Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Well, we will have such a prologue

The Intro

For my birthday this year, my brother got me a cookbook - Shakespeare's Kitchen: Renaissance Recipes for the Contemporary Cook, by Francine Segan. I've been trying to do more cooking recently, and hopefully progress a bit past the "throw together a stir-fry" phase that I'm currently in. In order to force myself to put in some time in the kitchen, I've decided to do the Julie & Julia thing, and attempt to make every single recipe in the book before the year is out. 

Shakespeare's Kitchen contains: 

‎12 appetizers (kickshaws)
12 soups/stews (pottage)
10 salads (sallet)
12 vegetable dishes (vegetives) 
10 fowl (fowle)
11 meat (meate)
12 fish (fysshe)
14 desserts (the banquet)

That's 93 dishes, with around 50 weeks left in the year. This seems eminently doable, even for me. "But Justin," I hear you say, "aren't you a renowned master of procrastination? A veritable black belt of delay? Aren't you, to put it bluntly, a bit lazy?"

Indeed! But I expect this to work in my favor. For example, at this very moment I should be reading class notes for tomorrow, scouring the internet to find examples for my linguistics class, or reading Restoration drama. I am doing none of these things; instead, I am diligently attending to my pet project. Everyone is a winner, for certain values of everyone.

The Book

Shakespeare's Kitchen is an interesting beast. Many of the recipes come from the same sources, most notably Robert May's 1660 Accomplisht Cook. For those of you who are already up in arms about the line between the Restoration and the Renaissance, May is specifically collecting older recipes (some of which are medieval). As a caveat, when Segan says she's "updating" Renaissance recipes she doesn't just mean adding times and measurements; in some cases, the recipes are heavily altered. Sometimes this means removing an ingredient like gold from the list, or substituting a more readily available spice for something esoteric. Sometimes, this means adding or subtracting major ingredients willy-nilly. This one-star Amazon review pretty much hits the nail on the head, and it's something to keep in mind as I work through the book.

That being said, the book is a fun read. Any cookbook that a) has a bibliography, and b) has a bibliography that contains Holinshed's Chronicle and the OED, is one that I approve of. The historical (and theatrical!) commentary on the dishes is rather interesting, and many of the modern recipes are paired with the original, with spelling and punctuation intact. At some point during the project I plan on attempting a dish from the original recipe in order to amuse you with the greatest amount of failure in the least possible time.


To succesfully complete this project, I need to make an average of two recipes per week. That doesn't mean a steady two-per-week update schedule. Sometimes it will be more, sometimes it will be less. Other interesting cooking posts may appear here if interesting cooking occurs.

I'll just put this out there: Francine Segan assumes that the reader of her cookbook already knows how to cook, and this is not in fact a safe assumption. You're going to read about me fumbling with some really, really basic instructions, and I can only hope this is an enjoyable part of the experience for you.

You may have noticed that I've included Segan's chapter titles in the list of recipes. This is mostly because I find it hilarious (Fysshe!), and I always appreciate the fact that Shakespeare's England was a time when rowboat could be spelt "rhowbhoatte". I plan on including interesting commentary and TRUE FACTS*, many of which will be lies made up by me.

*A percentage of the nothing I make from this blog will be given as royalties to the Hon. John Hodgman.


  1. Excellent! Keep me apprised of how it's going.

    1. Certainly! I read the article tonight, and I was especially heartened by the comment on the King James Biscuits; my next post is going to be about an utter disaster, and I'm glad I'm not the only one who has messed up one of these recipes. It also takes the pressure off when it comes time to make the biscuits.

  2. As for the "One star Amazon review, it's gotten all quite testy:

    1. I saw the comments on that review, and for the most part I think that the commenters are missing the point. Maybe it's unfair to criticize the book on the basis of a single recipe, and maybe it's a moot point overall if the recipes are delicious, but Friedman is still *right*. New ingredients appear all the time, and it's a little disingenuous to claim that this is just a necessary part of the updating. If Friedman misses the aim of the project, which is not to faithfully recreate the original to the letter, it's partly because the hype surrounding the book suggests that Segan is more faithful than she actually claims to be.

      Pretend that Segan's cookbook is West Side Story. Neither she, nor the advertising, nor the professional reviews ever suggest it is a faithful recreation of R&J. There are all sorts of good reasons for it to exist, but claiming that it "faithfully converts" a sketchy original isn't one of them. Better to admit that it takes liberties, but is still enjoyable.

  3. Hi Justin-- Just discovered your blog and love that you're tackling our book SHAKESPEARE'S KITCHEN! Can you shoot me an email at kchilds@randomhouse.com? Would love to share your blog with our readers... Best, Kate Childs (Publicist, Random House)