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Food for Thought

The Forme of Cury



 According to an article in The Guardian this week, the University of Manchester Library will begin a project to digitize The Forme of Cury, a rare 14th century cookbook compiled by King Richard II's royal chefs. The Forme of Cury is considered the oldest known cookery book written in English (cury is the Middle English word for cookery), and the digitization project, which will include other treasures such as Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, should be completed by 2009. While the New York Public Library does not have the original 1390 book (it's on my wish list!), we do have a 1790 version of the book in the Rare Books Division. That London imprint is also available digitally through Eighteenth Century Collections online, one of our electronic resources. Lorna Sass' To the king's taste: Richard II's book of feasts and recipes adapted for modern cooking, a 1977 monograph that takes some of Forme's recipes and adapts them for modern usage, is also in our collection. For more background on this historic book, one can read the short, but informative, essay featured on the British Library website. The British Library's site also features some of Forme's recipes, such as the one printed below. And although Joan Nathan doesn't mention this dish in any of her cookbooks, the blend of honey and wine would make an interesting (and very different!) Rosh Hashana dish. Tostee XX.IIII. XIII. Take wyne and hony and found it togyder and skym it clene. and seeþ it long, do þerto powdour of gyngur. peper and salt, tost brede and lay the sew þerto. kerue pecys of gyngur and flour it þerwith and messe it forth. Take wine and honey and mix it together and skim it clean. And seethe (boil) it for a long time, and add to it powdered ginger, pepper and salt. Toast bread and lay it thereto. Carve pieces of ginger, and flour it therewith, and serve it forth.


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forme of cury

What a delight to see those words on the computer. Thank you Rebecca for spreading the news! There has been such a burgeoning of interest in culinary history since To the King's Taste was published in 1975. I remember pouring over manuscripts in the Students' Room of the British Museum and the library in Manchester when I was working on my doctoral dissertation on Forme of Cury. It's wonderful that such a rich document of culinary history will now be available to all. Lorna Sass


Rebecca, Don't forget Whitney #1, held in the Manuscripts & Archives Division of NYPL. Helen Hay Whitney (Mrs. Harry Payne Whitney) bequeathed her collection of cookery books, mostly English, ranging from the fifteenth century to the twentieth to the library in 1945. The entire collection, including 17 manuscripts and over 200 printed books, is described in the Bulletin of The New York Public Library, Vol. 50, Feb. 1946 by Lewis M. Stark. Stark dates <em>The Forme of Cury</em> held in NYPL's Rare Books, also part of the Whitney collection, to 1780 not 1790 -- and as edited by the famous English antiquary Samuel Pegge. Whitney #1 was titled, Ancient Cookery, by its binder. It is the gem of the manuscripts in the Whitney collection and dating from the 15th century, also the oldest. Written in black ink on fifteen vellum leaves, the recipes on the first few leaves are very similar to those found in the famous "Forme of cury" ms. at the British Library. In addition, Stark reports a curious connection between the recipes and wording on the last few leaves of Whitney #1 with those found in Pegge's 1780 edition. According to Stark's 1946 Bulletin article, the best source on the subject of cookery books in general was <em>English Cookery Books to the year 1850</em> by Arnold Whitaker Oxford. And for the early period, Oxford's list of "English books on cookery and carving up to...1699" in his: <em>Collecting Small Things in a Small Way</em> was of of particular value. Writing in 2008, in addition to Sass's monograph, can we add new sources to point those interested in the history of cookery books? Do any of your readers have experience with Lavonne B. Axford's 1976 <em>English language cookbooks, 1600-1973</em>? Thank you, Thomas G Lannon NYPL Manuscripts Specialist

Oldest Book in NYPL

Please help me with the following questions: -what is the oldest book in the New York Public Library? -what is the newest book in the New York Public Library? Thank you in advance for your help. SIncerely, Olivia

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