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Get Cooking: This recipe hearkens back to medieval French cookery

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Get Cooking: This recipe hearkens back to medieval French cookery

In 52 B.C., Vercingetorix, king of the Gauls, impatient that his haunch of venison to be roasted had yet to feel the fire, snatched it from his cook, began to eat it raw and invented steak tartare.

Hubert H. Hubert, a 5th-century peasant living in a straw-thatched, dirt-floored hut in what later would be called the Midi, marked the 1,000th day in a row of cooking in and eating from the stoneware pot that hung over the fire in his hearth, into which he tossed and mixed anything that he found edible from the nearby forest, its meadow and stream and from his small garden plot.

He planned to cook and eat this way for another 1,000 days, and then another, something he had learned from his mother and, she, from her mother.

Hubert H. Hubert VI, a cook to a 12th-century Knight Templar, prepared an elaborate feast for his master’s birthday, consisting of several courses — all laid out at once, in the fashion of the time — of salted and smoked meats and fish, all heavily spiced, sweetened and dressed in tart sauces, the menu (to call it that) based on balancing the four “humors” of the body (phlegm, blood, black and yellow bile). The final course was a cooked, re-feathered and gilded whole swan. It was a splendid show.

The next day, to prepare something lighter and more easily digestible, he made his master a blancmange, long-cooked chicken and rice moistened with almond milk and lightly spiced, pounded into a sort of pudding, then molded into and plated as a dome.

On New Year’s Eve, 1501, Hubert H. Hubert IX noted the offerings that night from the kitchen at his family’s roadside auberge, run by decades of grandfathers before him: fresh fruit to start (called the “entrée” because it is first to be eaten), dressed in sour wine to loosen up the stomach; then a potage of vegetables and legumes; followed by a hare that was roast on a spit in the inn’s hearth, napped in tangy mustard sauce; and, to end, “entremets,” portions of the family’s famed blancmange recipe and dried figs and nuts, all designed to “close up” the stomach and allow for a long, even digestion.

The table settings for the wayfarers dining that evening would be a large spoon, a knife (if they had not brought their own) and a “plate” that consisted of a large, thick slice of very stale black bread (called a “trencher”). After it had soaked up the meal’s juices, the diners ate the plate.

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