The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

In terms of medieval books, The Canterbury Tales is right up there with Dante’s Inferno as my top favorites. Unless you’re a trained medieval scholar, however, I would strongly recommend reading a more modern English translation of the book, since the medieval English of Chaucer is quite difficult to read.

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The entire book essentially revolves around food, in particular because the overall framework of the book is a storytelling competition, the reward for which is a magnificent feast. Several disparate individuals stop to stay the night at the Tabard Inn in London on their way to the cathedral at Canterbury, on a religious pilgrimage. Harry Bailly is the innkeeper and suggests that the pilgrims all tell a story to pass the time on the journey – the best one wins.

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The pilgrims, among them The Prioress, The Summoner, The Knight, The Miller, The Wife of Bath, The Reeve, The Man of Law, and The Friar, are introduced in a long prologue that describes their various attributes. Then the book is broken into sections consisting of each pilgrim’s tale, as varied as the pilgrims themselves, and are by turns, funny, romantic, adventuresome, bawdy, and at times very sexually explicit.

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Any Chaucer scholar or reader of this book understands the role that food played in this historical context. Food was a clear marker of wealth and social rank. Bread was a customary food across all economic groups, but the wealthy ate finely milled white bread (which was also very unhealthy, not having any nutrients in it.)  Those of the peasant rank ate the brown wheat bread that was healthier but also still with grit and small rocks in it. Wine was to be had by most people, but again, the quality depended on your ability to pay.

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I always liked the description of the Franklin, being referred to as “Epicurus’ own son,” meaning that he greatly enjoyed his food. Part of the lengthy introduction of the book, which is a heavenly description of fish, meat pies, wine, chicken, fat partridges, dainties (candies or pastries), bread and ale. Then, The Summoner is described in foodie terms, as he likes garlic and onion and red wine, which were considered to be unhealthy, so as such, so he is considered in a negative light.

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So, a combination of chicken, wine, spices, and the previously mentioned garlic and onion, seemed in order, and for me, that means coq au vin. With so much leeway in this recipe, I used my own method that’s based on the great Jacques Pépin’s marvelous recipe, using a bit of spice that would have been used in medieval cooking, and served with a salad of arugula, roasted beets, blue cheese, pine nuts, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar. Enjoy.

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INGREDIENTS
12 chicken thighs, bone in and skin off
1 bottle fruity red wine, like Grenache or Beaujolais
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 strips pancetta, cut into pieces
1 large yellow onion
8 baby carrots, cut lengthwise
3 garlic cloves, slivered
15-20 bella mushrooms, sliced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
1 tablespoon fresh parsley
3 bay leaves
1 and 1/2 cups chicken stock
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg (substitute for mace, a well-known medieval spice)
Egg noodles (optional)

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METHOD
Marinate the chicken in the red wine, garlic and herbs for up to 6 hours. Reserve the marinade.

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Fry the pancetta in the olive oil, then add the chopped-up onion and cook it for 10 minutes.

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Toss in the carrots and the mushrooms here, stir again, and cook another 10 minutes.

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Add the chicken pieces, pour in the marinade, and add the bay leaves. Mix everything together, and add the nutmeg.

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Pour over the chicken stock, and simmer on low for 2 hours, stirring occasionally and tasting for seasoning. Add salt and pepper as needed.

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For the last 45 minutes of cooking, add some egg noodles, which will absorb some liquid and thicken it. Taste again and season as needed.

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8 thoughts on “The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

  1. Haha! It is funny how things change. I swear, I use garlic like every day-onion too. I don’t think I have but a few recipes that don’t contain both, lol. I’m adding this one to my book. 😉 Have a great weekend! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I had to read this in college. It was a challenge to say the least. I think it’s cool you not only read it, but enjoyed it and got so much history from it. Your chicken stew looks really good, too. I like a cook who uses a whole bottle of wine in a recipe. My kinda person!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Mari. I admit it wasn’t an easy read, but if you can read a modern translation of it, makes it much easier to understand and you get the funny and raunchy parts. And yes, cooking with a whole bottle is always fun, though I did save another bottle for drinking, of course. 🙂 Thanks for your kind words!

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  3. This definitely sounds like a healthy recipe after reading the ingredients. Looks yummy too! Once again, I loved your review and photos. Interesting that the wealthier people at the unhealthier bread. Also, that garlic, onion, and wine were considered unhealthy. I would die without two of those! Sounds like a really neat book. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Jen! Although there are some people who would disagree that a chicken stew cooked in a whole bottle of red wine is not healthy. Though what do they know, right? Fools. 🙂 I’m so glad you enjoyed the post, and the coq au vin came out delicious! Mushrooms, chicken, garlic, onions, and wine…….it really doesn’t get any better. The garlic and onions were considered unhealthy only because they were so strong-smelling and people who liked them were considered unhealthy because they took on those same odors. Funny how things change, right? When I’m around someone who smells of garlic, I immediately think they must be an awesome person and great cook! LOL! Thanks for commenting.

      Liked by 1 person

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