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10 July 2006

A Medieval and a Gallon of Ale, Please!

Long before we became a multicultural society and Chicken Tikka Masala was voted the country’s most popular dish, Britain’s medieval ‘foodies’ were enjoying a rich and varied diet heavily flavoured with valuable spices such as caraway, nutmeg, cardamom, ginger, garlic and pepper.

”Wealthy noblemen in late 15th century England would have served all manner of spicy food to their guests to demonstrate their social standing,” says Caroline Yeldham, a historian who has specialised in Medieval and Tudor cookery. “Spices and other commonly used ingredients such as sugar, honey, almonds, dates, figs and raisins which came from foreign lands, and were therefore extremely expensive, were added to everything from pork pies to fruit compote.”

Caroline and Mark Dawson, head chef at Weetwood Hall in Leeds, will be offering scholars, historians and museum professionals attending the International Medieval Congress, held in the city each July, the opportunity to experience the tastes and flavours as may have been savoured by noblemen and royalty in the 1600s. ‘Messe It Forth: A Medieval Feast’ takes place on 10 July and consistes of dishes derived from Forme of Cury, the first English Medieval cookery book, attributed to the chefs of the court of Richard II.

Guests will help themselves from platters of food which included roast chicken with strawberry sauce and pomegranate seeds, mutton with onion ‘salsa’, leeks in almonds and spiced ginger bread.

They’ll also be reminded that had they not been sitting at the table of a nobleman, their dinner would more likely have consisted of wholemeal bread, boiled beef or mutton, bean, pea or oatmeal potage with vegetables, and mustard as a flavouring.

Caroline has been sharing her knowledge of Medieval food with IMC delegates since 2001. This year, in between attending presentations of papers covering all manner of subjects from reluctant virgins to female undertakers, from courtly knights to grumpy old men, from popes to prisoners of war, dinner guests have once again been converted to Caroline’s cause.

“There’s always an element of surprise to how tasty the dishes are,” says Caroline.

But while the modern British palate is accustomed to exotic combinations of foods from far-off lands, the Victorian and Edwardian editors of the first reprints of Medieval cookery books were less enthusiastic. “The word ‘disgusting’ is often mentioned in the accompanying notes,” laughs Caroline.

Whether or not a celebrity chef takes up the mantle for Medieval food remains to be seen, but after 15 years Caroline remains as enthusiastic as ever.

“It’s a lovely cuisine, with wonderful recipes giving a wide variety of subtle flavours, using an enormous variety of ingredients. They were much more active than modern people, but the food is very healthy, dominated by what is in season locally. Although meat was very important, it has a surprising emphasis on fish, fresh fruit and vegetables.

“Gardeners also grew a wide variety of fresh herbs which were used for both medical remedies and cookery, and were an essential part of almost anyone’s garden,” she adds.

Notes to editors
Established in 1994, the IMC provides an unrivalled forum for intellectual debate in the field of medieval studies.

Hosted by the University of Leeds’ Institute for Medieval Studies, the IMC attracts some 1,400 medievalists from around 40 countries.

It is the largest annual academic conference in the UK (based on numbers of papers delivered) and the largest annual conference in the humanities in Europe.

In 2007, as Leeds celebrates its 800th anniversary, the IMC programme will have as its focus medieval cities in Europe and neighbouring territories.

Caroline Yeldham has 19 years of re-enactment experience, specialising over the last 14 years in medieval and Tudor cookery. Caroline ran the Tudor Kitchen at Kentwell Hall for 3 years, providing authentic food for up to 100 people a day from a Tudor kitchen, using wood fires, charcoal fires and wood-fired ovens for baking.

For further information, please contact Axel Müller on T: 0113 343 3614, M: 0781 6368159 (mobile during congress), E:

or to arrange an interview with Caroline Yeldham, please contact Jo Kelly, campuspr, on T: 0113 258 9880, M: 07980 267756, E:

‘Messe it forth’ - A Medieval Feast

Soupes Dorray
(Onions, almond milk and white wine served over toast in the bowl)

Roast Chicken and Strawberry Sauce dressed with Pomegranate Seeds
(In present-day terms this is more like a chutney than a sauce, with red wine, almond milk and an extensive array of spices including saffron and galingale)

Pot-roasted Mutton with Spiced Onion Sauce
(This sauce is a a style of salsa with onion, parsley and ginger)

Fillet of Pork Loin Galantine
(Served with red wine and a hot peppery sauce with cubebs, mace, ginger and cinnamon)

Blanche Porray
(Boiled leeks with almond pulp and breadcrumbs)

(Cabbage cooked with stock, butter and saffron)

For those with a vegetarian dietary requirement:

Tarte de Brye
(French Brie with egg, ginger and cream)

(Fresh herb tart of fennel, sorrel, parsley, mint and sage)

Served on a platter of Blanche Porray and Cabogys

Douse Desyre
(Battered pork meatballs in a white wine sauce with almond milk, spices and egg)

(Saffron cream tart)

Payne Foundow
(Spiced ginger bread with honey, spices and preserved ginger)

(Rich spiced fruit compote with dates, figs, raisins, saffron and white wine)

Seasonal fruits and nuts



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