Monday, November 28, 2011

TV Interview

Last week I had a brief interview with "Goodday Sacramento" on the Sacramento CBS affiliate.  The fact that this was my first TV appearance meant that I had no idea what to expect.  It turns out that for morning news shows the operating word is "fast" - I don't think I was on the air for more than a minute.  Obviously that's not enough time to go into any significant depth on a subject (and I know I can get awfully wordy), so I thought I'd take some time to give more leisurely answers here for the questions I was asked.

The first question was along the lines of "Why cook medieval recipes?"  My answer was that one could just as easily ask, "Why cook Chinese recipes?" or "Why cook Indian?"  Medieval European cuisine is a unique style of cooking, with its own balance of flavors.  I also noted that the flavors of Medieval English cooking are surprisingly similar to those of modern Indian, leaving out the capsicum peppers.

In medieval England - especially in the 14th and 15th centuries - spices like cinnamon, ginger, cumin, and saffron were used, especially in meat dishes.  The combinations of these spices gives a flavor that is very similar to that in modern cooking in the Mediterranean and India.  On a side note, the word "curry" itself comes from Middle-English, and means "cook".

I was then asked about how hard it is to find recipes.  I said that when I started researching, 20 years ago, it was very difficult.  You needed to be near the right library or know the right people.  Now many of the texts are freely available online, and I have a list of links for them on the website.

This has really changed medieval cooking research an incredible amount.  Not only are libraries now putting images of the original manuscripts online, but researchers (both amateur and professional) are transcribing and translating the documents into multiple languages.  In just the past five years the number of medieval recipe books that are readily accessible to the average geek has gone from a handful to hundreds.  Medieval English and French cookbooks have even been translated into languages like Russian and Japanese.

Finally, I was asked about Thanksgiving dinner.  Given that they didn't celebrate Thanksgiving in medieval Europe (for the most part they still don't, but I've heard that's changing), what medieval foods could be served in it's place?  I responding with a menu that most would find surprising:  honey mustard barbecue chicken, macaroni and cheese, collard greens, and peach pie.

I unintentionally described this as a "traditional menu", but it's more accurately a "menu of traditional foods".  No, I have no record of any medieval cook serving exactly that meal, but all those foods can clearly be traced to England in the 14th century.  I often use that fact to pull people out of the mindset that medieval food was all about huge chunks of roast meat and tankards of wine.  The recipes we have from back then are surprisingly sophisticated and exhibit a wide range of flavors.

There is a copy of the video online.

From a technical viewpoint, I have a few observations.  First is that I look and sound like a total goob.  I'd like to think that it's the fault of the camera angle and the cheap microphone built into the computer - please don't tell me otherwise and ruin my happy delusion.  If I should end up with another interview via Skype, I'll make sure the ambient lighting is better.  The room was fairly well lit about 15 minutes before the start of the interview, but it then clouded up outside and things got too dark.


Andreas Klumpp M.A. said...

Well, I am sorry to contradict you, but the word "curry" has no real root in medieval English. It comes from the tamil "kari" which simply means "sauce".
The medieval word "curye" - meaning cooking - has nothing to do with it.

Doc said...

Word origins can be difficult to pin down, especially as there are "authoritative" definitions that are well established, but are sometimes open to question.

The etymology of curry being from the Tamil "kari" comes from the Hobson-Jobson Anglo English dictionary (1886), and appears to be in error.

"The dictionary maintains that Curry is derived from Kari based on a erroneous translation. The dictionary quotes a passage from the Mahavanso (c A.D. 477), “he partook of rice dressed in butter with its full accompaniment of curries.” The problem is with translation. The original Pali used the word 'supa' and not curry.
Hobson-Jobson accepts the possibility that 'the kind of curry used by Europeans and Mohommedans is not of purely Indian origin, but has come down from the spiced cookery of medieval Europe and Western Asia.'"

The modern English word "curry" can indicate an Indian dish, or can mean "to prepare". Neither meaning is far from the Middle-English "curye" which meant "cook", "recipe" or "preparation" [according to Hieatt & Butler, and assorted dictionaries].

According to different dictionaries, the Middle-English word "curye" comes from the French for either "to cook or boil" (cuire) or "to make ready" (correer).

Given that "curye" has origins back to Old French, going back to at least the 13th century, that the multiple meanings in English haven't changed since then, and that I have seen no evidence of "kari" being used in Tamil before then, I'm inclined to stand by my statement.

Unknown said...

I do feel for you, being that I have a fear of seeing myself on any camera... was interviewed for radio years ago and that was terrible enough! though I did peek, but could not figure out where it was and later gave up.

I do think it is possible for our modern curry and the medieval English Curye, "Cury", "Curie", "kewery" and even "cure" along with the French "Keuerie" (also spelled with a "Q") and the "cuire" you pointed out (also a direct link to the English used "Cure") to have developed along separate paths from the Indian one.

I don't know this however, just keeping in mind that it is a possibility though I could not with any authority say that it is or that it isn't.
However, I can say that Kari is a word of many meanings however it rather depends on how you use the it. It is NOT a word that translates to sauce, it is a descriptive on how to cook the food and I have seen it in relation to meats, vegetables, side-dishes and found other reference to it relating to all the same be it cooked or raw. Also, lately, I have found out that how you say it can take it from a spiced dish to something very different.

Indeed, the English word could have come from "kari" and then used in a very different manner, or it is possible that the English, and French, version developed separate and the new word for "Curry" from "Kari" (though just as wrong since it is used improperly). It would be most amusing if it came from Kari all along and the English got it wrong twice!