Recipes from the late medieval and Renaissance Europe

Late medieval and Renaissance recipes are much closer to what northern Europeans are evolved to metabolize  than than the highly refined and global foods we eat today.  Here are some recipes for poultry, meat/cheese/egg pies, and vegetables.   Here is a great resource page for late medieval and Renaissance cooking.  Especially interesting is the bill of fare for a wedding feast, which lists over a dozen meat dishes from a wide variety of animals, a few salads, and practically no carbs for the first two courses. For the third course, desserts made primarily of fruit, with some grain (tarts, now known as pies) and alcohol. The sugars in the fruit will spread slowly to the bloodstream because they are absorbed by the already eaten meats and salads. When Europeans splurged for their weddings they ate something close to a Paleolithic diet, with a very low glycemic index when the order of the courses is taken into account.

Here is Gode Cookery on medieval cooking and recipes. Here are 15th-century English recipes found in the library of Samuel Pepys. Here is a great blog on Tudor cookery including a reconstructed Tudor kitchen.   The Renaissance Faire folks also have a great collection of recipes.     Usually the recipes are found in old books stated very generally, without units, and then translated to the modern kitchen by filling in the proper modern units and figuring out spices for the flavor.  The Faire translations aren’t always 100% faithful (sugar and Eastern spices were exceedingly rare in Europe before the 16th century, for example).   Here’s an example of a great genre that is mostly missing from our diets here in America, namely the meat pie:

Original recipe from the 15th century:

Take pork, and hack it small, and eyroun y-mellyd together, and a little milk, and melle him together with honey and pepper, and bake him in a coffin, and serve forth.

Translation for the modern cook:

1/2 to 2/3 lb of pork chops
6 eggs
3 T milk
2 t honey
pinch of pepper
1 9″ pie crust

Cook pork in the oven or boil it about 20 minutes. Make a pie crust, prick it, and put it in a 400deg. degree oven for about 10 minutes. Mix remaining ingredients. Cut pork into small pieces and add to mixture. Put it in the pie crust and bake at 350deg. for about 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, paleo nutritionist Pedro Bastos all but admits that the Paleolithic diet is not really universal: the best diet for you depends on your genetics. This in response to starch-centric charlatans like Dr. John McDougall who think that if, for example, a diet is good for Chinese and Japanese it is good for everybody.  As it happens, a paleo diet is not far from what Northern Europeans are evolved for, but is too restrictive: the vast majority of us are also adapted to eating eggs and a variety of dairy products including milk itself (in contrast to most other humans who never evolved the ability to digest milk properly, suggesting they might have other problems with metabolising milk and other dairy products as well).

But we are not fully adapted to all agricultural products. As I described here, few humans are adapted to eating the large quantities of sugar and refined grains that are heavily consumed in most modern diets. New World plants such as tomatoes, peppers, tomatoes, and maize (corn) are new to Europeans on evolutionary timescales and should be treated with far more skepticism and consumed with far less volume than they are. One class of food many northern Europeans, especially as children, should minimize, or in some cases avoid entirely, are the gluten-containing grains, especially wheat.   Gluten intolerance may be only the most obvious of many bad health effects of grains on populations not adapted to them.  Most of northern European or Basque ancestry should be eating low-gluten diets and feeding our children gluten-free diets, especially if we have a history of gluten intolerance in our extended family.  More on gluten intolerance in a future post.


4 responses to this post.

  1. Have you heard of this genetic disorder that gives you problems if you eat fava beans:

    Ironically, it’s relatively common in places where they eat fava beans.


  2. More on topic, pork has changed a lot since that recipe was written. The fat has been bred out of them:

    Check out the some of the pictures on that blog to see some real old-school high fat pork, finished on feed with high quality fat like acorns instead of corn.


  3. That breeding of pigs to be leaner is interesting. I’ve read in a number of places that modern factory-farm animals are fattier than traditional ones, but perhaps that is just propaganda. The Poland-China pig is itself a recent breed, developed from the 1830s to the 1870s in Ohio as a cross between Polish and Chinese breeds. This was the high-lard version prior to the one bred “from lard to bacon” as described in your link. I don’t know how “lardy” the Chinese and Polish predecessors were. My presumption based on aforesaid reading is that they were leaner, but I’d be happy to be proved wrong.

    It’s fairly disconcerting, BTW, how far away we are from traditional plants and animals in our diet. Almost all fruits and vegetables in the grocery store, for example, did not originated in Northern Europe. Northern European fruits and berries were (again based on old reading) much tarter and lower in sugar, and usually eaten cooked or soaked in milk, honey, or alcohol.

    As for fava beans, could the association simply be caused by the disease being diagnosed more often in places where fava beans are eaten and thus make the symptoms overt? Apparently like sickle cell anemia the genes in heterozygotes protected against malaria.

    Gluten intolerance is also may be stranger than previous supposed. Some researchers have claimed to find that the gene traditionally associated with it is actually common in the Middle East, but apparently it leads to much milder symptoms, suggesting other genes or some environmental factor at work.


  4. Posted by notitiae on October 6, 2010 at 9:40 pm

    Finally a good post greetings, I liki tio eat past eatings, expecially medieval. thanks!!! Wondeer!! Thank for the post and you nice blog. I hope to
    link a good news by Vaite in reanaissance and expecially medieval on
    II mediueval period. It’s in Italian words and video about his history in
    Italy . Goog vision Jacopo Here is the link:


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