Friday, February 21, 2014

A FOURTEENTH CENTURY DIETETIC: 4. Brother Leonard on behavior and attitude

This is one of several posts exploring a dietetic written in the fourteenth century by a certain “Brother Leonard” at the monastery of St. Jacques in Liège (today in Belgium). In 2007, Geneviève Xhayet published a transcription, with notes and commentary, of this Latin work and these posts reference that transcription. The other posts are:

1. What is a dietetic?
2. Brother Leonard on diet and health
3. Belgian (Walloon/Liègeois) food in the fourteenth century

Leonard's work is a dietetic, not a manual for meditation or manners. But it includes hints on both actions and attitudes rarely found in works this early.

Right from the start, he sounds more like a fretful mother than a Benedictine monk:
Beware cold in the morning and evening. In the summer, however, [beware] the heat of the noon-day. In autumn, the chill of twilight. When you go to the fields in the summer, to do your work, go fasting and wearing a cloak. In the winter, always have dry feet. Always seek the shade in summer. In winter, exercise by walking a great deal as much as you can, so that you may have heat. Carefully cover the head at night in winter, for fear of sneezing.
Later he advises again: “As you must sleep warm, keep your clothes on;” “At noon or at the warmest moment cover yourself well, otherwise, you cannot sleep.”

If Leonard does not quite say to brush one's teeth in the morning, he does offer similar advice: “Very carefully immediately after sleep wash your face and eyes causing you to awaken. Proceed to clean the mouth after eating using this to extract phlegm from the throat and the chest and so clear the voice.”

His advice above to “exercise” is explained as a way to stay warm. But overall he seems to find a walk outside beneficial. Later in the document he recommends relaxing, then getting some air: “After the Blessing at the table sit a little and immediately get permission to go outside, take off your shirt and if you can if you have a cap do not burn your face in the sun.” Again he shows an almost maternal concern, here that the person he is addressing protect themselves from the sun, as before against the cold in winter. At another point, he says to “leave if you are too hot, and take off your shoes” and at yet another to “[go] outside to cool off as much as you can”.

He also advises both moderation and a proper mental state while working: “Do not work so much that you tire yourself or quickly sweat, but with much peace of mind occupy yourself with something pleasurable and work towards completion.”

Often his advice recalls that perennial favorite, Max Ehrmann's Desiderata (“Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.”) Early on, he writes: “When certain people are speaking many words and loudly, speak little and humbly, turn aside their shouts and cries by walking an hour alone in the church.” On “the Scholar's day”, he says to “speak softly and in few words” and elsewhere “beware of speaking much”.

Part of his concern seems to be not only that his subject himself be too talkative, but that he be drawn into what seems to have been the less than serene sociability of his fellow monks: “Do not remain in the conversation in the same place at any time, because brothers often abound in many words and arguments easily arise, better watch your speech and go from there;” “After supper flee the noisy chatter, because the brothers freely speak excessively.”

In fact, the impression one gets of their fellow monks in general is that they could be downright rowdy; loudly competitive and even unkind: “Do not abound in words after nor compete with players.” In one case he advises going straight to bed “in order to avoid the cries and chatter of the players, and do not play at games so that others can mock you.”

Leonard is also concerned with simple propriety: “Do not drink in the hall in the evening, but watch your appearance.” More than once too he veers into advice on etiquette: “Be gentlemanly with the roast with your companion. Take of cheese above all, and do not empty the fruit plate;” “Of boiled fish politely share with your companion, leaving a whole piece, above all if eating with outsiders.”

Leonard already expresses a key concern found in later etiquette manuals: the proper behavior with one's superiors. “If you are a junior, always put the best pieces from your bowl before your superior.” Compare this to Courtin's eighteenth century advice: “Excuse yourself [from accepting food] if someone of greater quality is visiting, or finally take it if necessary, but offer it at once oneself to those one wants to honor.” Unlike the later writer, however, Leonard expects some reciprocity: “If however superior, do not accept but half of the good part, and in the same way for fruit.”

This is not his only advice on how to act while eating. Some shows practical concern: “Beware of hot food. Do not hurry while eating, do not eat everything, avoid becoming full;” “Be slow to begin, the first to finish eating;” “Consider also being temperate in what you take of cheese, not three or two, but only choose one of the best of all.”

Centuries later, Erasmus would write: “There are people who, barely seated, put their hands on the dishes. This is to be like wolves or these gluttons who take the meat from the stew pot and devour it before one has, as the proverb goes, made libations to the gods.” Leonard says, more succinctly, to “refrain from devouring greedily,” though perhaps more out of concern for the eater's health than good manners.

These are brief remarks, almost lost in the flood of specific advice about specific foods which makes up most of the work. But they are rare for their time and yet another valuable aspect of this unique work.


de Courtin, Antoine, Nouveau traité de la civilité que se pratique en France parmi les honnêtes gens, augmenté de la civilité chrétienne 1766

Erasmus, Desiderius, La Civilité puérile 1877

Friday, February 14, 2014

A FOURTEENTH CENTURY DIETETIC: 3. Belgian (Walloon/Liègeois) food in the fourteenth century

This is one of several posts exploring a dietetic written in the fourteenth century by a certain “Brother Leonard” at the monastery of St. Jacques in Liège (today in Belgium). In 2007, Geneviève Xhayet published a transcription, with notes and commentary, of this Latin work and these posts reference that transcription. The other posts are:

1. What is a dietetic?
2. Brother Leonard on diet and health
4. Brother Leonard on behavior and attitude

For food history, dietetic works are especially valuable in one regard: they mention specific foods. The fact that the writer, writing from a medical point of view, approves or disapproves of each food mentioned is not so important as the fact these foods are mentioned at all. This is particularly fortunate in the case of Brother Leonard, who condemns far more foods than he recommends.

Leonard's work is uniquely valuable, since it mentions foods available in Liège in the fourteenth century (probably in the second half). In itself, information on such food in this period is extremely rare. But as it happens, roughly two centuries later (1604), another work would appear on the food of Liège, this an actual (and classic) cookbook: Lancelot de Casteau's Ouverture de Cuisine. Among other things, then, Leonard's work provides a contrasting, and earlier, view of the same cuisine.

How far beyond Liège were some of the more specialized foods eaten? Unfortunately, in the fourteenth century at least, it is difficult to say. In modern terms, this is Belgian food and the document is, among other things, a valuable Belgian document. But more precisely it is Walloon in origin. Though today the Walloons are primarily Francophone, the original Walloon language (still spoken by about a million speakers) is distinct, a Romance language with a large percentage of German borrowings, and this is reflected in a number of food terms. Writes Xhayet:
Leonard's lexicon appears as a good reflection of the usual language in the monastic milieu and more largely in the city of Liège, during the second half of the fourteenth century. The Régime de Santé is written in a Latin enriched with multiple borrowings from the vernacular languages, the French and the Walloon of Liège, including its German-isms.
To further narrow the focus, Liège for much of the fourteenth century was largely independent:
As ecclesiastical territories, the principalities of Liège and Utrecht enjoyed a special status. They were principalities ruled by bishops, in cooperation with chapters of cathedral canons made up exclusively of clerics and simultaneously holding spiritual and temporal authority. ....the prince-bishopric of Liège came under the influence of Burgundy late in the fourteenth century.
(Blockmans and Prevenier)
This is of most relevance in considering how much Liègeois food resembled that of neighboring areas. At this point, Liège was, politically at least, a separate entity; culturally, however, it may have shared more with its neighbors.

Finally, there is the simple fact that Leonard was writing for a Benedictine monastery. Certainly this may account for the long list of fish, for instance, and for the meals during certain religious feasts. On the other hand, even today the Benedictine Rule includes this stipulation: “Except the sick who are very weak, let all abstain entirely from the flesh of four-footed animals.” In prosperous fourteenth century Liège, it might have been hard to limit monks in this way, especially since the monastic spirit was, at that point, weakening (Van Ham). But Liège was not alone in this decline in Benedictine rigor. Spencer writes of British monasteries: “By the 1150's every form of meat and fowl was eaten.” Harvey makes similar remarks and adds that by this time Benedictine monks were using complex justifications for eating different meats and even distinguishing which food was eaten in the refectory - “the only room known for eating to St. Benedict and therefore the only room mentioned in the Rule” - and elsewhere. This may explain why Leonard distinguishes so often between food eaten in the refectory and at the abbot's table.

As it is, Leonard's text references meat almost continually. The closest thing one finds to self-mortification is the instruction not to have flan unless there are guests present.

Nor, writes Xhayet, do Leonard's recommendations closely follow the abbey's own guidelines, recorded towards the end of the thirteenth century in a Liber Ordinarius. During the winter, for instance, he enumerates different foods day by day, whereas the rule says simply “a continual fast is observed, except on Sundays and Christmas Day.” The Liber also mentions six fasting vigils through the year that are not found in his text.
The recommended foods betray a gradation in the intensity of fasting: moderate during certain fast vigils, they become stricter during Lent (with nonetheless temporary easing at Mid-Lent [a particularly French observance], Sundays and on other occasions, for example Holy Thursday), becoming severe on Ash Wednesday and yet more on Good Friday.
In considering the food described here, then, it is not sufficient to know the general nature of the religious community; a number of nuances apply. Not least is the fact, underlined by Van Ham, that such communities, since the twelfth century, were often made up of members of the nobility, which might also explain the relative abundance and even luxuriousness of much of this food.

The foods
To begin, here is a list of all the food and drink mentioned in Leonard's text. (An entry in italics in square brackets is Xhayet's alternate translation of the same term; an item with a question mark is her “best guess” of the term's meaning.)

Meat (in general); beef, pork, mutton, veal; bacon; oxen or cow intestines
Chicken; capon; goose giblets
Omelets [crepes], hard boiled, soft boiled, poached, "boiled"
Fish (in general) fried in oil; eels, herring (fresh, brined or smoked), cod; “gem of the sea” [shellfish?], haddock (fresh or smoked), carp; loach/rockling, salmon, gudgeon; scallops
Broad beans, peas with bacon; long vegetables, leeks (as a dish, in tarts, balls, in scabwort); greens in milk, turnip greens (in milk); greens/herbs; parsley, parsley roots, hyssop; root vegetables; onions and green onions, civet (with onions), garlic, yellow garlic
Milk, cream; cheese, cheese of Flanders, soft cheese; butter
Broth/soup [brouet]; eel broth; meat broth; of salted beef, pork, mutton; of game/boar; black broth; of capon, goose giblets; of bacon/veal; haddock; jewel of the sea; dumplings in broth

Pottage/soup (herring, root vegetables, other)

Sops of bread (in wine, in honey, in milk); black bread; crusts and dry bread

Pasties; flans; tarts, tartlets, tourtes; wafers [waffles]

Oat gruel
Fruit (raw and cooked); pears (raw or cooked), apples, figs, cherries, grapes; nuts/hazelnuts

Apple beignets ("apple cut crosswise after wrapped in pastry then fried in oil")

Comfits? ("spices")

Sauces (in general); black sauce, green sauce, cameline; mustard

Pepper, saffron, fennel seed, cumin (explicit); cinnamon (implicit)

Vinegar; oil; fat or lard
Local (identified)
Burudt (pork blood sausage), Bockuhooset (smoked herring), Truley
Pick, crouzo, cuost, centamaihle; froesh, kwock [cake or spice cake?]
Wine (red, white, new, old, standard, pittance); water; small and strong ale, hopped beer; scabwort (enola campana); absinthe wine; nectar

Translation issues
A fourteenth century document will typically have transcription issues at the very least, not to mention the problems around translating terms which occur rarely or not at all elsewhere. Here are the key ones for Leonard's work.

Brodium (broth/soup [brouet]) – Typically, this word, like the Italian brodo, would mean “broth” or “bouillon”. At least two Latin documents from around Leonard's era use it in this sense: the Tractatus de modo preparandi et condiendi omnia cibaria, probably from the start of the fourteenth century and the Registrum Coquine from the early fifteenth century. Leonard himself uses the word to refer to liquids associated with a single ingredient: “cattle, pigs and their broth”, “eel broth”, “capon broth”. Xhayet however gives this as “brouet” and explains that it refers to a dish simmered in verjuice or vinegar, adding in a note that “The term 'brouet' indicates simmered dishes, in sauce, of various consistencies such as pottages, stews and even broths.” This is generally true, but the term in this period typically refers to a preparation with several ingredients, often as solid as it was liquid. As it happens, the root of the word (breu; similar to “brew”) did originally mean “broth” and, according to the TLF, one of the few places it still had that meaning in later centuries was... Liège. What is more, Leonard also refers explicitly to “pottage” (potagio) and the ingredients in it and Casteau, writing two centuries later, refers only to pottage and not brouet. Leonard even refers to “pottage which is prepared... with the broth of salted meat.” (Leonard curiously refers to "dividing" cold pottage; emphasizing how solid the latter could then be.) So the sense of “broth” is all the more fitting here. The one exception may be a reference to taking a piece of mutton out of its broth, in which case one might consider the liquid, with some solids in it, a soup.

Brodium pastillorum (dumplings in broth) – This term very literally means “Pastie broth”. Xhayet writes reasonably enough that the “pasties” here were dough stuffed with meat, surely smaller than the pasties usually referenced as entire dishes and so effectively dumplings. The idea of “pasties in broth” appears to be unique to Leonard's work. It may have been a local specialty, though Casteau mentions nothing like it.

Vota (omelette [crepe]) – Leonard refers several time to vota, a Latin form of the Walloon vôte, which Xhayet glosses as being derived from volvita (“turned”). In period French, a similar word, voulte, meant an omelet. In his nineteenth century glossary for Morvan, de Chambure specifically cites this old usage in saying that the word vouter meant “to turn”, “to roll about” and then says "whence probably also 'vôtt, vote, volte', which in Walloon and in the Jura also mean an omelet." In notes to Rabelais' work, d'Aulnay writes “An omelet was once a called a volte of eggs.” Turning to a dictionary of Wallon, Remacle (1844) defines “Vôtt” as “Omelet, eggs beaten and cooked in a frying pan with butter” and even adds phrases for "your omelet is runny" and a proverb: "It is not in watching an egg that one makes a good omelet." Yet Xhayet translates this as “crepe”. And looking two centuries after Leonard to Casteau, one finds a recipe for a Hungarian vote, with several others based on it:
To make a Hungarian vote
Take a dozen beaten eggs, and put them with white bread strained with a little very thick cream, and beat that with the eggs, and make a vote, well cooked on both sides, sugar and cinnamon on it.
(A modern reader, seeing the sugar and cinnamon at the end, may assume this is a dessert; but a later variation using cheese and onions is flavored with both as well.) Certainly, whatever this is, it is something more than an omelet, though how “eggy” it would be would depend on how much bread was added to the dozen eggs. Casteau cites several other “Hungarian” recipes, raising the question of whether, at this point, the Liègeois simply thought that this was how the Hungarians made omelets. By the nineteenth century, the bread has become flour; Semetier (1894) defines a “Vôte” as “a mix of flour, eggs and milk prepared in a frying pan à la 'bouquette'.” (The bouquette itself was a later crepe-like food.) In more recent years (1978), Albert Renson is cited as defining it as “an omelet composed of eggs, wheat flour and milk, all turned about in a frying pan with a piece of butter or melted fat.” Since Casteau's time, then a vôte appears to have become a kind of hybrid, an omelet with enough flour added to make it something else, yet not quite a crepe. And in fact an 1857 definition describes it in just such ambivalent terms: “Egg crepe; a type of omelet made with flour.” Starting with Casteau then, it is probably best simply to use the Walloon term, just as, in English, we borrow “crepe” and “croissant” directly from French. The vôte today is neither an omelet nor a crepe, but a hybrid between the two. This said, in Leonard's time, it very likely still had the same sense as in French; that is, it was an omelet.

Waf (wafer [waffle])This is a judgment call. The fourteenth century waffle and wafer were essentially the same thing: dough cooked between two hot metal plates. Even the word “wafer” has a direct relationship to gaufre, the French word for “waffle”: “O. Fr. waufre, gauffre, goffre ; Fr. Gaufre”. A wafer that is was once a waufre, which was the same as a gaufre, or, today, waffle. But a waffle has long been associated with a honeycomb pattern and today tends to be relatively thick; medieval wafers (one of the most common forms of dessert “pastry”) were thinner and bore a variety of images or patterns. Even if “wafer” itself is misleading today, that word is more appropriate in this period.

Offas (sops/balls) – This typically refers to sops (pieces of bread), often dipped in wine or more rarely milk, honey or meat broth. But Leonard also refers to offas – basically balls – made of leeks. In one strange case, too, he seems to refer to offam as a meal, along with prandium (dinner). This might conceivably refer to some form of informal meal, like a snack; but monks already had a snack (the collation).

Olus (greens/dish of greens/dish) – This word basically refers to greens or herbs, but can also refer to a dish of them. To complicate matters, Leonard sometimes refers to, for example, an “olus with salted meat”, which suggests a general dish. He also refers to several made with milk, which is particularly interesting since his text does not include recipes and this is a rare reference to cooking greens in milk. He also mentions hot olus, essentially vegetable stew.

Puretam (puree) - This is not difficult to translate, but the Latin term is extremely rare in texts. One other exceptional example is in Des Guidi's sixteenth century work on bathing, where he suggests at one point taking a “puree made from chard, violets, borage and mercurialis, or cooked fruit, or dark bread with a lot of bran.” (puretam factam ex bletis, violariis, boraginibus et mercuriali, vel poma cocata, vel panem subnigrum multi sursuris).

Gemma maris (gem of the sea [shellfish?]) - This is listed (as “salted”) along with herring, cod and haddock and so was a fish of some sort. Xhayet very tentatively suggests it was a "crustacean', but gives as examples mussels and oysters, and mussels, notably, are recorded in Liège in this period. Otherwise Leonard mentions a number of fish which do not appear in records from 1317, 1414 and 1424, but notably not one thatdoes: sturgeon, a prized fish which might be one candidate for this exalted label.

Mosteelhe (loach/rockling) - Godefroy defines moustoile or moustele as a loach; to complicate matters, the variants of this word more typically mean “stone marten”. But the closest modern French term, motelle, corresponds to the Latin mustela, which in English is “rockling” (there are several kinds; the “bearded” types seem to be the most common in the north). 

Pick, crouzo, cuost, centamaihle, froesh, cyebueire; kwock [cake or spice cake?] - At present, none of these can be translated. From context, Xhayet suggests that pick might be some kind of sauce (“if there are fried capons with wine, refuse pick.”) One possibility might be a pickling sauce; a later phrase for lightly pickled herring is hareng pec. Leonard says to “flee rancid crouzos and salted meat,” but no more. He writes that one should absolutely not eat “a vegetable dish of cuost without milk”. Centamaihle seems to be a fish, since he says at one point to avoid both that and herring. He gives no hint about the meaning of froesh, beyond the fact that one should not eat cherries or cheese in its place. Cyebueire seems to refer to a piece of pork. Leonard writes that after dinner one should not drink “nor eat kwock,” leading Xhayet to suggest that this might mean “cake” (and so be linked with the Dutch koek and the Walloon couque).

Local specialties
One unique aspect of Leonard's text is its use of terms specific to his region. Some of these have endured; others are known from period texts.
  • Burudt (pork blood sausage) – This word itself seems impossible to document elsewhere, but Xhayet seems justified in saying that the phrase “burudt of pork blood” probably refers to black sausage.
  • Bockuhooset (smoked herring) – This is one of innumerable variants on a word for smoked herring: bochois, boexhois, bouckehous, bochois, boexhois, bouckehous, bochons (Godefroy); bokhaut, bocksharing (Pirenne).
  • Truley – This remains a Belgian specialty. Davidson: “Truleye (from truler, to crumble) is a cold soup into which ginger bread is crumbled, but there is also a hot version made with beer, sugar, butter, and nutmeg.” Semetier (1894) has an entry for: “Truler, trouler. Emielter. Hainaut : Trîlé in which he refers to a “beer soup obtained by boiling a quarter pound of cassonnade, two sticks of cinnamon and three mastelles with a cruchon of beer.” (A mastelle is a kind of spice-bread cracker of maslin; a cruchon a small, long-necked bottle.) Leonard however writes of a “truley in wine”, which would have been something like a hot wine toddy.

Meat and poultry
The most striking aspect of meat in this Benedictine work is just how much of it there is. The reference to intestines, and even sausage, recalls Harvey's explanation of the fine distinction established between flesh-meat (carnes) and meaty dishes (carnea) in order to justify eating certain meat products. It is unlikely however that that rationale applied here, since the monks apparently felt free to eat meat in all its forms.

Though bacon is of course pork, it is typically treated as a separate element in period records. In earlier centuries, even otherwise vegetarian monks were sometimes allowed to use its "juice" in the place of oil.

Otherwise, if he does not actually describe how meat was cooked, Leonard's frequent concern that it be under-cooked and references to “roasts” and “roast veal” suggest that it was roasted more often than boiled (roasting cooks meat less evenly than boiling it). At the same time, a reference to “boiled” as a course in a meal (see below) suggests that some meat was also boiled (as does the frequent reference to broths). His reference to "black broth" is probably to the broth of wild boars (a surprising addition to an ecclesiastical diet), but that is uncertain.

At one point he refers to taking fatty roast pork, cutting it up and having it with bread and mustard. He also refers to cutting blood sausage up in pottage.

Leonard makes a very rare reference to white meat, when he says of chicken to only take the “white located under the white” (album sub albo locatum). Note that the only poultry mentioned are chickens, capons and geese.

Leonard lists a great variety of fish, which would not be surprising in a monastery, were it not for the quantity of meat also listed. Most of it seems to have been grilled (he explicitly cites “roasting”, which for fish would probably have meant grilling in this period), but also mentions haddock broth. Much of it, too, was salted or smoked, but these were standard preservation methods in the period.

Peas and broad beans
In most cases, he says not to eat broad beans crushed, but whole; he recommends crushed peas. Leonard pays special attention to the problem of under-cooked pea pods (that is, the pods of field or gray peas, not the younger, more tender peas known today). His mention of crushed broad beans in wine is unique.

The most surprising dairy-related reference is to cooking greens in milk. Otherwise, Leonard makes it clear that different kinds of cheeses were available in Liège, notably the cheese of Flanders. This may seem like a minor point, but at this early date, varieties of cheeses were not often mentioned. Even references by region were relatively rare (Brie cheese being a notable exception).

His one reference to “cream” is uncertain, but suggests it was a luxury.

Baked goods/flour-based
Leonard does not go into details about bread, beyond warning against dry crusts. But he does exceptionally mention black bread. Again, one would expect that monks would have eaten a lot of this, as they did in earlier eras, but the impression here is that they mainly ate a better bread.

He mentions oat gruel, which is relatively uncommon (the Menagier, for instance, mainly cites oats as food for horses). He also refers to letting gruel cool or even pouring wine into it to cool it.

His references to tarts, tartlets and tourtes are too general to distinguish except perhaps by size. Most were probably savory rather than sweet at this point.

Sauces, flavorings and preparations
Leonard refers to cameline sauce (based on cinnamon), green sauce (with parsley, sorrel, etc) and black sauce. Cameline and green sauce are both fairly well-known (eels in green sauce are still popular in Belgium today). Black sauce is less so, but the Forme of Cury includes a recipe for it using blood and bread. He warns against the smell of garlic, which had still not established the close association it would later have with French cuisine, but was used in the monastery for flavoring. Several times he mentions putting vinegar in pottage (echoing a usage stretching back to the Romans). (Note that he does not mention verjuice, then the favored tart addition to such preparations.)

He also refers to two preparations commonly found in late medieval cookbooks: cuminey (where cumin was the dominant spice) and civet (onion sauce, at this point). He also refers to preparing carp in "clear onion", probably referring, as in some modern cookbooks, to clear onion juice. On the other hand, he makes no specific reference to the mix of spices cinnamon, ginger, clove, paradise seed, etc. – commonly found in more upscale secular cuisine at the time. The specific spices he references are pepper, saffron, fennel seed and cumin. Note too that the first two at least were imports and still relatively costly; this hints at the relative luxury of this diet.

He refers to stuffed chickens and says they may have too much hyssop in them, again hinting at information one might otherwise find in a recipe. (Taillevent uses hyssop in several stuffings, but along with several other ingredients.)

Leonard's many warnings about food cooked in oil or fat show how much both were used at the abbey.

Sweets and desserts
Sweets and desserts were not necessarily synonymous in this period (sugar was used in many recipes for main dishes), but Leonard's references imply treats in general for certain foods.

In this period, fruit were the main sweet, but he only mentions a handful of them: pears (raw or cooked), apples, figs, cherries, and grapes, as well as “nuts” (which might be generic or might refer to hazelnuts). The closest thing to a recipe he provides is in his reference to "apples cut crosswise after wrapped in pastry then fried in oil"; that is, apple beignets. He mentions (unusually) a fruit plate (scutellam fructuum). 

A flan (in Walloon, floon) in the fourteenth century was somewhat like a cream tart, but typically made with cheese, not the egg-milk preparation more familiar today. Originally, it had simply been a flat cake. It is clear from Leonard's direction not, on several dates, to serve these unless there were guests that these had a favored status. Wafers seem to have been a more common offering for the monks.

His mention of “spices” is excessively vague. These were probably the candied spices (comfits) used for after-dinner treats, but may have been any small luxury.

It is striking that Leonard refers to various qualities and types of wine. Apparently, the monks had a range of choice in this regard, though sometimes only because of special occasions. Aside from red and white, new and old wine, he also makes a distinction between the wine of the pittance (a better wine, apparently) and the normal ration.

His emphasis on water shows again how common and important a drink it was in the medieval period.

Leonard's casual reference to hoppam as opposed to cervisiam parvam et fortem touches on what was in fact a significant development in this period: the evolution of ale into beer.

Today, the distinction between ale and beer is in the fermentation method; but in discussing medieval brews, the difference is in the use of hops, which made ale (the French cervoise) beer. (In fact these distinctions are not always that neat in the period itself, but that is the general convention.) While there is earlier evidence of this development, in fourteenth century Liege, it was just taking hold.
In 1364 the bishop of Liege and Utrecht acknowledged that over the previous thirty to fifty years a new way of making beer had become known which used an herb called hops. In the following year he levied a tax on hopped beer, with the permission of the emperor, and that was the first time he allowed people living in his lands to use the plant. He did insist that the tax paid be equivalent to what he had received before on the same volume of beer. As a result of the change, Liege brewers did so well that the town prohibited them from trading in money, that is in speculating in foreign exchange.
At this point, the new drink does not seem to have had a separate name but was simply “hopped beer” (more precisely, hopped ale).

His most surprising reference is to a drink made from scabwort (enola campana). This is one of a number of herbs used over the centuries in medical preparations. Monasteries used various such herbal potions in set periods, but this appears to be a unique reference to it as a standard drink, along with wine, water and beer.

On the other hand, he only mentions absinthe wine once, although absinthe had a far longer history in the dominant French culture at that time. What is more, he mentions it in a way that suggests it was again an indulgence, not a medical concoction.

Leonard also mentions nectar, which Le Grand d'Aussy lists as one of the spiced wines (like hypocras) of the era. (Walafrid Strabo wrote that tansy was also called “ambrosia”, also suggesting a distant connection; but this was more likely to have been the spiced wine.)

Though he specifies a number of distinct meals, Leonard has no reason for the most part to mention courses. Still, in one section he writes: “Do not drink first until after eating something boiled, second after the roast, third after the boiled, fourth after the cheese.” This is a very neat enumeration of the expected courses. Among other things, it shows that the cheese course, as today, was a late one.

The portrait that Leonard draws of the particular food at this particular monastery in a particular city is not quite that of secular meals; there are a great deal of references, for instance, to sops in wine. Still, the selection of meats and fish available was a generous one. Many of these would have been the same through much of the European world at this point. On the other hand, several of the foods referenced – the local version of smoked herring, the blood sausage, the truley, the vôte, the various untranslated terms – show specific food in a specific context. A number of the preparations are, at the least, not known from other sources: greens in milk, roast pork with bread and mustard, blood sausage in pottage, haddock in broth, dumplings in broth, cold gruel with wine. Wafers (or waffles) were the most commonly mentioned after-dinner treat in this period; his mention of flans in this regard is somewhat rare. His detailed description of an apple beignet precedes others by hundreds of years. His several mentions of a drink made from scabwort appear to be utterly unique; his reference to hopped beer (ale) records the evolution from ale to beer at this precise time.

Overall then, frustratingly laconic as this document often is, it provides a wealth of unique information on fourteenth century food in general and on Belgian/Walloon/ Liègeois food in particular.


Page for the Ouverture de Cuisine at Belgica (digital library site for the Royal Library of Belgium)

Lancelot de Casteau: Ouverture de Cuisine. Liège 1604.  (text transcription)

Ouverture de Cuisine, translation by Daniel Myers

Belgium: Flemings, Walloons and Germans

Blockmans, Willem Pieter, Walter Prevenier, The Promised Lands: The Low Countries Under Burgundian Rule, 1369-1530 1999

CHAPTER 39 | THE MEASURE OF FOOD”,  Saint Benedict's Rule for Monks, Abbey of Regina Laudis 

Édouard, Barlet, Histoire du commerce & de l'industrie de la Belgique, depuis les temps les plus reculés jusqu'en 1880 1885

Van Ham, Jean, Sécularisation de l"abbaye Saint-Jacques

Spencer, Colin, British Food: An Extraordinary Thousand Years of History 2002

Harvey, Barbara, Living and Dying in England 1100-1540 : The Monastic Experience 1993

Tractatus de modo preparandi et condiendi omnia cibaria (transcription)

Laurioux, Bruno, ""Le Registre de cuisine" de Jean de Bockenheim, cuisinier du pape Martin V", 

Recueil des ordonnances de la principauté de Liége ...: sér.974-1506. Ed. Stanislas Bormans 1878

Godefroy, Frédéric, Dictionnaire de l'ancienne langue française et de tous ses dialectes du IXe au XVe siècle 1881

Mémoires de l'Académie royale des sciences, des lettres et des beaux-arts de Belgique, V44 1882

Boyer, Abel, Dictionnaire françois-anglois et anglois-françois 1792

Des Guidi, Falconet, De balneis omnia quae extant apud graecos, latinos et arabas scriptores qui hanc materiam tractaverunt 1553

Pirenne, Henri, Histoire de Belgique, v1 1902

Davidson,Alan, The Oxford Companion to Food 2006

Le Menagier de Paris 1846't_groen

Elliott, Mark, "Belgium", CultureShock!

"Sauce noyre for malard', "Fourme of Curye", John Rylands University Library Image Collections

Celtnet Recipes: Medieval Recipe Page for Cooking: Black Sauce for Malards (or ducks)

Unger,Richard W., Beer in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance  2007

Strabo, Walahfrid, On the Cultivation of Gardens: A Ninth Century Gardening Book tr. James Mitchell 2009

Legrand d'Aussy, Pierre Jean-Baptiste, Histoire de la vie privée des Français depuis l'origine de la nation jusqu'à nos jours 1782

Friday, February 7, 2014

A FOURTEENTH CENTURY DIETETIC: 2. Brother Leonard on diet and health

This is one of several posts exploring a dietetic written in the fourteenth century by a certain “Brother Leonard” at the monastery of St. Jacques in Liège (today in Belgium). In 2007, Geneviève Xhayet published a transcription, with notes and commentary, of this Latin work and these posts reference that transcription. 

The other posts are:
1. What is a dietetic?
Belgian (Walloon/Liègois) food in the fourteenth century
4. Brother Leonard on behavior and attitude

This post explores the work's approach to diet and

Brother Leonard does not limit his advice on health to diet; he touches on everything from mental attitude to exercise, sleep and keeping warm. But certainly the bulk of the document addresses specific foods and their effects on health. This is perfectly standard for a medieval dietetic. What is most striking in this one however is what, with a few exceptions, is not present: humoral theory.

Consider these previously quoted statements from earlier dietetics: “As for lentils... they produce bad and melancholy juices” (Galen); if the food has been well prepared, it... nourishes good humors,”they have black meat and engender melancholic humors” (Anthimus); "Chervil is warm and dry at the second degree" (Aldobrandino).

Terms like “melancholy”, “humors”, “warm”, “dry” are all taken straight from humoral theory, the idea that health results from a balance between bodily humors (bile, blood, and phlegm) and their warm or cold, moist or dry qualities. (Melancholy -  (Gk. melan chole) – literally corresponded to black bile.) This was the dominant medical theory long before Leonard's time and would remain so for centuries after. Typically, it is fundamental to early dietetics.

Leonard only rarely uses such language, as here: “For your supper, fish or fruit or similar moistening things, but do not take anything drying.” or here:The broth of goose giblets... is very hot and dry because of spices.” When he writes that broth is “dry” he is referring to the liquid's humoral character (or more specifically here that of the spices added to it). But such references are exceptional in his text.

Possible sources

The absence of humoral language is all the more striking given his probable models. Xhayet provides an overview of these, first of all in general, for the type of dietetic she describes as being based on "non-natural things": Galen's De sanitate tuenda and De alimentorum facultatibus and Johannitus (Hunain-Ibn-Ishaq)'s Eisagoge. with strong contributions from Arab dietetics, notably Isaac's Liber dietarum universalium and Liber dietarum particularium, the first book of Avicenna's Canon (fen 2, on non-naturals and fen 3 on types of regimen), Ibn Butlan's Tacuinum sanitatis and the Secret of Secrets (Secretum secretorum).

Leonard does not name his own sources – writers of dietetics often do not – but Xhayet refers to (and in 2007 had intended to publish) another of his works, the Medecina, which references several works, include Isaac's Diets, Constantine's Pantegni and Avicenna's Canon. "These works," she writes, "make up a possible substratum" of Leonard's work. Except for Arnaud de Villeneuve's regimen, however, he does not mention any other regimena santitatis. His own work then may reflect other sources.
Could not one see... in it also a reminiscence of the old dietetic calendars established by month, which had appeared since the early Middle Ages and were related to the old monastic medicine? Under the form of short notices, these calendars lay out, month by month, a series of recommendations sometimes on bleedings and baths, sometimes on the consumption of foods and specific drinks, appropriate to the moment.
Certainly there are signs that he is writing more in a monastic than a medical tradition. This might explain his lack of emphasis on humoral theory; writers of dietetic calendars only make passing mention of humors. But nor do they outline the effects of eating the wrong foods. Leonard does so regularly, moving his text closer to a standard medical text.

One indication of how deeply humoral theory permeated medical thought at the time is reflected in the monks' own practice of being bled at regular intervals. “Physicians became blinded by the philosophical dogma of the Hippocratic School, which advocated bleeding as a method of restoring harmony of the humours and hence health.” (Hart) As previously mentioned, Bede's calendar already mentioned bleeding and it remained a standard part of monastic life in the fourteenth century. Regular bleedings and the days right after them form an integral part of Leonard's calendar.

The only bodily fluid Leonard discusses with any frequency is urine. Relative to blood and bile, for instance, urine has one particularity: it leaves the body naturally. This may be one reason it was the subject of a number of medieval treatises. Leonard can be very specific about it: "If you drink beer.., it will constrict your urine and you will urinate little and your urine will be thick and your voice will not be clear, but thick, and the urine's sediment will be globular;" “Your urine from beer after sleep will be red and thick;” “If you do otherwise, you will stay as if strangled, and your urine will be left dark;” “This will appear overnight in the urine which will be thick and appear fatty on its surface and in its depths will be a lot of sediment.”

Attitudes towards foods

Many of Leonard's statements on diet are surprisingly in keeping with modern attitudes, starting with the most general one: “Be measured in dining and drinking.” He objects to salted foods: “If it is fresh, not salted, then you can safely eat it;” “Beware very salty mutton;” “Flee rancid crouzos and salted meat;” “Do not eat garlic or hard or salted cod;” “Abstain from soup which is prepared with salted meat or with the broth of salted meat;” “Do not take salted meat of cattle, pigs and their broth except mutton.” This was not a minor point in a time when salting was one of the main means of preserving foods, especially given that he also has reservations about smoking, the other major method: “Continually abstain from what tastes of salt and is dry and smoky.”

He warns against foods prepared with fat (again not a minor issue when lard was one of the most common flavorings): “Do not eat fatty vegetables [or vegetable stew];” “Never eat long vegetables in winter with frozen stems and prepared with fat. which are the worst for you. Rarely use others prepared with fat or lard, above all in the summer when it is very hot;” “Carefully avoid greens and omelets soaked in a great deal of fat;” “Avoid the broth of fatty meat.”

He offers a related warning against foods cooked in oil: “Nor even take fish fried in oil, because these are the most cloying [“thick”] to you and soaked in much oil, abominable and sticky;” “You will also avoid fish fried in oil because of its viscosity, above all its skin especially if it is drenched in oil.” Some will still find the image of the greasy skin of a fried fish off-putting today.

He warns too against rancid foods, notably butter and eggs. “Rancid butter, and perchance age in selected eggs is easily detected by the odor;” “If however it has a strong smell, eat nothing of it, but at once move it away from you;” “Better to take something fresh than rancid omelets.”

Though many eat meat rare today, it is not unusual still to warn, as does Leonard, against under-cooked meat: "Beware salted meat or red and badly cooked beef or pork with a horrible flavor;" "Also beware of hard or badly cooked or salty mutton," "Never eat half-cooked and red beef or mutton, which cannot be peacefully distributed by your stomach to other members;" “Beware of... above all half-cooked beef and mutton, because the taste is horrible and also your mouth will be dry and arid in the morning;” Not that he approves of over-cooking either: “Do not take refreshment from dry and hard, and badly cooked or burnt, oxen or cow intestines, because they are too tough and indigestible.”

Would a “dry” chicken be more dangerous because older, or just unappetizing? At any rate, this advice too could as well be given today: “Beware also chickens, if they are dry and arid”. (Note that here he uses “dry” in its common, not humoral, sense.)

His various reservations about fish that is not absolutely fresh also still make sense today: “Hard and salt fish such as herring, cod, hard, and salted gem of the sea and smoked haddock as well as old haddock with a black mouth and scallops in the same state, the old also avoid, do not eat them, particularly those that are rancid and yellow nor eat fish fried in oil, nor carp prepared with clear onions, nor loach.” 

He also warns several times against drinking a variety of wines or other drinks: “Avoid a plurality of wines,”, “If you are offered wines of various colors and substances beware of this;” “Flee a variety of drinks, both in color and substance." “good wine of one sort, and not of different colors and seasons.” Anyone who has woken with a hangover from mixing white, red and rosé (never mind bourbon and vodka) would probably still consider this good advice.

It is more surprising, however, to see him warn against ale and beer (that is, in this period, cervoise and, in his rare term, “hoppa”, a fermented grain drink with hops added), two very northern drinks: “Avoid small and strong ale and beer, unless very old or sour. But wine or water and the like, however, take as drink.” Otherwise, note that this fourteenth century reference is yet another confirmation that water was a perfectly standard drink in the Middle Ages and in fact in this case is preferred to beer and its close ancestor.

His suspicion of hard – and so older – cheese and fruit, if more surprising today, was probably not so unique in the time: "Refrain from hard cheese and many fruits;” “Nor take a great deal of cheese or fruit when supping;” “Avoid pears also raw or cooked;” “Never eat any fruit whatsoever, because you [will] feel a bitter taste in the mouth and in the throat and easily have hoarseness in the throat and constriction in the nose, you will have winds and roaring in the belly.”

It is striking that the one cheese he singles out was from a neighboring region (and one known for its dairy products): “Always avoid cheese of Flanders, dry, hard and highly salted, and similar types of cheeses at hand” (Note that in this time it was still fairly rare to identify cheeses by region, even in France, where Brie was one of the few to be so singled out.) Is the curious “at hand” (ad manum) a warning against these precisely because they are so easy to obtain?

It is more striking still that he says to “beware butter and black bread”, a pairing that seems perfectly natural today and was probably not exceptional in the time.

His warning on eating peas with their pods reflects a common-sense concern: “Nor take peas cooked with their pods, because they are not cooked.” (This would have been all the more true of peas in this era, which were white, mature field peas, not the more tender green peas, with more tender pods, most common today.) His warning to “not eat crushed broad beans unless there is vinegar” has at least one antecedent – Anthimus' sixth century warning: “Whole broad beans, well cooked, either in gravy or in oil, with seasoning or salt, are more fit than these beans crushed because they weigh on the stomach.” Strangely though Leonard specifically says to eat them broken up under certain circumstances: “Do not eat beans, peas with bacon, above all very salted or often rancid, rather use them broken up in broth and this will be with non rancid butter.” Neither Galen nor Isaac, for instance, make any such distinction.

Compare too his advice on hard-boiled eggs – “Do not eat .. hard boiled or poached eggs or cooked with shells when they are hard, especially the white, that is hard to digest” – to Anthimus: “For the hard-boiled white is completely indigestible; it causes corruption in the belly, and does not help but rather causes harm. Beware then of all egg whites made hard.”

Some of his concerns are less clear-cut. “Do not eat carp in onions or other fish prepared with onion, because they are often old or the remains of Sunday Supper.“ The problem here seems to be, not mixing fish with onions, but rather the risk of unhealthy food being disguised (a rare period echo of the modern canard that spices were used to hide the smell of rotting food).

Some are more curious. In a time when a hard shell of pastry – the pasty – was standard fare, he is not a fan of hardened baked goods: 'Leave aside crusts of tartlets and waffles;” “It is also good to avoid crusts and dry bread.” Cumin had a long and mainly favorable history in this region since the Gauls, yet Leonard writes “cumin ... is very much the contrary for you. for its taste often comes back as a belch in your mouth.” He uniformly rejects herring – by then one of the most important fast-day foods – in all its various forms: smoked, salted, broiled, even fresh.

Soups and broths are often considered healthy and in fact had gained, at the least, more visibility in the European diet at this point. But Leonard does not approve of most broth (though Xhayet translates brodium as brouet; it might also be translated as “soup”). He repeatedly warns against the broth of eels, and otherwise of that of goose giblets,.of wild boar, and of game in general. Several times he warns against “black broth”, a phrase whose meaning is obscure, though in one passage he specifically warns against the “black broth of boars”. Whatever virtues chicken soup may be thought to have today, the closest mention Leonard makes to it, of capon broth, is at best neutral: “Be careful not to eat parsley roots cooked incompletely in capon broth.” In fact the only broth he positively approves of is that of... haddock: “Boldly take however broth of haddock”. In one of his rare forays into classic humoral jargon, he even says that the broth of game will make one thirsty: “Do not drink the broth of game, because you will be thirsty for more, for it is very hot and dry.”

His most curious interdiction is of leeks. “Never eat tarts made with leeks cut up small;” “Also beware tarts, if cut leeks are in them;” “Do not eat a vegetable dish of leeks, because they come up in your mouth, the flavor like the broth, and balls of boiled leeks as well.” This is, at the least, an extreme take on classic humoral views of this food. Galen finds leeks, along with garlic and onions, bitter, but is not opposed to eating them, especially after boiling them; Anthimus actually recommends adding them to soup; In one passage, Isaac also describes them as bitter and dry, but does not condemn them; in another however he does say that they do things like cause nose bleeds and darkening of the vision and are “useless in food”; even then he recommends ways to compensate for their qualities and to use them for such things as snake bites or inciting desire. As late as the seventeenth century (when vegetables overall were still looked at with suspicion), Gontier wrote that they were “hot in the third degree, dry in the second” and had a bitter taste, but also credited them with various curative properties (curing coughs among them). Overall they were a common food, even if writers had reservations about them, and a curious one to condemn.


When it comes to the effects of different foods, Leonardo's concerns are also idiosyncratic. Anthimus, for instance, is largely concerned with digestive ailments. Chick peas, he writes, “can cause serious flatulence and bad indigestion and corruption of the stomach;” “Do not take [certain birds'] hindquarters because these weigh on the stomach;” “[Hard sausage] will not be digested, but will cause corruption of the belly.” Anthimus cites several foods as being useful for dysentery. He shows particularly concern about the kidneys: “It thickens in the kidneys and from that stones are produced;” Raw vinegar is rather harmful to the kidneys and bladder and it is not appropriate for the liver.“

Turning to Leonard's work, one finds almost none of these. Maladies, or merely discomforts, of the mouth and throat are prominent. “Your mouth will remain dry and parched, as if you had eaten dust or ashes;” “You will undoubtedly incur hoarseness, as you have experienced many times, and the loss of your voice;” “The fat of herbs mutes your voice;” “Your lips will swell up and your saliva will be like a white foam, and your throat dry, and you will not have a clear voice, but it will become thick and troubled;” “Hawking phlegm will be most aggravated in your chest and your throat.”

Even where digestion comes into play, the focus is on the mouth: “If you do otherwise, you will be heavy and your mouth will be foul and dry in the throat and it will be undigested;” “A fetid odor will be in your mouth, because it will not be digested;” “The stomach does not digest such broth well, but rather it rises up to the mouth, causing belching.”

Otherwise, simply waking up is a concern: “You may feel too heavy in the morning on getting up;” “Your mouth and throat will be dry and parched with thirst in the morning, when you get up;” “Because in the morning you will be spitting too much phlegm following the night;” “If you do this, the lighter and the more promptly you will rise in the morning;” “If you do anything else, [you will be] heavy and drowsy.”

Xhayet offers a perfectly credible reason for some of Leonard's more idiosyncratic recommendations. Might he not be addressing a specific monk, she asks. "Several details of the 'dietetic calendar' allow us to think so at any rate.” In discussing bleeding for instance he writes, "If you were one of those suffering".
The evocation of digestive troubles, of a repulsion for certain dishes... or condiments.. equally allows one to guess a clearly defined addressee....
Multiple allusions to the quality of the voice and to factors that might alter it... would lead one to identify this person as the chanter...
At the least, it is clear that Leonard's advice did not guide the monastery's kitchens; several times he makes it clear that the person he is addressing will have no control over what is served: “If dinner is in the hall, first be careful to ask what common meat must be eaten;” “If peas are set in front of you, take off any bacon floating on them;” “When you are eating in the morning in the refectory from Easter to the Exaltation of the Cross, carefully avoid greens and omelets [or, per Xhayet, crepes] soaked in a great deal of fat.”

Still, writes Xhayet, “whatever the case, most of the recommendations have a broad enough impact to have been able to benefit the whole monastic community." Whether in fact they did is a separate question.

Three facets of the calendar

It would be surprising if Leonard did not take key religious days into account, but it is difficult sometimes to work out the relationship between his health and religious concerns: “If it is very hot, abstain from hot greens and fats, above all outside the Sabbath.” Because better foods were to be reserved (as was sometimes the case) for the Sabbath? It is particularly strange to read: “Eat eggs and fish, except if it falls on a Saturday or Friday;” both were (technically) fast days and the fish at least would seem to have been appropriate to them. Other advice is closely linked to certain feast days, but couched in what appear to be concerns for health: “Sunday of the Nativity: avoid greens, flee omelets, leave eel broth, eat sops in honey, drink wine three times;” “On Rogation, the second and the third day of the week, do as for Mark the Evangelist except if you have greens, because then you can safely eat of them.”

Xhayet only touches in part on the relation between certain foods and certain holidays:
Eel brouet [or broth] (brodium) is served for the vigils of certain feasts (Assumption and All Saints), Holy Thursday, Christmas Day and during Advent. On the Sexigesima, during the second Sunday of Lent, Holy Thursday and Saturday, the menu offers carp in civet [that is, with onions] ...Herring are associated with the Quinquagesima, Ash Wednesday and for the vigils of various feasts....
A gruel (grumellum) of unspecified cereals [was] served at the dinner of Ash Wednesday and the Sundays of Advent, or oat gruel, on Good Friday... Apple beignets [were] offered on the second Sunday of Lent.
While some aspects of diet were clearly regulated by fast days, etc. it is less obvious why Leonard would advise or discourage specific foods on specific holidays. One might at least consider that specific feast days also corresponded to specific moments in the seasons and so his counsel might bear more relationship to the natural calendar than is obvious by his reference to specific saints. There is also the question of humoral theory's view of each season. Overall, the relationship here between the religious calendar and the natural seasons, as well as humoral theory, would be one worth exploring in depth, ideally by a scholar well-versed in both the Catholic calendar and medieval medical theory.