Tag Archives: Caxton

Stuffed eggs: Part 1

Well. Eggs. Surely one of the best and most versatile foodstuffs known to man? I love eggs, particularly when I was growing up – whether it was baked eggs with mustard (my family’s Christmas morning breakfast of choice), the near-weekly egg mayonnaise with cheese and a jacket potato my nan would give me when I went to her house for tea, or in my teenage years, the fried egg sandwiches I always swore by as a preventative hangover cure – to be eaten in the middle of the night after a long night out.

But enough with the memories, that kind of history is far too recent for this blog!

Eggs have always been a popular and common food, so mentions of them are rather frequent. I had trouble tracking down any specifically about stuffed eggs, but here are a couple of interesting egg-related excerpts (I refuse to stoop to the level of writing “egg-cerpts”. Oh damn, too late, I just did it!).

I don’t think we really need to look at the OED for a definition of eggs. Let’s see what William Bullein has to say in The Government of Health – a diet treatise from the 16th century:

New laide eggs of hennes potched and supped vppon an emptie stomacke, doeth clense the lungs and the raines of the backe. Harde egges are greately discommended, vnlesse it bee to stoppe flixes

“Flixes”, or “the bloody flux”, was an Early Modern term for dysentery, and I don’t think we should spend any more time dwelling on that in a food blog.

Eggs do seem to get something of a bad rep, while Bullein does his best to “discommend” hard boiled ones, Thomas Hill’s 1576 text The moste pleasuante arte of the interpretacion of dreames explains that, in a dream, “to eate egges, signifyeth stryfe”, though he does not offer a reason why.

My favourite egg reference is from Caxton’s preface to the Eneydos (1490). It will most likely be familiar to language students, as it often comes up in text books in relation to language change. Caxton describes the differences in regional vocabulary, and raises the question of which one is “right”. He tell the story of two travelling merchants who stop at the house of a “good wfy” in search of food:

And one of theym named sheffelde a mercer cam in to an hows and axed for meet. and specyally he axyd after eggys And the goode wyf answerde. that she coude speke no frenshe. And the marchaut was angry. for he also coude speke no frenshe. but wolde haue hadde egges / and she vnderstode hym not / And thenne at laste a nother sayd that he wolde haue eyren / then the good wyf sayd that she vnderstod hym wel / Loo what sholde a man in thyse dayes now wryte. egges or eyren / certaynly it is harde to playse euery man / by cause of dyuersite & chau~ge of langage.

Here’s one with modernised spelling and punctuation:
And one of them named Sheffied, a mercer, came into a house and asked for meat. And specially he asked after eggys. And the good wife answered that she could speak no French. And the merchant was angry, for he also could speak no French, but would have had egges, and she understood him not. And then at last another said that he would have eyren, then the good wife said that she understood him well. Lo, what should a man in these days now write, egges or eyren? Certainly it is hard to please every man, by cause of diversity and change of language.
You can find the full text here, if you are so inclined: http://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~jlynch/Texts/eneydos.html
Very soon, the recipe for my stuffed eggs will be here…

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