More instructions from the sixteenth century

Here is another tidbit from Gastronomica, by request. This one has yet again to do with sixteenth-century cookbooks (anyone who has explored this century’s culinary writing knows it is chock-full of both horrors and delights), and their fascination with the many things one can do with food besides eating it. Some excerpts from the Fall 2004 issue of Gastronomica:

How to Make a Cooked Chicken Jump on a Table

Take some quicksilver and a little bit of magnetic powder, mix together and place in a well-sealed small bottle. And then put it inside a chicken or other cooked thing, which must be hot, and it will jump. And the same holds in a sink or pot, etc.

Better yet than the jumping chicken is the walking egg, my personal favorite, found in a different “cookery” book:

A Secret for Making an Egg Walk Around the Room

Your Lordship must take an egg and make a hole in it on one end and the other. And by blowing through the hole, you must remove all that which is inside. Then take a cockroch and put it in the egg through one of the holes. And then you must stuff both the holes with white wax and then set it aside. Then, when you wish to perform this trick, call for an egg, but when the egg is brought forth, skillfully exchange the eggs. And then you must say, “I will make this egg walk around the room,” and put it in the middle of the room, and place a candle near it, and the coackroach will begin to walk inside the eggshell and the egg will walk around the room.

There are other excitements like these which are too long to share here, but I can tantalize you with their titles: Flying Pie, Lenten Imitation Butter (made from almonds, rose water, pike broth, sugar, saffron, and starch), and the extremely dramatic

How to Dress a Peacock with All Its Feathers, So That When Cooked, It Appears to Be Alive and Spews Fire From Its Beak

One must wonder what these Renaissance cooks would have made of our cuisine!

While we’re on the topic of food, you must go see Ratatouille if you haven’t already. You can pay $15 to see it at the El Capitan, as we did, preceded by a truly surreal and horrible stage show featuring dancers dressed as chefs and characters from random movies like Toy Story and Mary Poppins. Or you can just go elsewhere, which is probably better. But go! Even if you’re not a foodie, it’s a really wonderful story and a great movie.

[This post was imported on 4/10/14 from my old blog at]