Med-Fsts-CPHP-art - 12/26/10
"Medieval Feasts - culinary creativity, pageantry, honour and prestige"
by Lady Dominica de Zeragoza.
This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.
These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org
Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author or translator.
While the author will likely give permission for this work to be reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.
Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous
stefan at florilegium.org
In looking at the relationship between gender and race within eating practices in Western cultures, this paper will focus on the their involvement in medieval feasts, using Joffé's Vatel [] as the visual reference. Aspects of culinary creativity, pageantry, honour and prestige will be discussed both within the medieval context and their evolution to modern day. While it cannot be said that medieval times set the stage for the importance of food which has played a role in social and religious interaction [] since the creation of man himself. [] It did raise the status of both food and it's cooks to a new level. []
Vatel is honest in his "desire for the absolute, the sublime, the perfect," [] he is portrayed as having a true belief in his abilities: forbidding the ice to melt, [] and his power to create and astonish. [] How many housewives and chefs over time have created wonders with no less a belief, and a desire to try? He does all these feats for the honour of his master and the opportunity to restore him to his proper place in society. []
It is Vatel's standing as House Steward that has him seen as the functioning head of the house by all but the nobles, and it is he who deals with all matters of the house. [] This delegation leaves the Prince to deal with the King. It could be said that House Stewards of the Middle Ages became the wives of the 20th century and good ones had great value. []
The power that comes with this responsibility is demonstrated through the pageantry and entertainment of the festivities. Their importance is established in the opening lines of Vatel; The King "wants no fuss, merely the simple pleasures of life in the country, in other words, if you value his Majesties favour, you will set no limit to the extravagance and ingenuity of the festivities." [] While this pressure is on a larger scale it bares striking similarities to twentieth century wives who prepared functions for their spouses employers and co-workers. []
Pageantry has always played a role within festivities, viewed through the ages as a way of linking the past, present, future, and creates occasions, [] it has also been used to impress and outdo each other. [] Louise XIVs court may have reached new heights, but was not alone during history in its excesses. [] Vatel's three feasts depict a tribute to the glory of the sun, [] the sun banishing the night, [] and Neptune's tribute to Helios the sun god. [] Within these extravaganzas it is not merely the food, but its presentation, the settings and the entertainment that enhance the banqueting experience.
One could not fail to be impressed by the visual splendour of the feasts. [] Each is presented scene after scene until the food was finally revealed. [] The entertainments are not mere spectacle, but introductions to what will be served. This excess of the eye is not merely for entertainment, subtitles: ice sculpture, [] centrepieces such as the peacock's [] table linen and eating utensils, [] the impromptu candle holders, [] and unusual dishes [] all add to the effect. This attention to detail is not lost on smaller meals; be it the teas and lunches served as finger foods with hot chocolate, [] the delicacy of a readily peeled and segmented orange presented as a whole, or the pear, pealed and cored but reformed to be presented whole. [] Even the gardens created from candles give additional mystery. []
While modern cooks, and even chefs do not have the multitude of workers seen within Vatel, or people willing to work around the clock, many still put hours, days and weeks into functions or dinner parties. Though fewer are likely to spend 6000 pounds on fireworks to entertain the masses and kill a groom, [] or bankrupt themselves in the hope of patronage. [] One has to wonder how many would agree that going to war would be easier than putting on some functions as Gouville states. []
Examples of such visual pageantry can be found from Ancient Rome [] to Catherine de Médici's progress through France, which aside from its politically generated motive, aided in the spread of new kitchen techniques and menus from Italy. [] Policing of festivities has also occurred throughout history with attempts to regulate and control both the types and quantities of food consumed. [] It is clear that these attempts were not successful, and even adherence to the religious fast days could allow for excess. Vatel's feast of Neptune's tribute to Helios, is but one example, and Chaucer provides us with a menu of what was placed before Sir Gawain on Christmas eve – another day of fish:
Several fine soups, seasoned lavishly
Twice-fold, as is fitting, and fish of all kinds –
Some baked in bread, some browned on coals,
Some seethed, some stewed and savoured with spices,
But always subtly sauced, and so the men like it.
The gentle knight generously judged it a feast,
And often said so, while the servants spurred
him on thus
As he ate
'This present penance do;
It soon shall be offset.'" []
It should be noted that feasts the size of those shown in Vatel were not unusual for their time, [] larger and more lavish events would have occurred at the royal palace itself. It is almost un-imaginable to calculate the quantities for produce required for these festivities. However Labarge's Mistress, Maids and Men [] provides a breakdown of the average requirements for the daily running of a large medieval household. In any such documentation it is always difficult to substantiate items that would have been home produced; fruit, vegetables, eggs, dairy and bread. As seen in Vatel, much of this produce was taken from the Princes own lands. Turner's Spice [] provides a full history of how precious the spices used were and the role they played in economic and cultural growth.
Within these festivities how food was eaten was just as important as what was served. Modern day manners while evolved over time are different to those of the medieval period. Catherine de Médici, noted for her refinement and taste, was celebrated for her appetite and indigestion. [] People were elevated or ridiculed for their table manners; La Bruyére's 'The Table Boar' provides the less desirable behaviour; pawing the food, eating in haste, spilling food, and making a mess of oneself. [] Chaucer proves an example of proper etiquette:
"At meat her manners were well taught withal;
No morsel from her lips did she let fall
Nor dipped her fingers in the sauce to deep;
But she could carry a morsel up and keep
The smallest drop from falling on her breast.
For courtliness she has a special zest.
And she would wipe her upper lip so clean
That no trace of grease was to be seen
Upon the cup when she had drunk; to eat
She reached a hand sedately for the meat." []
Combined with this, it is essential to note that incorporated amongst all this festivity, was a strict social setting for interaction. Your social standing within court was unstable and could change on a whim. Your position to the King dictated who could sit and eat at festivities, [] how far you sat from the King, [] who you could speak to directly, whom you had to bow to, and who bowed to you. [] Many of these rituals have remained in the modern day: who will sit at the head of the table, who carves the meat, and preference for who is served first, the order in which people enter rooms at formal occasions. []
What made a desirable appearance also took another form; modern day thinness is very much a late twentieth century construct. Prior to the dominance of Twiggy "Eating made one handsome. "A thin wife brought disgrace to a peasant. But of a plump wife it is said that ' a man will love her and not begrudge the food she eats'. Men too ought to be stout." [] Food was a desirable commodity to be enjoyed and savoured.
Vatel provides a visual representation of this embodiment with food in the Marquis de Lauzun's request for a sugar creation of flowers in the colours of flesh and blood to represent his desire for Anne de Montausier. [] This likening of the body to food and flowers is not new and has occurred throughout time with poets and laymen substituting body parts with food: milk and honey complexions, cherry lips, ripe melons for breasts. [] Modern authors such as Bynum [] look at the historical aspects of this in feasting and fasting and its relation to social and religious factors of the time.
The Marquis request also demonstrates how the social order can be brought into line. Vatel's initial decline to be his partisseure is changed when the Prince brings his power to bear and instructs him to accommodate him. [] This social order within the court meant that no one refused the king, and all waited on his pleasure. [] Down from this is the Kings brother, who is allowed every frivolity with no room for complaint, the Queen, [] and so on through the list of precedence.
Cox states "Festivity and fantasy are not only worthwhile in themselves, they are absolutely vital to human life." [] Feasts to the scale of Vatels may no longer be created, but every grand function, and social dinner attempts to create a small measure of their mystery. If this were not so, cookbooks would not be the growing publishing market it is, [] and Cable TV providers would not have multiple channels dedicated to cooking programs. [] While the public role of women in Vatel's world was limited and subservient, it is clear that they played a part. The role of women in kitchens both professional and private has evolved and now expands to new heights. Female chefs are no longer a novelty, and many excel in their fields.
Food still creates passion in those who indulge, be it simply enjoying warm food on a cold day, the luxury of a special treat or the pleasure of a favourite dish that holds memories.
A) Web Sites of interest:
http://www.latourdulac.com/Feast/index.html (A modern group doing period feasts, their menus are a larger than the basic menu I provided)
http://www.silk.net/sirene/ (A modern day supplier of period herbs and subtleties, handy for re-enactors and food historians)
http://www.pbm.com/~lindahl/food.html (A base website that provides links to medieval cookbooks, articles, recipes and information)
http://www.sca.org.au/lochac/ (The Australian homepage of a world wide Medieval Recreations group. These people recreate feasts all over Australia all year round)
http://jeru.huji.ac.il/crusaders_food.htm (A web site provided researched recipies from the crusader era)
B) A light Menu
Grand Salad (Platter of assortments: Olives of at least two types, dates, figs, apricots, cheeses of at least four types, marinated fish on a green salad, nuts of at least four types, salami of at least three types
Roast pork with a pomegranate sauce
Sauteed mushrooms wit spices
Onion and shallot tart
Asparagus with Saffron
Chicken Ambrogino with dried fruit
Grilled fish with herbs and spices
Tourtel: herbed egg tart
Syrup dipped fritters
(Options taken from Rendon et.al. except for the pear tarts, Sylibub and Grand Salad)
hhtp:// www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/sunking.htm Site on Inside the court of Lois XIV.
http://www.restaurant.org/rusa/magArticle.cfm?ArticleID=631) Statistics on cookbook sales in the US
Bynam, Caroline Walker. Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women, University of California Press, 1987.
Chaucer, Geoffrey, The Canterbury Tale, 'The Nun's Priests Tale, (Century Hutchinson, London, 1986), pp 135-143
Cox, Harvey, "The Feast of Fool: A Theological Essay on Festivity and Fanntasy", Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press, 4th Edition, 1971
Douglas, Mary. "Deciphering a Meal" in Implicit Meanings, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1975.
Gunew, Sneja. "Introduction: multicultural translation of food, bodies, language" in the Journal of Intercultural Studies, Dec 2000, vol. 21, no. 3, pp. 227-237
Henisch, Bridget Ann, "Fast and Feast: Food in Medieval Society" Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania State University Press, 6th Edition, 1997
Labarge, Margaret Wade, "Mistress, Maids and Men: Baronial Life in the Thirteenth Century", London, Phoenix, 2003
Mennell, Stephen, "All Manners of Food: Eating and Taste in England and France from the Middle Ages to the Present", USA, University of Illinois Press, 1996
Mennell, Stephen, Murcott, Anne, Van Otterloo, Anneke H., The Sociology of Food: Eating, Diet and Culture. London, Sage, 1992.
Redon, Odile, Dabban, Francoise,, and Serventi, Salvano, "The Medieval Kitchen: Recipes from France and Italy", Translated y Edward Schneider, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1998
Smith, Joan, exerpt from 'Sexing the Cherry', in her book "Hungry for You. From Cannibalism to Seduction: A Book of Food", Chatto & Windus, 1996, pp. 83-87, 91-93, 103; as found in WST210 Reading Gender into Everyday Life, Booklet of Readings, E1, 2005, pp.86-90
Turner, Jack, "Spice: The History of Temptation", Hammersmith, London, Harper Collins Publishers, 2004
Vatel, Directed by Roland Joffé, Columbia Tristar, 2002
Visser, Margaret, "Much Depends on Dinner: The Extraordinary History and Mythology, Allure and Obsessions, Perils and Taboos, of an Ordinary Meal", Toronto, Ontario, McClelland and Stewart, 1987
Visser, Margaret. The Rituals of Dinner: The Origins, Evolution, Eccentricities, and Meaning of Table Manners. Penguin Books, 1991.
Copyright 2009 by Willhameena Power, PO Box 247, Jesmond, NSW, Australia, 2299. <Willhameena15 at optusnet.com.au>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited. Addresses change, but a reasonable attempt should be made to ensure that the author is notified of the publication and if possible receives a copy.
If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.
[] Douglas, Mary. "Deciphering a Meal" in Implicit Meanings, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1975, pp. 249, 260, Visser, Margaret. The Rituals of Dinner: The Origins, Evolution, Eccentricities, and Meaning of Table Manners. Penguin Books, 1991, rituals of dinner, ch 1
[] Henisch, Bridget Ann, "Fast and Feast: Food in Medieval Society" Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania State University Press, 6th Edition, 1997 p. 16, "Mann's first, disastrous lapse in Paradise hinted only too broadly at more of the same to come. In consequence, gluttony was listed among the seven deadly sins and labeled as the one which revealed man's true place on the scale of life to be distinctly closer to the animals than the angels. As John Myrc, an early fifteenth-century sermon writer, remarked, the devil knew he could scarcely fail with an apple, for 'yche best of kynde ys sonnest taken with mete [every creature by nature is most readily caught with food]." (citing: John Myrc, Festial, ed. T. Erbe, EETS. ES. 96 (1905), p. 286)
[] Henisch, (The names of individual chefs becoming known); Madam de Sevign's account of Vatels death in James Harvey (ed.) Readings in European History, 1906; Carr, John Laurence, Life IN France under Loise XIV, (1970), as cited on hhtp:// http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/sunking.htm">www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/sunking.htm , professional cookbooks appearing (see web site reference (Attachment A) for relevant sites off copies of original documents); Vatel, chapter 1, (vatel being the only person not to loose his rooms as he is to important)
[] Vatel, chapter 15, it should also be noted that Vatel provided a similar service to his previous master in providing a feast for 6000 bring the Kings attention to how much money his master had squirreled away as his minister for finance (Chapter five)
[] Vatel Chapter One, Vatels notice of the upcoming events " Good News and bad news, his Magesty arrives on Thursday, I can't emphasise enough the importance of his vist. A dropped wine glass or an uncomfortable cushion could spell disaster to our province. The good news is we may be going to war with Holland."; Chapter 4 (General running of the house, arrangements, clocks, cleaning); 5-6 (protection of 'his'people'); chapter 8 , conversation between Anne de Montausier and Vatel (" But the poor are happy to be the Kings creditors, It's an honour they never dreamed of. (V) Of course, both my parents were so honoured, they died of it.")
[] Cox, Harvey, "The Feast of Fool: A Theological Essay on Festivity and Fanntasy", Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press, 4th Edition, 1971, p. 7; ." Mennell, et.al., p. 65; Gunew, Sneja. "Introduction: multicultural translation of food, bodies, language" in the Journal of Intercultural Studies, Dec 2000, vol. 21, no. 3, p. 233, ("The feast is where the guest (no matter if outside this process he is the greatest of enemies) is welcomed and hostilities are suspended. It has also been noted that just who is the host and who is the guest becomes to some degree interchangeable." Citing Pitt-Rivers, J., 1968, 'The stranger, the guest and the hostile host: introduction to the study of the laws of hospitality', in J.G., Peristiany (ed.) Contributions to Mediterranean Sociology: Mediterranean Rural Communities and Social Change, (The Hague, Mouton).)
[] Vatel, Nobles do not see, and do not care to know about the work that goes into these extravagances, everything is presented as a finished work, with only servers interacting with the guest. Jest as in modern restaurants one does do see the kitchen.
[] Vatel, chapters, 3 (making of the bread sculptures), 9 (peacock), 15 & 19 (melon lanterns, which are passed off as being traditionally from India), 18 & 24 (making and completed other subtleties)
[] Vatel, chapter 8, 19, and all the feast scenes; Visser, Rituals of Dinner, p. 165, ("At Versailles in the seventeenth-century, napkin-folding probably reached its zenith. Serviettes were folded into frogs, fish, boats, herringboned pyramids, chickens with eggs, peacocks, swans, into the Cross of Lorraine if the duke of Larraine was the guest of honour and into a score of other shapes. It was a breach of etiquette to demolish these, however; other napkins were provided for mere use."
 Vatel Chapter 6
 Vatel, all night scenes give variants, with chapter 16 giving an example.
 Vatel, chapter 21
 Vatel, chapters 2, (creditors and merchants seeking payment); 3 (being told the Prince is bankrupt and if unsuccessful with the King, will remain so); 5, (telling the Princess they had called)
 Vatel, chapter 2, "Compared to this visit from the King, war with the Dutch would be a picnic."
 Visser, Rituals of Dinner, p. 166, ("Ancient Roman dinning-room floors often turned into an artistic conceit: they were designed in mosaic to look scattered with refuse, which was skilfully made to appear as three-dimensional and as indistinguishable from the real mess as possible. A floor like this was known as asaroton 'unswept', in Greek.")
 Visser, Rituals of dinner, p. 28, ("In sixteenth-century France Catherine de Médicis stages spectacular fétes, which she calls 'magnificences,' to promote political unity; they include ballets, music, costume, and always dinner. Guests were once floated down a river to the banqueting house set up on an island, past elaborately staged allegorical happenings: an attack on a whale signifying war; a marine tortoise with musicians dressed as tritons on it's back, singing about the king; Neptune in a car drawn by sea-horses, imposing order over savagery. In order to raise patriotism of the French and prevent the breaking up of her kingdom, she undertook a 'progress' that lasted two years, during which she travelled round the country with her fourteen-year-old son Charles IX, presenting him to the people. There were royal meals in castles, in inns, and in farmhouses; palace chefs in her retinue collaborated with local professionals to produce the kind of meals to which Catherine was accustomed. People ate with her, watched her eat, and marvelled at her Italian refinement. Catherine's dinners inspired, impressed, drew people together – and incidentally helped to spread the 'advanced' cooking techniques and the new table manners of the ultra-modern Italians." ); Vatel, Chapter 2, Gorville explains the political reasons behind the Kings visit.
 Mennell et. al. p. 2 citing Spencer , Herbert, 1898-1900, The Principles of Sociology, 3rd ed., 2 Vols in 5 parts, New York, D Appleton, ("Sumptuary laws regulating the uses of foods, … could be traced very far back in social development, and went along with 'the subordination of the young to the old, and of females to males'."); Mennell, Stephen, "All Manners of Food: Eating and Taste in England and France from the Middle Ages to the Present", USA, University of Illinois Press, 1996, p. 30 (citing Baldwin, 1926; Boucher d'Argis, 1765), ("Perhaps more significant than the Church's teachings is that from the late Middle Ages onwards the secular authorities in England, France and other countries showed their concern to discourage over-elaborate banqueting by enacting sumptuary laws. That the problem was seen as one of social display, not of sheer physical appetite, can be seen from the fact that such laws often sought to control the clothes people wore as well as the food they ate." ; Mennell, p. 30 (Citing Franklin, 1887-1902; I, 102; 1846: 491); "In France , a law of 1563 forbade even private families to have meals of more than three courses, and the number and type of dishes to constitute each course was also specified in detail. But very much the same law had to be re-enacted in 1565, 1567, 1572, 1577, 1590, 1951, and finally in 1629 (Franklin, 1887-1902; I, 102). In England, Archbishop Cranmer and his bishops agreed in 1541 on very detailed rules carefully grading the number of courses and number of dishes which the archbishops, bishops, deans, archdeacons, and junior clergy might eat; but Cranmer appends a sad little memorandum 'that this order was kept for two or three months, until, by the disusing of certain wilful persons, it came again to the old excess')
 Mennell, p. 28
 Attachment B, provides a sample menu for a smaller more casual affair of the period
 Labarge, Margaret Wade, "Mistress, Maids and Men: Baronial Life in the Thirteenth Century", London, Phoenix, 2003
 Turner, Jack, "Spice: The History of Temptation", Hammersmith, London, Harper Collins Publishers, 2004; Visser, Margaret, "Much Depends on Dinner: The Extraordinary History and Mythology, Allure and Obsessions, Perils and Taboos, of an Ordinary Meal", Toronto, Ontario, McClelland and Stewart, 1987, looks at the developed social and cultural impacts of particular foods over time and countries
 Mennell, p. 31, citing Orléans, 1855: 1, 348; II, 51, 85, 131, 143,
 Visser, Rituals of dinner, pp 176-177, citing La Bruyére, J. de. "De l'Homme" (1688), in Oeucres completes, ed. A Chassang, Vol. 1, Paris: Garnier, 1876
 Chaucer, Geoffrey, The Canterbury Tale, 'The Nun's Priests Tale, (Century Hutchinson, London, 1986), p. 136
 Vatel, chapter 8, those who sit and those who stand behind to merely watch
 Vatel, chapter 8
 Vatel, chapters 3 (the changing positions of the consorts as seeing in going up or down the stairs); 6 (the changing poition of the new consort); 8 (being moved on high table); 21 (Vatel being noticed by the King); 6, 11, 17, 20-21, 24 ( the notice and growing respect of the kings brotherand the favours he shows); Douglas, p. 249; Visser, Rituals of Dinner, p. ix
 Visser, Rituals of Dinner, p. ix
 Mennell, p. 31 citing Glamann in Rich and Wilson, 1977:195
 Vatel, Chapters 8-9
[] Smith, Joan, exerpt from 'Sexing the Cherry', in her book "Hungry for You. From Cannibalism to Seduction: A Book of Food", Chatto & Windus, 1996, pp. 83-87, 91-93, 103; as found in WST210 Reading Gender into Everyday Life, Booklet of Readings, E1, 2005, p. 87, ("Poets and novelists alike seek peaches-and-cream complexions, lips like ripe berries, breasts as round and firm as pomegranates – or, more vulgarly, halved grapefruit. The male voice in the Song of Solomon extols a woman whose lips drip honey: 'thy lips, O my spouse, drop as the honeycombe; honey and milk are under thy tongue'. The sixteenth-century erotic epic The Perfumed Garden praises a woman whose flesh is 'mellow like fresh butter'; in our own century, the Sicilian author of The Leopard, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, gives his seventeen-year-old- heroine skin that looks – as if one can visualise taste – 'as if it had the flavour of fresh cream'. The female voice in the Song of Solomon is rare in that she responds to her lover in kind: 'As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons. I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste.' More usually it is the edible women who are served up to delight the tastebuds of their lovers/eulogisers – or to disappoint them, for the bloom of their youth, perishable as the fragrant skin of a peach, wears off and the lover's languorous delight with it. Parolles warns Helena in All's Well That Ends Well that 'your virginity, your old virginity, is like one of out French withered pears; it looks ill, it eats drily'. Grace Fields, the down-to-earth Rochdale girl who became a popular icon in the 1930s and 1940s, mocks an imaginary lover on a cracked old 78 rpm record: 'Will you love me when I'm mutton as you love me when I'm lamb?'")
[] Vatel, chapter 6, (the nobles sitting and waiting, listening to the King doing his morning abolitions); the underlying story of Anne de Montausier not being able to refuse the kings offer of company if she wishes to stay at court and have a place;
[] Vatel, chapter 4, "The Queen does not wait on the Lady in Waiting"; 5 (the insident with the monkey, no-one can complain to loudly at being injured, the Queen is amused), 6 & 22, (The Princess entertaining their Majesties with her own skills as a singer)
[] http://www.restaurant.org/rusa/magArticle.cfm?ArticleID=631) says cookbook sales in the U.S. rose from 27.5 million in 1991 to 41.8 million in 1995. Cookbooks are a $400 million a year industry, according to the NRA article.