Medieval manuscripts blog

Bringing our medieval manuscripts to life

01 April 2012

Unicorn Cookbook Found at the British Library

A long-lost medieval cookbook, containing recipes for hedgehogs, blackbirds and even unicorns, has been discovered at the British Library. Professor Brian Trump of the British Medieval Cookbook Project described the find as near-miraculous. "We've been hunting for this book for years. The moment I first set my eyes on it was spine-tingling."

An illustration of a unicorn on a grill, from a 14th-century manuscript.

Detail of a unicorn on the grill in Geoffrey Fule's cookbook, England, mid-14th century (London, British Library, MS Additional 142012, f. 137r).

Experts believe that the cookbook was compiled by Geoffrey Fule, who worked in the kitchens of Philippa of Hainault, Queen of England (1328-1369). Geoffrey had a reputation for blending unusual flavours – one scholar has called him "the Heston Blumenthal of his day" – and everything points to his hand being behind the compilation.

After recipes for herring, tripe and codswallop (fish stew, a popular dish in the Middle Ages) comes that beginning "Taketh one unicorne". The recipe calls for the beast to be marinaded in cloves and garlic, and then roasted on a griddle. The cookbook's compiler, doubtless Geoffrey Fule himself, added pictures in its margins, depicting the unicorn being prepared and then served. Sarah J Biggs, a British Library expert on medieval decoration, commented that "the images are extraordinary, almost exactly as we'd expect them to be, if not better".

A marginal illustration of a lady holding the head of a unicorn, from a medieval manuscript.

A lady bringing the unicorn's head to the table (London, British Library, MS Additional 142012, f. 137v).

The recipe for cooking blackbirds is believed to be the origin of the traditional English nursery rhyme "Sing a song of sixpence / A pocket full of rye / Four-and-twenty blackbirds / Baked in a pie." Professor Trump added that he was tempted to try some of the recipes, but suspected that sourcing ingredients would be challenging. "Unfortunately, they don't stock unicorn in my local branch of Tesco."

A marginal illustration of the remains of a unicorn in a basket, from a medieval manuscript.
The remains of the unicorn (London, British Library, MS Additional 142012, f. 138r).


Mmmm tasty! Was his wife's name Aprille?

Hehehe - Brilliant. I see what you did there!

None of this sounds very tasty! But what a treat to peruse. Fascinating find!

Very droll...

But how was the book lost, and how was it found?

Loving it!

I wonder if unicorn tastes like chicken :P

I'm sure this manuscript was lost sunday April 1rst 1845...

I am a chef, and I have compiled over 300 cookbooks, but alas, no unicorn recipe.. Oh well, maybe now I can finally cook the unicorn that I found at a garage sale... It says IMPORTED FROM CHINA.. Ya just can't find any American unicorns since they built those wind farms off the coast of Nantucket.. Sheeesh

Sadly, the book will once again disappear tonight at midnight.

As a weaver, I have always admired the Unicorn Tapestries, especially the scene of the unicorn in a pen. This cook book clearly shows that this scene is not an allegorical one, but a literal depiction of life in the Middle Ages. One can imagine the care they took, feeding those unicorns only the freshest greens and dainty treats to fatten them up for feast days...

I'm myself a librarian, but I must admit that I was fooled. Only the last illustration "The remains of the unicorn" made me think it was an April Fool's. Well done!

Iconographical gender studies have found evidence that unicorn barbecue was not a solely male pastime. In 14th century Germany, unicorns were cooked by women (see ). The men were throwing some balls in the meantime (see ).

I find unicorns make very good stock. Adding tarragon and ginger really helps bring out the, erm, unique flavour.

MS number is a bit of a giveaway too...well done!

If I needed another clue, the ungrammatical "Taketh one unicorne" is a dead giveaway. ;-) Clever, and wonderful use of marginalia.

Well done. The artwork is splendid. :)

Is it kosher?

Those illuminations are absolutely genius!!! Kudos to the British Library manuscripts PhotoShop expert! Well done! But could I have my unicorn medium rare?

I am, of course, very tempted to try roast unicorn myself but I note there is no nutritional breakdown of the calories, fat content etc. provided with the recipe.

Beautifully written and illustrated - congratulations on a wonderful addition to my April 1 collection.

Unicorn ribs and angel hair pasta with gizzard dressing as a side were a specialty that just can not be bought in this day and age

I am so thrilled with this new find!! I would really love to have permission to add this to the cookbook I wrote for my children many years ago. I am currently writing the third edition, and I am sure they would like to have these recipes.... Since my eldest child currently is raising a herd of Naughas for their supple leather - this could aid in her search for self-sufficiency.

I think you can find unicorn in the Annex and Westboro....

Hehe codswallop

Sounds like it tastes similar to the dish of tripe and codswallop!

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