The Forme of Cury

(The Method of Cookery)

The Forme of Cury represents the earliest recipe collection in English. The original version seems to have been a roll dating to the late 14th century (circa 1377 to 1391), attributed to the chief master cooks of King Richard II. Various versions exist, though it seems that two copies 'A' and 'B' were made from an original version.

The 'B' version, as exemplified by the University of Manchester's English MS 7 (containing 194 recipes and bound in book form and dating from about 1420), held in the John Rylands Library and British Library Additional MS 5016 (containing 196 recipes), which is the version copied by Pegge.

It is likely that the recipes were dictated by the Master Chefs of the royal household to scribes as the dishes were prepared. It should be remembered that the master chefs of Medieval kitchens were more like circus ringmasters than modern chefs, in that they directed proceedings as the meal was prepared, rather than being directly involved in the food preparation themselves.

The name Forme of Cury was the name given by Samuel Pegge to the entire collection of recipes. And though this phraseology does occur in the MSS it is not known what the roll was originally called.

The introduction to the work states that the roll is intended to show a cook how to prepare everyday dishes (Common pottages and common meats for the household, as they should be made, craftily and wholesomely), as well as grander dishes that are more highly spices or more spectacular in their character and which were intended for banquets (urious potages and meetes and sotiltees for alle maner of States bothe hye and lowe).

The Forme of Cury is the first book solely about recipes and cookery written in the English language. As a result, it's an important volume to food historians, all those interested in cookery and in those interested in the origins of the English language itself. As a result I have taken it upon myself to present the original text, along with an update of the text to modern English and modern redactions of the recipes that anyone can cook at home. Like Apicius's De Re Coquinaria (the only surviving Ancient Roman recipe book) the Forme of Cury is of such importance that it simply had to be presented in its entirety here.

The word cury in the book's title is the Middle English word for 'cookery' and it is totally unrelated to the modern term 'curry', which derives from the Tamil for 'sauce'.

Though the Forme of Cury is an invaluable document, both in terms of the evolution of modern English (it's one of the few surviving examples of early middle English) and the evolution of English cuisine from Norman-French origins, it must be remembered that the Forme of Cury represents court cookery and not the food of the common people.

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