Cooking Recipes of the Middle Ages


Food history has dealt with medieval recipes mostly on a national or language separated level. On the European continent German, French, and Latin recipes provide the majority of culinary transmission. The project partners provide the expertise to collect, edit, and analyse these multilingual texts following up-to-date methodology.

For machine aided analysis a recipe corpus and its metadata are modelled according to international standards. The recipes are enriched by ontologies for ingredients, cooking processes, etc. Within and across languages analysis reveals text migrations, concurring or deviating eating habits, which have built European identities and heritage.

CoReMA is putting an interdisciplinary focus on the cross-cultural research of medieval cooking recipes and their interrelation.

This data is the basis for spatial and temporal visualisation and statistical evaluation. CoReMA provides a generic model for the integration of further language collections.

Research Context

In Romanic and Anglo-American countries food and food tradition awareness and thus food history studies have reached a very high level. German food and food history studies are less focused. But how did eating habits become what they are? How did they evolve, what were their influences? During the last decades, research arrived at two important conclusions on these issues. First, there are no quantitative studies on the origin and formation of regional cuisines in Europe. Second, substantial evidence (manuscripts containing thousands of cookery recipes) first appears in the Middle Ages, which can be thus regarded as the birth of modern European cuisines. There are few attempts to provide a contrasting view of early European cuisines that either have a very wide (e.g. Flandrin 1999), or too narrow focus for example on a single dish (e.g. ‘Blanc manger’: Hieatt 1995 with a linguistic focus, Flandrin 1984 and van Winter 1989 with a focus on ingredients).

Until now, food history has dealt with medieval recipes mostly on a national, geographical or language separated level (e.g. Adamson 1995, Carlin 1989, Adamson 2002, Karg 2007, etc.). Based on the continuous influence France and the French culture had on German speaking peoples through the centuries a comparative analysis of the French and German medieval cuisine seems self-evident.

Nevertheless, cooking traditions, local and continental, are one of the most recognizable items of European culture, and a large part of European identities.

Cooking recipes are documents for handicraft knowledge, which was generally handed down verbally. They are a relatively new type of written text, substantially different from old and formalised texts like poetic texts or medical recipes, even if culinary and medical recipes can be structurally alike. Medieval culinary collections are also quite different in their content and formulas from Ancient culinary collections, like Apicius’ recipe collection.

Although the transmission process for cooking recipes is assumed to be the same as for any other kind of texts (copying of model/original, transmission from household to household), there are only few manuscripts to prove this. For instance, we only have 2 copies of the model of buoch von guoter spîse, the most famous cookbook in German: the original München, Universitätsbibliothek, 2° Cod. ms. 731 (Cim 4) and the nearly identical copy Dessau, Anhaltische Landesbücherei, Hs. Georg. 278.2°. The lack of intermediate copies does not usually allow to reconstitute the textual tradition through a reliable stemma codicum.

Cooking recipes evolve over time (change in wording, order of ingredients, preparation), depending on various aspects: skill of the cook, scribe, its usage or adaptation to owner’s taste. Hieatt (1985,26) states: "The fact of the matter is that medieval cooks, like their modern counterparts, constantly changed and adapted recipes." Cooking recipes are subjected to a constant lability and this is also the case for cookery books or recipe collections which evolve and are newly combined, structured, etc. As a consequence, transmission lines and collection families that indubitably exist in the culinary text production cannot be found out with classical philological means like parallel transmission analysis based on classical text collation.

Relevance and Originality

Medieval cooking recipes have been studied and edited since the 18th c. The scholars’ interest was first about history of food habits and then about lexicography of words that were often rare. Even if research on cookbooks has undergone a strong development during the last decades, it has reached two clear impasses.

First, in the philological area, there is no consensus about the method of editing medieval and early modern cookbooks. Some scholars think that the truth is in manuscript families, others choose to edit a particular manuscript, in the line of the old and classical debate between Gaston Paris and Joseph Bédier about the edition of medieval literary texts. There is no clear cut approach for providing lists of parallel transmission, which cross culinary and philological aspects (cf. Ehlert’s approach in her editions between 1996-2014 and Honold 2005, contra the critical remarks by Sorbello-Staub 2002,23f). There are also different theories on the transmission of cookery recipe collections that can be regarded as an exchange of knowledge between households of the nobility or a re-composition according to readers’ or owners’ need.

The second impasse is in food history. Except some papers that offer studies on the European and multilingual dissemination of some dishes, as ‘Blanc manger’ (Flandrin 1984, van Winter 1989), the main effort has been about quantification as a method of knowledge on chronology of the changing tastes or shaping of regional patterns (Hyman 2005, Laurioux 2002). But this incomplete and disordered quantification doesn't allow even a comparison between two different historian's works. This lack of research and above all the lack of research possibilities has been lamented since the early 60ies (cf. Ehlert 1997,133f.).

Gathering thousands of recipes, the novel instrument created by CoReMA, can overcome all these obstacles.

It also allows to approach major research questions, which have not yet gotten a proper answer, in a new way : For example, analysing the relations between food and health or, more precisely, cookery and medicine. This will be possible by a deep comparison between the CoReMA corpus and medical texts, or first medical recipes, their ingredients and their medical qualities. When, how and why did occur the discrepancy, or even the divorce of cuisine and medicine formerly alleged by J.-L. Flandrin? (Flandrin 1996) Which concrete links did exist between culinary practices and medical theories in Middle Ages and Early Modern Time?

It also allows to revive the long debated question about the birth of regional patterns: The doxa states that regional cuisine was born only in the 19th c. (Csergo 1996). But historical sources, some narratives, medical and “geographical” texts, speak about regional habits or preferences as early as the 15th c. (Flandrin and Hyman 1988, Laurioux 2005). We know that CoReMA can contribute to resolve this apparent contradiction thanks to the thousands of recipes handed down in manuscripts whose composition are precisely located.

Project Goals

The solution is an analysis based partly on text similarities (classical collation methods) but to a large extent also on ingredients, preparation instructions, tools and so on, named in the texts. CoReMA explores this solution and addresses the following objectives:

  • to build a suitable ontology that fits medieval cooking recipes;
  • to find out about recipe and collection relations;
  • to find out about migration of recipes.
To reach these goals we need:
  • 1° recipe corpora to be analysed;
  • 2° modelling and annotation of texts;
  • 3° an ontology to formalise ingredients, processes, tools;
  • 4° analyses of data.
The project findings will be proof of concept on the methods applied and on the relations between European cooking recipes.

The CoReMA project sets out to address these issues by starting a quantitative and comparative study of cooking recipe texts. The project takes advantage of the opportunities this research opens for resolving old and new research questions.

CoReMA lifts scholarly barriers and applys new approaches from the emerging field of Digital Humanities on classical historical research strategies.

The first challenge is to work on a European level or at least on a comparative scale. Among the nearly 160 cookery manuscripts written from 12th to 16th c., German, French, and Latin recipes provide the majority of culinary transmission, with ca. 80 volumes and about 8000 recipes only for 12th-15th c. These will be the sample for CoReMA and with this sample we can demonstrate how French and German cooking recipes are related, and cultural assets migrated in medieval Europe.

At the moment, this huge material is not easily accessible to researchers. The original manuscripts are scattered throughout 41 cities in 9 countries. Only two-thirds of these manuscripts have been reprinted into modern editions, albeit sometimes in a poor quality. The reasons are manifold and range from a dated editorial concept (e.g. Wiswe 1958) to a poor transcription performance (e.g. Aichholzer 1999).

The need for transcriptions and critical editions is most obvious for the cookery collections recorded in Latin, which have been excessively neglected although they were the first ones to be set down in writing. The second challenge, therefore, is to edit this culinary heritage of Medieval Latin, Middle French and Early New High German recipes and make it digitally accessible for scholarly use to meet modern and up-to-date research standards.

Unfortunately, understanding these recipes, their context and their transmission is not straightforward, which sets the third challenge. The recipes and the recipe collections are laboriously studied and transcribed by specialized history scholars with high skills in palaeography of medieval technical language, and fluency in the technical vocabulary that describes ingredients, utensils, procedures, and customs of the time. Thus, the texts are not only transcribed and edited but also semantically enriched so that further analysis like machine aided comparison of ingredients or cooking processes adds to standardised philological research like the collation of text.

CoReMA puts an interdisciplinary focus on the cross-cultural research of medieval cooking recipes and their interrelation.

The partners provide the expertise to collect, edit, and analyse these multilingual texts following up-to-date methodology. For machine aided analysis a recipe corpus and its metadata are modelled according to international humanities and technical standards. The recipes are enriched by ontologies for ingredients, cooking processes, etc.

Within and across languages analysis will reveal text migrations, concurring or deviating eating habits, which have built European identities and heritage. This data is the basis for spatial and temporal visualisation and statistical evaluation. It allows long-term comparative studies with Early Modern Cookery and also synchronic studies on particular food ingredients or habits. Last but not least, CoReMA provides a generic model for the integration of additional language collections of cooking recipes and similar texts.

Research Methods

Critical editing

The methods of critical editing have been refined since its beginning in the 18th century. Currently there are several schools and edition models that co-exist side by side (diplomatic editing, genetic editing, historico-critical editing, etc.) the differentiation mainly comes from the varying research interests of the different disciplines: history scholars mostly rely on diplomatic transcription with moderate normalization (Kranich-Hofbauer 2000), philologists may use a genetic oriented approach, focus on documentary editing, or in the case of the Department for German Medieval Philology in Graz a hyper diplomatic transcription approach (Hofmeister-Winter 2003).

The current approach is applied in running edition projects of household manuscripts at the University of Graz and was successfully applied in the project 'Mittelalterlabor'. It relies on digital research environments for text transcription. It explicitly focuses on the edition of sachprosa texts and heterogeneous collected manuscripts. It produces a moderate diplomatic transcription that has no normalisation and attempts to record writer specific characteristics (concerning individual letters and parts of letters like abbreviation markers or superscripts), text-genetic information, and dialectal markers that are represented on character level (e.g. sound changes, dialect markers).

Digital editing

Digital editions are advantageous in that they provide a more flexible means of cataloguing historical texts and offer better accessibility than the print medium ever could. Another reason for the paradigm shift from 'classical' to the Digital Edition is the change in the scientific workplace, which is characterized by a trans-medialisation: nearly all editorial procedures are now carried out in a digital work environment on digital documents (Pierazzo, Driscoll 2016,32). Digital editions which allow for both digital and printed output meet all the standards of scholarly editing.

Consequently, the result of editorial work should also be digital.

Digital enrichment

Semantic enrichment is generally the basis for machine aided analysis of historical texts. Digitization is a formalized and regulated way to create digital objects. But digitization of cultural artefacts is not simply settled with their pictorial or textual representation. Digital objects need to be annotated with critically tested and normed research data in order to carve out the semantics inherent in the artifact. This way the sources as well as the annotations provide for domain specific research and analysis methods. Of course, this is not a new dimension of scholarly research.

What is new, are the possibilities computer powered research processes have to offer.

What is new are the possibilities offered by information technology for the processes of formalization, presentation and analysis of these structures of meaning. For example, palaeographic features of a manuscript can be formally differentiated and statistically (cf. Hofmeister / Stigler 2010) analyzed, dialect and information on production of manuscripts can provide temporal and spatial data for visualisation on time charts and maps, text enriched with normative data can be tested comparatively.

Semantic Web technologies

The problem of word sense disambiguation (just a simple example) for instance cannot be addressed in a non-semantic search environment. A semantic search should be able to address this problem by looking at the context of the searching operation. To make this possible on a technical basis there are core requirements for knowledge representation: entity identity, representing relationships between identities, extensibility, shared vocabularies (ontologies).

These requirements can be reproduced with a cluster of basic web technologies that are commonly called the ‘Semantic Web Stack’ (W3C 2007): URIs are necessary to uniquely identify resources in the Semantic Web. Unicode is an international standard with the long-term goal of assigning a digital code to all meaningful characters of all semiotic systems known allowing consistent encoding for different countries and cultures. Extensible Markup Language (XML) is a markup language that helps to structure data. RDF (Resource Description Framework) enables us to structure information (triples) in a way that data can be exchanged between systems while the original meaning stays the same. A triple always resembles the form resource - property - value and can be visualised as graph, showing the relations between the stored data. Every resource is uniquely identified by an URI. Subjects, predicates and objects are names for concrete or abstract entities in the real world.

Vocabularies and ontologies define the relations among terms or concepts that together define the conceptualisation of a domain. Ontologies are already being successfully used to represent (Sam et al. 2014) and analyse (Jovanovic et al. 2015, Vadivu / Waheeta Hopper 2010) cooking recipes, albeit with a different focus and granularity of data. Data that is available in a semantic web format and that, analogue to its format, is stored in a triple store can be queried with the help of SPARQL Protocol And RDF Query Language.

Data visualisation

Visualising data is the procedure of expressing any kind of data or even processes with some kind of graphical means. The goal is to make the understanding of data or processes easier (Card 1999, 6), visualisation of data is a step beyond simple data analysis as its results have the potential to generate new research questions (Reiche et al. 2012,18).

The most common means of visualisation in a scholarly context are graphs to visualise data connection, and hierarchical structures (tree, radial, and 3d structures, etc.) to show dependencies. In the humanities visualisation is often used for information retrieval from unstructured data collections (Manning 2008), data mining (Hand et. al 2001,17), data analysis, and temporal and spatial data presentation. Typical use cases are the visualisation of text variants and stemmata in Digital Editions, and the presentation of historical metadata as time tables and geographical maps as well as combinations thereof.

Once historical data is digitized and enriched, and even in a semantic web format the possibilities of visualisation are manifold. For the presented project a combination of temporal and spatial data interface will suit to analyse and visualise the question of recipe migration and development (cf. the visualisation environment nodegoat).

Impact of the Project

Its research methods draw from classical scholarly methods like critical editing to modern experimental methods of analysis of the digital humanities. These are all reasons, why the benefits and the impact of the project are manifold: the project has impact on the very research domains it is situated in.

The CoReMA project is a scholarly research project focused on the historical and cultural development of national cuisines.

Due to the huge amount of historical documents that are edited in the project both through traditional and modern research methods the project influences both fields. There is constant alternation between traditional and modern research methods during text transcription, codicological, palaeographical, and philological descriptive work and the design of a suitable presentation interface. This generates knowledge on how and which methods work together productively. Dissemination through scholarly means (conference presentations, papers, and articles) help to further both disciplines.

The project can also be seen as a proving ground for our research method for the study of text transmission and migration, that combines philological as well as cultural historical methods to reach its goals. This is a new approach for historical cooking recipes but when the technical infrastructure is in place and when the ground rules of the working process are published, it can be transferred to any kind of (technical) historical texts that do not follow the ideal transmission process of model => copy.

The project provides a research platform that not only can be used to analyse historical texts but, due to semantic web techniques, the application of a basic food ontology, and the dissemination of the project data as Linked Open Data, also for the migration of recipes, food items, or eating habits throughout history up to the modern age.

Provided a uniform source data, the project's digital working environment can be seen as the foundation for diachronic, cross cultural research environment on food and food studies as well as other culturally charged transient texts.

The integration of historic German recipes into a wider European context and an international discourse of food history paired with an adequate documentation and promotion of the research progress and findings can be a further step to establish food studies and food history in German speaking Europe. One vital part of this process is scholarly dissemination, the other is public dissemination. The general topic ‘food’ and the more specialised research on food history has a great potential of interest to a general public and will reach and engage a great number of people, varying food trends, food blogs, and of course, cooking shows all are examples for this interest.

The activities of CoReMA will be integrated in the cursus of the new CESR master “Food and Heritage”, in the framework of the High Institute for the Heritage Intelligence that will be developed at the university of Tours.

The project includes core scholarly methods like critical editing or digital humanities research, which are an integral part of the curricula of the disciplines involved: history, German philology, digital humanities. The project will be part of ongoing classes through texts, research questions, and methodological discussion. The findings of the intertwined cooperation of history research and digital humanities will inspire new research methods that will influence both curricula of historical studies and digital humanities.

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Project staff

Denise Ardesi

She is a doctoral researcher at the CESR- Centre for Advanced Renaissnce Studies (University of Tours). She is engineer in analysis and criticism of historical and textual sources for the CoReMA project. Her expertise lies on digital humanites (encoding texts and manuscripts), blog’s implementation,web design, organisation of events and languages.

Astrid Böhm

Doctorate; she finalised her master studies 2014 at the Department of German Studies with a thesis on The iatromathematical household book of Codex ÖNB, 3085 (fol.1r–39v) – stoffgeschichte, classification, dynamic edition and glossary. She is assistant lecturer at the University of Graz and doctoral researcher in the project Establishment of an interactive module for science communication of medieval studies. Her research interests are traditional and digital transcription techniques, editorial sciences, and artes literature.
(Forschungsportal der Uni Graz)

Julia Eibinger

Student assistant, studying for the DH Master at the ZIM-ACDH
tasks: data modelling, data management, websdesign

Helmut W. Klug

He is post-doc research assistant at the Zentrum für Informationsmodellierung - Austrian Centre for Digital Humanities of Graz University (ZIM-ACDH). His focus of interest is subdivided into the research of medieval and early modern alimentation and researching into digital humanities methods of computer-aided knowledge generation, this includes the application of Digital Humanities methods and especially Digital Scholarly Editions. He has, for example, gathered experience in independent project management with the Dictionary of Old English Plant Names (fwf project) and the Medieval Plant Survey (proof of concept dissertation project), both web based scholarly research tools. He is the editor of the Korpus mittelalterlicher Kochrezepttexte (Corpus of Medieval Cooking Recipes). H. Klug has published pertinent articles on German medieval food history and digital editing and has recently started to co-organise and to work on a nation wide research infrastructure project on Digital Editions.

Helmut W. Klug is Austrian PI for the CoReMA project.

Bruno Laurioux

He is professor in Medieval and Food History at the University of Tours. He has worked on medieval cookery, gastronomy and food for more than thirty years. He has published 7 books and edited 4 others on the different aspects of medieval food and more recently on long term food history. He has published more than 100 papers and supervised 10 PhD. B. Laurioux has created and managed an international network on food studies: the “Institut Européen d’Histoire et des Cultures de l’Alimentation” (IEHCA), as a secretary, deputy chairman and chairman of Scientific Council (20012016) and since 2016 as chairman of the Board. He was member of the Editorial Board of Food & Foodways and Médiévales. From 2006 to 2010 he was scientific deputy director for Ancient and Medieval History and scientific director of the Institute of Social Sciences and Humanities at the CNRS (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique). Bruno Laurioux will coordinate the French team of CoReMA at the Centre d’Etudes Supérieures de la Renaissance.

Corentin Poirier Montaigu

He is engineer in analysis and criticism of historical and textual sources for the CoReMA program. His mission includes the transcription, the encoding and the analysis of cookbooks in medieval latin and french to feed the database. He contributes also to the enrichment of the program’s blog. Moreover and after research studies in History at the Centre for Advanced Renaissance Studies (University of Tours), he is preparing his PhD on « Writing the cookery in latin from 12th to 15th century » under the direction of Pr. Bruno Laurioux.

Elisabeth Raunig

Student assistant, studying for the DH Master study at the ZIM-ACDH
tasks: data modelling, data management, websdesign

Christian Steiner

He is doctoral researcher at the ZIM­ACDH with a general focus on Digital Humanities. Currently he is working on a joint project with the Austrian Academy of Sciences “Cantus Network” where he is responsible for the implementation of a digital as well as a print edition of the liturgical­ musical sources from the ecclesiastical province of Salzburg. His expertise lies in the implementation of digital scholarly editions and Semantic Web technologies. He is also experienced in web design and web programming.

Financial aspects

The project was granted as an interantional cooperation project between Austrian and French researchers. Lead agency during the assessment proces was the ANR. The propject is funded under the classification numbers ANR-17-CE27-0019-01 by the ANR and I 3614 by the FWF.

How to cite:

Klug, H.W. & Laurioux, B. (2020-02). About the project. In H.W. Klug (Ed.), CoReMA - Cooking Recipes of the Middle Ages. Corpus - Analysis - Visualisation. With A. Böhm and C. Steiner. (GAMS. 562.10).