Feb 15, 2009

Valentine's Treat: Medieval Garbage Stew

Inside a Medieval KitchenI received an interesting Valentine's Day recipe and message from my friend, Diane LeBow, a longtime college literature professor. After mentioning 14th century author and courtier Geoffrey Chaucer's poem, Parliament of Fowles---the first literary recognition of St. Valentine's Day---she wrote:

"All this got me thinking about the Middle Ages, my favorite period literarily and otherwise, and caused me to pull out my Medieval Cookery book for one of my favorite recipes. " Her cookbook, we should add, is written in Middle English, a language that Diane has often taught and reads quite easily.

That favored recipe---which she cooked long ago for her former husband---is made from the innards of "fowles." The recipe's title is "Garbage," which can be translated from Middle English as "entrails or innards of beasts." Here it is:


Take fayre garbagys of chykonys, as the hed, the fete, the lyuerys, an the gysowrys; washe hem clene, an caste hem in a fayre potte, an caste ther-to freysshe brothe of Beef or ellys of moton, an let it boyle; an a-lye it wyth brede, an ley on Pepir an Safroun, Maces, Clowys, an a lytil verious an salt, an serue forth in the maner as a Sewe.

My own translation of this, admittedly shaky, is: Take a good amount of garbage from chickens, including the head, the liver, and the gizzards. Wash them well, and place in a good-sized pot. Add fresh beef or mutton broth, bring to a boil, and let it simmer. When ready to serve, add cubed bread, pepper, saffron, mace, cloves, and a little salt. Serve.

That combination of spices is typical of Medieval cookery, but is off-putting now. Not to mention chicken heads. But like much else in life, it's all a matter of context, isn't it? So be it fowle or fowl, Bon Appetit!

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