The Forme of Cury – Recipe for Black Mang

The Forme of Cury, Black Mang.
The Forme of Cury, Black Mang.

‘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.

‘The Forme of Cury’ is the first English text to mention olive oil, cloves, mace and gourds in relation to British food. Most of the recipes contain what were then luxurious and valuable spices: caraway, nutmeg, cardamom, ginger and pepper. There are also recipes for cooking strange and exotic animals, such as whales, cranes, curlews, herons, seals and porpoises.

‘Blanc Mang’ was a sweet dish combining milk, rice, almonds, chopped meat and sugar. The name ‘blanc mang’ comes from the French for ‘white food’. The dish would would eventually evolve into blancmange, the sweet wobbly pudding much loved by the English.

The recipe above is translated into modern English as thus.

Take capons and seethe (boil) them, then take them up. Take blanched almonds. Grind them and chop them up with the same broth. Put milk in a pot. Wash rice and add thereto and let it seethe (boil). Then take the flesh of the capon, chop it small and add thereto. Take white grease (lard), sugar and salt and put them in. Let it seethe. Then mix it up and garnish it with any sweetmeat red or white, and with almonds fried in oil. And serve it forth.

(Information taken from the British Library)

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