Episode 132: Food for Thought

In the midst of the English literary revival of the late 1300s, the household chefs of Richard II compiled the first cookbook in the English language. In the episode, we examine the cookbook known as ‘The Forme of Cury,’ and we explore the nature of food and cooking in medieval England. We also look at how the culinary arts shaped the English language.


14 thoughts on “Episode 132: Food for Thought

  1. Interesting story about grany and gravy. My mother used to make a cookie she called a Vamino Bar. Later on, I met a a Canadian who had the same recipe, but she called it a Nanaimo Bar. Best cookie ever, but I digress. My best guess, since there actually is a Nanaimo in Canada, is that the N was misread as a V somewhere along the line, and the second A subsequently dropped.

    • That’s certainly possible. I can’t find anything about a ‘Vamino Bar,’ but the ‘Nanaimo Bar’ is based on the name of a Native American tribe which inhabited part of Canada. So if your theory is correct, the ‘Vamino Bar’ would have evolved from that earlier name.

      • Cooks Country (or Cooks Illustrated) recently published a recipe and story for Nainamo bars. Since the base is made with coconut and chocolate, neither of which would have been available before the 1500’s, same for the vanilla of the middle layer, seems more likely to be named after the place.

        • It’s certainly possible. I was going by the Oxford English Dictionary which says that the term ‘Nanaimo’ in Nanaimo bars is ultimately derived from the name of the tribe, but it seems logical that the tribe name contributed to the city name, which in turn contributed to the name of the food.

  2. I’m surprised you didn’t explain that the “pourri” part of “potpourri” means “rotten” in French—literally. Even though it didn’t come into English until the 16th century, it’s funny to think of the uppity Normans describing what they smelled stewing in the English peasants’ pots: “Bon dieu! Quel pot pourri!”

    COOKING TIP—It’s easier to poach an egg in a frying pan full of water rather than a pot. 😉

    • Yes, that little bit of etymology was in the original draft of the episode. I desperately try to keep each episode as close to one hour as possible, and this episode was originally about 1.5 hours. So that was part of what got deleted. I cut that discussion because it was a development within French and didn’t specifically relate to English cuisine.

  3. “Gravy” was my biggest surprise of the episode. I had always assumed it came from Latin “gravis,” heavy, because you make a gravy by thickening broth. A little Latin is a dangerous thing!

    • I have actually discussed the origin of the phrase ‘to curry favor’ in the podcast. I know that I discussed it in a bonus Patreon episode, and I think I mentioned it in a regular episodes as well. At any rate, the word ‘curry’ in that phrase is based on an unrelated word “curry” that meant ‘to rub down a horse.’ It was often used in reference to a popular medieval story about a horse named Favel. ‘To curry favel’ meant to seek approval or ingratiate oneself. As the story faded into the mist of history, people didn’t understand the reference to ‘favel’ anymore, so the phrase evolved into the modern version ‘to curry favor’ due to the influence of folk etymology.

      • “As the story faded into the mist of history, people didn’t understand the reference to ‘favel’ ”
        Best podcast ever etc. etc. (I must master Copy and Paste one of these days (grin!).)

        This fading of meaning is visible nowadays. I have been in and out of Gilbert & Sullivan light operas for many years, and W.S. Gilbert made many political references in his lyrics.
        Oh, Captain Shaw!
        Type of true love kept under!
        Could thy Brigade
        With cold cascade
        Quench my great love, I wonder!
        And if you don’t know your history of the London Fire Halls, you’re lost!
        P.S. Kreat alliteration up there, eh?

  4. There used to be a restaurant/show called Medieval Madness in Alexandria, VA that I believed served food from this era as part of their dinner show. One thing I remember was that salt was not an option and pear sauce was used like ketchup. The food was really good.

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