The Medieval Kitchen: A Social History with Recipes
by Hannele Klemettila
There are some really good features of this book. The best is the illustrations. I'm not sure how they got permission (assuming they did get permission) to reproduce all those period depictions of cooking and eating, but the book is worth it just for those gorgeous color reproductions. These are illustrations you'll have trouble finding together in other sources, or finding online.
Another useful section is a two page spread on the chronology of some sources from the period, which I would have no qualms (after double-checking it) sharing with my students.
Furthermore, the author's Finnish origin and her use of non-English texts leads to the inclusion of information from Finnish, Norwegian, and Swedish documents that are just not available in other sources. The references to documentary history and archaeology that aren't really available to English-only readers, such as the quotations from the FInnish works of Michael Agricola, bishop of Turku, and the menus from Finnish sources, make it a valuable source for an area not usually covered by food historians.
However, the biggest flaw in this volume is the lack of source citation. While the author makes in-text references to where a recipe may be found, there are no notes indicating the sources of many of the descriptive comments. This is especially troubling when one is dealing with areas where the author disagrees with the general run of scholars, for instance asserting that radishes were now known in Europe until the 16th century. Some of these may simply be typos in translation-- the author appears to claim that brewing in Scandinavia, *unlike* in other European countries, was done in the home by women... but most modern brewing history seems to claim that in most other European countries, the majority of beer brewing *was* done in the home, by women. That could be a simple mistranslation.
The section of recipes-- one might even say 'recipe file'-- at the back is somewhat problematic. In some cases, the author includes the original text of a recipe from the period, but almost always untranslated, thus making it difficult for the English-only reader to determine whether the version presented reflects the original accurately. In many cases, however, the author only says her version of recipe "was developed in reference to" a primary or secondary source. There are at least two references of this sort likely to freeze the blood of a knowledgeable medieval cuisinier: one to "with reference to Madeline Pelner Cosman," the author of Fabulous Feasts, a text whose descriptive material is reasonably regarded but whose recipes are overly reliant on 1970s fashions; another is 'with reference to James Matterer's website Gode Cookery" a site that includes both medieval and Renaissance texts with cooking versions and "Modern Recipes for Beginners." The sources for the recipes section, in particular, are omitted from the book's bibliography as well, unless cited somewhere else in the text.
The result is the level of scholarship that we would accept, possibly with some reluctance, in the SCA publication Compleat Anachronist, where anything that sounds wrong should be verified with other sources. I still want to know how medieval pies were easily baked at home, without an oven, for instance. But the author omits the biggest sins of discussing medieval-and-Renaissance cookery (for instance, complaining about the amount of spices). But I expected better of someone with a doctorate in Medieval History-- compare it to Bridget Ann Henisch's Medieval Cook or Redon and Serventi's Medieval Kitchen; at best it's more like Maggie Black's Medieval Cookbook (a text that drives me insane by the way it uses recipes-- Le Menagier recipes for instance are ONLY in the section not devoted to Le Menagier, etc.)
It also is similar to Food and Drink in Medieval Poland, by Weaver and Dembinska, in the way it covers an area traditionally neglected, but undercuts itself by not citing sources and by including syncretic recipes without properly identifying their precursors.
In sum: worth it for the pictures, and the Scandinavian background. Double-check anything you read in here, using texts that cite their sources