Oldest English recipes cooked up at John Rylands


Guests at Café at the Rylands, located within the historic and beautiful John Rylands Library, have been treated to an exclusive tasting session of Richard II’s recipes from ‘The Forme of Cury’, one of the oldest known cookery manuscripts in the English language.

The 600-year-old book, written in Middle English, doesn’t detail precise quantities or cooking instructions and created many problems for the catering team.  Manager of Café at The Rylands, Debbie Fletcher, said: “Some of the combinations were very strange and it was a real challenge to find some of the ingredients.”

But after hours of experimenting and sampling, chefs at the café managed to devise a menu suitable for modern day palates.

Specially invited guests sampled Tart in Ymber Day (a type of egg custard tart sweetened with raisins), Compast (cooked root vegetables cooked in a sweetened vinaigrette), Payn Puff (boiled fruits in coffin or pye, a type of pastry), Frumenty (bulghar wheat and chicken stock coloured and flavoured with saffron served as a porridge type dish), Gingerbrede (spiced breadcrumbs bound with honey and rolled in sugar and ginger, washed down with Piment (a sweetened spice red wine with ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and pepper).

Chefs at the cafe plan to introduce one of the dishes into their contemporary menu and the exclusive tasting was an opportunity to capture valuable customer feedback. Staff are now reviewing responses and the favourite will become a permanent fixture in their January 2010 menu and will be announced in the New Year.

John Hodgson, keeper of manuscripts and archives at John Rylands Library, was also on hand to provide guests with an insight into the historical origins of the book and a rare viewing of the precious item.

The Forme of Cury was compiled and written in 1390 by King Richard II’s master cooks and contains over 190 recipes that would have originally been served in the royal household, from the servants’ quarters through to the top royal table. It includes recipes made from porpoise, pike and blancmange and gives a great insight into the delicacies eaten in the Middle Ages. 

The Forme of Cury was bought by Mrs. Rylands for the library from Lord Crawford as part of a larger collection in 1901 and it has been housed in the library ever since. John Rylands Library houses thousands more of the UK's most exquisite collections of books, manuscripts and archives.

Further information

A video of the day can be viewed at:


The Forme of Cury was digitalised and went online this year and can be found at:



Notes for editors

Jon Keighren, Media Relations Manager, The University of Manchester
0161 275 8384