Symposium J-7 The first ones

Back to original sources ! On the 24th let’s travel together many many centuries ago and get back to ancient time when culinary recipes were often at the edges of medicine. We will explore three traditions : the first will come from a manuscript dated from about 1170 and coming from the Durham Cathedral Priory collections. Following this let’s travel to 6th century China with François Sabban before finally concluding our trip with the elegance of medieval culinary Recipe-poems in Arabic with Limor Yungman.


‘Recipes from MS Sidney Sussex 51: Medical Context and Gastronomic Intention’

Giles Gasper

This paper will explore a set of recipes which advertise themselves as having gastronomic intention, situated in a set of medical recipes, and dating from about 1170. Now in Sidney Sussex College Cambridge, the recipe collection and the larger manuscript were part of the Durham Cathedral Priory collections during the Middle Ages. Discovered by Professor Faith Wallis and analysed by her and Professor Giles Gasper at Durham the recipes cast intriguing light onto the culinary habits and medicinal frameworks of the Priory, and contribute to a wider assessment of food culture in 12th century Anglo-Norman and Angevin milieux. It is these broader contexts that the paper will highlight. 

The discussion will introduce the collection of recipes which number ten recipes for various meats: for tiny little fish, duck, beef, pork (sausages), chicken, hen, lamb, and ram, and use a wide variety of herbs, as well as pepper, vinegar, garlic, and wine. The final recipe, a honied ginger confection speaks most clearly to the fluid boundary within the collection between medicine and gastronomy. The ginger confection not only uses what seems to be re-hydrated ginger, but also a wider range of spices: galingale, clove, cinnamon, and zedoary, as well as spikenard and pepper. It is difficult to tell from the mise en page whether the ginger recipe is the last of the gastronomic section, or the first in the second part of medical recipes. Analogues can be found for this recipe in contemporary medical collections.

This raises a wider question of the relation between food, medicine, and healthy living, within twelfth century Latin culture, and within the Anglo-Norman/Angevin context in particular. The recipes may be related to medical techniques to encourage appetite and the condition of fastidium. How the borders between enjoyment of food and its medicalisation (or not) operate in this collection is a key question. And here too the context of the ten or so culinary recipes under scrutiny within the medical collection (which occupies one of four booklets collected together in the early thirteenth century) is important.

All of the recipes have also been trialled at a restaurant in the UK, Blackfriars in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and the paper will report the results of this unusual collaboration. Working with the restaurant chefs on this collection, and other medieval recipes, adds a different, and useful, perspective to the academic analysis, not least in discussion of how the ingredients might be combined and in what quantity. The presentation and accompaniments for the sauces will also be considered in this connection. If the recipes ever were cooked then it is interesting to reflect on how.

Other aspects of the collection to be explored include the two locations associated with the recipes themselves and the manuscript in which they are found. The sauces are named for Poitou and can be compared with other sauces bearing that toponym, and with historical sources describing the contemporary culinary habits of the region. The second location is Durham Cathedral Priory for whom the collection was copied or purchased. Putting the medical and gastronomic sources into the context of one of the most significant monastic houses within twelfth-century England, adds greater depth to the discussion in terms of its range of secular contacts, library resources and intellectual interests, and religious and spiritual life. While evidence for Durham as a gastronomic centre is limited, it is instructive to explore how integrated food and food references were into the culture of the community. Hugh du Puiset, the bishop of Durham and titular abbot of the Cathedral Priory was noted for his fine dining and excessive consumption of food.

Finally, the relationship of the Salsamenta pictavensium from Durham to other culinary collections will be considered. Contemporary Angevin authors such as Alexander Neckham and Henry of Huntingdon provide points of comparison, in terms of confirmation and difference. Both of these authors and others can be used to assess the purpose and intention in compiling and recording culinary recipes and lists in this period.

The Concept of the recipe in Ancient China

Françoise SABBAN (EHESS)

The first Chinese recipes, like those of Sumer, concern medical preparations, but in China they are less ancient. They date from the 2nd century B.C. and come from archaeological excavations. The Chinese excavations of the last 30 years have brought to light classical texts of the Chinese tradition written on silk or on bamboo strips. Among these are several collections of medical formulas whose prescriptive nature leaves no doubt as to their nature. In fact, a recipe is a prescriptive formula for the realization of a series of technical operations leading to the manufacture of an artifact. Among the recent Chinese discoveries of notations on food products, we find very few culilnary recipes, i.e. prescriptive texts, but names of plants and dishes that are difficult to identify. For the time being the first real Chinese culinary recipes come from a treatise on agriculture and household economy dated from the 6th century AD. The hypothesis defended here is that the material support of ancient recipes and medical prescriptions on bamboo strips favored the creation of a particular kind of writing characterized by a later presentation in the form of a written text; this led to a systematization, with separate presentation of the ingredients, body of the recipe, separation of the previous one from the next. And of course the syntactic nature of this kind of text is a prescriptive one. These features contributing to the autonomy of each recipe are well attested in the first Chinese culinary recipes. 

On Form and Content: Medieval Culinary Recipe-poems in Arabic

Limor Yungman
Institut des mondes africains (IMAF)
École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS)

Between the eighth and fifteenth centuries, an extensive tradition of cookbooks’ writing exited in the
Middle East, now conserved in over thirty manuscripts of nine texts. The over four thousand recipes in
these collections show coherence in content, lexicon, and form. The written recipe enabled the material
accumulation of culinary knowledge and its transmission over centuries around the Middle East and
beyond. However, one specific cookery book, which is also the earliest conserved today, Kitāb al-Ṭabīkh
dated to the tenth century, contains certain features that make it unique. As the earliest cookbook, it
commemorates now-forgotten culinary traditions and lost textual culinary literature, in its holistic structure,
the names of its recipes, and the foodways represented in it.
Moreover, the most striking difference of Kitāb al-Ṭabīkh from its homologs written in Arabic at
the same long period, are the legendary stories for the invention of dishes and gastronomic poems inserted
in the text. They usually appear at the beginning (story) or at the end of chapters (poem) to enhance the
reading experience, for no illustrations are included in either of the four existing manuscripts. Together
with chapters concerning dietary information of humoral properties of aliments and the ways to behave
around the dignitaries’ table, these components make Kitāb al-Ṭabīkh a universalist adab book that has the
objective to cultivate its reader – rather than a “technical” collection of recipes.
The typical structure of recipes in Arabic is a text unit, composed of ingredients and instructions
for concocting the dish. Very often, and mostly in savory dishes, no quantity or measure is given. Therefore,
the resulting recipe is an informative unit, resembling in structure to recipes from other medieval cultures.
This form is prevalent in Arabic recipe collections, but Kitāb al-Ṭabīkh is an exception. Among over
seventy gastronomic poems present in this cookery book, twenty are versified recipes. The proposed paper
probes into the question of the form of recipe-poems compared to the common structure of historical recipes
in Arabic. It further discusses the poem’s relation to its content in order to better understand its raison d’être
and practical use, beyond its aesthetic value in decorating the book, which is otherwise not illuminated.
This paper argues that rhymes and short instructions enable the recipe’s easy memorization and vast
diffusion. As this paper shows, the form of recipe-poem is unique in the way it bridges between the oral
and the written recipe and contends that it is connected to earlier forms in classical Arabic poetry. From an
oral recipe written down, it became an ornament inside the cookery book’s manuscript. Furthermore, this
structure represents in praxi the cognitive transition that the Arab society went through from the oral to the
written, well beyond the culinary.

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