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New Medieval Books: English Food to Japanese Demons

19th February 2017

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A word game, popular in the great households of late medieval England, had at its heart the creation of collective nouns. In the lists of these names, alongside the laughter of hostellers, the glossing of taverners, the promise of tapsters and fighting of beggars, were household references – a carve of pantlers (who looked after the bread), a credence of servers (‘credence’ was the process of tasting of ‘assaying’ foods against poison), a provision of stewards of household – and a hastiness of cooks. The pressures of the medieval kitchen, the precipitate hurry and the irritation of the cooks are all captured in medieval meanings of ‘hastiness’. The word embodied a further dimension, however, through word play: ‘hasta’ was the medieval Latin for a spit, and we see at once the heart of the fire that has aggravated the cooks, the profligate the use of fuel in roasting, a busy-ness and the hard work that was necessary to produce the finest foods for table. This book is about what that food and drink, from the finest to the commonplace, meant to people in the later Middle Ages and how they expressed meaning through it in their daily lives – and many of them would have been engaged in cooking, even if they were not hasty professional cooks. The premiss is that food and drink mattered for a whole host of reasons beyond simply providing the necessities of life.

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