Despite the common belief that only bitter oranges were available in Europe until the 16th century, we find references to sweet oranges in sources written before that period, in particular Michele Savonarola’s book on the properties of food and Platina’s De Honesta Voluptate et Valetudine, both dating back to the 15th century. It is complicated to find a precise identification for the ancient varieties of fruit, and oranges are not an exception. There are plenty of names in the historical sources, a fact that makes our work even harder: narancia, melangola, citrangola, and aurantia are a few of them.
In the chapter dedicated to citron (14r), Platina mentions mala citrea or medica, called by common people narancia (larancia in the vernacular translation of this book, 15r). There are sweet and bitter varieties (quaedam dulcia, quaedam acida sunt), and the author recommends the sweet ones before the meal as a food suitable for the stomach.
Savonarola gives more detailed information (19r). There are bitter and sweet varieties, as well as others that have an intermediate taste, a fact that influences their properties, although in general the peel is hot and dry and the pulp is cool and humid. This characteristic changes depending on the kind of orange: bitter oranges are cooler, whereas the sweet oranges are a little hotter than the others. In any case, all kinds of oranges are contraindicated for the cool stomach but soothe the hot stomach according to the principles of humoral medicine.
Then, Savonarola provides a few directions about how to consume oranges, eaten with all kinds of plates for the pleasure of the palate: with sugar, the oranges cooled with water remove the choleric humors, and they should be eaten with rice and hot foods. The author recommends avoiding to pair them with fish (a quite common combination, as we see in the medieval cookbooks), except with fried fish. The physician then mentions the peels, which are candied with sugar or honey and comfort the cool stomach, a property opposite to that attributed to the pulp. There are some recipes in cookbooks for both the pulp and the candied peel, but it is not easy to determine whether they are for sweet or bitter oranges.
This week, we are going to prepare a fritata de pomerantiis from the Registrum Coquine, a beautiful cookbook written in the 15th century by the German cook Johannes Bockenheim, who worked at the court of Pope Martin V. Like all the recipes from this source, it is recommended for specific social classes. In this case, there is a difference between the two manuscripts in which we find this cookbook: in the first, this dish is considered suitable for actors (pro hystrionibus), in the second, for pimps and prostitutes (pro ruffianis et leccatricibus). The latter is a social group that clearly interests Bockenheim, since they are mentioned again in a recipe for pork liver, another for spit-roasted almond milk, and again, for a cheesecake with saffron. It is difficult, in this case, to understand the relevance of this attribution, whereas in other cases, such as recipes for stuffed eggs for monks, beef stew for peasants, or pork soup for women, it is possible to follow the logic behind Bockenheim’s ideas based on humoral medicine as well as the religious or medical recommendations that we find in other sources of the same period. In any case, Bockenheim depicts a colorful medieval society, complex and fascinating, which deserves to be known and explored through the preparations of the recipes.
In our preparation, we used sweet oranges to make a rather sweet frittata, but if you prefer, use less sugar and bitter oranges (or more sugar to taste). If you make a savory frittata, we recommend two pinches of salt to balance the general flavor. Instead of lard, you may use olive oil or butter, an ingredient that Bockenheim uses in some recipes. Pay attention that the more orange juice you use, the more the frittata tends to fall apart. If it does not keep together, add more eggs for a better result.
Johannes Bockenheim’s Registrum Coquine is a fascinating cookbook written in the 15th century and collected into two manuscripts clearly written by two different copyists, with variations and some different recipes. The author was a German cook who worked in Italy for Pope Martin V. The peculiarity of this book is that the recipes are dedicated to specific groups of people, social classes, and nationalities. Bockenheim’s recommendations are colorful and funny: there are recipes for pimps and prostitutes, priests and laics, princes and peasants. Our translation of the Registrum Coquine, accompanied by an introduction, notes about the recipes, and a glossary, is available on Amazon.
For more historical recipes with vegetables, check out Early Italian Recipes. Vegetables, fruit, herbs, and flowers, which collects many recipes from the Antiquity to the early Modern Era.
To know more about medieval food, we recommend Libro de la Cocina. Medieval Tuscan recipes and De Observatione Ciborum. Early-medieval recipes at the court of the Frank. You find further articles and translations of historical sources, among which De Flore Dietarum, on our Patreon page.
If you are interested in ancient food, we recommend reading Ancient Roman Cooking. Ingredients, Recipes, Sources.
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Squeeze the orange and beat the eggs with the juice, then add a tablespoon of sugar. Melt the lard in a pan and cook the frittata for about five minutes at low heat without turning it. Serve the frittata still hot.
Ad faciendum fritatam de pomerantiis pro hystrionibus. Recipe pomerantias ad libitum tuum, et extrahe inde succum, et mitte ova cruda bene percussa cum zucharo, bene temperato, post hoc recipe sagimen, et fac calefieri in patella, mitte illa omnia intus, et fac plane coquere. Et erit bonum pro hystrionibus.
To make an orange frittata for actors. Take the quantity you want of oranges and squeeze the juice. Add raw eggs, well beaten with sugar, well mixed, then take some lard and melt it in a pan. Add the mixture and cook it at low heat. It will be good for actors.
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Libro de la Cocina by Anonimo Toscano. Medieval Tuscan Recipes
Early Italian Recipes. Vegetables, fruit, herbs, and flowers
De Observatione Ciborum by Anthimus. Early-medieval recipes at the court of the Franks.
Registrum Coquine by Johannes Bockenheim. A medieval cookbook
Ancient Roman Cooking. Ingredients, Sources, Recipes
Translations of Historical Sources
De Re Coquinaria by Apicius (Ancient Rome)
De Observatione Ciborum by Anthimus (6th century)
Appendicula de Condituris Variis by Johannes Damascenus (8th-9th century)
De Flore Dietarum (11th century)
Tractatus de Modo Preparandi et Condiendi Omnia Cibaria (13th-14th century)
Liber de Coquina – first part (14th century)
Enseignemenz (14th century)
Opusculum de Saporibus by Mainus de Maineris (14th century)
Libro de la Cocina by Anonimo Toscano (14th century)
Anonimo Veneziano (14th century)
Registrum Coquine by Johannes von Bockenheim (15th century)
Libro de Arte Coquinaria by Maestro Martino – first and second part (15th century)
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