Book Review: To the King’s Taste

king1The book is a bit dated, it was first published in 1975, and our knowledge of Medieval foodways has improved leaps and bounds since.  However, there are a few errors that I think are more due to lack of research than to limited knowledge at the time the book was written.  For example, Sass claims that the recipe for almond milk found in Forme of Cury, the main manuscript used for the book, is the only published source known, and that is simply not true.  The Herleian manuscripts, which she also uses as a source for “To the King’s Taste,” has at least one recipe for almond milk; it’s found in MS.4016.

Another thing that bothered with me was her modernization of a baked fruit recipe that is cooked in a “coffyn” in the medieval recipe. Her modern recipe calls for a pastry that is to be eaten, where coffins were NOT meant to be eaten but just served as cooking vessels.  There is a clear distinction between coffins and pastry crusts, which were actually meant to be eaten, in medieval recipes and Sass’ modernization of the recipe did not keep the spirit of the original. Some times medieval recipes mention “fayre coffyne,” which may have been eaten.  The recipe I’m talking about here is called “Leshes fryed in Lenton” or “fruit slices fried for Lent.” Coffins were used as late as the 19th century, if not later, so this knowledge of edible pastry vs. not edible pastry was certainly around in 1975.

And last, in the introduction she speaks about English ale having been made from barley, oats, and corn, which is true but “corn” here is misleading.  Her book is targeted to every-day cooks and the term “corn” will definitely confuse a lot of people.  Corn for the English at the time, and even as late as the 19th century, really meant wheat, not what WE think of as corn today.  Modern corn, or maize, is a New World food, and I think she should have done better and either used “wheat” or made it clear that corn in this context is wheat. Again, this bit of knowledge was not alien in 1975.  I don’t know whether this was due to lack of research and her ignorance of the distinction, or the assumption that people would know what she was talking about; either way, poorly done.

I have had this book for several years and only made one recipe from it, which was inedible despite being made from the modernized recipe, so I don’t feel confident enough to give this book any stars just yet.

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