Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Structure of Medieval Meals

Every now and then I come across a new source or idea that substantially changes the way I look at medieval European cuisine.  Most often when this happens, it means I've got a whole new direction for research and need to learn a lot more.

A prime example of this is a book I got in the mail yesterday, "Arranging the Meal: A History of Table Service in France," by Jean-Louis Flandrin.

The common wisdom is that there is little or no method to the way foods were grouped into courses in medieval menus.  Flandrin questioned this, and through a careful analysis of surviving menus he has found strong evidence that there is an underlying order to the courses in medieval French meals.  Further, his research suggests a different scheme controlled what was served in England as well.

This means I'm now going to have to dig through as many medieval English menus as I can find, categorize and correlate the dishes, and see if I can work out just what that scheme was.  I have no choice - it's a geek thing.  If I don't then it'll constantly be bugging me.

The book was translated from French and is quite readable, though it does get a bit bogged down in details.  It covers quite a bit more than just the middle ages, but is narrow enough in scope to keep it from being a general overview.

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