EARLIEST ENGLISH COOKBOOK, FORME OF CURY, TO BE DIGITIZED

University of Manchester)
Forme of Cury (Photo credit: University of Manchester)

Yippee! Another ancient cookbook to be digitized so that all of us food history lovers can wallow in the old texts without sneezing from the dust or going broke on airfare fees flying to check out archival material in some out-of-the-way library half-way across the world.

The Guardian announced recently that the University of Manchester plans to digitize The Forme of Cury, a fourteenth-century cookbook compiled by King Richard II’s cooks. Food historian, Lorna Sass, wrote a cookbook about the cookbook, To the King’s Taste: Richard II’s Book of Feasts and Recipes Adapted for Modern Cooking, published in 1977.

Right now, some lucky library users can access a 1790 version of Forme via Eighteenth-Century Collections Online. Project Gutenberg provides a text version available for free.

For more about Forme, check out this essay from the British Library: 

” ‘The Forme of Cury’ is one of the oldest known instructive cookery manuscripts in the English Language. It is believed to have been written at the end of the fourteenth century by the master-cooks of Richard II (1377 – 1399). The manuscript is in the form of a scroll made of vellum – a kind of fine calfskin parchment. It contains 196 recipes. The word ‘cury’ is the Middle English word for ‘cookery’.

The preamble to the manuscript explains that the work has been given the ‘assent and avysement of Maisters and phisik and of philosophie at dwelled in his court.’ (‘approval and consent of the masters of medicine and of philosophy that dwelt in his (Richard II’s) court.’) This proud acknowledgement illustrates the ancient link between medicine and the culinary arts.

The author states that the recipes are intended to teach a cook to make everyday dishes (‘Common pottages and common meats for the household, as they should be made, craftily and wholesomely’), as well as unusually spiced and spectacular dishes for banquets (‘curious potages and meetes and sotiltees for alle maner of States bothe hye and lowe.’) The word ‘sotiltee’ (or subtlety) refers to the elaborate sculptures that often adorned the tables at grand feasts. These displays, usually made of sugar, paste, jelly or wax, depicted magnificent objects: armed ships, buildings with vanes and towers, eagles, famous philosophers or political events. They were also known as ‘warners,’ as they were served at the beginning of a banquet to ‘warn’ (or notify) the guests of the approaching dinner.”

© 2008 C. Bertelsen

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11 thoughts on “EARLIEST ENGLISH COOKBOOK, FORME OF CURY, TO BE DIGITIZED

  1. OMG!!!!!!!!! Thank You so very much just what i was looking for !!!!
    where in the book of the original scanning would I find the recipe for chyryfe or
    Syrosye( cherry pottage?

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  2. so thats it ? will it not be scanned using the original text im making the recipe and submitting it as an arts entry for my local King & Queen of Albion and i think it would be awesome to use this source in its original text with the food entry

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  3. can you please tell me when the digitized version of the book The Forme of Cury, a fourteenth-century cookbook compiled by King Richard II’s cooks will be available
    Thank You Mary

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  4. Yes, they did! At least in the “big houses.” Actually, a lot of cooking took place in those huge hearths you see in pictures of manor houses and palaces, spit cooking and all. Just think what recipes and procedures people never wrote down, all that lost. Forever. I’m just glad libraries still exist, preserving these priceless books and manuscripts.

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  5. Very cool. I’ve been reading Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, so the middle English doesn’t seem so weird. Still hard to imagine some of these. “Take a pig, quarter it, cook it ….” They must have had some very big pots. ;-)

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