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).


'Tis our staff canteen on a good day!

Clever! Nowadays you'd have to fall back on this:

I suspect unicorn tastes more like goat than chicken and probably shares similar preparation methods. Unicorn curry anyone?

Comrades, are you sure it wasn't UniQuorn or some other genetically modified substance?

On the positive note, I believed every single word of it! (And it is not because I am a moron but because the medieval folks were "down for whatever" and up to anything, the more abnormal the better).

Keep it up, you are my inspiration! :)

Apt shelfmark.

I want to know when the British Library intends to digitise this work so that we can all have access to such an important treasure. Maybe this time next year?

Heh. "Herring, tripe, and codswallop". Brilliant.

If you need some stock, I know there's a unicorn horn leaning against the wall at the Cloisters Museum in New York City--right next to one of the Unicorn Tapestries. I have my suspicious . . . something to do with whales . . . but surely the Cloisters would not lie to us. Of course by now the horn is pretty dry, but with the right herbs it and some unicorn hooves it might serve, not least if the cook is a virgin.

I get my unicorn at the Tessco's in Lewisham.

Those limbs sticking up out of the pot look CLOVEN and the tips and the HORN would require
serious study.Also the rules for cooking aren't clear.So the Kosher question must be brought before the Rabbinical Court.

Mmmm, that kitchen must have smelled wonderful when they grilled the unicorn complete with hide, hair, hoof and horn...
Most excellently well done!

Daringbold, is the spaghetti tree harvest going well?

You could try a modern unicorn, didn't you know, they are not extinct, no, they are now called rhinos!

Who did the illuminations? THey are just excellent...

Fabulous! I love it.

On a more serious note, where or who did the lovely illustrations? They are so "period".

That's all well and good but first you have to find a bear with glasses to betray the unicorn.

Where and how can we learn more?

HAHAHA!Excellent!Haven't seen such a good one since thelocal T.V station showed footage of the spaghetti vines,complete with pickers!!!

WOW! Unicorns are real! :D

And I though I could trust the British Library and it's conscientious curators!

Now I know better ;-)

Mmm... Tastes like chicken! No, even better.

Kudos to the artist. The paintings look authentic until you magnify them, and even then you have to know what you're looking for to realize they were done with oil pastels.

Jane, I have it on good authority that it is NOT kosher. Especially not for Pesach.
Connie, I share your concern about the lack of nutritional information. Nonetheless, I plan to test the recipe on Easter. It does sound yummy.
Does anyone know where I can find some "cloves and garlic"?

Apparently unicorns were so delicious that they caught and ate every last one of them. Only a virgin can catch a unicorn, so if they had managed to survive the monastic period, they would probably still be alive today.

Shame that the Unicornes around here are now a protected species. I'd really have liked to do a Uni barbi for my knights this weekend.
Ah well, I'll just have to give them the usual codswallop.

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