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Roasted Swan for Dinner? Oldest English Cookbook Reveals 200 Meals Fit for a King

Friday, October 7, 2016 13:57
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Roasted Swan for Dinner? Oldest English Cookbook Reveals 200 Meals Fit for a King

Created in September 1387, The Forme of Cury is the oldest written cookbook in the English language. The manuscript was commissioned by King Richard II of England, best known for his deposition in Shakespeare’s play, Richard II, and his uncle John Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, who many believed was trying to usurp the English throne. The book contains the recipes the master of cooks used for their joint banquet of nearly 200 dishes. 

Grocery List

Sometime toward the end of September, Richard and John hosted a wonderful feast together for reasons not quite clear to historians. Some speculate that it was held to assure the nobles that there was no discord between the young king (then only 20 years old) and his Uncle. More likely it was an end-of-harvest feast for a particularly good year. The reasons behind the manuscript’s creation are more certain. Banquets and feasts were symbols of power and prestige. They allowed kings and nobles to show off their wealth by displaying fine cutlery, extravagant dishes, and a ridiculous amount of food. For the 1387 feast, King Richard II’s team of over three hundred cooks commissioned a grocery list that included:

“Fourteen salted oxen, two fresh oxen, one hundred and twenty sheep, twelve boars, fourteen calves, one hundred forty pigs, three hundred kegs of lard and grease, three tons of salted venison, fifty swans, two hundred forty geese, fifty high-fat capons, eight dozen capons, sixty dozen hens, four hundred large rabbits, four pheasants, five herons, six young goats, five dozen pullets for jelly, twelve dozen pullets for roasting, one hundred dozen pigeons, twelve dozen partridges, eight dozen rabbits, twelve dozen curlews, twelve cranes, wild fowl, one hundred twenty gallons of milk, twelve gallons  of cream, twelve gallons of curds, twelve bushels of apples, and eleven thousand eggs” – Reconstructing the story of humanity’s past


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