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EDITIONS
Thursday, 27 June, 2002, 16:52 GMT 17:52 UK
Anyone for roasted swan?
The oldest printed cookbook
The page showing the recipe for pike and eel broth
Recipes using chopped sparrows and roasted swans from the oldest printed cookbook in English will soon be available on the mass market.

Dating from 1500, the book, entitled A Noble Book of Royal Feasts, has been lovingly cared for by successive librarians at Longleat House in Wiltshire.

And now, a team made up of editors and archivists, is to attempt to produce a facsimile copy of the works, so latter day chefs can cook up noble feasts of their own.

Ingredients featured in the book
Swan
Porpoise
Sparrow
Gull
Pike
Eels
Plovers
Boar
Curlew
Peacock
Heron
"Almost any animal that could draw breath"

The book features meals based on almost "any animal that could draw breath" and is described as "extremely important" by British Library expert Kristian Jensen.

Mr Jensen, head of early printed collections, told BBC News Online the book was "extremely rare".

He said: "There is only one complete copy we know about. There is a second edition, but it only has one leaf.

"It is not a grand book, but it is extremely rare, but it's almost more grand because it's so rare."

Small books like this one did not usually survive being passed through generations and often became grubby or fell apart, he explained.

Two cygnets snuggle up to their mother
Bird-lovers may find some of the recipes distressing

"There are manuscripts which detail early recipes but there is nothing in printed form - and that is what makes it so interesting."

Staff at Longleat tried out some of the recipes on the Marquess of Bath - who lives there - ahead of the planned publication of the 21st century version of the book.

Despite there being no pictures, cooking temperatures, or cooking times recorded, the pike and eel broth was a success.

Cooking potte

Kate Harris, Longleat's archivist and librarian, said: "We are working hard at producing the facsimile copy which we expect will not only be used by scholars of the period, but also by people who are interested in cookery.

Delia Smith
If the book was as popular as Delia's, up to 1,000 may have been printed
"The eel and pike broth was quite an interesting dish. We did not know what would come of the recipes because there was limited information about how to cook them, but Lord Bath seemed to enjoy it!"

To make "pyke and eles brothe" the book explains the chef must first "splatte your pyke and scale hym clene".

The eels should then be put in a "potte" and "grene onyons and herbes" added.

The liquid is made from stokfysshe (fish stock) and it is then boyle (boiled) before it is served to "your soverayne" (your sovereign).

One other cook book was printed before the Noble Book of Royal Feasts, in 1480, but since it was in Latin, the Longleat discovery remains the oldest in English.

See also:

12 May 99 | UK
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