Friday, August 22, 2014

An anniversary, an overview, a break

Last week's post was the 52nd weekly post since I revived and repurposed a moribund blog. That makes this as good a time as any to take a break, as well as a look back.

For the last year, I have tried to maintain a steady “publication” rhythm of posting each Friday evening. But when I return to this blog, I expect to follow a more occasional pace. Realistically, this will not matter to most readers; experience shows that most people find posts here long after they first go up, often through forwarding by others.

Also, when I revived this blog, it was with the view of exploring material for two different books I am working on: one on early medieval French food, the other on the history of French bread. In practice, however, I have drifted more towards the medieval side, perhaps only because research on that side is more challenging. I expect my future posts to lean more towards the bread history side. But who knows?

With this of course there will always be wild cards, as there have through this last year.

With that, a look at this past year's hits – and not.

Popular posts

By far the most popular post on this blog has been the one exploring a common myth: that people in the Middle Ages drank beer and wine to avoid bad water. This is perhaps not so surprising; most people have heard some version of this claim and more than one is surprised to see it methodically demolished. What is perhaps more surprising is that for almost two months the post was barely noticed. Then, after a brief run-up, views again froze for several weeks – until, all of a sudden, a rush of forwards drove views up by the tens of thousands over several days. After that movement peaked, the trend has been more modest, but continues apace nonetheless.

Perhaps more surprising is the fact that the most popular post after that seems to have spread with virtually no public forwards and for, honestly, completely unknown reasons. This is the post on drinks other than beer, wine and water used in the Middle Ages.

Drinks in general seem to be a popular topic – the third most popular post has been on early medieval wine. But of course wine in general is increasingly popular as an interest.

This said, the most popular post after that is on early medieval cheeses. Can't have the one without the other?

It is perhaps not so surprising that the next most popular post is on recipes from medieval medical texts. For a long time, only a handful of medieval recipe books have been known. Any new possibilities are likely to interest those seeking to make more medieval dishes, and medical works are an under-used source of recipes.

No? Really?

If the success of some posts comes as a surprise, the lack of success of others shows how hard it is to predict what others will like. Not of all these were necessary unsuccessful in terms of views, just less successful than I had initially expected.

Lancelot de Casteau's Ouverture de Cuisine (1604) is a classic of early cuisine which also happens to address Belgian cuisine specifically. But Belgian cuisine in earlier centuries is rarely documented. One would think then that an earlier work on the subject would excite both those with an interest in historical food in general and Belgians in particular. Brother Leonard's fourteenth century dietetic is such a work; it includes a wealth of details not only on the food eaten in Liège in this period, but some specific regional specialties. And it is not like the four posts examining this work have been completely ignored. But certainly they have proved less exciting to my readers in general than I might have expected.

The history of Roman aqueducts which survived into the early Middle Ages would seem to be a unique and fascinating subject, as would that of snails used as funeral ornaments. But neither has attracted much attention. The story of breads which have survived in archaeology across many centuries has begun to attract some interest, but this has taken longer than I might have expected with so unique a tale.

Since horse meat has even been in the news in recent years, one would think that the long history of eating it in France would draw general interest. But that post has had only mediocre activity.

As a general note, it is simply very hard to predict what subjects, within this narrow and somewhat esoteric domain of medieval food, will interest the most readers.

An overview of topics

Though I have not followed any planning in choosing topics for my posts, as a practical matter, the great majority explore aspects of early medieval food. These can be grouped into larger topics, as they are here. Otherwise, a number have been either on late medieval food or on aspects of the period as a whole.  

Just two posts have delved into little-known aspects of Roman food. This is still arguably related to early medieval food, since so much of the preparation remained essentially Roman.

Otherwise, a few, but, just a few posts have been about bread, and then mainly at the start.

Beyond Apicius (2): recipes from other Roman sources



The water highways of Gaul

Early Medieval French wine

Stumbling through history towards beer

Getting drunk in Medieval France

Beyond wine, water and beer: what else they drank in Medieval France

And its two follow-ups for later centuries:

The later water myths: Old Regime water after the Middle Ages

Later water myths: early America

Specific foods

The small, tart plum of my eyes

Of peas, beans, monks and kings

The meat of the matter / The matter of meat

Killing Pegasus: a history of horse meat in France

Lamprey, fish ponds, and carp

Whaling in Medieval France

Spices in France in the Dark Ages

A soup for the Bishop of Tours

Saved by fire: breads in archeology

The luxury of butter

OLD REGIME CHEESE: 1. The lost cheeses of Medieval France

OLD REGIME CHEESE: 2. What, no Camembert?


A matter of courses

At the table in early medieval France

Tableware in early Medieval France


Using coins in early medieval France

Fairs and markets in France from the Gauls to the Halles

Comparing prices in medieval France


Shifts in fasting in medieval France

Food in early monastic rules

Food of the early French saints

Christmas in early Medieval France


Sources on early medieval French food

Food in Frankish laws

Food in other Germanic codes


French cities in the Dark Ages

In defense of the Franks (and other “barbarian hordes”)

The funereal snails


The early history of the Paris Halles


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

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

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


French hospital food in the Middle Ages

Beyond the peacocks: what most Medieval eaters actually ate

The doctor's blancmange: Medieval recipes from medical texts


Back to one bread?

What got a rise out of French bakers?

Saved by fire: breads in archeaology

The Yeast Paradox

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