Sat. May 25th, 2024

A Creative List of Meat Carving Terms from the Middle Ages

A lesser advertised joy of working in food service is achieving command of the slang:

Monkey dish…

Deuces and four tops…

Fire, flash, kill… 

As you may have noticed, we here at Open Culture have an insatiable hunger for vintage lingo and it doesn’t get much more vintage than The Boke of Kervynge (The Book of Carving).

This 1508 manual was published for the benefit of young noblemen who’d been placed in affluent households, to learn the ropes of high society by serving the sovereigns.

Few families could afford to serve meat, let alone whole animals, so understandably, the presentation and carving of these precious entrees was not a thing to be undertaken lightly.

The influential London-based publisher Wynkyn de Worde compiled step-by-step instructions for getting different types of meat, game and fish from kitchen to plate, as well as what to serve on seasonal menus and special occasions like Easter and the Feast of St. John the Baptist.

The book opens with the list of “goodly termes” above, essential vocab for any young man eager to prove his skills around the carcass of a deer, goose, or lobster.

There’s nothing here for vegetarians, obviously. And some 21st-century carnivores may find themselves blanching a bit at the thought of tearing into a heron or porpoise.

If, however, you’re a medieval lad tasked with “disfiguring” a peacock, closely observed by an entire dining table of la crème de la crème, The Boke of Kervynge is a lifesaver.

(It also contains some invaluable tips for meeting expectations should you find yourself in the position of chaumberlayne, Marshall or usher.)

In any event, let’s spice up our vocabulary while rescuing some aged culinary terms from obscurity.

Don’t be surprised if they work their way into an episode of The Bear next season, though you should also feel free to use them metaphorically.

And don’t lose heart if some of the terms are a bit befuddling to modern ears. Lists of Note’s Shaun Usher has taken a stab at truffling up some modern translations for a few of the less familiar sounding words, wisely refraining from hazarding a guess as to the meaning of “fruche that chekyn”.

(It’s not the “chekyn” part giving us pause…)

Termes of a keruer —Terms of a carver

Breke that dere — break that deer

lesche y brawne — leach the brawn

rere that goose — rear that goose

lyft that swanne — lift that swan

sauce that capon — sauce that capon

spoyle that henne — spoil that hen

fruche that chekyn — ? that chicken

vnbrace that malarde — unbrace that mallard

vnlace that cony — unlace that coney

dysmembre that heron — dismember that heron

dysplaye that crane — display that crane

dysfygure that pecocke —disfigure that peacock

vnioynt that bytture — unjoint that bittern

vntache that curlewe — untack that curlew

alaye that fesande — allay that pheasant

wynge that partryche — wing that partridge

wynge that quayle — wing that quail

mynce that plouer — mince that plover

thye that pegyon — thigh that pigeon

border that pasty — border that pasty

thye all maner of small byrdes — thigh all manner of small birds

tymbre that fyre — timber that fire

tyere that egge — tear that egg

chyne that samon — chine that salmon

strynge that lampraye — string that lamprey

splatte that pyke — splat that pike

sauce that playce — sauce that plaice

sauce that tenche — sauce that tench

splaye that breme — splay that bream

syde that haddocke — side that haddock

tuske that barbell — tusk that barbel

culpon that troute — culpon that trout

fynne that cheuen — fin that cheven

trassene that ele — ? that eel

traunche that sturgyon — tranche that sturgeon

vndertraunche yt purpos — undertranch that porpoise

tayme that crabbe — tame that crab

barbe that lopster — barb that lobster

Here endeth the goodly termes.

Peruse a digital copy of the sole surviving copy of the first edition of the Boke of Kervynge here.

Via Lists of Note

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Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto and Creative, Not Famous Activity Book.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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