The Science of Cooking, on Making ‘Apple Porridge’

Slice the apple into wide pieces, peel it, put it into a clean pot and add some wine, honey and butter, cook it, mash it with your spoon, once you’re about to serve it, add butter and some sugar. 

Prince of Transylvania’s Court Chef, The Science of Cooking (c.1580)

Top-notch YouTuber Max Miller recently posted a new video on his Tasting History channel about the vampire’s legendary loathing of garlic, along with a recipe for ‘beef in garlic harvester’s sauce[1]. The recipe came from a late sixteenth century manuscript – The Science of Cooking – that has been translated at the behest (and personal expense) of medieval history enthusiast Glenn Gorsuch and very generously made available online, for free (via the previous link).

Of course, the first thing I had to do – after watching Max’s excellent episode – was download a copy of the translated manuscript to see what use the sixteenth century Transylvanians were typically making of their orchard produce.

It turns out that they were using apples and crab apples quite a lot, mainly as components of sweet or spicy sauces to accompany pretty much any sort of meat or fish dish. There was also small section of plum dishes – mainly methods for stewing dried or raw plums with various spices – and apple dishes, one of which is featured above, plus a few more for “pears and other smaller things”[2].

Back to the selected recipe: it seems very much to be a case of one cook’s porridge is another cook’s compôte; slicing and stewing down apples with wine, honey and butter sounds pretty compôte-ish to me. I’d say if you chuck in some oatmeal and a bit of cream, then you’ve got yourself the makings of a pretty good porridge. But hey, who am I to argue with the Prince of Transylvania’s court chef?

I think I’ll give this variant on porridge <cough>compôte</cough> a try myself at some point, although I’ll probably swap the wine for cider, and add some spices. Butter and honey though, they definitely sound good to me. If you’re similarly inspired, please do feel free to leave a comment below to let me know how you get on, or you can email me with your notes and photos.


1 Which looked and sounded delicious…
2 This is rather intriguing; does that mean pears were considered a ‘small’ fruit, and if so does that mean they were eating wild pears rather than cultivated varieties? Or does ‘smaller’ mean something else in this context, perhaps ‘humble’?

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