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PostSubject: Medieval Feasting   Medieval Feasting EmptySun Nov 02, 2008 8:09 am

Medieval Feasting

Medieval and Renaissance feasting was a carefully choreographed ritual of opulent display and intricate ceremony.

"Banquets were .... often a movable feast held in different rooms at different seasons, with trestle tables covered with white cloths, napkins and choice decorations, the dressers and buffets (credenze) loaded with the family silver and gold plate and crystal flasks ..... Tapestries would be specially hung .... Guests were offered perfumed water with which to wash their hands at the beginning of the meals and between courses - scented with rose petals, lemon, myrtle, musk; even toothpicks were scented and the cloths changed after each course were often decorated with sweet-smelling herbs."

Consumption of food - or specific types of foods - was governed by the dictates of the Church and "regulated by a precise annual rhythm" of the seasons.

"According to the Church abstinance from eating meat and all animal products, including .... cheese, was the rule on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday as well as on the eve of important festivals and, of course, the forty days of Lent." If fresh fish was in short supply, the "poor confined themselves to beans, chickpeas, fruit and vegetables ...."

Source: "Lucreazia Borgia: Life, Love and Death in Renaissance Italy" by Sarah Bradford


An entry in the household accounts for Elizabeth de Burgh (11th Lady of Clare) dated 24th June 1319 is as follows:

"There was half a carcase of salt beef, a small side of bacon, half a pig and a quantity of mutton. Forty herrings, two salt stockfish, two ling, half a salmon, whiting and eels .... there were two ducks, six hens and thirteen pullets, with a hundred and fifty eggs and a pennyworth of milk. A large quantity of bread .... with forty gallons of ale and eight of wine .... the total cost was just over £1 and probably fed over fifty people."

Apparently fruit, specifically apples and pears, and occasionally pomegranites, were also a staple in the diet of the medieval nobility as were sugar and rice.

And this was considered to have been an example of the everyday diet of the nobility.

Source: "The Three Edwards" by Michael Prestwich

The following is a list of foods that regularly appeared upon the table of King Henry VIII and other wealthy noble-folk:

"The English were famous for being big meat eaters .... with plenty of game, hoofed and feathered, heaved on to the groaning banqueting tables. The slaughter of birds for food was both prodigious and catholic [1] in choice: larks, stork, gannets (and other gulls), herons, snipes, bustard, quail, patridge, capons, teal [2], cranes and pheasants .... One of the court's favourites was stewed sparrows. The King was said to be fond of galantines [3], game pies and haggis .... Impressive quantites of salted and smoked cod, plus herrings, fresh salmon and eels were also consumed after the hot meat course. Most meats and fish, if not downright unpalatable, were heavily flavoured with spices to disguise their lack of freshness. Little roughage appeared .... fresh fruit was widely shunned [4] .... Green vegetables, as well as turnips, carrots and parsnips were also avoided [5] .... but cucumbers, lettuces and the succulent herb purslane [6] were eaten .... as a first course. Butter was usually rancid and used mainly in cooking."

[1] - I am not really sure just what this reference means.
[2] - a small variety of duck.
[3] - boned and pressed white meat, served cold in aspic (savoury jelly).
[4] - as it was believed to cause diahrroea and fever.
[5] - they cause wind and melancholy.
[6] - a low, trailing plant, portulaca oleracea, having yellow flowers, used as a salad plant and pot-herb.

Source: "The Last Days of Henry VIII" by Robert Hutchinson


From the Court of Lucrezia Borgia, Duchess of Ferrara (1502 - 1519):

"Due to the difficulty of keeping food fresh, the predominant taste in the dishes of the days was of preservatives - salt or sugar. In Lucrezia's kitchen, the pig was the most useful animal, prepared in various ways, and used in the making of salami, and sausages (zambudelli) and prosciutto. Salted ox tongues were also appreciated for their practicality. Sugar and spices from the East were important ingredients - among them pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, and taramind, as were vegetables - radishes, carrots, garlic, onions, spring onions, and leeks. Scented herbs were much in use - notably basil, sage, bay, marjoram, mint and rosemary. Sugar was the predominant luxury article in cooking, in meat and fish dishes as well as confectionery; it came via Venice from the Orient or via Genoa from Portuguese Atlantic sources, notably Madiera. Fruits in syrup of sugar and spices were particularly by Isabella d'Este [1] who frequently requested them from Lucrezia .... They also raised capons, calves, peacocks and guinea fowl (galline da India), kid, ducks and swans, supplemented by game in season, and, given the lagoons, waterways and lakes of the Po area [2], they ate a great variety of fish, notably eels from Comacchio and "carpioni" provided by Isabella from Lake Garde. Then there were cheses and pasta dishes ...."

[1] - Isabella d'Este was the Marchesa of Mantua, and Lucrezia's sister-in-law and rival.
[2] - The Po River stretches 652 kilometers (405 miles) eastward across northern Italy, from Monviso (in the Alps) to the Adriatic Sea (near Venice)

Source: "Lucreazia Borgia: Life, Love and Death in Renaissance Italy" by Sarah Bradford

"For my part, I adhere to the maxim of antiquity: The throne is a glorious sepulchre."
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