What the cries of Paris tell us about Parisian food history

One summer in Paris, a pane broke in my shutter-style windows. I had put off fixing it when one day I heard a drawn-out call in the street below. Looking down, I saw a glazier with a pack of glass on his back, crying his trade. I called him up and in minutes he had fixed my window.

I did not realize then that I had had a rare encounter with a survivor, a survivor of a practice which had largely died out by the twentieth century: crying one’s product or trade. This was first noted in the late middle ages, and the first list of the products cried was set down in the thirteenth century by Guillaume de Villeneuve. In subsequent centuries, numerous writers and artists followed his example, recording the cries of Paris in their time. These texts and images are not only colorful, but a rich resource for food history.

Certainly, they are neither complete nor consistently accurate records. Not only are they inherently subjective, being, for the most part, works of art, but only some products were cried in the streets in any period. Some were sold in shops or markets, or otherwise available; some probably not prominent enough to be included in these limited inventories. Still, taken together with other sources, these texts and images provide invaluable information.

This is especially true in the earliest centuries, when information on ordinary food is rare. The common image of medieval food, and that which followed soon after, is largely based on elite cookbooks. But the complex, highly spiced dishes recorded there were the food of a few. The early street cries show a different diet, one of warm pea puree, peas cooked with bacon, warm broad beans, pasties (small pies) of meat, fish or vegetables, wafers (disks of dough baked between two irons), and common produce such as turnips, chervil, lettuce, garlic and onions. Where lamprey and pike might appear on upscale tables, most Parisians ate herring, eel and whiting. One spice was cried early on: pepper, which was no longer rare and immensely expensive; on aristocratic tables, one was more likely to find long pepper or cubeb, along with richer spices such as cinnamon, clove and ginger. Simple salted and “well-prepared” fresh meats were available, largely from roasters, though they are not named in the cries. It is piquant to see grilled pork rinds – essentially what Americans now call “cracklings” – sold in thirteenth century Paris.

Villeneuve did not mention dried whale blubber (craspois) in his cries, but it was already sold in the Halles. By the sixteenth century, when one set of cries mentions it, it was already fading from use. He also mentions curious details, such as the fact that leavening for bread was cried in the streets – which implies that bread was still being made privately, when over time most bread would be made by public bakers. And without his cries, we might never know that the cheese of Champagne was once sold along with the (far more popular) cheese of Brie.

While more information exists elsewhere for later centuries, the cries for these too offer useful insights. Here is an overview of these, organized by category. A list of sources follows, with a table breaking down the mentions by each century. Again, none of this is complete or definitive and anyone with an interest in Paris food history will want to test or supplement this information with that from other sources. But these various cries offer a rich starting point for further research.

Meat, poultry and fish
Most meat was NOT cried in the street. The thirteenth century cries list salt meat and, "well-prepared", fresh meat, but typically butchers, roasters or charcutiers would have sold these and they are not mentioned after. The first cries also mention bacon rinds, probably grilled. Boudin and cervelas were cried in the eighteenth century, boudin and sausage in the nineteenth, as street food progressed towards the hot dog. Bacon too – which had always been an important working class meat – was cried only in the nineteenth, though it was no doubt widely available in stores at that point and had already been sold in medieval taverns.

Poultry, which for centuries was mainly sold at the "Valley of Misery" market, was not often cried. The first cries mention only goslings and pigeons, as well as "small birds", which might well have been intended as pets (even if some medieval recipes call for them). In the nineteenth century, poultry in general was cried; only squabs were then singled out. Eggs, a staple that was easy to carry, were cried from the thirteenth century on.

The thirteenth century cries list the most common fish used for fast days: herring, eel and whiting. Herring and whiting both remained important all the way into the nineteenth century. Eel disappeared from cries for centuries, but conger eel was again cried in the nineteenth, though it had nothing like the same importance. A fish raised in the marshes of Bondy (north of Paris) was also popular early on, though exactly which fish it was was never named. Weever was mentioned only then, not after, though the fish was always common. 

By the sixteenth century, more fish were mentioned in cries: carp, mackerel, and merlus (a small fish). Carp and mackerel remained important through the nineteenth century. Though dried whale blubber – craspois – is absent from the first cries, it was already the "bacon of the poor" from at least the fourteenth century; its one mention in sixteenth century cries came as its popularity was already fading. The sixteenth century cries are the only ones to mention snails, which would have a mixed history in France all the way up to their established popularity in the nineteenth century. Frogs too were mentioned for the only time. "Cod tripe" (meaning cod liver?) and what appears to be stuffed squid are also mentioned in that century. Oysters (which had a long history in Paris and were long freely available in the Seine) appear from the seventeenth century on. Clams and salmon were cried only in the eighteenth, though both were eaten later. In the nineteenth, dab, mussels, rays, sardines and sole joined other fish sold in the streets; in general, a greater variety of fish became available.


Dairy
Milk was cried across the centuries, butter only through the seventeenth; in the sixteenth, the butter of Vanves was already singled out. Cheese was cried all across the centuries, but with significant variations. Brie cheese was by far the most popular cheese in Paris for centuries, sometime as angelots (little angels), but only cried through the sixteenth. The thirteenth century cries are the only ones to mention Champagne cheese under that name, though Chaource, for instance, is still made in the Champagne region. Starting in the sixteenth century, references to "creams" recur, referring probably to French cream cheeses (which would have been closer to actual cream than the American cheese). In the sixteenth century too, "Milan cheese" (which could be any Italian cheese) was cried, as was, exceptionally, the cheese of Auvergne. By the seventeenth century, Marolles, a cheese from Picardy, was cried and would be into the nineteenth century. Dutch cheese was also cried in the seventeenth. In the nineteenth, Gruyère and Neufchâtel cheese were also cried. Why these in particular were cried (that is, available in the street), while others were sold in shops, is not clear.

Ice cream, which had only become popular in Paris in the eighteenth century, was sold in the streets by the nineteenth century as well.

Fruit and vegetables
Some basic fruit appears from the middle ages on: apples, pears, figs, cherries, grapes, and peaches, as do the basic nuts (walnuts, hazelnuts and chestnuts). Others get more mention starting in the sixteenth: apricots, gooseberries, melons, oranges, plums (and prunes), and strawberries. Several of the more popular fruits were known by particular varieties – Chaillou, Hasty or St. Rieule pears; capandu pears and apples; Damas or Reine Claude plums – in different eras. Some were sometimes prepared in certain ways as well; apples and pears were sold baked in later centuries. It is not clear that chestnuts were sold prepared in any way in the middle ages; from the seventeenth century, they were sold boiled and then, by the nineteenth (actually starting in the eighteenth), grilled. Raspberries, currants and dates, however known they might have been before, were not cried until the nineteenth.

Almonds had been important in elite cooking since the Crusades, but were only cried in the sixteenth century, so perhaps they became more common at that point. Neither pumpkin nor quince were especially rare, but both were cried only in the sixteenth as well. Pomegranates too were important in elite medieval cuisine; why they were cried in the sixteenth and seventeenth century is also uncertain, since it is hard to envision the average person snacking on such unwieldy fruit.

Three fruits appear to have been particular to late middle age Paris. Villeneuve mentions the sloe, a tart relative to the plum, which has been found at numerous early medieval sites; it faded from use afterwards, even as the plum became more common. The cornel cherry, too, was very tart and not mentioned after Villeneuve’s cries. The medlar, a cousin to the apple, is a special case, since it is initially acidic, but “blets” to a sweeter, almost rotten state; it too faded from street cries after Villeneuve’s list.

Turnips, leeks, and lettuce were all noted in cries from the middle ages on. Cress was mentioned before, but not in, the nineteenth century; still, it certainly remained important, whether or not it was cried (it was a common side where today the French would use fries). A few foods were unique to, or especially noted in, the late middle ages. Purslane was cried in the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries, but not after; shallots certainly remained available later, but they were only cried in the early centuries. Sorrel and parsley though they remain available today were only cried in the sixteenth century, as was parsley root, which is rarely mentioned later. Why hops were cried then is uncertain, though it may because they were being used more regularly in brewing, but still exceptional enough to be sold in the streets.

Cabbage was a Parisian staple, including, early on, so-called "frozen cabbage", which was frozen while growing and supposedly better. Like spinach, carrots and parsnips became more visible starting in the sixteenth century; skirrets, a similar root, were briefly popular only then. A long list of other familiar items were mentioned in cries starting in the sixteenth century, but not in Villeneuve's extensive thirteenth century catalog: artichokes, asparagus, beets, chicory, cucumber, radishes, and spinach. Other items one would expect to have been common enough were only cried in the nineteenth, or starting just before: cauliflower, mushrooms, romaine lettuce, and salsify. It is not a surprise that potatoes, which were almost unknown until the end of the eighteenth century, were only cried in the nineteenth.

Broad beans were a favorite all through the middle ages and sold warm in the streets of Paris in earlier centuries; they remained popular through the eighteenth century, but had lost their high profile by the nineteenth. Green beans were only cried in the nineteenth century, though they had been available for some times. Peas, on the other hand, remained popular from the middle ages on. In the thirteenth century, they were sold as a warm puree, and then and after, also often prepared with bacon in a dish sold in the streets. Green peas – the younger form of the field pea which had first been used – were already noted in the fourteenth century and cried in the sixteenth; they were the default form of pea by the nineteenth.

Baked and grain-based goods and sweets
Among baked goods, a few items were predictably enduring, notably bread (which was sold in markets and at the bakers', but also in the street) and cakes. "Cake" however had a wildly varying meaning over the centuries. It began as a finer sort of bread (gastel) which might be made with eggs or butter and only became a sweet over time; so the word has different meanings at different moments. One type of cake, the Nanterre cake (not made in Nanterre itself), became popular in Paris in the eighteenth and nineteenth century (it was said to be like brioche, and not very good). Two medieval favorites, wafers and warm pasties (basically, pies with meat, fish or vegetables), remained popular street items through the eighteenth century, but were no longer cried in the nineteenth. The wafer began as essentially a miniature round waffle, baked between two hot irons. The waffle itself, thicker, bigger and sometimes filled with cheese, already existed in the middle ages, but was only cried in the nineteenth – apparently taking the place of the wafer.

Gingerbread, an enduring French favorite, was first cried in the sixteenth century, though it was probably available before then. It was still popular in the nineteenth century.

Surprisingly, the échaudé, a thoroughly medieval pastry, lasted all the way through the nineteenth century and was still cried then (however much it might have changed over time). Darioles, already known in the late middle ages, were only cried in the seventeenth. Strangely, the beignet, known early on, was not noted as a street food until the nineteenth. Talmouses, another medieval pastry, were cried only in the eighteenth century, when they were sold warm. Ratons, too, were a medieval pastry, but only cried in the seventeenth and eighteenth century. Macarons, which first appeared in the eighteenth century (and were not the same as macaroons, though they probably inspired them), were only cried in the nineteenth century. Croquets and plaisirs, both popular in the nineteenth century, were not mentioned until the eighteenth. (Plaisirs – “pleasures” – were rolled wafers, very much like ice cream cones.) A similar pastry, the métier, was only cried in the eighteenth.

One version of Paris street cries, in the form of a board game, includes rye rolls; a very rare, possibly unique, mention of these. It is curious too that wheat, typically sold in bulk, was cried in the streets of Paris in the thirteenth century (though not later). It is striking, in the seventeenth century, to see pastry-cooks noted as selling ragoûts, which at this point were not just stews, but any flavorfully prepared dish; in theory, the traiteurs already had the monopoly on making these. But there is some reason to believe pastry-cooks rivaled them in offering meals, even if that was technically forbidden.

By the time nougat appeared in nineteenth century street cries, it had traveled a long route from the Arab world to become, first, a medication and then a treat in France. Still, candied sweets existed from the middle ages on and it is surprising others were not cried.

Drinks
Wine was one of the first products to be cried and in fact crying it was one of the main ways to sell it in the middle ages. The thirteenth century cries only mention wine, but by the sixteenth cider, which was still a recent product in Paris, was cried, though not after, perhaps because it was increasingly sold elsewhere. Wine was still cried then, but not after. Water was cried from then on as well, being sold by water-carriers. In the seventeenth century, brandy, still fairly new as a drink, was cried, and again in the eighteenth, but not after, probably because it was increasingly sold in cafes. Tisane, then essentially barley water, was cried cold from the seventeenth century on, though it could sometimes be the same as coco, first cried in the eighteenth, which was simply licorice water. Coffee was cried in the eighteenth but not after, no doubt again because so many cafes arose to offer it. Lemonade was certainly sold in the streets in the eighteenth century – drinks-sellers were known as "lemonade vendors" – , but only nineteenth century cries for it are recorded. Orgeat too was cried in the nineteenth century. At that point, what had originally been a drink made from barley (orge) was already made with almonds.

Flavorings
In terms of flavorings, it is not surprising that vinegar was cried through the eighteenth century; probably it was sold in shops after that. So was the similar verjuice, a juice from tart young grapes which is sometimes considered medieval, but in fact has never disappeared in France. Mustard was cried early on, but not after the sixteenth century, perhaps because it became a monopoly of sauce-makers. But it is also true that it had had a disproportionate importance in the middle ages which probably declined as other sauces became available. In the sixteenth, for instance, green sauce was cried. So were "hellish" – probably meaning hot or sharp – spices. Pepper was cried in the thirteenth century, but not after; salt, a little strangely, in the sixteenth (when taxes had already made it expensive). Garlic sauce and either honey or honey sauce appear in the first cries, but not after. Anise was mentioned early on, but not after the sixteenth century. Again, it may have simply been sold in shops going forward, but its role as a flavoring may also have declined after the middle ages.


SOURCES
The table below gives a general overview of the items mentioned in cries from each period. The table is based on the works listed here.

In 1906, Viscount Savigny de Moncorps cataloged the various works which mention or show Parisian cries. While his inventory includes some works which go beyond cries to simply listing occupations, the work is thorough in regard to cries and also has the advantage of listing trades mentioned in some works, not all of which are available today on-line.

Petits métiers et cris de Paris / Vte de Savigny de Moncorps

Otherwise, the data shown in the following table for each century is taken from the works listed below.



13th
Guillaume de la Villeneuve, Les Crieries de Paris 13th

16th
Les rues et eglises de Paris avec la despence qui ce fait chascun jour . 1529
Les Cris de Paris [, par Antoine Truquet] 1545
Chanson Nouvelle de Tous les Cris de Paris 1572
Les Cris de Paris Que l'On Entend Journellement Dans Les Rues De Cette Ville XVIth c.

17th
Recueil.Collection Michel Hennin. Estampes relatives à l'Histoire de France. Tome 30, Pièces 2593-2690, période : 1635
Les Cris de Paris - by P. Brebiette c. 1640
Les Cris de Paris chez Bonnart (end 17th c)

18th
Appartient à : [Recueil. Collection Michel Hennin. Estampes relatives à l'Histoire de France. Tome 83, Pièces 7276-7351, période : 1710-1711]
Études prises dans le bas peuple ou les Cris de Paris / Bouchardon inv. 1737-1746
Le reveil matin by Cocquelle 1766
Petit rien, almanach chantant 1773
Cris de Paris : [estampe] / dessinés d'après nature par M. Poisson 1774-1775
Les Cris de Paris - Boucher - 18th
Le Nouveau Jeu des Cris de Paris, dédié aux Amateurs. 18th
Nouveau Jeu Bruiant des Cris de Paris de ses faubourgs et environs 

19th
In 1857, Georges Kastner went through the rather curious exercise of actually noting street cries down in musical notation. Savigny de Moncorps later questioned the value of doing this, but whatever the case, Kastner’s work is also a valuable catalog of the cries (then disappearing) of his time.

Les voix de Paris : essai d'une histoire littéraire et musicale des cris populaires de la capitale depuis le Moyen Age jusqu'à nos jours / par Georges Kastner : grande symphonie 1857


Other nineteenth century sources are:

Cris de Paris : [estampe] / par Carle Vernet 1815
Les Cris de Paris : [jeu de cartes de fantaisie] : [estampe] 1830-1840
Les cris de Paris. Marchands ambulants : [estampe] 1850
Cris de Paris . Édition illustrée avec alphabet 1852
Alphabet grotesque des cris de Paris. 1861
Loterie alphabétique des cris de Paris. 1875


Meat
13th
16th
17th
18th
19th
bacon rinds


bacon



boudin boudin



cervelas
salt meat; "well-prepared" fresh meat







sausage

Dairy
13th
16th
17th
18th
19th
butter Butter; Vanves butter butter




Auvergne cheese


Brie cheese Brie cheese; angelotz [small cheeses] from Brie





Champagne cheese




cream cheese
cream cheese cream cheese


Dutch cheese
Gruyère cheese


Marolles cheese
Marolles cheese

Milan cheese






Neufchâtel cheese
milk milk Bagnolet milk milk milk




ice cream

Birds
13th
16th
17th
18th
19th
goslings



pigeons







poultry
small birds

small birds




squabs
eggs eggs

eggs eggs (fresh and hard-boiled)

Fish, shellfish and whale
13th
16th
17th
18th
19th
Bondy fish (from marshes at Bondy)








carp
carp carp



clams

cod tripe

dab
eels


conger eels

frogs


herring herring
herring herring

mackerel mackerel
mackerel

merlus (small fish)






mussels


oysters oysters oysters




rays



salmon




sardines



shellfish shellfish




sole

snails



stuffed squid?


weever




whale (craspois)


whiting

whiting whiting

Fruit and nuts
13th
16th
17th
18th
19th
Calville apples; red apples apples; Capendu apples

apples; baked apples apples

apricots
apricots apricots
Cherries; cornel cherries cherries cherries cherries cherries




currants




dates
Malta figs Marseilles figs

figs figs

gooseberries
gooseberries gooseberries
Damas grapes; verjuice grapes for making sauce grapes
Grapes; chasselas grapes chasselas grapes


lemons lemons lemons
medlars




melons melons melons melons

mulberries
mulberries

oranges oranges oranges oranges
peaches Corbeil peaches

peaches in wine Corbeil peaches
Chaillou pears; Hasty pears; St. Rieule pears; choke pears Pears; capandu and certaiau pears baked pears pears; baked pears pears


Plums; Damas plums; prunes of Tours

plums; mirabelle plums; prunes plums; Reine Claude plums

pomegranates pomegranates


pumpkin



quince





raspberries raspberries
sloes




strawberries strawberries strawberries strawberries

almonds


Lombardy chestnuts chestnuts chestnuts; chestnuts (boiled) chestnuts; chestnuts (boiled) chestnuts (grilled)
hazelnuts

hazelnuts hazelnuts
walnuts walnuts

walnuts

walnut kernels
walnut kernels
walnut oil




green walnuts
green walnuts green walnuts
green walnut oil




Vegetables
13th
16th
17th
18th
19th


artichokes

artichokes artichokes


asparagus



asparagus
Warm broad beans; new broad beans broad beans; warm broad beans

broad beans




green beans

beets
white beets


Cabbage; “frozen” cabbage; white cabbage cabbage
cabbage

carrots

carrots




cauliflower



celery
cress cress
cress
chervil chervil



chicory
chicory chicory

cucumber
cucumbers (for pickles)
garlic garlic



hops


greens


greens
leeks leeks

leeks
lettuce lettuce
lettuce lettuce



mushrooms mushrooms
onions onions onions onions

parsley; parsley root



parsnips

parsnips
fat peas (or peas with bacon?); peas in pods peas; peas with bacon; green peas

peas green peas; peas
warm pea purée







potatoes
purslane purslane



radishes
radishes radishes



romaine romaine

salad
salad salad




salsify
Estampes shallots shallots



skirrets


turnips turnips turnips turnips turnips

sorrel



spinach

spinach

Grain- based, baked and sweets
13th
16th
17th
18th
19th
bread (for various charities; probably money, in fact) Bread; chaland bread

bread bread

brioche



brioche; small brioches
warm “cakes” (gastels; fine breads) cakes cakes small cakes cakes; cakes with orange-blossom water



Nanterre cakes Nanterre cakes






colifichet (semicircular roll of bread)




croquets croquets


darioles

échaudés échaudés
échaudés
flans



flour; pounded flour [sic]







warm galettes


galette


gingerbread

gingerbread of Rheims gingerbread
king's cakes with the bean







leaven for bread







macarons
meal meal






milk rolls




nougat




pastry - “small ragouts”









sweet metiers (pastry like a wafer)

warm pasties (pies) warm pasties small warm pasties small warm pasties



plaisirs plaisirs


ratons ratons



rye rolls
simnels (fine breads or pastries)










warm talmouses
warm tarts



wafers wafers wafers wafers




waffles
wheat






Drinks
13th
16th
17th
18th
19th


brandy brandy

cider





coco coco



coffee




lemonade




orgeat


chilled tisane cold tisane; tisane tisane


water

water water
wine wine



Flavorings
13th
16th
17th
18th
19th
anise anise


garlic sauce




green sauce


honey (sauce?)



mustard mustard


pepper




salt




"hellish" spices [hot?]





vinegar vinegar vinegar vinegar
verjuice verjuice
verjuice


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