The Forme of Cury is the oldest known instructive cookery book written in the English language (the Middle English word cury here means ‘cookery’). The text is thought to have been written at the end of the 14th century by the master-cooks of Richard II (r. 1377–1399), though this copy – presented in the form of a scroll – was made in England during the 1420s. The preface to the manuscript explains that the work has been given the 'assent and avysement of Maisters and phisik and of philosophie þat dwelled in his court' (approval and consent of the masters of medicine and of philosophy that dwelt in [Richard II’s] court). An inscription added to the back of the scroll states that in 1586, Edward Stafford (d. 1603) presented the work to Elizabeth I (r. 1558–1603).
The book contains 196 recipes. The text states that these recipes are intended to teach a cook to make everyday dishes ('Common pottages and common meats for the household, as they should be made, craftily and wholesomely'), as well as unusually spiced and spectacular dishes for banquets ('curious potages and meetes and sotiltees for alle maner of States bothe hye and lowe'). The Middle English word sotiltee (or ‘subtlety’) refers to the elaborate sculptures that often adorned the tables at grand feasts. These displays, usually made of sugar, paste, jelly or wax, depicted magnificent objects: armed ships, buildings with vanes and towers, eagles, famous philosophers or political events. They were also known as 'warners,' because they were served at the beginning of a banquet to 'warn' (or notify) the guests of the approaching dinner.
The Forme of Cury is the first English text to mention olive oil, cloves, mace, and gourds in relation to British food. Most of the recipes contain what were then luxurious and valuable spices, including caraway, nutmeg, cardamom, ginger and pepper. There are also recipes for cooking strange and exotic animals, such as whales, cranes, curlews, herons, seals, and porpoises.