The History of the Cockentrice

One of the more fanciful and imaginative dishes of the Middle Ages was the cockentrice, made by combining a pig and a capon into one creature, thus creating a "new" animal that would not only feed hungry folk but amuse and amaze them as well. "Cockentrice" is actually just one among many spellings of the name of this dish; originally the beast was also known as a cokagrys or cotagres, from "cock" (a capon) and "grys" (a pig); a "gryse" was a suckling pig. Other period spellings include koketris, cocagres, cokyntryche, cockyntryce, and cokantrice. Cockentrice were common entries at great dinners, and a cokyntryche is listed among the many feast items at a festival given by John Stafford, Bishop of Bath & Wells, on September 16, 1425. Incidentally, the cockentrice is NOT the infamous Cockatrice, that fabulous mythical serpent that had the power to kill with a glance. Our edible cockentrice is a much safer and delicious creature.

Recipes for the cockentrice can be found in three common primary sources: the Harleian Manuscript no. 279 & the Douce Manuscript no. 55, as found in Two 15th c. Cookery-Books by Thomas Austin (1888) and Forme of Cury, as found in Curye on Inglysch by Constance Hieatt & Sharon Butler (1985). Two 15th c. Cookery-Books contains two recipes for cockentrice, while Forme of Cury has just one. The recipes from the Harleian & Douce Manuscripts are nearly identical to each other: both describe creating the animal in the same fashion, by cutting the capon & pig in half then sewing the two together; both have a stuffing made of bread, eggs, sheep suet, and spices; both are gilded with egg yolks, saffron, ginger, & parsley juice. Forme of Cury's recipe is slightly different. In this version the animal is constructed in the same manner, but the stuffing is made of pork liver, eggs, currants, pine nuts, and spices, and the cockentrice is gilded with silver and gold foil. For the convenience of this documentation, I have labeled the recipes from Two 15th c. Cookery-Books as Recipe 1 & Recipe 2. The receipt found in Forme of Cury is hereafter referred to as Recipe 3. The translations that follow the period recipes are my own, and are based on the glossaries found in Two 15th c. Cookery-Books and Curye on Inglysch.

The Cockentrice

The Cockentrice

Recipe 1

Harleian MS.279 .xxviij. Cokyntryce. - Take a Capon, & skald hym, & draw hem clene, & smyte hem a-to in the waste ouerthwart; take a Pigge, & skald hym, & draw hym in the same maner, & smyte hem also in the waste; take a nedyl & a threde, & sewe the fore partye of the Capoun to the After parti of the Pigge; & the fore partye of the Pigge, to the hynder party of the Capoun, & than stuffe hem as thou stuffyst a Pigge; putte hem on a spete, and Roste hym: & whan he is y-now, dore hem with yolkys of Eyroun, & pouder Gyngere & Safroun, thenne wyth the Ius of Percely with-owte; & than serue it forth for a ryal mete.

Cockentrice - take a capon, scald it, drain it clean, then cut it in half at the waist; take a pig, scald it, drain it as the capon, and also cut it in half at the at the waist; take needle and thread and sew the front part of the capon to the back part of the pig; and the front part of the pig to the back part of the capon, and then stuff it as you would stuff a pig; put it on a spit, and roast it: and when it is done, gild it on the outside with egg yolks, ginger, saffron, and parsley juice; and then serve it forth for a royal meat.

To "stuffe hem as thou stuffyst a Pigge", you must refer to another recipe that begins on the same page:

.xxxiij. Pygge y-farsyd. - Take raw Eyroun, & draw hem thorw a straynoure; than grate fayre brede; take Safroun & Salt, & pouder of Pepir, & Swet of a schepe, & melle alle to-gederys in a fayre bolle, then broche thin Pygge; then farce hym, & sewe the hole, & lat hym roste; & then serue forth.

Stuffed Pig - take slightly beaten raw eggs, grated bread, saffron, salt, pepper, sheep suet, and mix all together in a bowl, then place the pig on a spit, stuff it with the mixture, sew the hole together, and let it roast; and then serve it.

Recipe 2

Douce MS. 55 Cockentrice. Capitulum lxiiij. - Scalde a capon clene, & smyte hem in-to the wast oueretwarde, and scaude a pygge, and draw hym, & smyte hym in the same maner; and then sewe the forthyr parte of the capon and the hyndyr parte of the pigge to-gederys, and the forther parte of the pygge and the hyndyr parte of the capon to-gedyr; then draw the whyte & the yolkes of eyren, and cast ther-to, and svette of a schepe, and saffron, & salt, and pouudre of gyngeuere, and grated bread; and melle all to-gedre with thyn honde, and putt it in the cockentrice, and putt it on a spite, and roste hem; and endore hem with yolkes of eyren, and pouudre of gyngeuere, and saffron, and ioissh of persely or malves, and draw hem, and endore hem all abowte in euery perty of hym.

Cockentrice - scald a capon (then drain) it clean, and cut it in half at the waist, and scald a pig, and drain it, and cut it in the same manner; then sew the front part of the capon to the back part of the pig; and the front part of the pig to the back part of the capon; then take slightly beaten eggs, sheep suet, saffron, salt, ginger, and grated bread, and mix all together with your hands, and put it in the cockentrice, and put it on a spit, and roast it; and gild it with egg yolks, ginger, saffron, and parsley or mallows juice, and let it be clean and gilded all over.

Recipe 3

Forme of Cury 183 Cokagrys. Take and make the self fars, but do therto pynes & sugur. Take an hold rostr cok; pulle hym & hylde hym al togyder saue the legges. Take a pigg and hilde hym fro the myddes dounward; fylle him ful of the fars, & sowe hym fast togeder. Do hym in a panne & seeth hym wel, and whan thei bene isode: do hem on a spyt & rost it wele. Colour it with yolkes of ayren and safroun. Lay theron foyles of gold and siluer, and serue hit forth.

Cockentrice: make the previous stuffing, but add pine nuts & sugar. Take a capon (an "old rooster") and cut it in half at the middle. Take a pig and cut in half at the middle. Fill them full of the stuffing and then sew them together. Place in a pan and boil until somewhat cooked; then place on a spit and roast well. Color it with egg yolks and saffron. Cover with gold & silver foil, then serve.

"The self fars" is found in the previous recipe, same page: 182 Farsur to make pomme dorryse and other thynges. Take the lire of pork rawe, and grind it smale. Medle it vp with eyren & powdre fort, safroun and salt; and do therto raisouns of courance... (The medieval receipt continues beyond this point, giving the directions for making pomme dorryse, and does not to be reprinted here.)

Stuffing to make gilded apples and other things. Take ground raw pork liver, and mix it with eggs, pepper, cloves, saffron, salt, and currants.

The "powdre fort" asked for in the period recipe is defined by Curye on Inglysch as being a mixture of strong spices, usually pepper & cloves.

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The Cockentrice - A Ryal Mete is © James L. Matterer

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