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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!

 

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No hops, onions or cabbage before 1400, not even in Nuneaton….

Nuneaton History

Once again, looking for one thing led to another – this time to a fascinating site about the history of Nuneaton. It provides interesting year-by-year, century-by-century snippets about historic events, the weather, and…did you know that hops, onions and cabbage were introduced from Flanders in 1400? No, nor me.

http://www.nuneatonhistory.com/uploads/1/8/6/8/18680466/nuneaton_history_alan_cook.pdf

Elizabeth of York – her privy purse expenses

Henry_VII_in_Mourning-1.jpgHenry Vll and his children in mourning for Elizabeth of York.  An idealised presentation of Henry.    His children ,  Margaret and Mary  sitting in front of the fire while a young Henry weeps into his mother’s empty bed.  From the Vaux Passional, a 15th century manuscript.

And so on this day Elizabeth gave birth to her son Arthur.  Arthur’s life was destined to be short and he died on 2 April 1502.  And so the fickle wheel of fortune turned once more with Arthur’s parents feeling the same pain, despair and shock that are recorded as having engulfed Richard lll and his Queen, Anne Neville on the death of their small son Edward.  Perhaps Henry’s pain was cushioned somewhat by the knowledge that he had a spare heir, Henry Jnr.

Elizabeth is often quoted as having said, an in attempt to comfort Henry that they were young enough to have another child. (1)   Whether she said this or not – how would such a personal conversation be known to others?  –  as sure as eggs are eggs, Elizabeth did indeed become pregnant soon after , a pregnancy that we all know resulted in her death.  So thus in another strange coincidence Henry also lost his wife a few short months after the death of their son as did Richard.

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Elizabeth’s  bronze effigy on her tomb, Westminster Abbey, Torrigiano

It is said by some that Henry’s and Elizabeth’s marriage was a happy one, they both growing to love one another over the years.  Alternatively you will read that she was considered by some to have been kept subservient and that Henry was not uxorious.  You will have to form your own opinions over that  one dear reader.   Either way she has my sympathy with regard to her mother-in-law,  the formidable Margaret Beaufort,  to whom Henry remained close.   Indeed a certain yeoman of the crown John Hewyk ‘grumbled that he would have spoken more to the Queen  had it not been for that strong whore, the King’s mother ‘.(2)  with a Spanish observer  writing that ‘she is kept in subjection by the mother of the king. (3).   However there are some examples that demonstrate that Elizabeth was not entirely a  push over  nor totally ‘eclipsed’ by her mother-in-law    Rosemary Horrox gives us one such example where a Welsh tenant appealed to Elizabeth over an injustice involving the king’s uncle,  Jasper Tudor,  which led to Elizabeth ‘responding with a firm letter to the said Jasper. (4)    Bravo Elizabeth!

1466-1503 by unknown artist c.1502 the royal colle tion.jpg

Portrait by an unknown artist c 1503

Although much  has been written about her death and funeral ,  and I won’t go into that here,  interesting as it is,  nothing much is known about her personal feelings towards her husband,  the demise of the House of York,  the treatment of her mother, Elizabeth Wydeville,  and her ‘retirement’ in to Bermondsey Abbey,  the fates of her brothers or the identity of Perkin Warbeck.   However her Privy Purse Account have survived and perhaps some thing of her nature and true feelings may be gleaned from them.

Sir Nicholas Harris Nicholas, writing in 1830, was  editor of  The Privy Purse Expenses which also include   a memoir.  Sir Nicholas seems to have been a little in love with Elizabeth,  whose motto was ‘Humble and Reverent’ attributing to her ‘most if not all of the virtues which adorn the female character’.   He notes that her expenses consist chiefly of rewards to persons who brought her presents with often the reward being of greater value.  ‘Nothing was too contemptible to be received, nor was any person deemed too humble..Among the articles presented to Elizabeth were fish, fruit, fowls, puddings, tripe, a crane, woodcocks, a popinjay, quails and other birds, pork, rabbit, Llanthony cheeses, pease cods, cakes, a wild boar, malmsey wine, flowers, chiefly roses, bucks, sweetmeats, rose water, a cushion, and a pair of clarycords’.  All the bearers of these gifts would never go away empty handed.

There were disbursements for servants wages, for preparing her apartments when she removed from one place to another,  which she did frequently, for conveying her clothes and necessary furniture, for messengers, for the repairs of her barge and the pay of the bargemen, for her chairs and litters, the purchase of household articles, for silks, damasks, satins, cloth of gold, velvet, linen, gowns, kirtles,  petticoats for her own use or for the ladies she maintained;  for jewellery, trappings for horses, furs, gold chains and for the charges of her stables and greyhounds;  for the support of her sister Lady Katherine Courtney and her children, including the burial of some of them;  for the clothing and board of her Fool, gambling debts and so much more.  Sir Nicholas notes that ‘her Majesties revenue was not adequate to cover all these demands and she was ‘not infrequently obliged to borrow money’.  A look at Henry’s Privy Purse accounts shows that he, perhaps  being a good egg or because it was the least he could do under the circumstances,  frequently bailed his wife out although it was expected  these loans were to be repaid.

The accounts which cover the last year of Elizabeth’s life are too detailed to go into her but I list here a few :

MAY 1502 Item to Frary Clerc of St Johns for the buryeng of the men that were hanged at Wapping mylne  8 shillings

There are several examples of money being given to servants of her father, King Edward, who had perhaps fallen on hard times such as ;

JUNE 1502 Item ..and to a pore man in aulmouse somtyme being a servant of King Edwards IV   2s. 4d.  as well as cloth to a woman who had been nurse to her brothers –

Help was also given to people who had served other members of  her family :

DECEMBER 1502 item 3 yards of cloth delivered by commandment of the Queen to a woman what was ‘norice’ to the Princes brothers to the Queen grace

DECEMBER 1502 Item to a man of ‘Poynfreyt saying himself to lodge in his house Therl Ryvers in tyme of his death in almous  12 shillings’

For herself, other than her gambling debts , Elizabeth seemed to keep an eye on the purse strings with numerous mentions of her gowns being repaired.

DECEMBER 1502 item to the Quenes grace upon the Feest of St Stephen for hure disport at cardes this Cristmas 100 s.

She appeared to wear a lot of black during the period these accounts cover when  presumably the court were in mourning for Arthur –  an example being

NOVEMBER 1502 Item ..to Henry Bryan for 17 yards of black velvet for a gown for the Queen at 10 shillings 6d the yard.    13 yards of black  satin  delivered to Johnson for a riding gown and a yard  of black velvet for an edge and cuffs for the same gown.  Item black bokeram for lining  of the same gown, sarcenet for ‘fentes’ for the same gown and an elle of canvas for lining of the same gown –   although on a lighter note in

JUNE 1502 Item ..to William Antyne coper smyth for spangelles settes square sterrys dropes and pointes after silver and gold for garnisshing of jakettes against the disguysing lvj viiij d.

AUGUST 1502 ..to my Lady Verney for money by hur delivered by commaundement of the Queen to Fyll the Kinges paynter in reward   3s. 4d.  Item to John Reynold payntour for making of divers beestes and othere pleasires for the Quene at Windsore 10 s.

A short, interesting appraisal of Elizabeth including her expenses were included by Ann Wrote in her biography of Perkin Warbeck.  ‘The queen seems to have been a gentle passive creature.  Her world was one of frugally mended gowns, whicker baskets and works of charity.  She had little money of her own her allowance being one eighth of the king’s and she often gave it away. On Maundy Thursday she distributed new shoes to poor women but her own shoes cost no more than 12d each and had cheap latten buckles…Ayala writing in 1498 thought her’ beloved because she is powerless’ and believed as many did that her formidable mother in law kept her in subjection. Although Margaret  Beaufort showed her kindness she was undoubtedly a stronger character.  A citizen of Nottingham once tried to speak to Elizabeth when she visited that city, their pleasant conversation was stopped by that ‘strong whore’, Henry’s mother,  and Elizabeth acquiesced’ .(5)

Later it is poignant to read about the costs of trying, vainly,  to save her life when she was stricken  after giving birth to her last child, Katherine.

Itm To James Nattres for his costes going into Kent for Doctour Hallysworth phesicon to comme to the Quene by the Kinges commaundement.  Furst for his bote hyre from the Towre to Gravys ende and again iiij s, iiij d.   Itm to twoo watermen abiding at Gravys ende unto suche tyme the said James came again for theire expenses viij d.    Itm for horse hyre and to guydes by night and day ij s.iij d.and for his awe expenses xvj d.’

Elizabeth’s midwife Alice Massy was not forgotten; her wages being 12 shillings.

And thus Elizabeth,  with exemplary timing,  died on the anniversary  of her birthday, 11 February.  Its said that Henry took her death badly and it would seem that his behaviour and attitudes took a turn for the worse after he had been widowed but that is another story.   Perhaps theirs was not a passionate love,  duty having bound them together,  but I do get the impression from their Privy Purse accounts that they did rub along together quite nicely.

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  1. Collectanea v.373-4 Leland
  2. Records of the borough of Nottingham 1882-1956 W H Stevenson and others.
  3. CPS Spain 1485-1509, 164
  4. Elizabeth of York, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Rosemary Horrox
  5.  Perkin Warbeck: a Story of Deception Ann Wrote pp 458.9

 

The Coronation Feast of King Richard lll and his Queen

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Westminster Hall venue of the King Richard lll and Queen Anne Neville’s Coronation Feast.

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Queen Anne and King Richard from the Rous Roll.  Anne is wearing the Crown of Queen Edith and Richard wears the Crown of St Edward. 

And so dear reader, Richard and Anne were crowned. We do not know for sure but let us hope the sun shone for them that day..it was July  after all.  Proceeding slowly back to the Great Hall of the Palace of Westminster from whence they had come, the newly crowned couple  ‘toke their chambres’ and  at four o’clock after a short  rest Richard and Anne returned to the great hall and were seated, the Queen on the king’s left hand side,   at the marble table on the great dais at the southern end.
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Westminster Hall looking towards the area where the dais and the kings table stood.

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The massive hammer beam roof seen from the dais looking northwards towards the doors.

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The north end of the hall and the entrance from a 19th century painting

In the interim while they were resting in their ‘chambres’  the Duke of Norfolk had ridden his  horse, which was ‘traped in clothe of gold down to the grounde’ through the great doors and so he rode about ‘voiding the people saving only the kinges servants and the Duke of Buckingham’ ..as you do.  Following which all the guests sat down in their allotted  places at 4 long bordes (tables) stretching the length of the hall  ..nightmare!    All had gone well, what a marvellous day …and now the feasting begun..interrupted only by the Kinges Champion, Sir Robert Dimmoke,  who wearing white harness,  came into the hall mounted on his horse which was ‘traped in white silke and redde downe to the grounde’ declaring if there were any man in the hall ‘that will saye the contrary why that King Richarde shulde not pretend and have the crowne’  he should say so now.  After drinking ‘a cope wythe wine coverid’ Sir Robert left the hall the way he had arrived, on horseback and clutching the ‘cope’ which was payment for his ‘labor'(1).   Buckingham wisely kept his mouth shut that day and thus survived,  if only for a short while.

And thus the feasting continued, the king being served on gold plate, the queen on gilt.

First an’harold of armes proclaymyng the feast

 Potage: Frumentie with venison and bruett Tuskayne
Viand comford riall Mamory riall
Bief and Moton Fesaunt in Trayn’
Cignett rost Crane rost
Capons of Halte grece in lymony Heronshew rost
Gret carpe of venyson rost Grett luce in eger doulce
Leche solace Fretor Robert riall
Gret Flampaye riall Custard Edward plante
A solitie
A Cours
Gely partied with a divice Viand blanc in barre
Pecokes in his hakell and trapper Roo reversed in purpill
Runers rost Betorr rost
Partriche rost Pomes birt
Scotwhlpes rost Rollettes of venison farced
Gret Carpe and breme in foile Leche frument riall planted
Frettour rosette and jasmine Tart burbonet bake
Venison bake A sotiltie
A cours
Blaundsorr Nosewis in compost
Venyson rost Telle in barre
Langettes de lyre Pety chek in bolyen
Egrettes rost Rabettes souker rost
Quailes rost Briddes brauncher rost
Freshe sturgeon with fennell Creves de ew doulche
Leche viole and canell Frittour crispe
Rosettes florished Oranges bake
Quynces bake A sotilty
For the lords and the ladyes in thall the same day att dyner
Vyand riall Bief and multon
Grene ges rost Capon rost
Lardes de veale Pike in erblad
Leche siper Fretor covert
Custard riall A sotiltie
A cours
Viande blanc in barre Crane and heronshew
Kidd endorred and lambe Roo reversed
Chek in bolien Rabettes rost
Sturgeon and crevz du doulce Leche caniell
Close tart indorred Crismatories and oranges bake
A sotelty
For the commons
Frumenty with venyson Bief and multon
Capon Rost Bief rost
Leche canell Custard

And so, in the summer evening,  the banquet  broke up by torch light,  having  taken so long  the third course was never served.   It was  the end of an unforgettable day and as the guests departed ‘wher yt lyked them best’   they would have noticed the conduit in Westminster Yard that had been filled with a tun of red wine.  Perfect!  I  do wonder though  if anyone spared a  thought for the poor souls left to do the washing up!

I am greatly indebted to Anne Sutton and  Peter Hammond for the above information  I have gleaned from their marvellous book: The Coronation of Richard lll – the Extant Documents.

  1. Sir Richard Dymmok also received crimson damask and spurs.  He  served in his family’s hereditary role as the sovereigns champion at Richard lll, Henry Vll and Henry Vlll coronations.  Anne Sutton and Peter Hammond The Coronation of Richard lll – the extant documents p.337.

The extinction of the Bosworth Jumble….?

bosworth-jumbles

Yes, I had heard of the Bosworth Jumble biscuit, but never sampled one. Now, it seems, I may never taste one, because they are an endangered species. Rally around, folks, see that the Jumble is saved for posterity.

Eat Jumbles regularly, maybe make your own – taste what Richard may well have tasted!

http://www.hinckleytimes.net/news/local-news/bosworth-jumbles-biscuits-endangered-list-11945469

The King In The Lab – Richard III’s Dissolute Diet

RICARDIAN LOONS

I recently had the opportunity to attend a talk by Professor Jane Evans of the British Geological Survey, co-author of the multi-isotope analysis which explored what the last Plantagenet king of England ate and drank. As I mentioned in a previous science post, this study formed the basis for the widely reported claim that, although he was a capable soldier, he overindulged on food and drink and that this “dissolute” diet was the reason for his unexpected defeat at the battle of Bosworth. As this seemed to be at odds with both historical sources and also the study itself, I was hoping to finally get to the bottom of the facts. I wasn’t disappointed.

What Isotopes Can Tell Us

Professor Evans began her talk by explaining that isotopes are particles which transmit information from geology to us via our food chain. Basically:

Rock > soil > plants > herbivores…

View original post 1,819 more words

Of party food, comic films and the sinister reality behind them

It doesn’t have to have been in Spain but I expect that most of you will have been to a party at which tapas was served. One of the main components of this is a type of ham known as jamon iberico or serrano. Have you wondered why this is the principal meat in tapas?

Again, many of you will have watched Carry On Columbus, made for the quincentenary of the eponymous explorers 1492 expedition. Jim Dale played one of the Columbus brothers, Leslie Phillips and June Whitfield were Ferdinand and Isabella whilst Bernard Cribbins starred as Mordecai Mendoza, a map maker and converso, or Jewish-born Christian convert. Think of Duarte Brandao (Sir Edward Brampton), the real-life example who came from Portugal to be baptised by Edward IV before serving Richard III on several missions, being knighted by him and then … but I digress.

In one early scene, the Spanish Inquisition, which dates from 1478, suspects that Mendoza is still following Jewish practices, which would make him a heretic with a rather obvious, heavily implied, fate.  Two of the Inquisition’s representatives resort to their most fiendish torture – a plate of ham sandwiches. Mendoza’s arrest would be disastrous for the expedition, almost as much as for himself. He examines the sandwiches and declares that he cannot eat them. “Why not?” ask the Columbuses. “There’s no mustard on them”, declares Mendoza.

Now, thanks to Simon Sebag Montefiore’s excellent “Blood and Gold” history of Spain (BBC4), it is apparent that the real Inquisition, in their efforts to trace fake conversos, in the wake of the 1492 expulsion of the Jewish population, resorted to similar culinary tactics as the Carry On version. Montefiore explains, in the programme(1) and in an article(2) , that an ancestor and two of her siblings fell victim to them in this way, with fatal results. Bernard Cribbins Carry On Columbus (1992) SimonSebagMontefioretapas

(1) http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b06s5x0t/blood-and-gold-the-making-of-spain-with-simon-sebag-montefiore-2-reconquest
(2) http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-3336389/Simon-Sebag-Montefiore-ancestors-BURNED-stake-Spanish-Inquisition.html

 

Tales of a Ricardian Traveler – Part One: Forest of Bowland and Skipton

RICARDIAN LOONS

Lady on Horseback Lady on Horseback, mid-15th c., British Museum

I am passionate about history and travel!  As soon as I got my passport, I was determined to go out and see the world with my own eyes, but more importantly, to encounter places associated with Richard III.  In his brief 32 years, he assembled what has been called by Professor Rosemary Horrox of Cambridge “the largest noble affinity of its day” — meaning, he owned a vast number of castles and estates that we can still visit in the UK.

For me, the most interesting period of Richard’s life as a man began in 1471 when he was only 17 years old and still living in the shadow of his older brothers Edward IV and George, Duke of Clarence. That was the year Richard returned from exile in Burgundy, led his first troops in combat at the Battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury…

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MANNERS AND ETIQUET IN RICHARD’S TIME

So, let us say you find that time machine and go back to Richard III’s era, and you are going to dine with him. How do people act? What should you expect? In old 1950’s movies we see neat and tidy castles and perfectly coiffed people cavorting merrily between trestle tables and dancing in stately manner; while in more recent movies, where directors believe they are going for ‘gritty realism,’ you see grubby, roaring crowds wolfing down food, snatching it from plates and causing a general ruckus.
In reality, although neither of these scenarios is completely correct, the so-called more ‘realistic’ modern one is probably the less authentic of the two. Certainly, there was a stringent set of table manners in existence that were very precise, even if certain aspects of hygiene seem a little strange to us today. Some rules, however, will be immediately recognisable to modern people and they form the basis for modern manners.
On a regular day, before the nobles dined, the household servants would eat approximately an hour before their masters. Richard’s mother, Cecily Neville, normally ate around 11 am and then again at 5 pm (by Richard’s time most people down to the rank of squires had a breakfast as well, often after morning Mass.) The squires themselves had been taught by the master of the henchmen how to drink and eat in a mannerly fashion, and there were books available to give advice on the correct procedures.
For a feast, the attendees would eat off trestle tables covered by a cloth. The feasters would sit on benches, while the lord (we’ll call him Richard from now onwards, because you have that time machine, remember?) and any special guests might sit in chairs of estate padded with cushions for comfort. The wealthiest might even have a silk cushion provided.
Trenchers would be set out before Richard and the rest of the attendees. These were often made of thick bread, though wooden trenchers were growing increasingly common by the 1500’s. The bread trenchers were cut carefully with a knife, and in the house of a very great lord, tested for poison. Then the first trencher would be presented to Richard without ever being touched by the server’s hand or the tip of the knife.
After the trencher was presented, the salt cellar would arrive. It would stand on the table either before Richard or just to the side of him. Cellars were high status symbols, and frequently of elaborate design, including dogs, lions, castle towers, and ships. Some even had wheels and could be rolled into the hall.
Cutlery, a knife and a spoon, wrapped in clean napkins would be placed before Richard on the table. Sometimes only the lord would have a knife laid out for him, while the guests were expected to bring their own. Forks were rare in Richard’s day except when used for eating sweetmeats or to help carve the meat.
No one started the meal before hand washing commenced. A towel known as the surnape was laid on the table, while a bowl of water was brought forward and tasted for poison. This ritual done, the water (which could be warm, hot or scented) would be then either poured over Richard’s hands from above, or the he could immerse his hands in the bowl as he chose.
The towel on the table was taken away and Grace said. The carver then presented the first dish to the revellers. Not only the carver’s hands, but his knives were to be clean and held correctly.
While Richard and his guests ate, scraps of discarded food would be swept from tables and trenchers by the butler and thrown into a bin called the ‘voyder,’ which was frequently taken out and emptied. Far from being a dirty mess of spilt food, the table was expected to remain as tidy as possible throughout the entire meal.
When the feast was done, Richard would again wash his hands or at least his fingers, before drying them on a specially provided towel.
Behaviour was regulated. Richard would sit down first, before all others; once he was comfortable, his guests would follow suit. No one ate until he was ready to begin. No one dared tuck in until the course was fully served. You were not to cut your fingernails with your knife, nor did wipe them all over the tablecloth. Toying with the cloth itself was ‘bad form.’ Filling the soup with your bread was crass and seen as wasteful. You did not blow on the soup, in case you contaminated it with bad breath, and noisy eating was rude. As today, speaking with your mouth full was the height of bad manners, and spitting was not considered proper, although if you had to, the floor was the only place, not on the table or into any bowl. Once you had finished your soup, the spoon was not to be left lying in the dish but neatly wiped and placed beside the trencher. Eating with fingers was perfectly acceptable as long as you did not tear off huge chunks and make a mess.
Behaviour at dinner had some rules too. You must not belch near another’s face nor spit across the table. Picking teeth with the knife was considered inelegant; there were implements that served as toothpicks which should be used instead. Blowing your nose in the napkin was also thought highly ill-mannered. If you were unfortunate to attend your Richard’s banquet with a cold and had not brought a handkerchief, you were expected to wipe your hands on your clothes after sneezing, rather than sully the napkin or tablecloth. Food stealing off other guests was a no-no, and you never licked a dish clean no matter how good it tasted. You sat up straight and acted with courtesy and politeness, which included not criticising the food or whispering. Nose-picking was out, as was scratching fleabites, rubbing at your scalp or just staring at the other people in the room. (So no staring at his Grace, no matter how tempting, remember?!)BANQUET
So if you should indeed find that time machine, bon appetit…and please don’t spit over the table.

Sources- Fast and Feast—Bridget Henisch
Food and Feast in Medieval England by Peter Hammond
The Babee’s Book, trans Edith Rickett

Fresh food for Richard….but when could he eat it….?

Pieter Bruegel the Younger, Spring, c. 1600, Vassar College - 2

Pieter Bruegel the Younger, “Spring”, c. 1600

So Richard got up one December morning, and thought, “By all the saints, I fancy some asparagus today.” Er, sorry, sire, it’s the wrong time of the year. Hmm, the royal taste buds are well and truly thwarted. Being king didn’t quite get you all you wanted.

Today we take it for granted that we can go to our local store/supermarket/hypermarket/market and buy the food we want. It can be fresh and in season in England, or in season somewhere far away and brought to us. It can be frozen, and also come from all over the world. In short, we can get what we want, when we want it. We don’t have to wait for asparagus or strawberries to be harvested in our own country, because we can have it from someone else’s country. We are spoiled rotten, and take it for granted.

But I can remember that when I was a child, there was huge excitement when the runner beans were ready, or the peas, broad beans and so on. Yes, we still rush to buy the fresh fruit and vegetables when they appear, but we don’t have to wait for them.

My grandmother, Edith Lewis, had a cookery book called “The Complete Home Cookery Book”, by Mrs. Stanley Wrench, M.C.A., published by Associated Newspapers Ltd. There is no publishing date inside, but Edith signed it in July 1938. The book passed to my mother, and then to me. I little thought how useful it would be to a writer of historical fiction. Among many other curious and fascinating details, it contains a list called ‘Foods in Season’. Maybe the 1930s aren’t that far back, but compared with the present day, that list of foods is almost quaint. Certainly a great number of the things listed would have applied in the 15th century. But there again, some had yet to be introduced back then, and perhaps the ‘closed seasons’ of today didn’t quite apply back then. At least, they probably did, but with subtle variations – or not so subtle, as the case may be. It rather depended upon who happened to be lord of the manor. But the discerning present day reader will be able to spot any anomalies..

I have scanned the list and it follows in three pictures. Hopefully it will be of general interest, but may be very useful to the fiction writers among us.

Food in Season - 1

Food in Season - 2

Food in Season - 3

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