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Friday, July 1, 2005

Friday Middle English recipe blogging.

With apologies to fans of our obscure and frivolous Middle English cooking feature, who surely must have wondered where their promised recipe went last week, we return to form — this time with a 15th-century recipe for "monamy":

Take thick creme of cow mylke, and boyle hit over the fire, and then take hit up and set hit on the side; and thane take swete cowe cruddes and press out the qway, and bray hom in a morter, and cast hom into the same creme, and boyle al togedur; and put thereto sugre, and saffron, and May buttur; and take yolkes of ayren strayned, and beten, and in the settynge downe of the pot bete in the yolkes thereto, and stere hit wel, and make the potage stondynge; and dress fyve or seaven leches in a dissh, and plaunt with floures of violet, and serve hit forthe.

A dish that Little Miss Muffet would surely love. By the way, I've become a big fan of "serve hit forthe." I'm thinking about appending it to all of Mrs Philocrites' Moosewood Cookbook recipes. P.S. to Fausto: Still looking for fish recipes . . .

Happy Independence Day, everyone!

Copyright © 2005 by Philocrites | Posted 1 July 2005 at 8:08 AM

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July 2, 2005 10:27 AM | Permalink for this comment

The ghost of Chaucer must be smacking his lips! I do believe that's a recipe for a variant of one of my favorite desserts as a kid, the one that we call today "egg custard". Adding sweet milk curds is an interesting touch. I wonder if "sweet" means "sweetened" (i.e., sugar added) or only "fresh" (in contrast to, say, sour cream or clotted cream).

A few obscure notes on Middle English orthography: The "d" in "togeder" is not really a "d" but a contemporary "th". It's a vestige of the Viking character resembling a lower-case "d" with a cross through the top, which has no direct equivalent in the Roman alphabet. If you can find a National Geographic article on contemporary Iceland, though, you'll see that it still survives there. There was also another Middle English "th" character that was a vestige of Old Norse and survived a few centuries longer into early modern English; it is usually rendered as "y", as in "Ye Olde Country Inn and Souvenir Shoppe". However, the "y's" in the recipes above are probably not contemporary "th"es, but "g"s, which in Middle English were often pronounced like a contemporary "y".

(Isn't it amazing what bubbles to the surface while your muse is on vacation?)


July 2, 2005 11:02 AM | Permalink for this comment

Clarification: Most "y"s above are probably contemporary "y"s or "i"s, which is self-evident. However, I will guess that the "y" in "ayren" is probably a "g".


July 2, 2005 12:42 PM | Permalink for this comment

...and the "-ren" in "ayren" is an archaic plural, as in "children" or "brethren". Substitute the moderm plural form "-s" for the archaic "-ren", substitute the modern "g" for the archaic "y", and adjust for what linguists call the "Great Vowel Shift" by changing "a" to "e", and suddenly "yolkes of ayren" becomes a more easily understandable "yolkes of egs".

Can you tell I'm trying to avoid some unpleasant household chores this hot holiday afternoon?


July 3, 2005 10:06 AM | Permalink for this comment

Is this an educational blog, or what? Thanks to Fausto, we can all order free-range scrambled ayren with confidence!


July 3, 2005 12:02 PM | Permalink for this comment

Hey, I'm only trying to fit in with the overall "obscure and literary" theme of the website, you know. For "obscure, literary and propeller-headed", try this other site.

Back when your cookbook was written, of course, they didn't need to specify "free range" when ordering their ayren to be serven forthe. Hit was all pretty much free range in those days.

BTW, the "qw" in "qway" is probably an early transliteration of another Norse character, wynn, that survived into Middle English but eventually died out. The wynn is the ancestor of the "wh" which appears everywhere in modern English, whether in "whey" or elsewhere.


November 18, 2005 12:25 PM | Permalink for this comment

Fausto, your explanations of Middle English are hair-raising. "togeder" is simply a dialectal form, the eth (d with stroke through ascender) having died out by the 13th cent.; "ayren" is the Middle English continuant of Old English plural "ęgren" (g = y), cf. modern German "Eier"; modern English "egg(s)" is of Scandinavian origin. There's a funny story in a Caxton preface ("Eneydos", 1490), in which Caxton refers to confusion due to the existence of both forms - see here
The Great Vowel Shift is about long vowels, which were raised (o > u, e.g. tooth) or diphthonguised (u > ou/ow, e.g. town). Sorry to say, but "ayren" simply vanished from the minds of English speakers, who preferred "eggs" (which is a cognate, but that's another story ...).

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