By Tim Hazell
Italian scholar and Catholic priest Marcilio Ficino (1433-1499) embodied the ideals of a Renaissance man of his time. His “Book of Life” published 500 years ago advocated simple decisions associated with choices of foods, clothes, ointments, and travel, compatible with each person’s specific histories and needs. It honored individual temperament and the right of each soul to manifest implied understanding of the matrix of a richly gilded life. Ficino offers us prescriptions for good living in his third self-help book, “Making Your Life Agree with The Heavens.”
“Our laboratory here, our antidotes, drugs, poultices, ointments, and remedies offer different things to different types of people. If you do not like some of these, just put them aside, lest you reject the rest because of a few. If you do not approve of astronomical images, even those that have been found to be good for the health of mortals, remember that I, myself, do not so much approve of them as describe them. You can, with my permission, or even, if you prefer, with my recommendation, put such things aside. At least you should not neglect the medicines that have been strengthened with a little planetary help, or you will have neglected life itself.”
Medieval cookery was an aesthetic exploration of splendor as well as the alchemy of well-being. Recipes that survive were meant to teach a novice how to make common as well extravagant banquet dishes, compiled with the advice of experts in their fields of medicine, science, and philosophy.
The following is a modern adaption of the original taken from a 1390 scroll, The Forme of Cury (The Method of Cooking), curry being from Middle French cuire; to cook– an extensive collection of medieval English recipes from the fourteenth century. Its authors are listed as “the chief Master Cooks of King Richard II.” Among the oldest English cookery books, it is the first to mention olive oil and spices such as mace and cloves. This mildly sweet but rich tart makes a hearty appetizer or memorable light lunch with salad.
1 nine-inch pastry shell
1 lb. Brie or Camembert cheese, with rind, chilled
6 egg yolks
1 tsp. unrefined sugar
1/4 tsp. powdered ginger
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. saffron strands
Pinch white sugar and 1/2 tsp. cinnamon (optional)
Steep saffron strands in a little hot water until a deep golden color. Bake pastry shell for 10 minutes at 425 degrees. Allow to cool. Reset oven to 375 degrees. Remove and reserve rind from chilled cheese. Cut cheese into small (no larger than 2”) pieces with a moistened knife. Beat with an electric mixer until fairly smooth. In another bowl, whisk together egg yolks and sugar until thick and pale. Fold in the cheese, ginger, salt, and strained saffron water. Pour into the pastry shell. Strew cut rind evenly over surface. Dust the top with cinnamon and white sugar. Bake about 30 minutes until set and golden brown. Serve warm or cool.