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Chapter One

Historical Banqueting

and salt be set on the board, and then bread and drink and many divers messes. The guests are gladdened with lutes and harps. Now wine and messes of meat are brought forth and departed. At the last cometh fruit and spices, and when they have eaten, cloths and relief [trestles] are borne away, and guests wash and wipe their hands again. The grace is said, and guests thank the Lord. Then, for gladness and comfort, drink is brought yet again.2

Food-preparation methods included roasting and boiling or stewing, as seen in the working figures from the Angelus Book of Hours.

Elaborate preparations and rituals accompanied banquets of the medieval period. At a 1387 feast in honor of England’s Richard II, the head table was placed on a raised platform and with long tables set parallel to it. The king was provided with an armchair, while the other guests sat on backless benches or banquettes. The use of banquettes for seating was the origin of the term banquet.

It is two thirty, about half an hour before dinner is to be served. The mar- shal raises his rod in the sunlit hall and commands the ewerer to set three linen cloths on the high borde. Meanwhile, ushers and grooms arrange sub- ordinate tables with cloths, napkins and surnapes. At each setting the ush- ers place a trenche , a mazer cup, and a spoon. . . . Suddenly clarions echo throughout the hall announcing the arrival of the king and honored guests.3

Following the ceremony in which the king’s trencher (a plate cut from stale bread) was prepared and drinking water tasted, the meal commenced.

As the Latin grace is chanted in unison, a procession of trusted servants emerges from the kitchen, each carrying a resplendent creation prepared by the chefs. Hidden under ornate silver covers are the multitude of delicacies that Richard will sample on this day.4

The three-course menu outline, traditional to the medieval period, contained as many as 25 dishes per course. This became the standard for menu planning used well into the nineteenth century. In Figure 1.1, a three-course banquet menu served in Paris in 1393 details the mixture of sweets, sours, and spices tra- ditionally found in each course.

Additional documentation of the foodways of the Middle Ages is found in the decorative prayer book; this is not one book but many hand-decorated prayer books. The illustrations are what document the food history called Book of Hours, whose famed, colored illustrations record the historical and seasonal events of the period. The illustrations in the Book of Hours, created for the Duc de Berry between 1412 and 1416, records a banquet celebration whose tablesetting in- cludes linen tablecloths, gold and jeweled tableware, and a stuffed peacock and other foods.

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