Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Food: Recipes, cookbook reviews, food notes, and restaurant reviews. Unless otherwise noted, I have personally tried each recipe that gets its own page, but not necessarily recipes listed as part of a cookbook review.

Mimsy Review: A Fifteenth Century Cookry Boke

Reviewed by Jerry Stratton, February 14, 1998

Review of A Fifteenth Century Cookry Boke, with a recipe for Prymerose.

AuthorJohn L. Anderson
PublisherCharles Scribner’s Sons
Length92 pages
Book Rating5

This is not really a cook book. That is, you aren’t expected to get any useful recipes out of it. Printed in 1962, before the beginning of the “historical re-enactment” craze, it actually reprints fifteenth century recipes verbatim. They were compiled by John L. Anderson, taken from various fifteenth century (1400s) texts from museums around England. A glossary in the back explains what some of the words mean, and you need it. A few of the recipes are almost readable:

Take percely, and grynde hit wiþ vynegre & a litel brede and salt, and strayne it þurgħ a straynour, and serue it forþe.

The ‘thorn’, which shows up often, is generally pronounced ‘th’. So this reads:

Take parsely, and grind it with vinegar and a little bread and salt, and strain it through a strainer, and serve immediately.

The ‘u’ and ‘v’ are often pronounced ‘v’ and ‘u’, respectively. Those wacky ancients! But it was fairly easy to figure out that one. Now, try:

Nym Rys, an bray hem wyl, & temper hem with Almaunde mylke, & boyle it; & take Applys, & pare hem, an smal screde hem in mossellys; þrow on sugre y-now, & coloure it with Safroun, & caste þ-to gode pouder, & serue forth.

According to the dictionary, “Nym” is “take”. But “Rys” isn’t in there: the closest is “Ryse; Raise”. Take raise, and grind them well? No. Leigh Clayton wrote me and relieved my confusion: “Rys” is rice. The “y” is long. So take your rice and bray hem wyl. The book has the following sections:

  1. Fleysshe (Meat)
  2. Fysshe (Fish)
  3. Byrdys (Poultry)
  4. Mete Pyes & Tartes (sound it out)
  5. Daryoles & Other Tartes & Frittours (Meat Tarts and Fritters)
  6. Mylke, Eyroun & Notys (Milk, Eggs, and Nuts)
  7. Frutes & Flowres
  8. Potages Dyuers (Varous Soups—remember, ‘u’ is often ‘v’)
  9. Sauces pur Diuerse Viaundes (Sauce for Various Meats)
  10. Cakys, Bredes & Amydon (Cakes, Breads, and apparently some kind of sourdough; the dictionary is coquettish on what it means; in fact, it doesn’t give a definition at all, except to see the recipe, which is of course clear as mud but seems to involve leaving wet wheat out for nine days)
  11. Swetes

Most intriguing is the number of flower recipes. That “Fruit and Flower” chapter is not a bastardization of “Flour”, it means cooking with Primrose and Hawthorn flowers and something called “Flower of Rys” which might explain our recipe above.

If you’re keeping score, the recipes come verbatim from the Harleian manuscripts 279 and 4010 (about 1430 and 1450, respectively), the Ashmole manuscript 1429, the Laud manuscript 553, and the Douce manuscript 55 (about 1450) from the British Museum and the Bodleian Library, courtesy the Early English Text Society.

A Fifteenth Century Cookry Boke is intriguing for occasionally flipping through—you aren’t going to read it straight without going bonkers in the process—but you aren’t going to get much in the way of usable recipes from it. Unless, of course, you understand fifteenth century English, in which case, serue hem forth!


  1. Take oþer half-pound of Flowre of Rys, .iij. pound of Almaundys, half an vnce of hony & Safroune.
  2. Take þe flowre of þe Prymerose, & grynd hem, and temper hem vppe with Mylke of þe Almaundys.
  3. Do pouder Gyngere þer-on.
  4. Boyle it.
  5. Plante þin skluce with Rosys.
  6. Serue forth.

A Fifteenth Century Cookry Boke

John L. Anderson

My cost: $3.33

Recommendation: Interesting

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