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Archive for the month “Dec, 2018”

I wonder …

Was the late Ronnie Barker a Ricardian?

He made something of a habit of referring to Richard’s family. In “The Two Ronnies”: His rhyming slang vicar spoke of “a small brown Richard III” (bird),
The pair did a Shakespeare scene mentioning as many television programmes as they could (eg “…the Tyrannies…” for themselves),
Peter Sellers guested once, impersonating Laurence Olivier as Shakespeare’s Richard, declaiming “A Hard Day’s Night”.
In his 1973 series, “Seven of One”, he created characters including:
The short-sighted removals man CLARENCE Sale
and the lecherous, flamboyant Welsh photographer PLANTAGENET Evans.

Geoffrey Wheeler has consulted Barker’s co-star Josephine Tewson who doesn’t think this was the case. Still, it remains a slight possibility.

The story of Middleham Castle….

Middleham Castle

The Battle of Wakefield took place on 30th December, 1460. It ended when Richard, Duke of York, lost his life. As did his second son, Edmund, Earl of Rutland. The victors were the Lancastrians, in the name of their feeble-minded king, Henry VI.

York’s claim to the throne finally came to fruition in the forms of two of his other sons, Edward IV and the youngest, Richard III. And one of Richard’s favourite homes—if not the most favourite—was Middleham Castle in Yorkshire.

But Middleham Castle was around for a long time before Richard came along, and was still there when he had gone. To read more of its history, which includes the great Earl of Warwick, the “Kingmaker”, go here.

 

HISTORICAL CORRECTIONS-THE MYSTERIOUS DEATH OF ST THOMAS BECKET

Well, folks, even in 1170 it seems they were hell-bent on  giving out improbable excuses!

(This amusing cartoon parodying the recent events in Salisbury made me smile.)

 

knights

Medieval earthquakes in England….

Marmara_earthquake_1509_(1)-medium

The above is the Marmara earthquake of 1509. I couldn’t find a suitable image for an English event.

We do not suffer a great many earthquakes in the United Kingdom, but there have been some, occasionally quite considerable. Our main sphere of interest on this site is the time of Richard III, and while I was investigating another earthquake, from the previous century, I happened up information about an earthquake of 1480:- “. . .’A very great earthquake’, says Reverend Francis Blomefield, in his topographical History of the County of Norfolk, of an upheaval on December 28th, which affected most of England and threw down buildings in Norwich and elsewhere. . .”

What a tantalizing reference, but unfortunately, there is no further information in the book in which I found it – The Great English Earthquake by Peter Haining (which deals mostly with the major earthquake in 1884). As far as I recall, at this time Richard had returned to Sheriff Hutton after the Scottish campaign, so maybe he did not experience this earthquake personally. But he would have heard about it.

A king of the previous century, Richard II, would almost certainly have experienced the earthquake of 21st May, 1382, which has been described as ‘one of the strongest of all British earthquakes’. Holinshed gives the time as about 1 pm. “. . .‘An earthquake in England, that the lyke thereof was never seen in Englande before that daye nor sen.’ (R. Fabyan). . .” Another report says “. . .‘A great earthquake in England. . .fearing the hearts of many, but in Kent it was most vehement, where it suncke some Churches, and threw them down to the earth.’. . .”

Holinshed further reports that there was a second disturbance on 24th May. “. . .Earlie in the morning, chanced another earthquake, or (as some write) a watershake, being so vehement and violent a motion, that it made the ships in the havens to beat one against thye other, by reason whereof they were sore bruised by such knocking together. . .”

“. . .On the day of the first shock, John Wycliffe was being tried at Westminster for his opinions on the Bible, and the sudden shock caused the court to break up in alarm: thereafter the assembly was known as the ‘Council of the Earthquake’!. . .” The Church, of course, pronounced that the earthquake was God’s condemnation of Wycliffe.

The-Trial-of-John-Wycliffe-in-the-Monastery-of-Blackfriars-London-1382

Another source tells that it was a 5.8 earthquake (I’m not sure how this can be stated as a fact) and the bell tower of Canterbury Cathedral was ‘severely damaged’. The six bells ‘shook down’.

Anyway, according to Nigel Saul, Richard II was in Westminster during this period, so I guess he certainly felt the cataclysm!

In my life I have only once experienced an earthquake. It was some time ago, and (I think) was centred off the coast of North Wales. My husband and I were in bed. It was morning, and we had yet to get up. The bed suddenly swayed backward and forward in a most peculiar manner.

My husband looked at me. “Did the earth just move for you?”

“Yes.”

He grinned. “I’m a marvel. I didn’t even have to touch you!”

Dear Cairo Dweller,

Science has proved that Edward IV’s more prominent sons are not in his tomb, which was opened a few times but not when anyone could have have been placed there.

Science will shortly prove that they are not in that Westminster Abbey urn, as you have maintained for so long.

So where are you going to claim they are next? If they were in, for instance, the chapel mentioned by Henry “Tudor”‘s crony, then they couldn’t have been in the urn when you said they were.

On the left is a copy of an email from Windsor Castle. Here is Timeline of references that they compiled.

 

War, English Delusion, and the effect on the Economy (4)

It was fortunate for Henry V that someone on the Orleanist side of politics decided to murder the Duke of Burgundy. This persuaded the new duke, Philippe the “Good” to take Henry’s side, a development which led to the Treaty of Troyes and Henry’s marriage to fair Catherine of France. Henry had by this time conquered a fair chunk of Normandy, but this had stretched his resources considerably. Thanks to the new alliance he could paint himself as the legitimate ruler of France, and some Frenchmen, like Burgundy, were willing to come over to his side.

At the same time, although the cause of the Dauphin and the Orleanists looked bleak, the fact remains that they were in possession of the majority of French territory and the resources that went with it. Henry would need to conquer this, castle by castle, town by town, and every new garrison needed more soldiers and the means to supply them with necessaries.

The bright spot was that the conquered territories did provide a source of revenue. The bad news was that the English Parliament was increasingly of the view that the war was “nothing to do with us, guv.” In short, they saw the conquest as Henry’s conquest rather than England’s, and, in their view, it was up to Henry to defeat his “rebels” at the expense of the Kingdom of France.

That a typical Englishman of this time had his chest swelled with pride at the thought of English military glory, but at the same moment did not want to pay towards the costs should not really surprise us. It was a characteristic of the English almost all the way through.

Henry V’s early death in 1422, with nothing really resolved, was another good example of the “hospital pass”. To Henry V, the glory, to Henry VI the criticism for failing to do the impossible.

It was fortunate for the English that the management of their position in France fell to John, Duke of Bedford, Henry V’s next surviving brother, who just happened to be one of the most able men to grace the entire middle ages, let alone the fifteenth century. Bedford won a stunning victory at Verneuil (1424) which was, if anything, more impressive than Agincourt, though rather less famous.

After that, though, the Anglo-Burgundian position slowly but surely began to deteriorate. There were a number of reasons for this, and one was certainly that Philippe of Burgundy was never 100% committed, except to his own interests. Another key factor was that French gradually improved their military establishment, not least by investing heavily in artillery. But above all, the limitations of English resources in terms of both men and cash became increasingly apparent as the years went by.

As I have remarked before, what is astonishing about Lancastrian France was not that it fell when it did, but that it lasted so long. The Treaty of Arras (1435) detached Burgundy from the English side, and that should have been the end. As it was, the English were not finally expelled from Normandy until 1450, while the last English intervention in Gascony failed in 1453. The tactics of Agincourt no longer worked. The French had developed a well-organised, well-equipped, professional army, while England struggled to raise field armies of any size at all.

Much of this prolongation of the war was down to English pluck and determination, to say nothing of good fortification, but it was really a hopeless cause. If Henry VI had been a more talented ruler – which would not have been hard – or if some of his generals (notably the first Duke of Somerset) had been a bit more inspired than they were, then maybe, just maybe, the disaster might have been stretched out a little longer. Alternatively, if certain English statesmen – notably Humphrey of Gloucester – had been more realistic and less deluded, then something might have been saved of the English possessions in France. As it was, a losing fight against overwhelming odds could only have one end.

The effect on England, as a nation, was disastrous. The self-image of a country that was a great military power was shattered. The treasury was not only empty, but massively in debt, despite years of war taxation. The King’s government was feeble at best, and disorder was commonplace, even to the extent of outbreaks of fighting between rival families. Of course, it must be admitted that Henry VI was one of our least effective monarchs, and that his tendency to favour the incompetent Beauforts over the (relatively) competent Duke of York did not help. The political crisis began long before the final defeat in France, but that defeat added a whole new level to it.

Since all attempts at political compromise failed, it was all but inevitable that what we now call the Wars of Roses should break out, even though the first “battle” (St. Albans 1455) was little more than an unseemly squabble. But the root of political instability in England was the disastrous policy of war with France.

How strict was medieval royal court mourning at Christmas….?

Christmas garland - 1

Medieval Christmas

Medieval Christmas

I know I have (more than once!) written of a strange string of coincidences connecting Richards II and III and their queens, both named Anne. Now I have come upon another question that puzzles me. It is well known that Richard II loved his Anne deeply, and was distraught when she died suddenly in the summer of 1394. He and his court were plunged into mourning, he had Sheen palace razed to the ground because he could not bear to go where he and she had been so happy, etc. etc.

Richmond's Islands, 1720

Richard II and his queen had a lavish lodge, La Neyt, built on an island in the Thames at Sheen, so they could be alone together

One way Richard chose to distract himself was an expedition to Ireland, where trouble was brewing for English rule. No English monarch had been there since King John (when he was still a prince). Richard II took a huge army over, and believed himself successful in reasserting English power, as witness the illustration below, of him received homage/knighting Irish kings. At Christmas 1394, barely six months after Anne’s death, historians tells us that Richard had a whale of a time with entertainments, revels and all the usual celebrations of the period.

Henry-VIII-at-Court-at-Christmas - 2

Royal celebrations at Christmas – Henry VIII

Now, does this sound like a monarch and court in full mourning for a beloved consort? No. Was Richard II, who was a very emotional man, able to set his grief aside and order revels, both for the season and the “victory” over the troublesome Irish kings? [It wasn’t to be long after Richard’s return to England that those kings started stirring again – well, I would have too!] Or have these junketings been overstated or even falsely reported?

Dublin - Richard II knighting the Irish kings - 1394

Richard II receiving the Irish kings, 1394

Whatever, it was Christmas, and we have a King Richard, sunk in grief for his Queen Anne. I now find myself wondering what might have happened if Bosworth had gone the other way, and Richard III were still king at Christmas 1485. He was another king in deep mourning, having lost his Anne in March that same year (and his son the year before). He too would have had something to celebrate – defeating Tudor, and enjoying the Christmas season. Even if negotiations were in full swing for his remarriage, would he have thrown mourning for Anne to the winds and had a lavish old time of it? Perhaps he would think his court and the realm at large was in need of a happy time at last, and so he would set his own feelings aside? Maybe that’s what Richard II had thought before him?

©Photo. R.M.N. / R.-G. OjŽda

The giving of New Year gifts at the court of the Duc du Berri.

I’m genuinely curious about this business of kings in mourning, because Richard II made it clear he adored Anne of Bohemia, and as far as we are concerned, Richard III and Anne Neville loved each other too. Their shared agony on the sudden death of their only child, Edward of Middleham, suggests a great closeness, if nothing else. Maybe both marriages were first entered into for political reasons. Anne of Bohemia brought nothing to her marriage, except her family and connections; Anne Neville brought half the Warwick inheritance, which was nothing to sniff at. I believe that both marriages became love matches, and that whether the kings liked it or not, they were obliged to marry again as soon as possible.

Betrothal of the French Princess to Richard II

The betrothal of Isabella of Valois to Richard II.

Just over a year following Christmas 1394, Richard II married the six-year-old Isabella of Valois, daughter of the King of France. One theory for this odd choice of bride—by a childless king who was beset by uncles and cousins hungry to succeed him—is that it was a way of staying faithful to Anne for longer. Such a very young second wife would not be expected to be available for consummation before she was, at the very least, twelve.

It was still 1485 when Richard III’s envoys commenced negotiations for him to marry Joanna of Portugal, who is known to posterity as the Blessed Joanna, Princess of Portugal. She was eight months older than Richard, and in the end did not marry anyone. These 1485 negotiations were not only for Richard’s marriage, but for that of his eldest niece, Elizabeth of York, who was to marry Joanna’s cousin, who would become Manuel I.  This sounds a workmanlike arrangement, made because, as I have said, a childless king had to marry again, quickly. At least Richard III’s chosen bride would be able to provide him with heirs, unlike little Isabella of France. And he was arranging a very good marriage for his illegitimate niece.

So, just what was the protocol for this sort of thing? Did mourning mean just that, mourning? Nothing less. Or could it be dipped into and out of, as the situation dictated?

Christmas garland - 3

Christmas 1483 at the court of Richard III….

Christmas Richard

What was Christmas like for Richard III? I’m thinking particularly of 1483, his first as king. He still had both his wife and child, and the future must have looked set for a long and prosperous reign. He was only to have two Christmases as king, and by 1484 he and Anne had lost their only child, Edward, Prince of Wales. If he’d lived to Christmas 1485, he’d have lost Anne as well.

So 1483 was the happiest of his short reign. What did they do? What did they eat? What entertainments did they enjoy? How did they decorate everything? Here is an excellent Nerdalicious article that describes what might have gone on….

 

Christmas garland - 2

Henry VII banned card-playing, except at Christmas….

According to Christmas: Its Origin and Associations by William Francis Dawson, playing cards was prohibited by a statue passed in the reign of Henry VII. The old kill-joy! Or maybe it was in defence of the royal purse, it being known that his queen, Elizabeth of York, was rather over-fond of gambling. Henry paid her debts, and his pips probably squeaked.Queen-of-HeartsIt is thought Elizabeth was the original ‘Queen of Hearts’ on playing cards, and that Henry had her commemorated in this way. Maybe he did. I don’t know. But see here for more of this theory.

However, much as I’d like to think that saving his spare cash was Henry’s real motive for banning cards, it seems he only forbade the lower ranks to play. Higher society could play as much as it liked! Whatever, cards were generally banned, except at Christmas, when the pastime was still allowed for one and all:-

“A Scotch [sic] writer1 referring to this prohibition, says: ‘A universal Christmas custom of the olden time was playing at cards; persons who never touched a card at any other season of the year felt bound to play a few games at Christmas. The practice had even the sanction of the law. A prohibitory statute of Henry VII.’s reign, forbade card-playing save during the Christmas holidays. Of course, this prohibition extended only to persons of humble rank; Henry’s daughter, the Princess Margaret, played cards with her suitor, James IV. Of Scotland; and James himself kept up the custom, receiving from his treasurer, at Melrose, on Christmas Night, 1496, thirty-five unicorns, eleven French crowns, a ducat, a ridare, and a leu, in all about equal to £42 of modern money, to use at the card-table.’”

King Henry VII - Pierre Marechal, Rouen, c.1567

Pierre Marechal, Rouen, c.1567

Now, as the Scottish king was not married to the English princess until 1503, it is quite clear that he had learned to play cards long before his courtship with Margaret; for in 1496, when he received so much card-money from his treasurer, the English princess was but seven years of age. James had evidently learned to play cards with the Scottish barons whop frequented his Father’s court, and whose lawlessness led to the revolt which ended in the defeat and melancholy fate of James III. (1488), and gave the succession to his son, James IV., at the early age of fifteen years.’ ”

1 Book of Days, Edinburgh.

 

 

 

I’ll Have What She’s Having: A Medieval Christmas Tasting Menu

beef

Spiced beef

“Let us consider some of our genuine English culinary assets.  Among the best of them are our cured and salted meats.  Hams, gammons, salt silversides…”

So begins one of Elizabeth David’s chapters in “Spices, Salts and Aromatics in The English Kitchen,” a charming book that takes us through centuries of English cookery with its yin and yang of salty and sweet, pungently bitter and honeyed agreeableness.  Her book is a lesson to those of us in the Americas and Europe who so disdain English food based on a bad meal in a chain restaurant or a hastily grabbed sandwich at Tesco Express.  David illuminates a vision of past glories and shows a way forward by trusting to an old cuisine based on freshness, seasonality and creativity.  With that in mind, here are some recipes that reach far back in time and yet are still appropriate on a modern table at the holidays:

Spiced Beef

While not quite medieval if The Forme of Cury (The Method of Cooking) is anything to go by, Spiced Beef has been a British and Irish Christmas season favorite since the Elizabethan era.  Given the luxurious amount of sweet and spicy elements that goes into the dish, and the availability of beef, it is hard to believe that it was completely unknown to someone of King Richard the III’s lifetime or status.  In any case, it is a delicious and interesting dish both for its unique flavor and unusual preserving technique that so intrigues the amateur chef:  the weighing down of a hunk of beef with a heavy plank and two large cans of refried beans.

harry and sally

Sally responds to a pastrami sandwich at Katz’s Deli in NYC.

According to Elizabeth David, this dish is particularly popular in the counties of Yorkshire, Cumberland and Sussex.  “The Harrods Book of Traditional English Cookery” claims it as a specialty of Leicestershire and since a very popular version of it was (and may still be) sold in its grand food halls, who are we to argue?  In New York City, of course, it is known as pastrami and sold, hand cut and served on rye, at the popular Katz’s Deli on the Lower East Side.  The word “pastrami” comes from the Turkish word “bastirma” meaning “pressed meat.”  In Pakistan, it is known as “Hunter’s Beef” which returns us to the thought of when this dish popped up in the West.   Could it or its preserving technique been brought back from the Middle East by the Crusaders?  It is certainly hard to believe that the Tudors had anything to teach us that wasn’t first known to generations of the Byzantine wars.

Here’s how to do it:  purchase four to six lbs of Silverside or the American cut called Bottom Round.  (Brisket is often used but it is very expensive and once cooked tends to shred like disintegrating rope.)  Rub it all over with soft brown sugar and place it in sterilized Tupperware and store in the crisper section of the refrigerator.  Do the same thing the next day  – you will see that water is drawn from the beef but that is how it should be.  On the third day, rub the meat with a substantial mix of crushed kosher or sea salt, juniper berries, allspice berries, black peppercorns, a pinch of clove and half a teaspoon of Prague Powder.  (Prague Powder will preserve the pink color of the meat and is available on Amazon.  It is optional.)  Continue to rub and turn the meat for the next 8-10 days.  Always return to the crisper or coldest part of the fridge.  After a few days, you will notice a very inviting smell.

On Day 8-10, take the roast out of the fridge and wipe clean.  Place in a tight-fitting dutch oven and pour in a cup or two of water so that it comes up half way up the roast.  Set the oven temperature between 250-290F/143C.  The water must simmer, never boil.  Roast it between 3-5 hours or until it registers 165F/74C on a meat thermometer.  Once cooked, let it cool in the pot and then wrap it in wax paper or tin foil.  Weigh it down with a cutting board and two large cans and place it overnight at the back of the fridge.  When ready to eat, bring it to room temperature and slice very thin.  Serve it with brown or rye bread and strong mustard or horseradish and some pickled vegetables or cole slaw.  It would be perfect the day after Christmas served as part of a cold collation.   As the week goes by, it will only improve in flavor.  Elizabeth David notes, “the beef will carve thinly and evenly, and has a rich, mellow, spicy flavor which does seem to convey to us some sort of idea of the food eaten by our forebears.”

Salat. XX.III.XVI

Take persel, sawge, garlect, chibolles, oynouns, leek, borage, myntes, porrectes, fell and ton tressis, rew, rosemarye, purslarye, laue and waische hem clene, pike hem, pluk hem small with thine hand and mix hem well with rawe oile, lay on vynegur and salt, and serve it forth.

This is a recipe directly from Richard the Second’s cookbook, The Forme of Cury.  While I would never contradict Clarissa Dickson Wright who has said that medieval salads were generally a vegetable mix and not greens, this clearly has much more in common with modern salads than Miss Dickson Wright would have us believe.  To my mind, this salad is definitely overkill but then again King Richard II was a kind of overkill guy.

Elizabeth David, in her cranky book “Christmas,” suggests salad as an appetizer but in European fashion, might well be served after the main course along with some nice cheese.  In her book “Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book,” Mrs. Grigson has an interesting chicory salad that she serves at Christmas.   Served with apples in a mayonnaise dressing, it suspiciously reminds one of a 20th century invention, the Waldorf Salad.

Chicory is a bitter green with a complicated history.  Medieval monks in Europe grew it but probably only used the tender leaves and blue flowers of the plant.  The most common form of it today, also known as endive to both the Americans and the French, is the forced white or yellowish chicon (bud/root) cultivated by the Belgians in the 1840s.  To the Italians, dressed in its pretty, ruffled red clothes, chicory is known as radicchio or treviso and is ludicrously expensive.   Because of its bitterness, it has been used as a coffee substitute seemingly throughout the world during hard times.  New Orleanians have made the coffee/chicory combination a classic at Cafe Du Monde in the French Quarter along with the famed “beignets”. Medieval people would have simply strewn their “salats” with this precious herb.

chicory

Chicory

 

Mrs. Grigson’s Christmas Salad:

Mix equal quantities of diced cold poultry or game bird and diced, unpeeled eating apples and sliced chicory.  Dress with vinaigrette alone for guinea fowl or pheasant.  Mayonnaise can be added for light poultry, together with some cubed Gruyere cheese. An alternative dish using chicory is to cook it in cream and butter as the French do with the summer herb, savory.

My Simple but Delicious Salad Fit for a Medieval King:

Mix crisp lettuce along with baby spinach, arugula (rocket) or watercress or any herb on hand.  Make a dressing of 1/4 cup of virgin olive oil, a splash of good vinegar, a dash of Dijon mustard and salt and pepper.  Mix well and dress salad at the last possible moment before serving.  If you must, you may add some red onion or sweet pepper or herbed croutons.

alice

Alice B. Toklas at tea

Queen Elizabeth I Apples

I found this odd recipe while perusing Alice B. Toklas’s classic cookbook which is infamous for the recipe of hashish cakes she naively included in her chapter called “Recipes from Friends.”  The rock-ribbed Republican and Catholic convert was chagrined to find that she had been transformed into an early hippie (or belated beatnik) and drug eater.

This simple receipt, however, was submitted by the English painter and baronet, Sir Francis Rose, and suggests an early English pickling method.  Again, we see the Tudors being given credit for a dish that is not only easy to make but contains ingredients that were well known to medieval cooks years before Henry VIII was a gleam in his father’s eye.  It should be started several months before the holiday season when apples are just starting to ripen and fall from the trees:

“Cook in sugar water whole unpeeled very fine apples until transparent.  Then put the apples into jars filled with hot vinegar that has been boiled with honey, allspice and fresh rosemary.  Place into hermetically sealed jars (sterilized) and the apples not served for several months.”  This would make a very nice addition to a ham or pork dish served at Christmas as they do in the southern United States.

Mince Pye

This evergreen-favorite is also associated with the Elizabethans but came into its own with the Victorians.  I suspect mincemeat is much older than the Tudor era because so many medieval receipts  for pottage or “tartlettes” mix pork and mutton with honey, lemon and oranges, spices such as saffron and cinnamon, almonds and dried fruit.  Again, it demonstrates a sophisticated palate in its use of salty, sweet and acidic developed once the spice trade routes were established.  Elizabeth David traces both plum pudding and mincemeat to the Mediterranean.  As examples, she cites a fruity Greek pudding with the unappetizing name of “strepte”  and an ancient Breton dish called “le far” that resembles a plum and raisin-filled clafouti. Of course, as time passed, the meat disappeared from mince pie and became much more sweet and one-dimensional.

As an experiment, I made two batches of the pies – one using beef suet (from Atora) and one using the truly medieval ingredient of marzipan (marchpane).  I was reluctant to use the suet because my husband is still recovering from a beef suet Spotted Dick served at Rules in London.  It gave new meaning to the term “stick to the ribs.”   Still,  I was invested in my menu and could not be stopped.

Serve these mini-pies between Christmas Day and Twelfth Night to ensure good luck:

mince pies

Mincemeat:

Add a good handful each of currents, raisins, yellow raisins (sultanas), dried cranberries (optional), brown sugar, salt, apple cider vinegar, lemon/orange candied peel*, grated lemon zest and two grated apples to a saucepan.  Sprinkle two tablespoons of mixed spice (pumpkin pie spice) over it and stir.  Cover with cider or unsweetened apple juice and bring to a boil.  Lower heat, cover and cook it down until fruit is soft and sludgy. The salt and vinegar is unconventional but I prefer the chutney-like flavors which cut through all the sweetness.  Add a couple of tablespoons of brandy and spoon into sterilized jars.  Allow to cool.  These can now be stored in a dark, cool place until ready for use.

Pastry:

1 and 1/2 cups of flour, 1 stick/113 g diced cold unsalted butter, 1 t salt, 1/4 cup of cold water

In a food processor, pulse flour and salt.  Add butter and pulse until well-combined.  Add enough water until the dough comes together and tip out onto a well-chilled, floured board.  Bring it together until it forms a ball and refrigerate for at least one hour or overnight.  When ready to make the pies, roll it thin and cut circles that will fit small tart pans.  Place about a tablespoon of mincemeat, depending on the size of your tart pans, and the grated suet or marzipan and cover with a top crust.  Set the oven at 400F/200C  degrees and bake for approximately 20 minutes.

The freshness, bright flavor and lightness of these tarts bear no comparison to any store bought variety I have known.  The little pies using beef suet added a pleasing umami sensation – the “mouth feel” so prized by tv chefs and culinary instructors but can easily be omitted.  Just be sure not to use the nasty mixed peel that appears in supermarkets during the holiday season.  Amazon sells very good lemon and orange peel for minimum cost as well as crystallized ginger which would be a nice warm addition.

MEV-10200153 - © - Mary Evans Picture Li

No tasting menu for Christmas can exclude the ever-popular wassail and/or mulled wine that was once known as Lamb’s Wool when served during the harvest celebration of Lammas Day.  It is seemingly everywhere these days and even the tackiest grocery store or bodega knocks out a bag of tired spices for the holidays.  I picked up my assorted fresh spices at the gift shop at Valley Forge National Park in Pennsylvania and it certainly seems like something both the British and American armies would have enjoyed when heading into winter quarters.  Originally, mead was used in the preparation and then hard cider, generally using fermented apples or other fruits,  honey and spices such as ginger and cinnamon and whole cloves.   Now, more often than not, white or red wine is used.  I prepared it with a red wine “blend” following a easy recipe from the superb book “Fabulous Feasts Medieval Cookery and Ceremony” by Madeleine Pelner Cosman.  Interestingly, her menu offers mulled wine to be served directly after the starter which implies that it would work very well as an aperitif.

Simply pour the spices into a gallon of excellent wine or hard cider, add half a cup of sugar or honey, two quartered oranges and one lemon.  Bring it to a boil and then simmer for an hour or two.  Miss Cosman suggests a pinch of pepper or basil for a hit of sharpness.  Serve in mugs with a stick of cinnamon.  The result is a warming, spicy beverage perfect for a cold night before the wood fire.

You now have a starter, an entree, a side, a dessert and a beverage for your Christmas celebration.  Choosing to make one of them will bring you closer to understanding our medieval forefathers and their superb culture and enticing and exotic foods.  And God bless you and send you a happy New Year!

 

wassail 2.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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