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Apr 05

A Medieval Feast

Medieval Feast with boar's head

 

Next were borne round dishes of carp, pilchards, and lobsters, and there after store enew of meats: a fat kid roasted whole and garnished peas on a spacious silver charger, kid pasties, plates of meat’s tongues and sweetbreads, sucking rabbits in jellies, hedgehogs baked in their skins, hogs’ haslets, carbonadoes, chitterlings, and dormouse pies.

 

Reading E.R. Eddison’s The Worm Ouroboros, with its archaic descriptions of food, got me thinking about how sumptuous meals, feasts, and festivals contribute to a well-made fantasy world. If your society is based on a European Medieval one, as is common (and no harm in that) it would be very, very different from what people in power eat now. True, the Medieval feast was also about impressing guests with the host’s power and prestige, but there were differences. Rare, esoteric (and often none too tasty) foods were singled out for distinction. Heady spices were used liberally — ginger, pepper, cloves, cumin, cinnamon — this was a time when cities literally rose and fell on the spice trade.  The spices were used not just in baking but in almost every dish, including meat, fish, and vegetables, not to disguise rot as is often thought, but to demonstrate wealth.

For presentation, dishes were ornamented with non-food items, colored with dye, or fashioned into looking like something else than what they were — such as bread-ball eggs in a vegetable nest, each bread containing a roast squab. Medieval folk loved puns. Often dishes were named for popular, religious, or mythic characters, relating to them in some way. All in all it was a culinary thrill ride for the lucky guest.

The feasts did not break out into salad, main, and dessert courses like we have today. Instead, each course contained a varied amount of dishes and were often grouped around a theme.

Using the power of random generation, I’ve created a feast menu here to give inspiration. There are some non-European ingredients in this hypothetical world.

 

Appetizer-type foods


Lamb pate served with dates and crackers

Salty Pike marinated in a white wine dressing

Sweet duck egg pancakes with cherry sauce

Fresh salad of cold, sweet greens, spinach, and minced pumpkin

Roasted dormice stuffed with crumbled bacon and raisins

Whole grain bread and creamy cheese, served with fig preserves

Soups and pottages


Duck pottage sprinkled with bacon

Lamb and carrot soup

Main dishes and meats


Herb-crusted partridge served over sliced, boiled pigeon eggs

Baked loaf made of deboned squab, served in a trencher* of boiled buckwheat

A whole pheasant rubbed with paprika, roasted in a fire pit, presented in its feathers

Whole bull’s penis poached in ale

Lamb in aspic

Ribs rubbed with molasses, baked in buttermilk

Whole eel poached in cream

Roast turkey stuffed with scallops, diced artichokes, and oysters

Lobster flavored with red wine and turmeric, simmered with parsnips

Minced partridge spooned over poached duck eggs

Pickled salmon served with roasted barley

Vegetables and sides


Whole eggplant stuffed with preserved wild buffalo

Fiddleheads and barley, toasted and served in cream

Honey-glazed sheep’s lungs

Roasted pomegranate husks filled with minced trout

Fresh toasted peas cooked in a sweet simmering sauce

Summer squash stuffed with almonds and other chopped nuts

Hominy simmered in duck stock

Solteties (Subtleties)


Solteties were large, elaborate dishes made from sugar, marizpan or dough, crafted to appear as something else — ships in full sail, mythological characters, animals, architecture, etc. They were often presented in a course of their own. The nursery rhyme “four and twenty blackbirds, baked in a pie” refers to one sort, the birds escaping as the crust was opened. Another kind were combinations of two or more types of roast meat. Solteties were often served at royal banquets.

Woodsman’s Sins: a huge pie filled with live squirrels.

Dwarve’s Surprise: a confection of dough baked in the shape of a dragon filled with crumbled bacon-stuffed ducklings, smoked mutton, calves’ brains, and pickled zucchini.

Virgin’s Belly: A whole goose roasted inside a whole lamb.

Sweets


Poached Pear with yogurt

Raspberries with a creamy honey-fennel dressing

Apple sorbet to cleanse the palate

Beverages


Scaddyberry: a scarlet, filling liquor made from fermented tomato

Smackgreen orange: a local beer

Blackberry nectar: a sweet ale from the south

 

* Trenchers were slaves of hard bread that were sometimes used in place of plates, depending on the era and locale. After the meal, they were eaten or given to the poor, in Christian fashion.

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