Medieval Cooking Terms

One of the things that can make redacting medieval and early modern recipes Interesting is trying to work out what the words actually mean. You will definitely find it easier if you know the meanings of certain terms; many times these will be the only hint you have towards cooking methods or main ingredients.

If there are any terms you’d like to see explained, let me know in the comments.

Bray – to grind or pound ingredients, typically in a mortar and pestle.

Boil – while it might be clear what this means, sometimes “boil” should actually be interpreted as “simmer” as a full boil might be too aggressive. You will need to use some judgement as to how much heat you want to apply.

Broil – this is often misinterpreted as “boil,” but broiling actually means to cook by directly exposing to heat. This is typically done by suspending food over or under a flame in a cage or frame (such as a grill).

Capon – a rooster that has been castrated and allowed to grow to full size before being eaten.

Coffyn – a pastry case used to cook food. Many people believe the pastry case wasn’t meant to be eaten, and in the case of many meat recipes, this is likely the case. However sometimes the coffyn is described as being made of a “fair paste” or contains luxury ingredients such as saffron or sugar – why would you throw these away? Furthermore sometimes the coffyn is encasing ingredients such as cheese or custard, where pastry enhances the eating experience. So I feel not all coffyns were meant to be thrown away.

Fricassee – similar to a pottage. The meat, usually chicken, is cooked in a pale sauce that does not have much liquid. The resulting dish is generally quite pale. Fricassees first appeared in C14 France, and spread to England in the early C16. In later fricassees, the ingredients were briefly fried before the sauce was added to complete the cooking.

Leche – a slice. If you see this in a recipe, the final product will be firm and need to be cut to serve. You may only pick this up from the title of a recipe, or section of the book.

Pottage – to cook in a sauce in a pot. This can be particularly tricky because meat, in particular, is often cooked in other ways as well as being part of the pottage; and like leche, pottage may only be mentioned in the title of a recipe. If you see pottage, it means the final dish will be cooked at least partially in the sauce it will be served in, like many stews or braises.

Roast – most modern “roast” meats are actually baked – the meat is placed in the oven and cooked by radiant heat. Medieval roasting is done with an open fire over a spit; while radiant heat cooks the meat, the meat also absorbs smoke from the flames. The meat is also constantly turned and basted while it is cooking, so the end result is far more succulent and tasty. If using a joint such as a leg, bone and roll the roast – the bone means the roast takes a lot longer to cook, and is much harder to carve. This was done in period.

Seethe – typically interpreted as boil, but sometimes in the context of a recipe, a simmer would be better. It’s best to use your judgement about how vigorously you want to heat your cooking.

Serse – to sieve ingredients.

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