Tuesday, June 26, 2018

The Medieval Kitchen: A Social History with Recipes Hardcover by Hannele Klemettilä (Reaktion Books)

I read this book on a Sunday morning. It's a rather fast read, partly because it is wonderfully illustrated with paintings, block prints and other material that shows people eating, cooking, serving, or in related activities. The focus is the late medieval period 1300 to 1550, so we're not looking at cuisine from Norman or other earlier eras. The focus is also entirely Europe, but especially Scandinavia, England, France and the rest of Europe somewhat less specifically. The author is Finnish and some of the text (and some of the excellent captions to illustrations) refers to Medieval Finland.

The details are explained well, including not just the foods but the medical theory of humors (sanguine, and all that) that had much to do with food preparation and serving, and more, including etiquette. Klemettila repreatedly notes that Medieval food tasted good, and was much more sophisticated than most people today think it was, at least those few people who have considered the matter. Hygiene was better and there was more concern with cleanliness then than most people think now. Interestingly, in towns merchants and merchandise were subject to inspection and to severe punishment if foods were misrepresented or spoiled foods presented as fresh.

She's not romanticizing things. The availability of food varied, and at times disaster could strike and people starved.

There are chapters centering on particular aspects: bread, vegetables, meat, fish, sauces and spices; desserts; drink. At the end there is an extensive section, heavily illustrated, of recipes, several dozen pages in all, that probably would delight anyone who fancies experimenting with Medieval foods. For such a person this would be an excellent gift.

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