book call "fixity." Reducing an abundance of practical operations and sensory experiences to a minimally adequate set of instructions, it precipitates the culinary experience into linguistic form, codifying its operations and materials and fixing the experience once and for all. It thus forestalls variation, while at the same time allowing for greater precision and complexity. Hot broth and lard and wine and salt and egg yolks, the latter well beaten, all belong to this signature "Hunter Style" preparation, which will thus always be pretty much the same. It is because all of these operations and ingredients are included that this precise dish, named and categorized and in this way enshrined, can be duplicated in a kitchen-can be duplicated, in fact, in a kitchen far away in time and place from the kitchen where the recipe originated. In view of such a process, the contributor to the eighteenth-century Encyclopédie entry on "Cuisine" cites a passage from the comedy Adelphi, by Terence, where a household steward tells one of the kitchen servants, after complaining about dishes that he considered ill-prepared, "Illud recte; iterum fic memento." (This is done right; remember how to make it again.) So one of the chief impulses behind the recording of recipes is memory. Because in the flow of production and consumption when something is "done right," one needs to remember how to do it again. And many of the recipes that have survived in manuscript would seem to have originated in just this way. We find them not only in the context of formal cookbooks but also in household accounts and commonplace books, where housewives and household workers both male and female sporadically recorded the how-tos and what-abouts of daily experience. We find them mixed in with instructions for preparing a salve for wounds or hand soap or eye shadow, juxtaposed with lyrics from a song and notations about animals bought and sold. Something in the kitchen was not only done but "done right"; it therefore needed to be remembered because it needed to be done again. Only, the aide-mémoire of a recorded recipe can be directed not only to oneself but to others. "Remember how to make it again" easily becomes an interpellation, "You there [take my advice], this is how to make it." The "it," the dish now memorialized, becomes the object of a code that "you" may indefinitely reiterate, from kitchen to kitchen, a code to which you the cook, and cook after cook indeed, are summoned to deploy. Quomodo fiet ... How to make ... This is how to make ... This is how to make it ... You there ... For this reason, much is often made of the probable etymology of the "recipe," until recently more commonly known as a "receipt"-in French "recette," in Italian "ricetta," in German "Rezept"-the recipe or receipt being an order received.
Somehow, then, in the midst of a tradition of cookery that was mainly handed down by oral tradition and demonstration, the first extant copy of the Libellus de arte coquinaria was recorded. It was mildly thorough and systematic, supplementing tradition with the fixity of the written word. But it was heterogeneous in character too, and its origins are hard to pin down. The book mixed two languages and included borrowings from still other languages. It also mixed different kinds of ingredients, procedures, tastes, and styles. It has no identifiable author. We cannot even be sure who the scribe was, although he was evidently associated with a monastery.
Culinary philologists producing modern texts of early cookbooks in manuscript are often on the lookout for an original text, in a single language, with a single style of cookery, by the pen of a single author, from which other, compromised, copies derive. This Danish-Latin book would seem to be a case of this: a mixed-up and "corrupted" text that would seem to derive from a more singular-minded source, with a more singular vision of cookery, which is unfortunately lost to the predation of time. But philologists may perhaps do well to consult Foucault's famous challenge to the idea of absolute textual "origins." Apart from the empirical pursuit, which sometimes finds an earliest text from which other texts may be conjectured to stem and more often does not, a theoretical premise underlies the hunt for textual origins that culinary philologists may do well to jettison. It is assumed that a fully self-present moment of origination, a pure expression of unmixed and unprecedented intentions, usually lost to time, lies at the core of most any early modern cookery book. Yet such an origin may well be not only difficult to find-given the difficulty of recovering manuscript material from six, seven, or eight centuries ago-but inherently mythic, a researcher's fantasy. Even the individual recipe may lack an "original." What masterly incipit can be found for chickens hunter style, say? When did the "livers and gizzards" get added to the pot? What about the egg yolks? When precisely did a roasted chicken steeped in liquid of a certain kind, with certain additives like livers and egg yolks but not certain other available additives (like onions or saffron), become "hunter style"? One will never find out in many cases, not only because the traces of origin have been lost to legend, but because the recipes themselves often function less as inventions sprung from the mind of a creator than as momentary codifications of sensual experience that afterward take on the appearance of original inventions. Although individual writers and compilers certainly play a role in recording recipe collections, what is first of all in question is less an invention newly strung from the pen of a master cook than an impersonal engagement in the process of a writing of a certain kind-something Jacques Derrida calls the function of the "scriptor"-though which a variety of codes referring to the production of individual dishes are assembled. To this assemblage and the engagement in writing it involves, a Foucauldian author function is often added, either after the fact or as part of the scribal enterprise. The most famous of these named functions is one Taillevent or Guillaume Tirel, assigned "author" of Le viandier, a manuscript (or series of manuscripts; there is no original) of the Middle Ages, that when printed went on to become the most prominent and best-selling cookbook of the Renaissance in France. Taillevent became the legendary "Name of the Text," although "he" was certainly not its creator, since some manuscripts predate the birth of the famous chef; if he was involved in the manuscript, it was only as its most prominent compiler.
Thus, again: though we may find an author function in some of the early collections and individuals at work in compiling them, we seldom find an actual author. The collection is a site where diverse impulses from diverse sources have been assembled; it does not spring full-blown from the mind of a single-minded author, to whom a name and a biography may be assigned. The multilingual, multifarious nature of a text like the Libellus de arte coquinaria is a sign of that. Latin vies with Danish. Terms adopted from French, Italian, and German vie with the Danish. A dish of meat baked in dough-not unlike our Hamlet's "funeral baked meat"-is in one case a Romance-language pastel shaped like a cake and in another case a Scando-Germanic koken formed like a pie. Soon the whole guide gets absorbed into an Icelandic variant, where a pastel, a pastil, and a koken sit side by side. By the same token, ingredient vies with ingredient in such a text. After the walnut oil come the products made from almonds, which are then incorporated into several composed dishes. But almonds do not naturally grow in Denmark. Walnuts do.
Recipes migrate; collections migrate. An account book from fourteenth-century Florence includes the names of dishes served whose first known recorded recipes stem from contemporary Venice and the Mezzogiorno. A dish of mixed meats made in a single pot, given by the Burgundian "Taillevent" in 1300 as a "hutpot" and by an Anglo-Norman writer as an "hochepot" (in both cases, meaning "stir pot," from the verb hocher), appears in Netherlandish villages as a "hutspot." Eventually it becomes known in the Low Countries as a national dish, even while in fashionable London households it is promoted as an exotic, complex preparation, giving rise to the word "hodgepodge," for a mixed stew of things. At some point it emerges as a humble Lancastrian casserole with potatoes known as a "hotpot"-which often goes unstirred. So recipes are always on the move. And as recipes migrate, so do texts like the Libellus. They move from writer to reader, from study to study, from kitchen to kitchen, and on to new writers and new readers (and cooks and kitchens), changing with every known copying or reinscribing, crossing national and linguistic boundaries, and eventually, despite the conservative effect of "fixity," varying and evolving.
None of this is to say that the medieval cookbook is without intentionality. According to Bruno Laurioux, to whom almost everything I have to say here is greatly indebted, the sudden appearance of a number of cookbooks like the Libellus in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth century (nothing in Europe appears before then in a vernacular, going back to the fall of the Roman Empire) bespeaks a change in the relation of cooks to both their craft and their patrons. Clearly, professional cooks were mainly responsible for the inception of the manuscripts, cooks who were now, after centuries of oblivion, accorded a more prestigious role in princely households, and who accordingly imagined their craft in more exalted terms. Recruited from the ranks of learned men, raised in social status, and charged with overseeing larger and larger staffs, whose members need to be directed by more and more precise instructions, the cooks were readers and writers. They wrote things down; they read what others had written down. They copied some things; they invented or improvised some others. And on occasion by their labors a document in the form of a coherent, comprehensive text took shape. Although it is not always the case in medieval manuscripts, the various editions of the Libellus, Le viandier, and some others of the period articulated an orderly and general view of the culture of the kitchen, from rudimentary preparations (oils, condiments, and sauces) to complex variations of major dishes.
By the end of the earliest extant version of the Libellus, the reader has participated more or less systematically in a repertoire of tastes and textures and the means for producing and combining them. The available ingredients and protocols are of course finite. No iguana or jellyfish appears; nor does galingale, pimento, or soya, nor even, in this Danish text, rice. (Hence, unexpectedly, it contains no recipe for the famous "blancmanger," the blend of rice and minced chicken so prominent in other medieval cookbooks.) If roasting, stewing, and baking are the usual operations, there is no frying, sautéing, fricasseeing, or smoking. But the ingredients and protocols included, which of course have their source in traditional practices-in the foodstuffs and technologies that had been adopted by this time in the northern European kitchen-are not only finite: they are made, in the context of the cookery reproduced, to work together, for the sake of producing a coherent set of varieties and variations. This coherence is what the attentive reader is meant to walk away with.
The recipes for chickens hunter style and related dishes provide an example of how the system works. The collection includes eight chicken dishes in all. There are three boiled chicken dishes: one very simply boiled with bacon; another boiled with spices-pepper, cinnamon, and saffron, to which are added bread for thickening, livers for a garnish, lard, vinegar, and salt; and a third also boiled with bacon, as well as sage, vinegar, and salt. There is a dish of boiled dumplings made with diced chicken meat, binders, and seasonings including cumin and wine. There is the chickens hunter style, another boiled dish, later thickened and garnished with innards, where the chicken is first roasted and then cooked in broth as well as other liquids, and garlic is added. There is a dish somewhat related to this in which chicken pieces are served heated in a sauce made of chopped hard-boiled eggs and vinegar, thickened with egg yolks, and seasoned with pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, saffron, and salt. Then there are the two baked meats, the pastel or pasty, and the koken or pie, neither of which uses minced chicken but rather chicken parts. The pastel is made of a hen cut in two, covered with sage leaves, and seasoned with bacon and salt. The koken is made of "pieces" mixed with bacon, pepper, cumin, saffron, and egg yolks.
Excerpted from Aguecheek's Beef, Belch's Hiccup, and Other Gastronomic Interjections by Robert Appelbaum Copyright © 2006 by The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission.
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