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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

2018 Abbey Medieval Festival Hero

The face of the  Abbey Medieval Festival 2018

Festival Hero

(Photo by B Croese)

(Photo by B Croese)
Who is our 2018 festival hero?

Introducing Mr. Blair Martin, a multi-award winning Brisbane based actor, speaker, broadcaster, writer, director, entrepreneur and ‘Something Else’!
In 2018,  Blair will celebrate being the voice behind the microphone, the Master Herald at our annual medieval event and the announcer of all things… important or not… for the last two decades.   He is also the Steward of the Hall at both medieval banquets keeping the esteemed guests, the Lords and Ladies and Very Important People,  well entertained throughout the evening with his droll humor and witty wit. His extensive medieval knowledge, his spirit and pizzazz has made him a legend to many visitors to the Abbey Medieval Festival over the years. With a character that’s larger than life, a stature that leaves you in awe and admiration, the face of this 29th festival is truly our hero and has been for quite some time.

Festival Hero and ‘Something Else’!

Born and raised in Rockhampton, Blair has many strings to his artistic bow ranging from wildly colourful comic characters, MC services, and innovative corporate concepts and events including the Abbey Medieval Festival.  Blair is a also mastermind  for his ability to recall the most arcane list of facts, figures and quirky stories, and these are by no means limited to  medieval tid-bits.  Blair was a champion on the Australian production of the TV quiz show, ‘Jeopardy’, and in June 2007, Blair became the 6th Grand Champion of the hit Channel 9 quiz program ‘Temptation’.  In 2014,  Blair won one of the inaugural gold medals for the Trivia competition as part of the bienniel Pan-Pacific Masters Games on Queensland’s Gold Coast, and backed that up with a second gold medal in the same division at the 2016 PanPacs.

In various previous lives, Blair worked as the public face of many projects and jobs ranging from cinema usher to hotel receptionist and his talent for training, team-building and motivation of others, was and remains his personal brand. In 1993,  Blair started his own business called ‘Something Else Entertainment

Without a doubt, the Medieval Festival wishes to acknowledge and thank Blair for his creative  and dedicated services since 1998 and we recognise, also without a doubt, that every year, he just gets better!  He certainly is ‘Something Else’!

Thank you,  Blair. We appreciate you!

 

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!

 

Food….preserving the body and soul!

I believe that there’s an inner ‘Foodie’ in most of us, and in reality,  food is linked to survival, a basic instinct.  Personally I’m really happy to see that nowadays food is starting to regain the rightful and honoured place it deserves in our lives.  It’s as much about giving our bodies required nourishment (and let’s not undervalue that) as being a secret ingredient in our social lives enabling us to communicate and connect.

If you have ever visited European countires, particularly Spain, Italy, Greece, and elsewhere,  we see openly how food is loudly lauded in the home and community.  And in our own lives, we all know TV cooking shows and celebrity chefs; we have food festivals and gastronomic holidays, we are award of the role food plays in our health,  we learn about slow food and organic food and as conscientious parents we try to make more time in our lives to give home-cooked food to our children.  So, I think it would be neglectful if we didn’t address the question about how our ancestors ate in the Medieval era of 600AD – 1600AD.  What did they eat? and how did they cook and …….I wonder what it tasted like?

Experience a taste of Medieval times at the Abbey Medieval Banquets Good news! For those attending the Medieval Banquets, you will have a fantastic opportunity to experience medieval food at it’s best.  The authenticity of the food available at the medieval banquet, right down to the medieval etiquette on show,  is indisputable and the ingredients and dishes on the menu are exactly as they would have been in that era.  You may be surprised to hear that basic staples of our daily diet today, such as potatoes and tomatoes had not yet reached Europe, so you can search but you won’t find them on the menu!

And outside of the noble classes, for a lot of people in the middle ages, having food meant survival.  And sadly, sometimes, people just didn’t.  A staple diet of the lower classes was ‘The Ploughman’s Lunch’, so it proves to us that a good dish lasts.  Meat was not available for many of the lower classes, untill ironically after the ‘Black Death’, which wiped out a third of the world’s population around about the 13C.

So, over the next few blog posts, I’m going to stay on the subject of food, so that you our readers can have a little ‘taste’ of what was available during the Middle Ages, and surprisingly is still available now.  This will be another opportunity for you to experience an additional dimension of preservation, which is at the heart of the Abbey Museum, in more ways than one!

Till next time.

Caroline

 

 

 

 

Medieval Eye for the Modern Guy

How to make your mark at a banquet without leaving a stain!

Popular culture has done medieval dining a great disservice. A feast was a communal ritual which was governed by a precise etiquette. Gnawing on steaming haunches of boar and throwing the bones over your shoulder is best left to bad Hollywood movies.

banquet is an opportunity to eat, drink and enjoy and if you follow the advice in this short guide you can do so in a way that shows your superiority over those sitting at the other…lesser… tables.

Give me my robe, put on my crown
I should state at this point that this guide is mostly for gentlemen; the ladies do not need my advice on fashion nor manners.

So what’s in for the late Middle Ages?  Hats are in for gentlemen, you can go bareheaded, but hats (without horns) do make a fine statement. Luxurious fur trims are always fashionable, provided of course they have been removed from the animal. Swords are simply passé at dinner as it proclaims that you don’t have a body of armed retainers outside the hall awaiting your call.  All you need know is for your valet to lay out your tightest hose and finest robes for the big event.

To dine in a truly civilized manner you of course need servants, if however you are travelling light you will require the following: a spoon (gold, silver, base metal or horn), a knife (sharp), a bowl or two (clean), a napkin (white linen)] a goblet, glass or other suitable drinking vessel . These items can be used individually, sequentially or in combination with each other; but preferably not all at once. A generous host, such as the Abbey, will provide you with all that is necessary for enjoying the evening’s repast.

Upon arrival at a feast it is customary to be offered a bowl of scented water to freshen up from your journey. This is used for washing your hands; no plunge bathing.

Spoons are employed for eating soups, pottages etc. When not in use they are placed in your bowl, not in your hat or your neighbour’s lap when not in use.  The napkin is for wiping of your fingers, mouth and utensils (eating).

The knife is used for cutting dainty morsels (gobbets) to pick up in your fingers and eat. The knife should be not used to hew and hack at food in the serving dish, nor should it be employed to intimidate fellow diners in standoffs over the last brie tart.  On no account use your knife to carve your name into the furniture, most of us know someone who  can read  and are not easily impressed.

Eight wild boars roasted whole at breakfast, but twelve persons there.
The sharing of a meal was a ritual that central to medieval culture. This was referred to as messing together. A feast will generally consist of a few courses and is often served onto central platters from which everyone helps themselves. Solid foods are transferred from the platter onto your trencher, which is a plate made from bread. Do not eat the trencher, this is an insult to the host, feed it to the dogs or even give it to the poor- but don’t pick at it! Otherwise you are hinting that your hosts are so miserly that you had to eat the table setting to ward off famine.
Etiquette also demands you do not attempt to place a whole roast porpoise on your plate; take the opportunity to mess with the people around you (don’t think it).

Good manners impress the ladies!

Manners makyth man

Food will be served by the Abbey volunteers, do not call them wench or peasant as it displays a lack of breeding and suggests  that you may be one of those unfortunates who have not have inherited your own servants.

Should you need to season your food you wipe the tip of your knife (napkin, not sleeve or neighbour) and use it to gather salt from the open salt cellar and sprinkle it on you food. Spices are taken with the tip of the little finger, so it is good manners to keep your little finger ‘cocked’ whilst eating to avoid getting grease in the spice dish.
Whilst some  folk might stab their food and take it from the point of a knife, they generally are not the sort of people you would wish to socialise with, unless of course you get a kick out of dining out the back of the stables. Do not tear at food with your teeth, cut it into small pieces and pop it into you mouth. Surprise your neighbours by presenting them with a choice gobbet (see above)
Use the occasion as an opportunity to display your rapier/mace like wit and entertain your companions, though not whilst chewing your food.

I would give all of my fame for a pot of ale
It is very good form to share drinks, especially if it is an aged mead or fine wine of Gascony. Conversely if you are drinking cheap Lambrusco, it is good form to keep to yourself. If you are offering someone your cup, wipe the mouth of the goblet before passing it to someone else, they should then wipe their mouth before drinking [napkin not sleeve], drink and then wipe the mouth of the goblet (not gobbet) and pass it back. If you are drinking ale, the new hopped beer or some other heady drink it may be better to not share a cup but offer them a cup of their own.

Good wine is a good familiar creature, if used well

A banquet is a celebration and should be enjoyed. However it is advisable to temper your celebrations as you don’t want to wake up the next day and be informed that you have promised to loan money/go on Crusade/fight a duel/enter a monastery  or marry someone’s ugly daughter.

Remember no better statement of largesse and breeding can be made than to select some of your finest vintages and present them to a writer on medieval etiquette  at the next tournament !

Come, come good wine

 

Appologies to Shakespeare…….again

Damien

 

 

 

 

Accessories and Bling!

Hello again, readers.

Last week’s Dreadful Note of Preparation from Damien, reminded me that while my Project Gorgeous Garment may be nearing completion, my supply of knick-knacks and trinkets was a little sparse?  And even though dressing-up and getting into the spirit of the Abbey Medieval Festival is completely our own experience choice, I began to wonder where on earth I could get the right kind of bling?   So, this week, I want to write about attention to the final details of your medieval costume.

I know I’m not the only person that tends to leave things like this to the last moment, and one of my pet hates is not being a hundred percent happy with my choice and having to settle with something I don’t really like because of time.  And for me definitely one of those ninety-ninth hour things is accessories.  A lot of our customers have also been asking where to find something affordable to complete their medieval costumes.

Fear not readers! Medieval accessories – obviously not authentic – are easier to find than you think. And while I know I would love to have a falcon on my arm as a fashion statement, it’s really not that do-able for most.  So, last weekend, I went on a different type of hunt.  I visited Morayfield Shopping Centre in Caboolture, North Brisbane, with my three children (who were on a good behaviour bribe!) to see what was out there in the way of Medieval style jewellery. The kids pretended to be Birds of  Prey, hunting for shiny, old, things, which took their fancy!

Nothing completes your medieval costume like some bright accessories and a smile!

Historians, with the utmost of respect – I anticipate your alarm – but we found some great imitation bling in ……DIVA!

And like it or loathe it, I came home happy!  Part of what I want to do in the overall Medieval Festival is to bring a medieval entertainment experience to the masses.  So I left my authenticity eye at home and just wanted to see what the universe would put forward. Lo and behold! I found brooches, necklaces, rings, ear-rings, tiaras and bling galore.

Obviously, very modern, but let’s not underestimate the importance of having a fun experience! And let’s face it, if we had a pre-requisite to wear only authentic accessories, the Abbey Medieval Banquet and Carnivale would be a quiet party! If DIVA’s accessories enable your medieval transformation, then they get my vote! It’s all in the spirit of preparation for the Medieval Banquet, Abbey Tournament or Carnival!

Go forth and shop!

Till next time, Caroline