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A Thyme and Place: Medieval Feasts and Recipes for the Modern Table Hardcover – June 7, 2016
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About the Author
Lisa Graves is the author and illustrator of the series Women in History, with three books to her name, as well as the illustrator of The Tudor Tutor (Skyhorse Publishing). She is the creator of Historywitch.com, a site dedicated to illustrations of history’s most fascinating characters. She lives in Medway, Massachusetts.
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1) While the book claims to consider the medieval period, which it defines as "the end of the fifth century... until the sixteenth century", it includes recipes and events "until the mid 1600s" - a solid 150 years after the period they define has ended. As a rule of thumb, if you're talking about Queen Elizabeth and Mary Stuart, you're looking at the early modern period (the "Renaissance"), and not the medieval.
2) Class matters. Many of the social practices and foodways mentioned in this book were class-specific, and there's not much discussion about that. Nutmeg, for example, was far from "readily available" for the vast majority of people - it was a valuable and exotic spice, and in 1621 the Dutch East India Company engaged in a bloody genocide to gain control of it. Similarly, while arranged marriage was the norm (at least for first marriages) among the landed classes, it really isn't useful for the peasantry at all.
3) Corn (maize) is a New World crop, and was not available in medieval Europe (or even in early 17th century Europe, really). Prior to European cultivation of maize, "corn" meant a grain - compare barleycorn, peppercorns, etc. The "ear of corn" to be left out on St Brigid's day is presumably wheat. Similarly, tomatoes are a new world vegetable, and for most of the medieval period nobody in Europe had heard of them. They weren't grown in England until about 1590 - and were understood to be an aphrodisiac, undesirable for eating, but not necessarily poisonous at that time.
4) Not a historical note, but: figs are not inverted flowers, and they are fruits. Like many other fruits (including basic ones like apples), the fruit includes tissue from outside the ovary - this is called an accessory fruit, but it's still a fruit. Figs are also a multiple fruit: the fruiting body combines the fruit of many flowers. None of those flowers are inverted - they are all right-side out, but hidden inside the synconium.
5) For a cookbook exploring medieval food, it's oddly opinionated. Simnel cake, for instance, is delicious. I can see not including a recipe as they're widely available, but the note implies that it wasn't included because it tastes bad ("It is essentially a fruitcake with almond paste. But don't worry, we wouldn't do that to you."). Elsewhere, on a pudding recipe, they say "Don't worry, we have not developed anything with rendered suet" - but why not? Tallow isn't hard to find, thanks to the paleo diet folks, and makes delicious baked goods. Lard is an even more available substitute. So why throw shade and swap rendered animal fats out for vegetable shortening?
6) There are no citations. Not on the recipes, not on the history, not on the annoying little sidebars. There's no list of referenced works anywhere. Recipes all have daft, cutesy names ("Chase that cheese and onion soup"?) that can't be traced back to any origin recipe, making it hard to tell what's authentic, what's adapted "for the modern table", what's invented, and what's just wrong. Given the obvious errors in the book, the lack of citations makes everything else suspect.