Medieval Cabbage Soup


Cabbage is one of the most common vegetables in ancient and medieval cuisine. It was considered by Cato a remedy for any kind of sickness, and the author dedicates two chapters of his De Agri Cultura to the medical uses of it. In the Middle Ages, there were many varieties, described in the agricultural and medical sources. After Avicenna, Pietro de Crescenzi (14th century) considers cabbage potentially harmful, causing melancholy, and suggests this method to make it healthier: it is necessary cooking it two times (a common technique for vegetables and legumes according to the medical prescriptions) with fat mutton or pork, serving then the soup with cumin, pepper, or oil. According to Michele Savonarola (15th century), the most common was Savoy cabbage. He disapproves the frequent use of it, considering that it is hard to digest and causes nightmares, but the harm may be removed cooking it two times with pork or chicken fat, or even a huge quantity of oil and salt, adding then garlic, cinnamon, coriander, and anise seeds. We selected the recipe we are preparing today from Anonimo Toscano, a beautiful 14th-century source, which is mainly a vernacular translation of the Liber de Coquina but with significant variations. Below, you find a note about the method and ingredients, the original text with our translation, and the video of the recipe with subtitles in English and Italian.

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Ingredients cabbage Florence fennel cured pork jowl or other salted meat eggs spices (saffron, black pepper, cloves, nutmeg) fresh parsley

Method Chop the cabbage and mince the Florence fennel and parsley. This is a cabbage-based soup, so you need more cabbage than fennel. Cut a piece of cured pork jowl, removing the rind. Cook in water the cabbage, fennel, pork jowl, and parsley for about 40 minutes. In the meantime, steep in water the saffron and grind in the mortar the other spices. Once the cabbage and pork jowl are cooked through, remove the salted meat, then add the saffron and ground spices to the soup. Beat the egg and pour in the soup, stirring for a few seconds. Plate the soup with the sliced pork jowl on the top, serving it still hot.

Cabbage Soup - Preview

Note about the ingredients Florence fennel appears rarely in the cookbooks and we did not find clear descriptions in agricultural or medical sources before the Renaissance: starting from Dioscorides, these books mention varieties of wild and cultivated fennel without expaining the differences, and the difficulty is that in Latin and Italian texts it is used the same word for both the varieties, feniculum or finocchio. In ancient and medieval cuisine we find frequently fennel, but the only parts used are leaves, seeds, and flowers. Florence fennel appears just in two Italian medieval sources, Liber de Coquina and Anonimo Toscano, written between the 13th and the 14th century. In the texts, we read that it is white, big enough to be used alone as the main ingredient, and it is minced before cooking or cooked whole. The author suggests a few variants of this recipe, with mutton, pork, salted meat, or even salted fish and oil for the lean days. We chose to use salted meat. Salting and smoking were the most common ways to preserve meat since the Antiquity. In the pictures that we find in the Tacuina Sanitatis, medieval medical handbooks, there are merchants who sell various pieces of salted pork and salted fish, dry or preserved with brine in barrels. In the recipe, there are no directions about what to do with the meat once removed from the soup. We suggest serving it aside. The original recipe specifies to use pepper and saffron, two of the most common spices in the Middle Ages that appear in the most part of the recipes, and then to add powder of spices. We chose among the most used, cloves and nutmeg, but you can use others, for example cinnamon and ginger.

Cabbage Soup - Thumbnail

Original text Togli i cauli e poni a cocere con carne di castrone, o di porco, o carne insalata; e mettivi dentro del bianco del finocchio e del petrosello, e mesta forte. Poi cavatane la carne, mesta i detti cauli, sì che sieno bene triti. E dentro puoi mettervi ova dibattute, pepe, zaffarano, polvere di spezie. E possonsi fare a questo modo el dì de digiuno, con oglio, con pesce insalato.

Translation Take the cabbages and make them cook with mutton, pork, or salted meat; then add the white part of fennel and parsley, stirring well. Remove the meat and stir the cabbages so they are well mashed. You can add beaten eggs, pepper, saffron, ground spices. In the lean days, you can make the soup with oil and salted fish.

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