Friday, December 27, 2013

Food of the early French saints

"Man cannot live by bread alone"; yet, in early France, some saints did exactly that, if one is to trust hagiographies.

Saint Lupus (c. 383 – c. 478) was said to live only on barley bread. St. Gregory of Langres (c. 446-539) ate barley bread, which he hid under wheat bread, and drank water, carefully using a vessel of opaque glass to hide the fact from those around him. (Hiding one's holy actions is a theme found elsewhere as well.) St. Germanus of Paris  (c. 496 – 576) not only lived on it, but is said to have ground and sifted the meal himself. Strictly speaking, though, he didn't just eat the bread – he put ashes on it. Only Gregory of Tours mentions St. Monegund (sixth c.) who, he says, also ate only barley bread and only drank a very little wine on feast days, and then with a great deal of water.

Saint Bruno of Cologne (c. 1030-1101), who founded the Carthusian Order, only ate (with rare exceptions) bran bread.

For a secular reader, the first question in reading such accounts is: how credible are they? After all, hagiographies typically include accounts of frankly miraculous events (often connected with food). Plus, they have an obvious agenda: to emphasize the sanctity of their subjects. What is more, the repetition of certain claims makes it likely, at the least, that a certain “contamination” occurred between stories, so that what might arguably have been true of one figure is only imitatively attached to another. (In certain erudite circles, this has been known as a “meme” –  before colorful graphics with catchy messages took over that term on Facebook.)

At the same time, these stories are describing people of fervent belief, people who, further, had reason to lead by example, especially in those early centuries when Catholicism was not only fighting paganism but Arianism and other heresies. Extreme self-mortification was one way to model commitment for the less certain. Modern understanding of anorexia and bulimia only makes the image of willful self-deprivation, driven by single-minded belief, all the more credible.

Too, we must be careful not to judge an "adequate diet" by familiar standards. Could someone live on a diet of nothing but bread? Many in later centuries did exactly that – if not by choice. The bread historian Steven L. Kaplan writes: "The mass of the population in eighteenth-century France derived the bulk of its calories from bread and sundry grain products.... their lives turned on the urgent need to wrench an adequate bread ration for themselves and their family each day." Often, he adds later, a bread soup "constituted the entire meal”.

In earlier times then, one did not have to be a saint to live only on bread; many had no other option. But, as Ina Lipkowitz points out, even those who did might not have sought much more:
Stories were told of saints and hermits who ate so sparingly that they became too weak to stand upright and of noble women who subsisted on barley bread and broth made of nothing but herbs steeped in water. Yet such diets, although certainly an exaggeration of the normal, were not qualitatively different from what would have been eaten on non-fast days. Even now, a Tuscan specialty is the soup known as acqua cotta, which literally means no more than "cooked water". In other words, your average Italian could have sat down to a meal of bread, oil, and vegetables, whether the day was a fast day or not.
In fact, not all saints, even by hagiographic accounts, went to quite such extremes. But one constant in most of these stories is the use of barley bread. It is important to understand that, if for the Gauls this had been common fare, for someone of Roman culture (which suffused the early Church), eating barley bread was the culinary equivalent of wearing a hair shirt (even without adding ashes). The Romans had fed barley bread to dogs and used it as punishment rations for soldiers. Even the poor in early Medieval France often got bread, albeit dark bread, made from wheat or maslin (wheat and rye mixed).

Aside from the inherently humble status of the grain, it also has a technical inconvenience: it does not rise well. In fact, most modern recipes for the bread incorporate some wheat flour. One of the few sites to provide a recipe that does not says:
Because it’s wheat-free, this bread doesn’t contain the amount of gluten that a wheat-based loaf would, so therefore it doesn’t puff up and create a light, airy bread like wheat-based loaves. It’s more a cross between a flat-bread and a cracker, crunchy around the edges.
To a modern eater, that may actually sound appetizing. But its charms were largely lost on those for whom "light, airy bread" was less ubiquitous than it is today. Those who could get the latter (including many later monks) certainly preferred it.

For more about the early Middle Ages
Feasting with the Franks

The First French Medieval Food

It is understandable then if even the holiest figures often added something to their bread. St. Winwaloe (c. 460 – 532) himself only ate coarse barley bread (with, yet again, ashes) but in the Breton community he founded the monks could add to that boiled greens and roots, or barley-meal mixed with greens. On Saturdays and Sundays, meals were, comparatively speaking, downright luxurious: they were allowed cheese and shell-fish.

St. Genevieve (c. 419/422 – 502/512) accompanied her barley bread with broad beans which had been cooked in a pot for two or three weeks. If anything strains credibility here, it is the latter detail, though the fact that a fire might have been kept burning regularly in colder months means that this would have required little more than leaving the pot on the fire and adding water from time to time. More to the point is the question: what do three-week old beans taste like? (Presumably a bland and slightly burned mush.)

One thing that makes Genevieve's biography one of the more credible is the fact that she is said, at fifty, to have modified this menu (though by bishops' orders) to one of barley bread, fish and milk. (Such acknowledgment of a saint's physical needs is rare in these works and strikes a realistic note.) Since St. Genevieve also avoided "wine or anything else that could inebriate", milk was one of her few alternatives. It is interesting however that the passage implies that she had not (with any regularity at least) been drinking it before. (Note too that this is a rare specific mention of drinking milk in the early Middle Ages.)

St. Clotilde (465-545), who, as the first queen of France supposedly worked for Clovis' conversion, only lived on bread, legumes and water after she gave up her royal life.

Among the saintly, if not quite a saint, Gregory de Tour writes of a hermit named Hospicius who lived on bread and a few dates, and at Lent used “the roots of certain plants common in Egypt. He first drank the broth in which they had cooked, and ate them later.”

St. Radegund  (ca. 520–586) presents a more complex, because better documented, example. Her biography is particularly rich and all the more credible for having been written by her friend Venantius Fortunatus. It begins with a very secular, and historical, drama – the destruction of her homeland by the Franks. She was a child – apparently a beautiful child – at the time and Theuderic and Clothar argued over who would take her as a prize. Clothar, having won, appears to have raised her to be his sixth queen (his Catholicism was no obstacle to his polygamy, which Fortunatus did not find worthy of comment). If this may have seemed marginally less creepy then than it does now, the adult Radegund can be forgiven for not being enthusiastic about the marriage – whatever her religious vocation. Though the unqueenly behavior that maddened her husband is credited to her devout fervor, it is tempting to see in it a stubborn protest as well.

While she was still forced to play that role, she would "secretly" eat beans or lentils at royal banquets. Sometimes she would even (shockingly for a woman of her time) be completely absent from the table; her irate husband was told only that she was "delayed, busy about God's affairs."

Ultimately she escaped the palace and managed – largely by force of will – to have bishop Médard make her a nun. After this she would still play down her austerities, hiding rye or barley bread under the "flan” – which at this point was still a flat cake (flado), probably a honey cake. This trivial detail tells us that the bread she hid was almost certainly itself flat. This in fact would have been the only bread she (or her servants) could secretly make, using the hearth. Such foccacius (“hearth-baked”, focus meaning "hearth") bread was a standard one for those who made bread at home and required nothing more than making dough and putting it under the hot coals. (The hearth itself was then little more than a fire, set off by bricks, stones or other means from the rest of the room.)

At Lent, Radegund would, perhaps in imitation of St. Germanus, grind her own flour, though in her case to make special consecrated breads (eulogies) to distribute to others. For the first Lent she spent in her cell, she did not even take bread (except on Sundays) but “roots of herbs or mallow greens without a drop of oil or salt for dressing.”

Though Radegund was self-mortifying to a point that led Fortunatus and others to fear for her health, she ate well compared to other early saints. Fortunatus says that once she was consecrated, she ate “nothing but legumes and green vegetables”; it seems likely that she continued to eat breads of the humbler grains as well. While this was hardly extravagant, it was certainly a step beyond living on nothing but bread (and even Radegund does not seem to have added ashes to the latter). For her drink, writes Fortunatus, “she drank no drink but honeyed water or perry and would touch no undiluted wine nor any decoction of mead or fermented beer.

Again, sweetened water, pear cider and diluted wine are modest enough as drinks, but something more than St. Clothilde's (plain) water or St. Genevieve's (late in Life) milk. St. Germanus only took wine at Easter and Christmas, and then diluted it with vinegar to hide its taste. St. Winwaloe's monks mainly drank only water, though it was “sometimes boiled with a small decoction of certain wild herbs” (making it effectively the kind of infusion later French drinkers would call a tisane.)

On the other hand, Radegund's self-deprivation was all the more striking in that she actively enjoyed providing rich delicacies to others. Fortunatus himself thanks her and her “sister” Agnes on several occasions for various delicious foods they have sent him. In his hagiography, he tells how she fed sick beggars with her own hands, bringing water and napkins for each. She would even cut up the food – meat and other delicacies she would never touch herself – and serve it. On Sundays, she went so far as to provide them a drink of undiluted sweet wine.

For a food historian, it is also interesting to note what she did not eat. The fact that she used no salt or oil on her greens shows that that was exceptional, and that both were otherwise typically used on salads (vinegar on the other hand was not included until later). Similarly, it is noted that St. Germanus ate “no wheat bread, no wine, no vinegar, no oil, nor pulse, and never used either salt or other condiments.” As minimal as it is, this list of negatives gives us an idea what people of the time otherwise considered standard fare. (Note that Germanus rejected vinegar here when it enhanced the meal; whereas he used it, we are told just after, to prevent wine from being pleasurable.)

More strikingly, one might think that a nun would have felt comfortable eating fish, yet Fortunatus tells us that Radegund ate “not fruit nor fish nor eggs.” St. Winwaloe did not explicitly allow fish, which means it was probably forbidden, strangely, to the same Breton monks who could eat shell-fish once a week. The life of St. Germanus does not mention it at all in discussing his food.

In a rare passage, St. Leutfred (d. 738), having been served fish, says, “Everything of this sort, Leutfred's clergy does not eat.”

Much later St. Bruno explicitly avoided fish, though he would accept it when it was given as alms. St. John of Matha (d. 1213), who founded the Order of the Holy Trinity in 1198, allowed his monks a much broader range of foods – bread, pulse, herbs, eggs, oil, milk, cheese, fruit – but they could only eat fish, like meat, on feast days and then only if donated.

Generally, fish was not necessarily forbidden – several tales tell of fish being miraculously provided to saints – but did not have the special status it later would have. Neither saints nor those around them yet had any idea of a “fish day”.

If much of this sounds extreme, it may have appeared so to people of the time as well. It was one thing for a saint to observe such limits. But as more communities were established, similar rigor was often demanded of a founder's followers.

Gregory of Tours tells the story of the hard-edged St. Lupicin of Lauconne (or of Jura; end fourth c. – 480/493) arriving at one of the communities he had founded as the meal was being prepared:
There he saw a great preparation of various dishes, like a multitude of fish piled up, and he said in his heart: "it is not good that monks, whose life is solitary, use such unsuitable preparations." And at once he had prepared a large copper cauldron, and when the latter placed on the fire began to heat up, he put together all the prepared foods, the fish with the greens and the pulse, and everything intended for the monks' meals, then he said: "Now let the brothers satisfy themselves with this gruel, because they must not give themselves over to delights which can distract them from their divine occupations."
The result? Twelve brothers at once left in a huff (iracundia inflammati; "inflamed with ire") and the saint's brother, Romain, told him, "If it was to cause the dispersal of our brothers, please Heaven that you had never gone to them!" If events here ultimately worked out to Lupicin's satisfaction, over time accounts like those cited earlier would become rarer and the rules of monasteries more adapted to human frailty. But that is a subject for another post.


Butler, The lives of the fathers, martyrs, and other principal saints, V2 1866

Monumenta Germaniae historica inde ab anno Christi quingentesimo ..., V3  1896

Addis, “Carthusians”, A Catholic Dictionary: Containing Some Account of the Doctrine, Discipline …  1893

Lipkowitz, Words to Eat By: Five Foods and the Culinary History of the English Language 2011

“Barley Bread”, The Healthy Eating Site

Kohler, “Étude critique sur le texte de la vie Latine de Sainte-Geneviève de Paris”, Bibliothèque de l'École des Hautes Études, no 48 1881

"Leutfred (Leufroy), St.",

The Life of the Holy Radegund, by Venantius Fortunatus

Saint Gregory (Bishop of Tours), Les livres des miracles et autres opuscules de Georges Florent ..., V4 1862

Saint Gregory (Bishop of Tours), Histoire ecclésiastique des Francs, Issue 7 1837

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Christmas in early Medieval France

In discussing drunkenness, I cited the first known royal edict in France, from Childebert I (ruled 511 - 558). That text speaks of those who spend “whole nights in drunkenness, scurrility or singing, even on the holy days of Easter, Christmas Day, and the rest of the feast-days... dancers go about the towns.”
Note that, on the one hand, Childebert here is condemning pagan behavior; on the other hand, he is addressing Christians. But at this early point in French history, many were not only new Christians, still steeped in pagan practice, but may very well have lived in intimacy with others who worshiped Thor, or Ceres, or even long-forgotten Celtic deities. Though France became a Christian country at the start of the monarchy, when Clovis converted, not all of his followers converted with him.
The problem of pagan behavior by Christians would be an issue in France for centuries, and not least on the holidays, when many no doubt found it natural to celebrate their new religion in the same ways their ancestors had the old. In 578, a Council at Auxerre condemned “making oneself like a cow or a stag, or observing diabolical gift-giving” at New Year's (Non licet kalendis Januarii vitulà aut cervolo facere, vel strennas diabolicas observare). The Church would ultimately convince people not to wear horns or other disguises (at least until Halloween came along); it had less success with New Year's gifts, whose Latin name – strenna – became the French word étrennes, for gifts now given on Christmas, but long “observed” on New Year's.
Ironically, these condemnations provide us with something that is extremely rare: a glimpse at how people in early Medieval France celebrated the holidays. Certainly not all indulged in old pagan revels, but the fact that paganism was still an issue for Charlemagne suggests that the behavior noted by Childebert and the Council persisted for some time.
It could not have helped that, as the Catholic Encyclopedia notes, the feast itself probably had a pagan origin: “The well-known solar feast... of Natalis Invicti, celebrated on 25 December, has a strong claim on the responsibility for our December date.” (The same writer adds, however, “The origin of Christmas should not be sought in the Saturnalia (1-23 December)”; though that question may not be settled.)
For a purely Christian close-up of the time, we have the vivid but very fragmentary testimony of the poet-bishop Fortunatus (c. 530-609):
Today I have celebrated the joyous and holy anniversary of Christmas, returned once again in the world. Everywhere arrives, principally, cheese, round wooden bowls garnished with meat, with poultry, with all the dishes in a word that one offers everybody at this time, and which each has long been accustomed to receive.
Christians too, then, feasted and exchanged, at the least, food, even if they did so less scandalously.

For more about the early Middle Ages
Feasting with the Franks

The First French Medieval Food

Childebert's reference to Christmas and Easter make it plain that these two days already had special importance, though that of Christmas, at least, was still relatively recent:
Christmas was not among the earliest festivals of the Church. Irenaeus and Tertullian omit it from their lists of feasts; Origen, glancing perhaps at the discreditable imperial Natalitia, asserts... that in the Scriptures sinners alone, not saints, celebrate their birthday; Arnobius... can still ridicule the "birthdays" of the gods....
The first evidence of the feast is from Egypt....[a]bout A.D. 200...
According to another history of the holiday, “the first mention of a Nativity feast on December 25 is found in a Roman document known as the Philocalian Calendar, dating from the year 354, but embodying an older document evidently belonging to the year 336.”

(The modern French word for it, Noël, would not appear until about the twelfth century and is believed to be a corruption of Natalis, from Natalis Domini.)

By Merovingian times, there is no doubt the Church itself considered it important, though its place may have become more established over time. This can be detected in the evolution of monastic rules. St. Caesarius' rule (c. 500) speaks only of “major feasts”, but later rules and even lists of rents single out Easter and Christmas as special days.

One sign of the holiday's importance is that it was a favored moment for baptisms. Clovis himself was baptized (by St. Remy) on Christmas. Later, Gontram (ruled 584-587) doubted the paternity of his nephew, Clothar II, because the boy had not been baptized on Christmas, nor on Easter or the feast of Saint John.

The sanctity of the holiday was not sufficient to ward off the violence found all through Gregory de Tours' “History of the Franks”:
  • In the third year of [the] bishopric [of bishop Francilion of Tours], while the holy night of Christmas brought joy among the people, this bishop having asked for drink in coming down from the vigils, a slave stepped forward at once and offered him the cup. As soon as he had drunk, he gave up the ghost, making it likely he was poisoned.”
  • At one point a kind of civil war arose between the citizens of Tours. On Christmas, the local priest sent a messenger to invite several people to dine at his place. "But this boy arriving at the place where he was sent was struck with a knife by one of the guests, causing him to die at once." This understandably inflamed feelings and led to further violence, including more murders.
  • One battle took place on Christmas Day itself.
  • An arch-deacon who was implicated in the theft of a shipment of oil (probably at Marseille) was celebrating the Christmas service and had just invited the bishop to approach the altar when Albin, the governor of Provence, grabbed him, threw him to his feet and put him in prison, ignoring all pleas to release him until the next day so he could celebrate the service. Says Gregory, "Albin had no fear nor respect for the holy solemnity to so take away a Minister of the Lord's Altar." King Sigibert (ruled 561-575) seems to have felt differently – he ordered Albin to repay four times over what he fined the arch-deacon.
After King Sigibert was killed, his widow stayed in Paris. "Duke Gundebaud secretly took the little Childebert [II], son of the late king, and having saved him from death..., he gathered the peoples on whom his father had exercised the sovereign power, and made him King [575-596], although he had barely turned five years old: and he began his Reign on the very day of Christmas.” It is not clear however if Christmas had a special status for coronations or if Gundebaud simply wanted to hasten the child's consecration as king. (Charlemagne would famously be crowned Emperor on Christmas of 800, which may have been a conscious effort to associate him with the year's most resplendent holiday, but may also have been due to the supposedly improvised nature of the event.)

More fortuitously, Venerand of Clermont, said to be a very holy bishop, died on Christmas Eve "and the very morning of the holiday he had a solemn funeral procession".

Still, in all this darkness, Gregory, like Fortunatus, shows Christmas, overall, as a time of rejoicing, even if it was not sufficient to restrain the horrors of the times. It would still be in 829 – a difficult year for France overall –, when we get a rare glimpse of Louis the Pious, returning to Aix-La-Chapelle, where he “celebrated the most sacred day of the Nativity with great gladness and joy.”.

Among the more curious artifacts of the holiday are those in a work written around 650-655 by a monk named Marculfe. In something very like a Medieval secretary's handbook, Marculfe provides a series of fill-in-the-blank forms and letters for every occasion – something which was probably very useful in a time of limited literacy. This includes two brief, but effusive, notes to be addressed to a king (“your Clemency”) or a bishop (“your Holiness”) for Christmas. If these are not quite Christmas cards, they nonetheless show that the tradition of written Christmas greetings dates to at least this period (if only for a few).

What about Christmas carols? Songs were one of the few forms of entertainment in this period and it would be surprising if some of them were not about Christmas. Unfortunately, the more popular ones – that is, the folk songs – would not have interested those using precious writing materials to set things down. Of the more sophisticated hymns, perhaps the earliest was written by Knotker the Stammerer (c. 840-912), best known as “The Monk of St. Gall”, who wrote the second most famous biography of Charlemagne. Also a musician, he may or may not have invented a type of religious lyric called the “sequence”, but he probably did write the hymn that begins “Natus ante saecula Dei filius”, of which the following is a very approximate translation:

On Christmas.

Born before the ages, Son of God,
Invisible, infinite,
By whom are made the workings of the heavens, and the earth,

The sea, and all that live in them,
By whom days and hours decline
And again return.

Of whom the angels on high
Together always sing.

You took this fragile body
With no stain of original sin

From the flesh of the Virgin Mary.
This guilt of the first parent,
Eve's shameful wantonness.

Of this present brief day, speak,
Resplendent, grown longer,

That the true Sun shine its light
Driving from the old world
What caused shadows.

A new star drives out night,
Light I know that awed
the eyes of the Magi.

No group of teachers lacks
Light, that was touched
by the brilliance of the army of God.

Rejoice, Mother of God,
Surrounded instead of midwives
By the song of angels praising God.

Christ, the only father, who
For our sake took human form,
Comfort your supplicants:

And whose share will be to you
worthy, Jesus, graciously
To receive their prayers,

That they your divinity
Share, God, so
Grant us, only God.

Otherwise, the one population whose practices are best known in this period are monks. The importance of Christmas is reflected in the difference in their rations in the various rules. The early rule of St. Caesarius only says that during the important holidays monks were to receive an additional dish and “something fresh added from what is sweet” (presumably fruit, though honey might have been the Christmas option).

Later rules make it plain that Easter and Christmas were moments of some relaxation in the normal monastic severity, but are only moderately more indulgent. When Charlemagne was considering importing practices from the Italian monastery of Mount Cassino, Theodomar, writing to describe these, said the monks got more cheese or another food at Christmas and that poultry was distributed, which they were allowed to eat for eight days (so long as any remained). The 817 Council at Aix-la-Chappelle which forbade meat to the monks also allowed them to eat poultry for eight days at Christmas and Easter. But the dispensation which allowed monks to use animal fat in their meals (since olive oil was hard to get in some places) was suspended for twenty days before Christmas.

On feast days at Corbie in 822, “provenders” (primarily workers) got an extra half vassal's loaf, a half-pound of cooked food and a cup of wine or the same beer as the monks. The brothers themselves were obliged to abstain from meat during the eighth day after Christmas (the “octave”), but on Easter and Christmas and the days right after, they got poultry (fowl, chicken or goose), and three additional cups of wine.

In his constitution (c. 823-833) for the Fontanelle Abbey, Saint Ansegisus (c. 770 – 833 or 834) lists the rents from different of the monastery's properties. Where these were in food, they were typically beans, peas or eggs. But at Christmas and Easter, several domains were required to provide fattened geese and chickens, as well as normal chickens, eggs and honey; all this presumably for improved rations for the monks.

These Christmas indulgences were relatively modest, though monks normally constrained to essentially vegetarian diets would have found them great delicacies. But a document found at the Cathedral of Strasbourg, probably dating from the ninth century, shows the canons there getting far better rations. Already, it is surprising to see that, living under the rule of Chrodegang, they had meat at both dinner and supper for normal meals, and all the bread they wanted. (Why they would have been excused from the 817 prohibition on meat is not clear). But on a number of holidays (well beyond Christmas and Easter), the canon on duty in the kitchen got (presumably for everyone) three muids of wheat, three one year old pigs, three suckling pigs, an adult, forty-eight chickens, twelve cheeses, one hundred and ten eggs, a half-bucket of milk, a half pound of pepper, “enough” honey and six pails of wine. (Though no vegetables or legumes are mentioned here, these may have been taken directly from the garden and so would not appear in accounts.) The pepper alone – a costly item all through the early Middle Ages – would have made this a luxurious meal.

Beyond the better food, monks in this period may have had another reason to look forward to Christmas and Easter. In some versions of additions Louis the Pious made to the 817 canons, it is stated that monks should “bathe only at Christmas and at Easter”; with the additional stipulation that (to avoid any scandalous activities) they should do so separately. As shocking as this may be to modern sensibilities, it made perfect sense to a Church that regarded any attention to the body as a distraction from the spiritual. Bathing in particular was suspect, given its history as a Roman indulgence.

How the monks felt about such bi-annual opportunities for personal hygiene is not recorded. But it may well be that outsiders who dealt with them after such rare cleansings were only too tempted to shout: Alleluia!


Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. November 1, 1908. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York
Migne, Remigii, monachi S. Germani antissiodorensis, beati Notkeri Balbuli S. Galli monachi, Opera omnia 1853
Pertz, Monumenta Germaniae historica inde ab anno Christi quingentesimo usque ad annum millesimum et quingentesimum: ScriptorumV2 1829

Charles Gérard, L'ancienne Alsace à table: étudehistorique et archéologique sur l'alimentation, les moeurs et lesusages épulaires de l'ancienne province d'Alsace1877

Alfred Boretius, Victor Kraus ,Monumenta Germaniae historica: Capitularia regum Francorum, V1-2 1883

Lynda L. Coon, Dark Age Bodies: Gender and Monastic Practice in the Early Medieval West  2011

Friday, December 13, 2013

Of peas, beans, monks and kings

Charlemagne's Capitulary De Villis includes a long list of salads, herbs and vegetables that are to be grown on his estates: 
lily, roses, fenugreek, costmary, sage, rue, southernwood, cucumbers, pumpkins, gourds, [some kind of bean], cumin, rosemary, caraway, chick-pea, squill, gladiolus, tarragon, anise, colocynth, chicory, ammi, sesili, lettuces, spider’s foot, rocket salad, garden cress, burdock, penny-royal, hemlock, parsley, celery, lovage, juniper, dill, sweet fennel, endive, dittany, white mustard, summer savory, water mint, garden mint, wild mint, tansy, catnip, centaury, garden poppy, beets, hazelwort, marshmallows, mallows, carrots, parsnip, orach, [amaranth], kohlrabi, cabbages, onions, chives, leeks, radishes, shallots, cibols, garlic, madder, teazles, broad beans, peas, coriander, chervil, capers, clary.
Extensive as it, this list (which can be variously translated) includes only four legumes: fasiolus (sometimes translated as “kidney bean”), chick peas, broad beans and peas. (Note that peas at this point were “field peas”; that is, white and mature, not green and young.)

De Villis was a theoretical document, but luckily a few inventories of actual estates have survived. Legumes are listed for only two of these. At Annapes, the king's agents found: “one modius of beans, 12 modii of peas.” Strangely, at Staffelsee, “one sextarius of lentils” is inventoried, even though De Villis does not specify that item.

An earlier document, from 716, confirms a previous one, specifying what monks from Corbie (in Picardy) were to be given when they traveled to Fos (near Marseille) to pick up various imported goods. Along with various meats, chickens, eggs, etc. they were allotted one legume; the pea. A list of rents for several domains of the monastery at Saint-Maur-des-Fosses mainly lists various animals, wine and wheat etc. but the rent for one domain includes another: the broad bean.

Mentions of specific legumes are rare in early documents, but these mentions of, above all, peas (Pisum sativum) and broad beans (Vicia faba) echo what is found in archaeology – with the one wrinkle that often, instead of true broad beans, what has actually been found is its smaller cousin, the horse-bean (Vicia faba var. minor), (raising the question of whether written references to the “broad bean” may sometimes actually be to the smaller bean). At a Carolingian site in Auvergne, peas and horse beans were the only legumes found. Both peas and broad beans (and possibly horse beans) have been found at Dury, a site in Picardy, from between the IXth and XIIth centuries. Marie-Pierre Ruas highlights what is also apparent in written records: the dominance of these two legumes (taking broad beans and horse beans as variants of one type) grew under the Franks:
These two legumes are regularly identified in sites from the historic epoch. Their frequency clearly increases after the Gallo-Roman centuries. By the farinaceous nature of their grains and the possibility of storing them for a long time, they constitute along with cereals the populations' basic vegetable food.

They were certainly not unknown before that. At a number of prehistoric sites, peas, broad beans and horse beans have been found and all three can be considered ancient in France. But already under the Gauls, another pulse was found: the lentil. At a Gallic oppidum, for instance, lentils were found together with peas.

With Roman domination, lentils became commonplace. Lentils, peas and broad beans have all been found in a Gallo-Roman site in the north of France. Says Ruas: "Lentil is the pulse of the Gallo-Roman world (present in 83% of the sites)... it is often associated with Pisum sativum.” 

The three legumes were still found together at the start of the Medieval period; Salic law addresses theft from bean, pea or lentil fields. Writing in the sixth century, Anthimus does not (in most copies) mention peas at all. He does comment on broad beans: “Whole broad beans, well cooked, either in gravy or in seasoned oil or salt, are more fit than these beans crushed because they weigh on the stomach.” But he pays most attention to lentils, for which he provides one of the few actual recipes in his medical text:
Lentils are good washed and well boiled in pure water, so that their first hot water is poured out and a reasonable amount more of hot water put in, not too much, and so cook it slowly on the coals, so that when it has been almost cooked, add a little vinegar for flavor. And add the spice called Syrian sumac, a spoonful in powder, and sprinkle it on the lentils while on the fire and mix well. Take it off the fire and eat it. However, for flavor, you should add oleo gremiale while cooking in the second water; put in one good spoonful of coriander or two of its roots, not in pieces, but whole, and a little salt for taste.
But as we have seen, lentils are absent from many digs for later centuries. Ruas: “Lens culinaris appears to become of less importance from the Early Middle Ages onwards, [but] the frequency of Pisum increases up to the Late Middle Ages, both in rural and urban sites." The same was true of the horse bean, of which she writes:
Horse bean is moderately frequent during the Roman period, but its cultivation increases undeniably during the Middle Ages. Eventually, it becomes the principal pulse.... The success of this pulse could [in part] be derived from its more rigid stalks, which allow weeding, and a better adaptation to low temperatures than Lens. Vicia faba is also able to deal with a broader variety of soils.
The German influence probably also played a part; in Germany itself, writes Malcolm Todd, “barley, wheat, flax, peas and beans" were the main crops. (In Southwestern Germany, the Alamanni did grow both peas and lentils, but they already were in close relations with Romans at the end of the Empire.) If early aristocratic Franks, like Theuderic, might have retained some Roman taste for lentils, over time they seem to have preferred what was culturally familiar; as we have seen, Charlemagne (or his close advisers) did not even think to include lentils in De Villis, even if one estate (apparently on its own) grew them.

The lentil did not completely disappear in France. Storehouses from the start of the seventh century found in the Meuse had held lentils along with peas and horse beans. At a Carolingian site in Calvados, horse beans and lentils were the only pulses found. But such finds are rare; and by the late Medieval period, when cookbooks start to appear, no recipe appears for lentils.

Chick peas
In the South, another legume co-existed with beans and peas: the chick pea. “In Mediterranean France Pisum is replaced by Cicer arietinum, though there are records of pea from Montaigut." In looking at southern foods in the Middle Ages, Ruas writes: “The bean dominates in the South-West context, the Pyrenees included. While the pea is more frequent in this same area as also in Provence-Corsica, the chick pea appears as much as the bean in eastern Languedoc.” Overall: “Chickpea is sporadically found during all the periods except the High Middle Ages, but only in Southern France. This could mean that there was no transport of Cicer to the northern districts, as there had been during Roman times.” (One documented exception, from the eighth century, is that of the cellerar of Corbie, who took delivery of 150 pounds of cicer near Marseille to transport back to Picardy.)

They were unlikely to have been grown as far north as Metz, where Anthimus visited Theuderic. But they may still have been transported north at this early point. Whether he saw them there or not, it is not surprising that Anthimus, with his Graeco-Roman background, included them in his review: “Chick peas are good if well-boiled until completely liquified with oil and salt on them, and are also suitable for the kidneys. However they strictly cannot be recommended for the healthy to eat raw, because they can cause serious flatulence and bad indigestion and corruption of the stomach.” Some versions of his manuscript also contain this: “Softened black and white chick peas promote urine and certainly nourish. That in them which is fleshy when truly sweet promotes urine and voiding.”

Monks and cooks
Otherwise, of the dominant pair, the broad bean was somewhat more successful, especially as Christian fasting became more restrictive. When St. Bernard of Clairvaux founded the abbey of Cluny in the twelfth centuries, broad beans were so central to his monks' diet that he referenced them in several sermons. In one, he says that “greens, broad beans, gruel, a coarse bread with water disgust those at rest, but are delights to those who take great exercise”; in another, he mocks those who bellies were filled with beans looking down on more luxurious eaters, saying that it was better to use a little fat on one's food than to stuff oneself with “windy beans”.

The rules for the order also include what may be the first detailed recipe since Anthimus: for broad beans.

The monks are told to wash the beans carefully three times in water, then soak them overnight in a well-covered cauldron. The next morning they are to wash them three times again and then put them on the fire. While these cook, they are to skin off the froth which rises while boiling (using a slotted spoon to avoid accidentally gathering any beans in the process) and stir the beans to avoid their burning on the bottom. The beans are ready when their skins begin to burst, at which point the monks are to take them off the fire and cool them with three rinses of cold water, then stir them again and put them in a tightly covered pot. After their meeting, they are to reheat the beans, cooking a bit of thick bacon with them and later squeezing the fat from it to pour over the vegetables (an indulgence granted monks because olive oil was hard to obtain in many parts of France).

No other food is singled out this way in the rule.

Ecclesiastics were certainly not unaware of the side effects of eating beans. When Hincmar of Reims was sick, his fellow bishop Pardulus of Laon sent him medical advice, including the direction to “before rising from the table, take a measure of well-purged broad beans cooked with very pure fat.” This was intended to drive out Hincmar's phlegm and stir up the foods he had previously eaten, “not without noise”.

In the late twelfth century, broad beans were basic enough to be set as part of the payment for the carpenter at St. Germain des Près, who, on ordinary days, got two white and two dark loaves, a half sexter of wine, and a generale with broad beans. (The “general” probably consisted only of the beans themselves, though it may also have included cheese or thick bacon.)

Even as food became frankly luxurious (for some), these two legumes remained the main ones in France. In his Viandier, Taillevent offers several recipes for both peas and beans, including one that can be made with either. In several recipes, he also recommends puréed peas as a thickener. 

The author of the Menagier de Paris also offers several recipes for both. Intriguingly, he makes a distinction between old and new peas, which in effect means he may have been using green peas well before they become an Early Modern innovation. Also intriguing is the fact that he emphasizes the importance of the kind of water used: “usually peas do not cook well in well water: and in some places they cook well in water from fountains and river water, as in Paris, and in others, they only cook in water from fountains.” This kind of distinction was very important to Old Regime French bakers, but it is very rare to see it applied to cooking food, and in fact the author here only mentions it again in regard to... hazelnuts. He also provides a number of recipes for beans, again distinguishing between old and new (a distinction which did not have the same success as for peas). Strangely, though peas and beans are treated similarly in a number of ways, he makes no distinction in the water used for cooking beans.

The Latin Tractatus de modo preparandi et condiendi omnia cibaria, a lesser-known cookbook from the same century, also includes several recipes for both.

Again, none of these works mention lentils at all. By the eighteenth century, these had long fallen into frank disrepute, as Diderot's Encyclopédie noted: "Doctors have always regarded lentils as the worst of all vegetables... More modern authors have not in truth said as much ill of lentils, but they all agree in viewing them as a rather bad food."

As it turns out, broad beans may have offered more cause for worry. Daniel Gourevitch is only one of several authors to address the subject of favism, and its implications:
The broad bean... consumed in large quantities during a period of several months, can be dangerous, responsible for cases of favism...
This... illness puts into play "nature and nurture", genetics and culture, in a way too complex to examine here. One must say nonetheless that the broad bean.. constitutes an important source of protein.... [The research of Mirko Grmek has shown that] favism, induced by the ingestion of broad beans (or even, among the most sensitive subjects, by simply inhaling their pollen), particularly common in the Mediterranean region, is characterized by anemia, indicated by colorless urines, jaundice, nauseas, dizzy spells, vomiting... This predisposition goes together with an enzyme defect (G6PD). Well then the bean has on the affected individuals the same effect as an antimalarial: from which comes the hypothesis that the bean itself might have anti-malarial properties... an exemplary case of a relationship between culture and genetics.

Though the Romans did eat broad beans, they, like others from the Mediterranean region, had their doubts about doing so; says Pliny:
It is generally thought that they dull the senses, and cause sleepless nights attended with dreams. Hence it is that the bean has been condemned by Pythagoras; though, according to some, the reason for this denunciation was the belief which he entertained that the souls of the dead are enclosed in the bean: it is for this reason, too, that beans are used in the funereal banquets of the Parentalia. According to Varro, it is for a similar cause that the Flamen abstains from eating beans: in addition to which, on the blossom of the bean, there are certain letters of ill omen to be found.
Albeit intuitively then, they and others from the Mediterranean region saw good reason to, if not avoid broad beans, not eat great quantities of them. Conversely, the Franks had no such vulnerability; seen in this light, the bean's later success makes all the more sense.


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