The Forme of Cury, on Making Comadore

“COMADORE [1]. XX.IX. VII.
Take Fyges and Raisouns. pyke hem and waisshe hem clene, skalde hem in wyne. grynde hem right smale, cast sugur in the self wyne. and founde it togyder. drawe it up thurgh a straynour. & alye up the fruyt therwith. take gode peerys and Apples. pare hem and take the best, grynde hem smale and cast therto. set a pot on the fuyrer [2] with oyle and cast alle thise thynges therinne. and stere it warliche, and kepe it wel fro brennyng. and whan it is fyned cast therto powdours of gynger of canel. of galyngale. hool clowes flour of canel. & macys hoole. cast therto pynes a litel fryed in oile & salt, and whan it is ynowz fyned: take it up and do it in a vessel & lat it kele. and whan it is colde: kerue out with a knyf smale pecys of the gretnesse & of the length of a litel fyngur. & close it fast in gode past. & frye hem in oile. & serve forth.

The Forme of Cury, c. 1390 (via fulltextarchive.com)

The Forme of Cury is generally accepted to be the oldest collection of recipes and cookery methods in English that’s still in existence. Originally it was a loosely bound collection of recipes (or rather, ‘receipts’) from several vellum rolls – more akin to your granny’s old kitchen notebook than a copy of anything by Delia Smith – reported to date to c. 1390, during the reign of Richard II.

A bound edition was presented to Queen Elizabeth I and ended up in the possession of one Gustavus Brander esq. who commissioned, or gave permission to, Samuel Pegge, who published a single volume edition with extensive explanatory notes in 1780, which is where the extract above comes from.

Some crib-notes might be helpful.

For a start, ‘Cury’ doesn’t equate to ‘curry’ as we know it today. Instead, it’s derived from the Middle French cuire: to cook. And wherever you see the word ‘hem’, assume it means ‘them’. It seems the thorn (Þ, þ) character that signified the sound ‘th‘ may have gotten lost in translation somewhere along the way. As printing became more common, the Þ character gradually became replaced with a capital ‘Y’. As Wikipedia puts it: “One major reason for this was that Y existed in the printer’s type fonts that were imported from Germany or Italy, while Þ did not.[1]

Anyhow, back to Comadore: Pick and wash figs and raisins, scald them in wine (as usual with a lot of older recipes, the writer assumes that his audience – usually master cooks in grand houses – would already know how much of each ingredient to use and so rarely provides specific measurements), grind them up small (into a paste), add sugar to the wine-fruit mixture and stir it in, then pass it all through a strainer (probably to remove the pips etc. as there were no seedless grapes or raisins in the fourteenth century, except by accident). Then peel apples and pears (it doesn’t say to core them, but let’s assume), grind them up as well and add them to the mix, which should result in a fig, raisin, pear, apple and wine purée (sounds good so far).

Then put a pot on the fire, with some oil in it, and add the mixture. Stir it vigorously (? ‘warliche’ could mean ‘warlike’?) to keep it from burning. When it’s blended (? ‘fyned’ seems to fit here, but it could also mean ‘clarified’, as in the finings used in brewing..?) add ground ginger, cinnamon (‘canel’), galangal (another native of south-east asia, so not a cheap ingredient), whole cloves, finely ground (‘flour of’) cinnamon (again?) and whole mace. Or a spoonful of mixed spice. You decide how big a spoon.

Then there’s a frying stage: it seems you need to make small fritters or patties of the mixture, fry those in salted oil, then leave them to go cold. Finally, cut the cold patties into smaller, finger-length pieces, wrap those pieces of fruity stuff in good pastry or dough (? ‘gode past’) and fry those in oil, then serve them forth.

So: that’s a fruit-and-wine purée or paste, that’s fried off, cooled, cut into strips, wrapped in dough and then fried again… fourteenth century mini-doughnuts, anyone?

As always, if you do decide have a go at following this historical recipe, please do post your results in the comments, below, or email me with photos and a description.

Footnotes

Footnotes
1 Thus (or Þus), when you see a pub-sign that proclaims “Ye Olde Red Lion” you should pronounce it “The Old Red Lion”, whilst smirking smugly at anyone who says “Ye”, obviously. One to amuse and amaze your friends with.

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