Martha Carlin

title.none: Laurioux, Livres de Cuisine (Carlin)

identifier.other: baj9928.9905.009 99.05.09

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Martha Carlin, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1999

identifier.citation: Laurioux, Bruno, ed. Les Livres de Cuisine Medievaux. Typologie des Sources du Moyen Âge Occidental, Fasicle 77. Turnhout: Brepols, 1998. Pp. 89. ISBN: 2-503-36000-9.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 99.05.09

Laurioux, Bruno, ed. Les Livres de Cuisine Medievaux. Typologie des Sources du Moyen Âge Occidental, Fasicle 77. Turnhout: Brepols, 1998. Pp. 89. ISBN: 2-503-36000-9.

Reviewed by:

Martha Carlin
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

In this slim volume Bruno Laurioux, a leading scholar of medieval culinary history, establishes a typology for medieval cookbooks. He examines in turn the nature and raison d'être of cookbooks, their contents, language, evolution, physical appearance, organizational format, topical and geographical links and influences, and historiography, and goes on to formulate suggestions for future editors. Brief, like all the volumes in this series, and densely but clearly written, it is a valuable analysis of an important, but until recently little-studied, genre of texts.

Laurioux begins with a definition: medieval cookbooks are collections (not stray examples) of culinary recipes. They range in size from small texts containing fewer than ten recipes, to complete, homogeneous volumes consisting entirely of recipes. Between these two extremes are the more common collections: modest in size, seldom representing the main element in a manuscript, and often anonymous. Laurioux traces the history of recipe collections throughout Western Europe, from their first appearance at the end of the thirteenth century, to their advent in printed form two centuries later. Around 140 manuscripts survive in all. The greatest number (c. 50 mss) are in German or Dutch, followed closely by English (44 mss), and distantly by French and Italian (c. 12 mss each), with a scattering of manuscripts in Latin, Anglo- Norman, Catalan, Portuguese, Occitan, Danish, and Icelandic.[[1]]

Although there were numerous Greek and Roman culinary texts, the only Classical cookbook known in the medieval West was the one attributed to Apicius, and it survived merely as a grammarian's curiosity rather than as a living, practical culinary manual. Abruptly, in the years around 1300, a cluster of cookbooks appeared in Western Europe in Denmark, France, Catalonia, Italy and England. Laurioux links this re-appearance to contemporary intellectual interest in the mechanical arts, medical interest in nutrition, and the rising professional status of cooks in magnate households.

These first recipes were very terse, consisting of brief instructions for the preparation of individual dishes, and lacking lists of ingredients and detailed descriptions of procedures and cooking times. However, from the beginning their vocabulary was already technical and precise. During the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries cookbooks were profoundly transformed in both content and form. Authors began to be identified, not only by name, but also by a recitation of their credentials. The fourteenth century saw experiments in manuscript form (roll or codex), size, length, medium (parchment or paper), and organization, but in the fifteenth century cookbooks began to appear in an increasingly standardized format. Most common was a small, paper codex, in which culinary recipes were bound together with related texts, especially on health or medicine (medical texts were dominant in 75 percent of composite manuscripts). The recipes became increasingly numerous and, probably under the influence of medical texts, their contents became fuller and their instructions more detailed. Some collections also included ancillary recipes for drinks, preserves and confectionery, and Laurioux notes that recipes for drinks, such as hippocras, always stand out from strictly culinary recipes by their use of precise proportions, a sign of their medical origins. By the late fifteenth century some cookbooks appeared with such reader's aids as tables of contents, topical chapter divisions, numbered entries and rubricated initials. Together, such features could raise cookbooks to the level of scholarly works, and physicians, in particular, frequently owned, and sometimes wrote, culinary texts.

However, Laurioux describes the earliest, laconic, generation of cookbooks as basically "aide-memoires" (p. 29), and speculates that they were intended primarily for the maitres d'hotel of magnate households, who used the collections in controlling and supervising the cooks. The cooks themselves, according to Laurioux, did not need cookbooks, since they were illiterate and relied on memory and experience, not written instructions. (Laurioux might have noted here that the Enseingnemenz qui enseingnent a apareiller toutes manieres de viandes, which dates from the beginning of the fourteenth century, states that anyone who wishes to serve in a good household should either memorize this text, or keep a written copy of it.) By the end of the fourteenth century some culinary collections also served to demonstrate or enhance magnate prestige, and were used propagandistically. For example, Master Chiquart's Du fait de cuisine, a collection of the menus and recipes for a series of banquets given by Amadeus, the first duke of Savoy, for his father- in-law, the duke of Burgundy, was used as part of a "strategy of legitimation" (p. 31) for Amadeus's recently-acquired ducal title. The encyclopedic Menagier de Paris may represent a similar use of the genre for self-promotion as well as practical aid by the wealthy Parisian bourgeois who compiled it. Other culinary collections were evidently assembled by amateurs anxious about their health, or naturally conjoining medicine and cookery.

Laurioux argues that the oral and practical methods by which medieval cooks learned and transmitted their art kept culinary tradition fluid and receptive to change. When, periodically, a collection of recipes was written down, it became stablized, but once in circulation, other arrangers and compilers constantly revised it, so that these texts were never firmly fixed, but always remained "open." Paradoxically, when cookbooks were printed for a mass audience, beginning in the late fifteenth century, their contents quickly became fossilized, since successive editions mechanically reproduced their predecessors. It was not printed, but manuscript, recipe collections -- still abundant in the sixteenth century -- that helped to transmit the "living cuisine" (p. 38).

However, Laurioux argues, although medieval culinary traditions were open and supple, they were transmitted along strongly national lines. Translations were rare and took place between Latin and vernacular texts (in both directions), rather than between two vernacular texts. (An exception was the Anglo- Norman Coment l'en deit fere viaunde e claree, which was translated into Middle English.) According to Laurioux, there was little real influence by Arab cuisines on Western cuisines, even in places such as Catalonia where Muslim-Christian contact was extensive, nor was there extensive overlapping among the national cuisines of neighboring Christian countries. Laurioux thus sees medieval cuisine as international in its technical terminology but essentially insular in content. He attributes this largely to language barriers, noting that only a Latin collection such as the Liber de coquina had a truly international circulation, whereas vernacular collections remained within their own linguistic boundaries. Thus, it was only via Latin that the rare culinary exchanges took place at all. (Laurioux does not, however, address the circulation of French-language texts between francophone England and France.)

Laurioux concludes with a useful historiographical survey, some trenchant observations on editorial practice, and a list of suggestions for future work. Straightforward, plainspoken, and clearsighted, this is an intelligent summing-up of current knowledge, and an important point of departure for future editors of culinary texts.


1. Laurioux's index of manuscripts names only the 61 mss that he discusses in his text. For a more complete list, numbering 133 mss (and from which the above list of languages was taken), see Constance B. Hieatt, Carole Lambert, Bruno Laurioux and Alix Prentki, "Repertoire des manuscrits medievaux contenant des recettes culinaires," in Du manuscrit a la table, ed. Carole Lambert (Montreal: Les Presses de l'Universite de Montreal, and Paris: Champion-Slatkine, 1992), pp. 315-62.