Medieval Food and Drink, ed. M. Arn, ACTA 21 (Binghamton: CEMERS, 1995).


The remarkable thing about the subject of medieval food is that, although those who work in the field are often investigating very interesting subjects in interesting ways, they tend to work in isolation, often unaware of each other's efforts, in part because medieval food is by definition an interdisciplinary subject--as approaches of the writers in this volume demonstrate. Students of vernacular languages, codicologists and paleographers, high school teachers, social historians, food historians, literarians, people who work on manuscripts or printing history, in museums and libraries, in the food business, members of the SCA, graduate students of various persuasions, and others who have somehow simply stumbled on an interesting but seemingly obscure slice of life (and full of life it is!) do not run across each other every day--even if they sometimes attend the same conferences. The call for papers for this ACTA conference brought people virtually out of the woodwork. Requests for information [prior to the conference] poured in from places as far away as Boston, Kansas, Texas, Oregon--and Spain, a number accompanied by urgent requests not to forget to provide notification of the publication of the proceedings.

Once assembled at Binghamton, an interested and interesting group of people were nearly all discovering one another for the first time. For a group with such diverse backgrounds and interests, the coherence of the event was little short of astonishing, and the level of interest and interaction put most conferences, small or large, to shame.

The papers fall roughly into three groups. Professor Scully, the plenary speaker and one of the most distinguished workers in the field of medieval food today, provides a philosophical, theoretical, and medical basis for considering medieval food. The next five writers consider books containing recipes in one or another context (culinary, gastronomic, social, textual, historical), from a variety of linguistic regions (France, Italy, Germany, England)--Marianne Hansen's followed by a number of showpiece recipes for those stout of heart in the kitchen. The last three writers consider the meaning of food in literature and society. The volume thus leads in a general way from theory through practice to interpretation, picking up a variety of other issues along the way. The reader will encounter differing styles and levels of formality in the essays. Some authors have chosen to publish their papers more or less as they delivered them; others have extended, rearranged, or elaborated on their material. I have edited their material minimally, aiming only at avoiding inconsistencies among them.

Although at this point it is usual for the editor to provide analyses and summaries of the various offerings, I shall let the authors speak for themselves, after thanking Professor Robin Oggins and the staff of CEMERS for their support and excellent organization. In the terms of Diane Marks's discussion of the banquets offered by Dante and Charles of Orleans to their readers, my task is simply to lead you, the guests, from course to course of this progressive dinner prepared by others--and here is surely abundant "food for thought."

Mary-Jo Arn

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