This recipe is taken from ‘Le Ménagier de Paris’ (The Good Wife’s Guide), a guidebook from 1393 discussing the “proper behavior” for a woman in her marriage and while running a household. The text is not only a cookbook; it also includes advice from a fictional elderly husband telling his younger wife how to go about life in the garden, kitchen, and bedroom. Readers of the text can explore gender roles and attitudes on marriage and family, as well as French Medieval cuisine.
This medieval dish is relatively simple and provides warm flavors due to the cloves, ginger, and cinnamon. Ground almonds thicken the sauce and make it more filling. You may have difficulty in finding one of the ingredients: grains of paradise. This is a spice with West African origins which has a pungent, black-pepper-like flavor with hints of citrus. A good substitute is the closely related spice cardamom.
Cinnamon, the star flavor of this French soup, is native to Sri Lanka, the Malabar Coast of India, and Myanmar. Today, it is also cultivated in South America and the West Indies. Cinnamon was so important to some ancient people that it was even more valuable than gold! Ancient Egyptians used it for embalming and witchcraft and Medieval Europeans sought out the spice for religious rituals as well as adding warm, sweet, flavors to their recipes. This was the most profitable spice for traders in the Dutch East India Company.
Notes and Variations for a Modern Kitchen
If you choose to grind the almonds at home, be sure to avoid turning them into an almond paste, small pieces are tasty, crunchy additions.
If you are vegetarian, tofu and vegetable broth make great modern alternatives for the chicken and chicken broth. The tofu cooks faster than chicken and thickens the soup sauce quicker too, so if you are preparing both versions, start the chicken version about 15-20 minutes before the tofu.
Another tasty variation you could make to this soup is to use smoked almonds instead of plain. If you choose to do so, you will likely want to remove salt elsewhere and may want to add a sprinkle more of cinnamon.
Medieval French Chicken Cinnamon Soup. Photo © Alicia McDermott
1 cup cooked chicken (or tofu), cubed
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter or lard
2 cups chicken (or vegetable) broth
1/2 cup ground almonds
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ginger
1/8 tsp. cloves
1/8 tsp. grains of paradise (or cardamom)
salt, to taste
Gather all ingredients and grind spices and almonds if necessary.
Cut chicken (or tofu) into small pieces and sauté in butter until it starts to brown.
Add remaining ingredients, bring to a boil, and simmer uncovered until thick.
Top image: Medieval ancient kitchen table with typical food in wealthy home. (Nejron Photo/Adobe Stock)