The do’s and don’ts of feasting (Part I)

Today on Medieval Eye for the Modern Guy we look at the do’s and don’ts of feasting.

A few rules of thumb as you prepare yourself for the upcoming Abbey Medieval banquet.

What to Wear

We shall of course not even suggest to lecture the Ladies on what to wear as their fashion sense should always be beyond reproach. Gentleman however may require some discrete coaching on what is expected at a banquet and what are definite medieval faux pas!

Obviously a gentleman would never dream of sitting down to dine in polite company in armour. The same goes for carrying weapons such as axes crossbows etc. After all you are going out for an intimate dinner for 300; not a family reunion. Daggers are an exception as they are simply too dainty to be considered a weapon and the jewelled hilt just cries out to be accessorised. The only weapon you will require is your rapier sharp wit (having a few trusty armed retainers ready outside with a fast getaway horse can be handy if your rapier wit gets you into trouble)

A few hints for the truly fashion conscious; rusty armour is out; shiny silks, fine furs and brocades and damasks are in. Don’t be afraid to mix your colours or go with a simple parti-colour for a striking effect by dressing with one side white or gold and the other red or blue.  Bareheaded is so common so hats are also in this season but if you really want to stand out try a circlet of silver or gold to accent your luxurious locks, and it keeps them out of your food. Furs are always in but they should be artfully tailored and not look like you are still sharing them with the animal. Also don’t be disappointed that no one believes a great hunter when you have a sheepskin draped over your shoulders.

The best maxim is coats bright, hose tight, furs exotic, hats amazing, codpiece outlandish, manners polished and smile dashing and you can’t help but be a hit with the ladies and a threat to your peers.

Image source: Pinterest

Tools of the Trade

It goes without saying that to dine properly you will of course require servants, but if you are travelling light you should still have the following:

  • Spoon ( silver or gold preferred)
  • Knife (small and sharp)
  • Napkin (white linen, silk is so overdone)
  • Bowls ( clean, precious metals or decorated ceramic are acceptable)
  • Cup or goblet ( silver or gold always acceptable though venetian glass is trending right now)
  • Finger bowl with warm scented water (for hand washing not plunge bathing)

These items can be used individually, sequentially, in combinations but NEVER all at once.

Instructions for use

Spoons are for eating pottages, soups and deserts which are placed in your bowl, never in your hand or neighbour’s hat. The knife (definitely not your dagger) is used for cutting your food into dainty morsels (gobbets) which you then pop into your mouth with your fingers. Whilst some foods can be taken on the point of a knife (not soups) it shows a definite lack of breeding to do so and gobbets of food should be eaten with the fingers (your own).  Don’t hack at your food with your knife like you are running late for the Crusades and don’t want to miss out on all of the fun and taking an axe to the roast, or your neighbours, is definitely a big no.  A two pronged fork is acceptable for pasta and shellfish but don’t flash it round like some nouveau rich burgher out to impress his boorish urban friends. Some also think it is stylish to use a spike to place food in the mouth; but ask yourself if a fork is doubtful how can eating with half of a fork be acceptable?  Your napkin is to be used for wiping your mouth, fingers and utensils. Keep it classy and simple and remember that eating with your fingers never goes out of style.

The Abbey Medieval banquets take place on the 30th June and 7th July and there will be no better place to put your medieval manners into practice.  Get your tickets here.

By Damien Fegan

 

 

 

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The Peacock Feast

A medieval feast can seem a bit strange to modern sensibilities. Food is served in removes, which are miniature multi course meals in their own right and the choice of fare can often limit choice of supplier: unless of course you live in an area where the local Coles stocks porpoise and beaver. Then,  there is all of the ritual which could turn an intimate thirty dish meal shared with a few hundred of your closest friends into a full blown theatrical production.

Enter the Peacock.

The Peacock Feast

During the later middle ages there arose a tradition of taking vows during feasts, generally at the urging of the host. Feasts were the perfect venue for young, and young at heart knights to be urged to greater and greater deeds of glory. After all there were chivalrous companions to urge you on, beauteous ladies to impress and alcohol, which then as now, helps make the impossible seem quite achievable. These typically were not your typical New Year’s resolution type vow such as promising to drink less and exercise more, watching your diet etc. but full on deeds of valour such as holding ground against all comers in a joust at the low end, to liberating the Holy Land at the upper end of the scale.

The best time during a feast to take one of these vows; the chivalric ones that were likely to get you killed, was during the presentation of the subtlety. The presentation of the subtlety was the high point of the feast. As could be expected they were anything but subtle and could take the form of a rare and fantastic beast, a confectionary sailing ship or if your budget is slightly larger you build a castle wall out of roast poultry and garrison the towers with roast deer boar and goats!  The ‘four and twenty blackbirds baked into a pie’ was actually a thing though the birds were presumably inserted into the pie after it was baked. Once the pie was, very carefully, cut open the birds would fly out singing to the delight of the diners. Possibly because live blackbirds are not an approved food additive this tradition has sadly been in decline at dinner parties.

A more subtle subtlety was the presentation of a bird, such as a swan or peacock, which had been roasted and then its skin, which had been carefully removed and roasted separately was stitched back on; complete with feathers.  Prised for their majesty in the case of the swan or its display, in the case of the peacock they made perfect subtleties, especially given the relative scarcity of fresh unicorn.

The Peacock Vow

The first Vow of the Peacock was in fact fictional, a tale written in 1312 by Jacques de Longuyon which introduces the ideas of the Nine Worthies of Chivalry (more about which in a later blog) and more importantly for now the practise  of using the presentation of the subtlety to swear an oath. For the potential medieval hero, presentation of a magnificent subtlety at a feast was the perfect time to make outrageous vows as it had all of the necessary ingredients:

  1. Large gathering of your peers and superiors
  2. Chivalrous companions
  3. Lots of wine
  4. Ladies to impress
  5. Heralds, jongleurs and minstrels to immortalise your vow
  6. Lots of wine

De Longuyon’s poem struck a chord and life quickly took to imitating art and we know of several similar vows being undertaken at later feasts involving Audubon subtleties including vows taken on peacocks, swans, herons, pheasants and even a sparrowhawk. It seemed hardly was a bird out of the oven before some gallant had slapped a hand on it vowing loudly to do or die.

For our Feast of the Peacock, the magnificent subtlety will be in form of a large peacock cake displaying its plumage as it is served to the high table. Whilst it will not contain real peacock that does not mean you cannot make a heroic vow when you catch sight of it.  Just remember though, you will be held to your vow!

In case you are wondering peacock is overrated as a delicacy as it tastes much drier than swan, but if you think the time is right in your life to commit a vow, get your banquet tickets here.

Blog by Damien Fegan

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Banquet Subtlety

 

Not so Subtle is the banquet Subtlety

In the Middle Ages, a medieval banquet was a feast of epic proportions. The tables were laden with sumptuous and multitudinous dishes, an expression of a nobles wealth on display for all his guests to see.  Every day foods like pies, fruit and stews were accompanied by magnificent animals and birds such as peacock, geese and swans kept for such occasions. The occasion was all about showing off!

A highlight at any medieval banquet was the presentation of a special sugar sculpture known as sotiltees (or subtleties).  Nobles would compete to have their cook create wonderful sculptures in all sorts of curious forms – castles, ships, animals, birds or scenes from ancient tales. The more spectacular and unexpected the sculpture was the better!  Another form of subtlety more common on the Continent was the ‘entremet’. This was traditionally an elaborate form of entertainment dish and included acted performances. You may recall the nursery rhyme “four and twenty blackbirds, baked in a pie” this was a form of “entremets”.

Abbey Medieval Banquet…food, more food and fun!

At the Abbey Medieval banquet, not only will guests dine on a variety of delicious medieval food and drink, they will also be richly entertained with medieval music and dance from Shuvani gypsies.  There will be a display of the jouster shields, Phoenix Entertainment will present a fire display and the guard display from Austral Ladoga will leave you sitting at the edge of your seat.  This year the theme is around Peacocks and could there be a better way to show-off colour and grandeur?

There are still a small number of tickets available for this year’s medieval banquets. Check out our menu , it’s sure to make your mouth water!

Purchase your  banquet tickets now and join in this unique experience of medieval fun and festivities.

 

 

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Medieval at home – host your own banquet

HOW TOs for a HOME BANQUET…

When planning to host your very own Medieval Banquet at home there are a few essential ingredients that are not difficult to do and yet will create an experience out-of-time that will wow your guests.

Firstly, the table setting…. What “goes” and what are the “nos”?

When setting a table for a medieval banquet here are a few ideas to enhance the look:

  • Use a plain white table cloth.
  • Candles! Candles are a must because they create a wonderful ambience. Cream coloured candles (sometimes called “church” candles) are available from many discount shops.
  • Wrought iron candlesticks or candelabras look fabulous.
  • Knife – steak knives with wooden handles work well
  • Spoon – an essential (remember there were no forks in Medieval Europe)
  • Plate – now for a plate you may wish to use a simple terracotta platter or even better why not use a trencher – a large flat plate made out of bread, similar to a large flat bread roll cut in half.
  • Don’t forget a LARGE cloth serviette… there is a lot of use of fingers when eating a medieval banquet, so a large serviette is essential.
  • And finally small dishes (pottery) for pepper and salt.

Now the table is set and looking impressively medieval we need to turn our attention to the menu.

Foods not allowed in your banquet at home

Foods that should not have a place on a medieval menu include:

  • Potatoes, corn (maize), tomatoes and pumpkins. All these foods were products of the Americas and were not introduced to the European table until the very end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the Renaissance.

So what can be included in your menu to make it uniquely medieval? Why not try venison pies, or baked lamb shanks in a rich red wine gravy, or spiced roast pork with pomegranate gravy. Or you could try baked fish with a white wine parsley sauce…

For vegetables you could include candied carrots with cinnamon and honey, baked stuffed mushrooms, buttered cauliflower, green peas cooked in a broth or honeyed parsnips or turnips.

Other suggestions include mushroom and cheese pies, vegetable pastries, asparagus egg tart and assorted cheeses, nuts and fruit.

Forsooth! I forgot the sweets! What delicacies did they eat in the Middle Ages? How about treacle tarts with rose water? You may wish to try pears cooked in honey, wine and spices or baked apple and custard pies.

And finally, what do you drink? There are all sorts of drinks for a banquet – wine, beer, ales, mead, elder wine and cider.

But firstly, before they’re sold out, why not book yourself a ticket to the medieval banquet for the real experience, and then have fun recreating the scene in your own home!

 

My Banquet Experience

Read this wonderful blog on a guest’s Banquet Experience

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Last year was my first year at the Abbey Festivals’ Medieval Banquet and WOW! My Husband and I had been anticipating it as I prepared our outfits for the night. We had some preconceptions about how it might be but in no way were we expecting what we got. Did it live up to our expectations? NO IT DID NOT! To be truthful it far exceeded them all.

When we arrived we joined the line waiting patrons who had also obviously spent many hours and or dollars on their costumes. The display of regalia was superb, from full skirts to fur hats, belts garnished by every medieval accessory required for such an event. As the line moved we had the opportunity to watch other Lords & Ladies take their turn to have a photo taken of themselves in a special portrait booth and, of course, we had ours done also. What a great souvenir of the night!

Our anticipation grew as we edged closer to the Banquet Hall, spurred on by medieval buskers. We approached the table with tickets in hand and were introduced to our first medieval custom of the night. Our hands were washed with fragrant rose-scented water and gently dried. I mean, the last time that happened to me I was a wee toddler and the washer was my Mum. Off to a good start.

We entered a Banquet Hall, the surrounding walls covered with giant banners, tables decorated with ivy and candles, subdued lighting (but not dark) at the front of the Hall was the High Table for Honoured Guests. Unfortunately we were not to be seated there but had been lucky enough to purchase tickets on the centre isle and quite close to the front. We found our seats and sat for several moments just taking it all in. My husband was a little confused as to why there was the cut bottom of a large round loaf of bread in front of him. Luckily the person next to him had been to previous events and stopped him before he could break off a piece of the bread. ‘That’s your plate’ he said and proceeded to educate us about the ‘trencher’. Phew, just dodged our first arrow.

Then we spotted the Bar and made our way across. I ordered a Mulled Wine and Hubby had a Honey Mead. Both were so yummy we were back in the line soon after for seconds.

We just made it back to our seats when the Honoured Guests arrived in a procession down the isle. I curtsied deeply and Hubby bowed low as they passed by. The Steward of the Hall introduced each of the High Table Guests. Oh my Goodness, this guy kept us in stitches all night with medieval style banters and quips. At one point he chanted something in Latin and his voice was so powerful it gave me goose bumps.

The sumptuous food was served over several courses, or ‘removes’ in medieval terms, each platter was shared among those seated around us and there was plenty to go around. If there was anything left on the platters my Hubby cleaned them off. He’s a huge eater that never puts on weight so I was quite astonished that he commented on how full he was by the end.

Throughout the night my excitement levels were kept high by entertainment from the Steward of the Hall, roving minstrels, a band of gypsy dancers in stunning costumes and jewellery. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better the Fire Tribe performed a breathtaking display. I could have reached out and touched them and the heat which emanated from their fire sticks and hoops took my heart rate to fever pitch.

All too soon the Honoured Guests were escorted from the High Table. We were reluctant to leave the Hall and the new friends we’d made, but all good things must come to an end. We talked about the event all the way home and then went through it all again over a coffee & port, promising that we would return for the next years’ Banquet.

We saw the Facebook post on the Abbey Medieval Festival page about the new ‘Premium Seating’. I thought “Oh my, I can get all this again plus the ability to rest my tender tushy on a cushy. I’m getting our tickets the day they go on sale”.

To finish up, I can’t wait till Banquet night is upon us again, Tickets have been purchased and printed out, costumes have been made and we’re bringing friends with us who have never been before. I can’t wait to see the smiles on their faces. My only regret is that we have to wait a whole year between events.