For year-end gifts, I received some cookbooks. I am easy to buy for. Cookbooks are my ties or socks.

Two volumes, however, were very special gifts; their recipes date back to the Middle Ages. The friends who gave me the books know of my affection for ancient cookery. Not only do I enjoy teaching about and cooking from eras long past, I also learn how to cook better now because of those exercises.

For example, during the wintertime, I relish preparing cassoulet. This dish, which originated in southwestern France, may date back as far as 1350 A.D. But the secret to a good cassoulet —  what we would call a casserole of meats, beans and vegetable flavorings — is layering its many tastes over a long cooking time.

On the one hand, I appreciate — and frequently use — my Instant Pot. On the other, taking three days to make a terrific cassoulet tethers me both to history and to important, evergreen lessons about cooking.

Little in the kitchen matches that mica-like stratifying of aromas, textures, and tastes that comes with long cooking of many ingredients in one pot —  so primal a way with fire that it goes back to our times in caves.

Ancient recipes, and especially the manner in which they were eventually written down, teach much else.