Take 200 capons …
This is a recipe from the delightful cookbook Du fait de cuysine by Maître Chiquart. He was a cook in the service of Amadeus VIII (1383-1451, also known as the last Antipope Felix V from 1439 to 1449), count and first duke of Savoy. Amadeus was a regular guest at the courts of Burgundy and Berry (the Duc de Berry of the famous book of prayers was his great-uncle), and was well aware of the elevated status of his family and court. He commisioned a history of the duchy of Savoy, and ordered several of the craftsmen and scientists at his court to write books on their subject. Interesting little fact for Harry Potter fans: a study about the philosopher’s stone was one of the works that were written as a result.
Du fait de cuysine by Maître Chiquart
Maitre Chiquart (that is how he called himself, and how he is named in the ducal administration) dictated his book in 1420 to “Jehan de Dudens, clerc, bourgeois de Anessier le bourg (Annecy)”. That it is in essence a spoken text is obvious. An modern editor would have revised the text drastically. But the charm of the book is that you get a clear impression of how a kitchen in a great court functioned. This is clearly a cookbook written by a cook. The Canadian historian Terence Scully published an edition of the original text in 1985, and an English translation in 1986 (see bibliography).
Du fait de cuysine is unique in its composition. instead of a division in kinds of dishes or ingredients, the recipes are ordered according to the festive meals that were served on October 26 and 27 ((which year is not certain, Scully suggests 1403) during a visit of Philip the Bold. The menus of these meals are recorded on the last pages of the manuscript. No meat was served, just fish. As it appears, October 26 and 27 were a Friday and Saturday in 1403, both fishdays according to the rules of the Church. But Chiquart has given an equivalent meat recipe for every fish recipe.
This is not a cookbook for beginners or amateurs, Chiquart describes some very intricate recipes, like guilded, fire spitting boar’s heads with heraldic decorations, or an outrageous castle that has to be carried in by four men, decorated with little figures of meat paste and a fontaine d’Amours that spouts rose water and spiced wine. On top of the four towers are spectacular entremets, and the birds that occupy the court are all roasted.
Chiquart’s shopping list
For a festive banquet for several hundred guests you’ll need to do some planning ahead. Chiquart provides a shopping list: one hundred fat cows, hundred and thirty fat sheep, hundred twenty pigs, one hundred piglets a day, two hundred kid and lambs, one hundred calves, two thouseand chickens and six thousand eggs. Not to mention about six hundred pounds ginger, cinnamon, grains of paradise and pepper, twenty four pounds of saffron, and six pounds each of nutmeg, cloves, mace and galangal.
Not a soup, but a sop
The recipe is for soupe Jacobine. This soupe is not a soup in the modern sense, but a sop (food soaked in a liquid before being eaten). According to the menu at the end of the cookbook this was served during the main meal of the second day, the dynee that was served at noon. The sop must be served in gold, silver and pewter dishes. What metal you got depended on your status. Moreover, the lower you were on the social ladder, the smaller the portion you got. The dishes did not get smaller, but you had to share a dish with more people. On the picture above you can see a French tableware shop from the fifteenth century.
Dutch Jacobin Sop
The soupe jacobine has a Middle Dutch variation. In ms UB Gent 476 (around 1500, edition Jansen-Sieben en Van Winter, see bibliography) there is a recipe for soppijn Jacopijn, a slice of bread on which cheese and chickenmeat are heaped. But the recipes are not exactly the same. Chiquart uses broth with bone marrow and herbs, the Dutch version beef broth and sugar, and the cheeses are regional cheeses. I have prepared the Dutch version several times, and it is very good. Because of the sugar it tastes even more ‘medieval’ than the almost hundred year older recipe of Chiquart.
A very special version of Jacobin Sop from the seventeenth century, meant for Good Friday, can be found here.
Who were the Jacobins?
More medieval Jacobin recipes have survived. In the Ménagier de Paris (see this recipe) there is a recipe for a delicious eel pie called Tarte Jacobine, and there is also a Middle Dutch version of Tarte Jacobine in the Nieuwen Coc-boeck of Carolus Battus (1593).
Who or what were these Jacobins? They were monks from the Dominican order, their oldest cloister in Paris was dedicated to the apostle Jacob. The street where the Dominican cloister was situated, was named after the cloister Rue Saint-Jacques. During the French Revolution at the end of the eighteenth century there was a group of radical revolutionaries than named themselves after the street where they convened, but these Jacobins have nothing to do with our soupe Jacobine. On the picture a rendition of the ‘termination’ of the revolutionary Jacobins in 1794 with the cloister as backdrop. Anyway, I would love to take a peek at a fourteenth century cookbook of that cloister, because both recipes are very tasty!
The original recipe
The cookbook of Maistre Chiquart is called Du fait de Cuysine (About cooking). It survives in just one manuscript, S103, that is kept in the Kantonal-Bibliothek in Sion (in the Swiss province Wallis). Terence Scully, who has also delivered excellent editions and translations of the Viandier and the three books by La Varenne, has published the Oldfrench text in 1986, and seperately an English translation. Both are hard to find, but there is also a translation on the internet by Elizabeth Cook, so you can at least get an impression. Manuscript S103 is the actual manuscript written in the hand of Jehan de Dudens, in 1420. For the English translation I have used Scully’s version (edition pp.44/45). In 2010 Scully published a new edition of Du fait the cuysine, combining the Old-French original and the English translation. See the bibliography for the editions.
Modern adaptation of the recipe
I’ve reduced the amounts to a meal for four persons. My estimate is that the amounts in the original recipe were for four to eight hundred people, if one reckons a half to a quarter capon each. In the fifteenth century the Jacobin Sop was served in dishes for multiple eaters. The guest of honor and the host probably had a dish for themselves, from which they would present morsels as a token of favour. The larger the distance between the eater and the places of honour, the more persons he had to share his dish with. For the modern adaptation I use individual soup plates. We are all guests of honour! Although … the plates I used were simple earthenware dishes …
Filling first course or main course for 4 persons; preparation in advance a little over an hour; preparation 15 minutes..
1 fat chicken, home-roasted (the ready roast chicken won’t be spiced the medieval way!)
2 marrow bones of beef and 2 of sheep or lamb, or 4 marrow bones of beef
200 gr (½ pound) salers or cantal, or gruyère if you can’t find the other two
200 gr (½ pound) brie, not too ripe
coarse white bread, uncut, two days old
sprigs of sage, parsley, marjoram and hyssop
8 deciliter (3 cups/1½ pints) medieval beef stock (or modern stock, preferably home made)
Preparation in advance
Cover the marrow bones with cold water, bring to the boil. Take the marrow bones out of the water, rinse them well and put them in a pan with the beef stock. Let simmer for an hour. Strain the stock while still hot (marrowfat coagulates at a high temperature). Push the remaing marrow fat out of the bones, let it cool slightly and slice it. You can also make the stock after deboning the chicken, because then the carcass can be used too.
Remove legs and wings of the chicken, and take off the white meat. Mince the breast meat.
Before I forget: the chicken was filled with an onion spiked with cloves, and coated with a mixture of melted butter, pepper, ground cloves and cinnamon before roasting.
Grate the salers, cantal or gruyère, remove the crust of the brie and cut into small cubes.
Bring the stock to the boil with the herbs.
Cut the bread into thick slices (2 centimter, 1 inch) and toast them in an oven until brown but not burnt. Place each slice in a deep soup plate and sprinkle the cheeses over them. Then cover with the minced chicken meat that you have reheated in a little hot broth. Place a leg or wing on each plate.
Pour the boiling hot broth over the covered bread and serve at once. If you are not averse to it, garnish the sop with some slices of marrow.
One can also, like Chiquart, pour the stock over the sop at the table, but take care that the stock is as hot as possible.
All descriptions of ingredients
‘The soft, nutritious substance found in the internal cavities of animal bones, especially the shin bones of oxen and calves’ (The Oxford Companion to Food). It used to be a delicacy, but now it is looked upon with suspicion (BSE, cholesterol). This distrus and repulsion is not justified. Bone marrow contains iron, phosphorus, vitamin A, and contains 75% monounsaturated fat which is believed (though not yet proven beyond a doubt) to reduce the risk of heart disease and even some cancers. Since the shin bone is not connected to the brain or spine, there is no risk of BSE.
Modern use of bone marrow is limited to soup bones and ossobucco.
Before using bone marrow, you have to prepare it. The bones have to soak for at least twelve hours in salted water which has to be refreshed several times. You’ll see the water turn pink from the blood that is extracted from the bone marrow by the salted water. After soaking rinse the bones and dep them dry.
Bone marrow can be prepared in to fashions: you can boil them or roast them. If you boil them, fifteen minutes is enough. Roasting takes about as much (or little) time, in a preheated oven of 225-240 °C/435-465 °F. Just place the bones upright in a greased baking tray. When the bones are done, they are served on a plate with a special marrow spoon. The marrow is scooped out of the bones, spread on freshly toasted bread and sprinkled with salt.
The marrow spoon dates from around 1700, when serving roasted marrow bones was quite popular. The spoon can be used at both sides, for narrow and wider marrow bones.
Soft cheese with a crusty white mould, originally made of raw cow milk. It is made in the region East of Paris. Most Brie you can buy today is made from pasteurized milk, to the detriment ot the taste of the cheese, but it eliminates listeria bacteria. That is important for pregnant women, because it can cause miscarriage or a very sick baby. However, if you or your guests aren’t expecting, look for unpasteurized Brie. By the way, in unpasteurized Gouda cheese there’s no danger of listeria because of the different production process.
Brie has a long history. It was already produced during the reign of Charlemagne who enjoyed the cheese in 774. In the fifteenth century the cheese inspired Charles, Duke of Orleans (1394-1465) to write a little poem to accompany 240 whole Bries that were send to as many ladies at the court: Mon doux coeur, je vous envoie / Soigneusement choisi par moi / Le brie de Meaux délicieux. / Il vous dira que, malheureux, / Par votre absence je languis / Au point d’en perdre l’appétit. / Et c’est pourquoi je vous l ‘envoie. / Quel sacrifice c’est pour moi! (source: Duizend gezichten van zuivel). Famous is the anecdote about the Congress in Vienna in 1814/1815, when Talleyrand, to lighten the mood, organized a competition between the attending nations which produced the best cheese. Brie was the unanimous favourite and received the honorary title roi des fromages, et fromage des rois.
Craponne or Salers
The fromaige de crampone is a pressed cheese of cow milk originating from Craponne in the Auvergne. The modern name of this cheese is Salers, a variation of Cantal. Salers is still produced with raw milk from cows grazing on mountain pasture. But, while Cantal is made all year through, the production of Salers is limited from April 15 to November 15.
A small shrub with tiny purple flowers, Hyssopus officinalis. You can grow it easily in your own garden. The taste of the leaves resembles thyme. The plant originates from the Middle East and the Mediterranean, where it was a kitchen herb in classic times. The taste is rather dominant, use it sparingly. According to Alan Davidson (The Oxford Companion to Food) hyssop helps the digestion of fat, which makes it a very good herb in fatty meat dishes.
In Latin Origanum majorana. The kitchen herb oregano is wild marjoram, Origanum vulgare. Marjoram is the cultivated variety, but very old, it is already used in classical Greek and Roman kitchens. In a temperate climate like the Netherlands marjoram is an annual herb, it has trouble surviving the winter. Oregano is stronger, but tastes better in a warmer climate.
The editions below were used by me. Links refer to available editions.
- Manuscript UB Gent 476: Ria Jansen-Sieben and Johanna Maria van Winter, De keuken van de late Middeleeuwen (The kitchen of the Late Middle Ages, Bert Bakker, Amsterdam, 1998, 2nd revised edition; first published 1989).
- Terence Scully, ‘Du fait de cuisine par Maistre Chiquart, 1420’. In: Vallesia 40 (1985) pp.101-231.
- Terence Scully, Chiquart’s ‘on Cookery’: A Fifteenth-Century Savoyard Culinary Treatise (American University Studies Series, IX : History, Vol 22, 1986). Online translation by Elisabeth Cook.
- Terence Scully, Du fait de cuisine / On Cookery (Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2010).
The recipe for Jacobin Sops, a medieval soup
This filling soup with chicken and cheese is a French dish from the fifteenth century.