Le Viandier de Taillevent - Introduction


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    This translation is not intended to be a cookbook, but rather a source document about cooking in France in the years 1375-1390.

    Those interested in the cuisine of the Middle Ages will find much to interest them in this unusual document. The sections on Remedies for Wines and on Painted Subtleties may be particularly intriguing.

    The recipes are definitely not complete in the modern sense. Few of the recipes indicate ingredient quantities or cooking times. Taillevent assumes a considerable degree of prior culinary training.

    The adventurous cook with prior experience in re-creating medieval dishes will find much inspiration here. I have tried two of the recipes (Milk Tarts and Veal Ragout), with prizewinning results.

    For background material on cooking in the period I refer you to the many excellent books on the subject. Some are listed in the Bibliography. You will find a few notes on matters of particular relevance in the English Glossary.

Taillevent and Le Viandier

    Le Viandier is frequently described as the first cook book of importance. Indeed, in Larousse Gastronomique it is the only one mentioned after Roman times prior to 1543.

    The brief historical information in this introduction is taken from the edition of Le Viandier by Pichon and Vicaire.

    Guillaume Tirel, also called Taillevent, was probably born about 1310 and died in 1395. He started as a "kitchen boy" under Charles IV, rose to "first cook of the king" under Charles V, and eventually became "master of the kitchen stores of the king" under Charles VI.

    Le Viandier de Taillevent was probably written for Charles V between 1373 and 1380, with a second edition (the Vatican Library manuscript) probably written between 1386 and 1393. It rapidly became the authority on culinary matters. When printing was introduced it went through at least 15 editions between about 1490 and 1604. It was not the first cookbook written in French, but it was the earliest successful one.




    Pichon and Vicaire based their first edition (1892) on a manuscript in the French Bibliotheque Nationale. At that time only three manuscripts were thought to exist. In their transcription of the manuscript, they respected the medieval grammar and spelling of words, but punctuated the text, added accents and expanded abbreviations.

    Their second edition (1893) was augmented by an important new manuscript discovered in the Vatican Library. This manuscript was "infinitely more correct" than any of the three previously known and included an entirely new second half. The first half omitted 9 recipes and added 23 new ones, for a total of 156. It also included a table of contents. The second half added 10 remedies for spoiled wines, 31 new recipes and 5 sets of instructions for constructing large painted subtleties. The 9 missing recipes from the first half, and 8 other useful recipes, are here included as Additional Recipes.

    The Vatican Library manuscript is probably based on a copy updated by Taillevent himself. The second half was possibly added sometime after 1386, when Taillevent is first mentioned as being in charge of the royal kitchen stores, which would include charge of the wine cellars. It was also probably before 1393, when the wild man costume described in 'A tower' would have suddenly become singularly unpopular. At the famous 'Bal des Ardents' the King and five others were dressed as wild men, their costumes caught fire, and four of his companions were horribly burned to death.

    The third edition (1967), edited by Martinet, includes a photographic reproduction of a fifth manuscript, from the cantonal library in Sion. It contains more or less the recipes found in the manuscript in the Bibliotheque Nationale and in the first half of the manuscript in the Vatican Library. Aebischer in 1953 dated this manuscript between about 1250 and 1320. This would indicate that for the first half of his viandier, at least, Taillevent was borrowing largely from an earlier work.

    Dr. G. Donovan has observed that the style of the medieval French in Le Viandier is "elegant, but not pretentious", as would befit the master cook of the king of France.




The Translation

    This translation is based on the manuscript from the Vatican Library as transcribed by Pichon and Vicaire.

    Significant changes or additions by Pichon and Vicaire, or by myself, are enclosed in square brackets []. In order to keep the translation uncluttered, most alterations about which I believe there can be no doubt are not so indicated. Many of the words added for clarification were obtained by extensive comparison of the Vatican Library recipes with recipes from other sources.

    Pichon and Vicaire in their edition suggested modern French meanings for many of the medieval French words. The French Glossary includes discussion of those words for which I feel there is a different meaning than their suggestion. There are some medieval French words, mostly in recipe titles, for which no reasonable translations exist. If the Oxford English Dictionary gives an English spelling for the word, I have used that. Words still in the original French (except names of sauces) have been italicized.

    I have usually tried to use words current and common in North American English. To that end I have checked all specialized words against Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary. This has sometimes meant the selection of a less exact term than one in the Oxford English Dictionary. Some words remain which are not to be found in Webster's, and these are included in the English Glossary. Where several translations are possible, I have usually chosen the English word that is closest (in etymology or meaning) to the medieval French original.

    However, when such a choice would seem strange or even humourous to the modern ear, I have chosen a more common word ('crush' instead of 'bray', 'bright' instead of 'gay', 'meat' instead of 'flesh', 'meat' instead of 'solid matter', 'soup' instead of 'brewis', 'dark meat' instead of 'brawn', and so on).

    In several places where it appears that the author was probably dictating to a scribe and had used 'son' (his), I have substituted 'votre' (your).

    The names of sauces, spice mixtures and recipes have been capitalized throughout to make them more obvious in context (for example, Cameline, Fine Powder and Perch Mash).




    I have rearranged the entries in Taillevent's table of contents for the first half so that they are in the same order as the recipes, and have added entries for recipes which were not so listed, including all the recipes from the second half. Table of contents entries for which there are no corresponding recipes have the notation '[absent]'.

    In the second half of the Vatican Library manuscript I have made one significant rearrangement. The recipe title Gilded Dishes has been promoted to a section title for the next four recipes.

    Early drafts of this translation attempted to maintain the value of the translation as a 'source document' by preserving faithfully the words and word order of the original. Needless to say, the result was not always unambiguous or easy to read. Discussions with Dr. G. Donovan of the University of Calgary, for which I am most thankful, have convinced me that this was a mistake. I have therefore taken considerable liberties with the original (including the extensive use of parentheses) in order to produce a translation that is clear and easy to read, while preserving much of its valuable flavour and detail. In particular, I have made an attempt to resolve each ambiguity and omission in the original. I have very significantly shortened the text by removing wordiness, repetition and long strings of 'and then'. I have removed most of what would today be considered legalese ('of the said', 'the aforementioned', 'let it be cooked', and so on). On the other hand, I have deliberately retained such phrases as 'half a quarter of an hour' for their historical value.


    I would like to thank Dr. Gary Donovan of the French Department of the University of Calgary, Muriel Doris, Richard Fietz, David Dendy, Marcia Monthey and Pam Perryman for their assistance and encouragement. I would also like to thank Barbara Santich and Professor Emeritus J. G. Cornell, both of Adelaide, Australia, for valuable written comments on an earlier draft. The errors that still remain in this translation, however, I wish to claim for my own.

Calgary, 26 February 1989





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