Thomas Cogan: Frumenty is Natural, while Bread is Artificial (1584)

I am working through the Thomas Cogan (1545?-1607) bread and grain sections from his influential work, Haven of Health (1584). Like the author of health manuals today, Cogan declares himself academically qualified to write on medical matters. He had two Oxford degrees, a Master of Arts, and a Batcheler of Physicke. He was a working physician, and the Headmaster of a grammar school in Manchester. Cogan addressed his book to his students, and by extension to people like us who who do not do manual labor for a living. In this post I review the gain section of the Haven of Health. It includes one absolutely phenomenal observation. That is the observation that boiling grain is natural, while making bread is artificial.

Of such Fruits of the Field, as are nourishing.

THe chief fruits of the field are Wheate, Rye, Rice, Barly, Oates, Beanes, Chiches, Pease and Lentils.

Conceptually, is where staple foods are grown and gardens it’s where vegetables are grown. This is not a listing of bread grains specifically, but rather a more generally consideration of staple grains and pulses. I’m gonna focus my comments just on the grains that are used for bread.


Wheate is divided into divers kinds by Pliny, Columella, Dodonaeus, Pena and Lobelius; it shall be suffici∣ent for us to describe the sorts of this Country, which are especially two: The one red called Robus by Columella, and the other very white and light called Siligo, whereof is made our purest manchet. Being made into Furmity and sodden with milk and sugar, or artificially made into bread; Wheate nourisheth exceeding much *and strongly: the hardest, thickest, heaviest, cleanest, brightest and growing in a fat soil, is ever to be chosen; for such Wheate (in Dioscorides and Galens judgement) is most nourishing.

There are two important observations in this passage. The first one is that wheat, which is the primary bread grain, is divided between two cultivars – red wheat and white wheat. The distinction between red and white wheat which is the distinction between a yellowish pale pericarp and the more red pericarp remains important in commerce today. Most wheat grown today is red wheat. Nonetheless, there exists a market for white wheat. Historically, white wheat what’s the weed chosen for making the finest whitest flowers the English manchet was made with white wheat and the best Roman bread we’re also made with white wheat. In both cases the finest flower was a double dressed flour white wheat. In Latin that was called “siligo”. Siligo what is water the name of the grain. At the level of recipe it is very important that if you are doing recreations of historic breads from the previous 2000 years that you mill white wheat for your finer breads. The text makes clear that mansion is made with white wheat. And the double dressed Roman flour, siligo.

Correlation between manchet flower and find white wheat flour in other texts. What makes this passage golden is the implication that when you just boil up grain as you do for a furmity, the debt dish is, by comparison with bread, natural. Natural is not a word that Kogan uses. It’s my word to contrast with the artificial, a word he does use, to describe the making of bread. The idea that bread was an invention of culture, that bread is complicated, technological to a high degree, seems to have been a concept that writers during this period were very aware of. I say that because several authors Kummer Cogan call Ma Thomas Moffett call Ma and the authors of Maison Rustique beach talked about bread as an invention. Bread is something that does not exist in nature. Farmers do you harvest grains, they do not harvest breads.


Rye seemeth to be nothing but a wild kind of wheate, meet for Labourers, Servants and Workmen, but hea∣vy of digestion to indifferent stomachs.

Rie and Wade are both grasses. So I think we can cut Cogan some slack in his misclassication of Rye as a type of wheat. What important here is this repetition of the idea that there’s something about Rie that suits servants and workmen but it’s not appropriate for students Palmer and those of us who make our adult lives

Barly used any way in bread, drink or broth, is ever cooling (saith Galen) and engendreth but a thin and weak juice. Before we use it in broths or Ptisan, it should be clean hulld, and washed in many waters. The decoction of Barly in chicken-broth, strained with a few blauncht almonds, and sweetned with sugar, and rosewater, is a ve∣ry covenient meat for sound men, but more for them which are sick and abhor flesh.

In the Galenic health system, food was food and at the same time food was medicine. It was medicine in a sense that we cannot easily appreciate. We may, with more or less actual belief, drink chicken soup when feeling crummy, or extra garlic to fend off a cold, but these are residual behaviors from a way of thinking about food and about our bodies that is long past. A “ptisan” is a tisane — a tea created through macerating the grain. Barley candy starts with a barley water. Such waters were apparently consumed. As barley was “cooling,” whatever exactly that means, if you were in need of cooling you could drink barley water. While a barley broth made with chicken broth and including blanched almonds, sugar, and rosewater may have been a favorite of Thomas Cogan, barley is here assigned to people who are sick or who “abhor flesh.” Abhor! Strong word! The use of barley water as a medicine seems to me to suggest an awareness everyone had that in dealing with grains they were dealing with food/medicine.

Cardan saith that Galen maketh mention of a kind of Barly in Greece growing without a husk, and hulld by nature; which place he never citeth, because he was mistaken; for through all Galen I could never find any such thing, though of purpose I searched for it very diligently. 

I’m calling out this sentence because it so clearly shows us the Thomas Cogan is intellectually dependent on texts that are nearly 1500 years prior to his own lifetime. He is doing serious research but it is literary research. He finds a citation to Galen in a work of Girolamo Cardano (1501-1576) regarding a free threshing barley in Greece but cannot find any such reference it the work of Galen. While this displays first class scholarship – always check the references – what he does not do is check any contemporary sources of information on what grains grow in Greece in his own day. Funny cat find three threshing Barlow cine he seems to feel fat that closes the case.

That Wheate and Rye is far more nourishing then Barly.

There is always the hierarchy. The maslin mix of wheat and rye are more nourishing than barley. The lack of nourishment attributed to barley is found in Galen.

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