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f you’re wondering what to whip up for dinner tonight, how about sparrows on toast, live frog pie or even sauteed tortoise? These were some of the delights on the menu in the Middle Ages. And for those with rather strong stomachs, they can be recreated today, thanks to a new cookbook. Peter Ross, the principal librarian at the Guildhall Library in London, has delved into recipe books dating back hundreds of years to collate the astonishing meals eaten by our ancestors.
He has collected them in a book, The Curious Cookbook, which details such forgotten gems as barbecued otter and sautéed tortoise, chopped brain fritters, cod’s head and shoulders, imitation entrails and fishy mince pies.
Mr Ross, who has been studying historic cookery for 25 years, found the English were eating a type of lasagne as early as 1390. ‘We often think that pasta really only arrived in this country in the 1950s and 60s,’ he said. ‘So we can ask: “Did the English invent lasagne in the fourteenth century?”.’
The author said he hopes his book inspires modern-day chefs to be creative with their own dinner parties, but advised against cooking up now-endangered species. The Curious Cookbook: Viper Soup, Badger Ham, Stewed Sparrows & 100 More Historic Recipes is published by the British Library and retails at £14.95.