Saturday, December 5, 2009

Medieval Romanian Cookery in translation: "Add in a foot of veal for inquiring"

One of the neat things about having a counter is that I can see how people reach this website. One reader, for example, searched for "medieval romanian cookbook" and, because I mentioned Nicholas Orme's Medieval Schools in a previous post, was offered this blog as a first-page result on Google.

This made me, of course, do the same search, which led me to a couple of websites, both associated with Society for Creative Anachronism activities. One offers some page scans from a 1997 edition of a seventeenth-century cookbook. (And yes, the seventeenth-century was still the Middle Ages in Romania. Long story.) The modern edition, by Ioana Constantinescu and Matei Cazacu, is titled, "O lume într-o carte de bucate: manuscris din epoca brâncovenească." For those of you who read Romanian, David D. Friedman offers a section on fish preparations here.

For those of you who do not read Romanian, a rough and ready translation, apparently by Patrick Levesque, is available at Stefan's Florilegium. I must confess: some of the recipes look pretty tasty. The use of spices and nuts seems Middle Eastern (the Turkish influence, no doubt), and I find myself wishing that we'd kept some of these recipes in the repertoire. Here are a few I found delightful:

For eggplants:

"After you've removed the skins, scrape from the ends, to take out the heart and thus, with heart and everything, boil, adding a little salt. Then take the heart (pulp) and chop together with herbs, ground nuts and almonds, breadcrumbs, pepper, cloves, cinnamon and a ground clove of garlic, a little oil and verjuice or lemon juice. And after you mix well and chop, with this filling stuff the eggplant and, after you've stuffed it, put in the pot, in rows (lit. "one next to other"), with the filled part being above. Then add water, oil, salt and spices as above for the filling, but take care to put water enough to cover them by more than half. Then cover the pot well and boil slowly and, when it is about cooked, add a handful of chopped herbs, a little lemon juice or verjuice and a little bread crumbs."

Frankly, this sounds to me like an Indian dish I loved having in Berlin!

For calf brains:

"After you've prepared the head, take a sharp knife and gently peel the skin from the bone, from neck towards nose, watching not to cut the skin when you cut, not to break the eyes, taking them out whole. After you have skinned, take out the brain, put on a board and chop well. Then add half oca of veal calf, 48 dram of fresh butter or lard, mint, marjoram and thyme chopped small, 4 egg yolks, 24 dram of beef marrow, fresh cottage cheese 1 litre, ground umbrella nuts 48 drams, 24 drams currants, salt, cloves, pepper, nutmeg and cinnamon. Then take what is ground with what was chopped and mix these well with the brains and fill the skin, putting the eyes in their places and sowing it (the filled skin) so as not to waste filling, and put in a cauldron, adding meat stock, chopped herbs, onions fried in butter, spices and salt, and boil. Once it is boiled, put on a plate, and serve over slices of bread fried in butter, sprinkled (the bread) with milk of umbrella nuts, mixed (the bread) with sour cream and with lemon juice, ornament the plate on the sides with fried tongues, cut in slices, with slices of bread soaked in egg yolk beaten with rose water and fried in butter."

It seems that Romanians have always loved somewhat gross foods, though older methods of preparation were decidedly more complex.

A salad that blows my mind:

"Salad of lemon slices, moisten a little in chill water, than drain well the water in put in a bowl, add over seeds of pomegranate, rosewater and white sugar."

And finally, one of three recipes for gunpowder:

"Take 190 dram saltpeter, 23 dram sulfur, 27 dram coal of Ligustrum vulgare (European privet) or Daphne mezereum (Daphne, spurge laurel) ["lemn cainesc" is a popular name for both], pound it as usual for gunpowder."


~m said...

i'm pretty sure reading this post, along with a review of julie powell's new book, "cleaving," led directly to my dream about having to mince a pigeon.

yikes. butchery is not for me. :S

i said...

That's hilarious! For my part, I've been seeing animal skulls everywhere... especially at the local halal butcher, where you can get a goat/lamb skull in the pre-wrapped fridge area.

Mrs. M. said...

I like reading really old cookbooks for laughs. Actually, some of my mom's Soviet cookbooks can be pretty amusing. I have one that suggests the most unlikely (and, frankly, kind of unappetizing) four-course dinner menus.

i said...

Any chance you can share some of those unappetizing menus with us, Julia?

Mrs. M. said...

Irina--I had some posts in mind about my mom's old cookbooks and recipe cards. I've just scanned some recipe cards from '70s-era Belarus. It's just a matter of finding time to write about them.

Romfoody said...

I love old recipes too and it's really interesting to see there are some sources of historic Romanian recipes. I have a blog dedicated to Romanian food and I wanted to try to find some older recipes.

I think you're right about the Turkish influence, indeed food from this period in time was generally spiced with cloves, mace, nutmeg, and so on, not just in area under Ottoman influence, but also further west, through Italy and France and even to Britain.

Of course, the recipes from mediaeval times that have survived to the modern day were almost exclusively those which someone bothered to write down, meaning that they were often dishes served in court or at more noble tables, of those who could afford and had access to more exotic spices.

Great blog, glad I found it!

i said...

Romfoody, thanks for the comment, and you're absolutely right -- western European stuff was much more spiced too. (And *not*, as some sources falsely state, because the meat was rotten. The people who could afford lots of spices could afford good meat too.)

Just took a peek at your blog, and am looking forward to reading it and adding it to my blogroll. Especially those chiftele de conopida!