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The University of Southampton

A dainty dish to set before a king: Southampton food historian shares medieval expertise

Published: 30 April 2008

Professor Chris Woolgar, who is Head of Special Collections in the University's Hartley Library, appears in 'Clarissa and the King's Cookbook' at 9pm on Wednesday 7 May as part of BBC4's medieval season.

The documentary looks at Britain's oldest known cookbook 'The Forme of Cury'. This 700-year-old scroll was written during the reign of King Richard II from recipes created by his own master chefs. The book includes recipes for meat such as venison and beaver, and fish such as lamprey and pike. Professor Woolgar is one of four people eating the regal medieval fare with Clarissa Dickson Wright and sharing his expertise on medieval food.

The meal consisted of aigre-douce of fish - pike and sole with galantine and raisins; roast goose stuffed with warden pears and garlic; and pears in red wine and blackberries. Medieval English cookery had a special affinity with fruit and flowers, and the cuisine of the royal court used the highest quality ingredients.

Professor Woolgar says: "The opportunity to eat food prepared to medieval recipes has been a fascinating experience: I can sit in a library, reading the manuscript of a recipe, but to put it into practice brings a whole new dimension to our understanding, which can only come from sympathetic cooks."

Medieval food is one of Professor Woolgar's research interests and in 2006 he edited a book about food, diet and nutrition in medieval England. He has a special interest in daily life in the medieval period and also touches upon food in his book The senses in late Medieval England, published in 2006. He wrote the chapter on food in medieval Europe in Food: the history of taste (edited by Paul Freedman, London, Thames and Hudson, 2007) which has just won the prize in the reference/technical category in the International Association of Culinary Professionals book awards.

Notes for editors

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  • For further information
    Professor Chris Woolgar, Head of Special Collections, University of Southampton,
    Tel. 023 8059 2989, email:
    Sue Wilson, Communications, University of Southampton,
    Tel. 023 8059 5457, email:

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