Medieval manuscripts blog

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).


But you can only cook it in virgin olive oil.

Ms Additional 142012
Ms Additional 1 4 2012
Ms Additional 1/4/2012

1th april 2012

Brilliant! We'll get chef working on it, in time for next April 1st maybe?

Oh my god I would love a copy .... wonder if someone will write it out and get it printed ...

I just read this today and the first mention of a "Geoffrey Fule" is where I caught the joke. The fact that it was British made me think of Geoffrey Chaucer, and instantly made the Fule = Fool relation lol, good wordplay!

Anyone who knows anything about nursery rhymes, knows "A Pocket Full Of Rye" was one of Blackbeard's recruiting songs. Check it out here:

Heston actually did a show on a very similar cookbook and attempted to cook some of the recipes in the book.

I want to know if this was an april fool's joke? HMM? Please advise.

Very funny, but I'm more interested in what was actually used for unicorn. Whether they used goat, lamb, mutton, horse, etc. I'm sure it was more than fantasy and they loved to dress up and decorate foods and dishes designed to look like other things are well documented.

Don't show this to Ella, my granddaughter! She adores Unicorns, these lovely magical beings. Glad it's just a clever April 1st joke.

70% people are saying that its tasty. but tell me that any one taste this..?

And then of course there's this one ...

(Search for "Hippogriff Cookbook" ...)

I am sure that the hunting guide is a whole other story =) Where would you begin to hunt!?

How can one gain access to this cookbook? Will it be digitally recorded and made available to other researchers?

Please tell me that this will be available in facsimile some time in the near future!

I was really hoping that once again this was actually a recipe for Rhinoceros. White horses are all Gray, right? So somebody says 'you never guess what I saw in a far off land: a huge big thing the size of a horse, all calm and peaceful at first with this big, big horn on his nose. Then he charged at us and we ran away."

So we get a white horse thing with a horn on its nose that we call a Unicorn. So it could have been a close call. But a good catch nonetheless.

Yes it does taste like chicken.

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