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Dresng-t-Dish-art - 7/21/07


"Beyond the Soeltie: Garnished, Fringed, Dressed and Flourished" by Maestra Serena da Riva.


NOTE: See also the files: sotelties-msg, marzipan-msg, entertaing-fds-art, illusion-fds-msg, Warners-art, cak-soteltes-msg, gilded-food-msg, molded-foods-msg, Sgr-a-Cnftns-art, sugar-paste-msg, Sugarplums-art.





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.


Thank you,

Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous

stefan at florilegium.org



Beyond the Soeltie: Garnished, Fringed, Dressed and Flourished

by Maestra Serena da Riva


      This document is intended to be a sort of written lecture, a codification of what I say when I teach this class. I decided it was necessary to do this because it is impossible for me to teach this class to everyone who might stumble across this link on the internet. You will find that the writing style is very conversational as opposed to scholarly, and this is on purpose. Hopefully it will not be too dull of a read; hopefully I can convey the excitement that I feel about this subject to you with the written word. Those who have been my students would tell you that my excitement is abundantly evident when you attend my class.


      The first thing I tend to discuss is how this avenue of research came about, and the explanation is simple enough. Several years ago, on a Historical Culinary Mailing List, someone asked the question "I would like to garnish my period dishes in a period style. How did they do that?" And I realized that I could not answer the question. Not being able to answer the question drove me a little bit nuts. So I set about researching period garnishing.


      In The Complete Anachronist #109 publication titled The Colorful Cook the authors spend over 40 pages discussing the different period methods of coloring foods. From Saffron to Alkanet, Saunders to Gold leaf, they list over 46 different plant, mineral and animal based colorants. The goal being to produce dishes that are brilliant in color to look at. Reds, Yellows, Greens, Blues and the highly esteemed White are all developed during the course of creating a dish. It is not uncommon to find instructions for preparing a dish, separating it into different sections and coloring the dish multiple colors, all to be served in one presentation.


      While we as recreationists attempt to create attractive presentation for Soelties and specialty dishes, the food that goes to the masses seldom receives such attention. And when garnishing is attempted, it is frequently with a very modern approach. The concept of beautifying the presentation is period, but the techniques are not. This leads us to discover what constitutes a period garnishing technique. Investigation into this subject within the texts written on Culinary History has proven to be remarkably fruitless.


      Of the many texts that I examined named such things as Food in History or A History of Food the issue of garnishing was remarkably absent. While I have not read every such book (and it is an avenue for further research) I did find the following commentary in the 400 page book Food and Drink in Medieval Britain:


"After cooking came the garnishing or flourishing of the dish at the dresser with a simple surface scattering of spice powder. More complex designs were achieved in the kitchen, like the white blancmange decorated with blanch powder and fried almonds, and served in with a second dishful coloured yellow or red which was strewn with powdered galingale, and stuck with cloves and maces. Cloves were considered appropriate in red food generally, Red or white aniseed comfits were sometimes laid over thick sweet pottages. (287-8)"


"The pomegranates imported from Mediterranean lands were used mainly for decoration. Pottages were garnished with the whole fruits, or sprinkled with the grains or seeds (337-8)"


"Elizabethan chickens were also baked with barberries…Orange and lemon slices supplied colorful garnishes, as did bunches of red barberries or red currants. (358)"


      To substantiate her first statement the author has provided a tantalizing reference to a separate location/piece of furniture called a Dresser in a 1420 English manuscript (MS 279). The recipe is for Capon in Salome and in the instructions it says:


                         "& so at the dresser throw him in ye kychon & throw the milk above…"

This implying that the finished dish is taken from the kitchen to a separate location, possibly a table or chest called a Dresser and this is where the dish is garnished. This is a fascinating avenue for further research that I have not been able to pursue, yet. The idea of a separate garnishing station is further supported by a marginal illustration in the Luttrell Psalter that depicts a man standing next to a table garnishing a dish. You can find a copy of this illustration in The Colorful Cook.


      Some of the other items mentioned above do not exactly match up with my research to date. The author claims that Galingale is a common garnish – which is something I have not found a single reference towards. She states that Red Foods are commonly garnished with Cloves, prompting me to include the color of the finished dish in my analysis of garnishes. So far I have not found any correlation between color of the food and the garnish. On the other hand, her claim that Comfits are common garnishes for sweet pottages has been borne out by my research and pomegranate seeds are most assuredly a common garnish.


      Similar teases can be found in The Colorful Cook, but as of yet I have been unable to discover an extensive treatment of the subject of period garnishing techniques. This prompted me to turn to the corpus of culinary manuscripts that have survived to this day to discover what I could. This is an ongoing project, due to the sheer number of available manuscripts, with more being translated every year. But based upon the sixteen that I have analyzed to date, we can build a basis to work from.


      Having come up empty with the historical compendiums I decided my next step as to go directly to the source and began going through as many of the accessible culinary manuscripts as I could get my hands on. When I started reading, and in most cases rereading, these manuscripts specifically looking for garnishing instructions I realized I needed to have a concrete definition of what I was going to consider a garnish.


What is Garnishing?


      To begin my analysis, I had to define exactly what would be considered a garnish. As stated above, I do not include Soelties or coloring of food during preparation to be a garnishment. Consulting several food sources one can find an assortment of definitions:


To add decorative color to a dish with parsley, fruit and other foods.

To add an interesting and completely edible item to a plate to make it look more attractive; or any such edible item.

To enhance a dish before serving with an edible decoration or accompaniment, which is appealing to the eye and complements the flavors of the dish.


This is the definition of a modern garnish, working with these in mind I compiled recipes. After acquiring a better idea of what garnishing was in period, I developed the following definition:


A garnish, or flourish, is something edible that has been added to a completed dish of food in order to enhance either its appearance or flavor, or both.


The modification being that the garnish might be solely intended to improve the flavor, but might not necessarily be discerning to the eye. What is of utmost importance in this definition is that the addition occurs after the dish is completely prepared. Most often the instructions fall after the instruction to "put it on a platter" or "place it in a bowl". This is where items such as parti-colored blancmange fall into a different category. An illustration might be handy here.


      Say that you make some blancmange and separate it into two bowls, to one you add saffron and to the other you add pounded parsley. You stir them well to incorporate the coloring and then carefully place them back into one bowl, side by side. Lovely, but not a garnish. If you were to take that same blancmange, place it in a bowl, and cover one half of the top of the dish with cinnamon to provide the parti-colored appearance, then you would have a garnish. It is a fine difference, but a difference none the less


      The other categories that I have set aside are the soelties and illusion foods. When the purpose of the dish emphasizes physical appearance over the edibility of dish, it has departed the garnished food category and gone into soeltie land. Now I know that most soelties are not only edible, but intended to be eaten; still I do not consider them in my evaluation. A peacock dressed out in its' finery has gone far past garnishing, as has a Cockentrice.


The Manuscripts


      The following table contains the information for the manuscripts that have been consulted to date:









Harleian MS 279






Harleian MS 4016






Liber cure Cocorum






Laud MS 553




15th c.


Douce MS 55




15th c.


The English Housewife by Gervase Markham.






Libellus de arte coquinaria




13th c.


Le Menagier de Paris












Daz buch von gutter spise






The Cookbook of Sabina Welserin






Ein New Kochbuch






Platina On Right Pleasure and Good Health






Libro di cucina/Libro per cuoco




14th/15th c.


Libre del Coch by Rupert de   Nola.







      Two additional manuscripts have been reviewed but not included. One is An Anonymous Andalusian Cookbook, which is a 13th century manuscript from Moorish Spain and the other is The Art of Cooking: The First Modern Cookery Book by Maestro Martino of Como, a 15th century manuscript from Italy. The Andalusian manuscript is full of garnishing instructions, but they are more in line with the Middle Eastern culture than the European. For the purposes of this class, I have chosen to stick with Europe.


      Martino's manuscript, while a wonderful text, was plagiarized by Platina in near entirety. It was only recently that a translation of his magnificent manuscript was made readily available in an English translation. Being able to read his recipes only drove home the point that M. Platina was a horrible plagiarist. After reviewing several chapters of Martino it became obvious that including his information in this study, except where it deviates from Platina, would be redundant. Not only did Platina copy his recipes, he copied the garnishing instruction. There are subtle and interesting differences between the two and the following selections illustrate them nicely.


VII. 48. Stuffed broad beans - Platina


Leave broad beans in water until they are well moistened, then cut each so neatly from the region of the black part that what is inside in not damaged. Put almonds ground with rose water and sugar in the empty shells. Roast near the fire in a little pot or pan without water, always being careful they do not burn. When they are roasted and put in little serving dishes, cover them with the best broth, on which you will sprinkle both parsley and spices. Some add onions as well.


Stuffed fava beans - Martino


Soak the fava beans with skins on and gently crack open the lighter side; carefully remove the beans without breaking the shell; and then take some peeled, blanched almonds and grind well with a little rosewater so that they do not purge their oil; and add a generous amount of sugar; and use this mixture to fill the shells, and then press back together so that they appear to be half-cooked fava beans; heat them in a pot or pan or another container without water or anything else, being careful that they do not burn. Then distribute the fava beans in bowls and top with some hot meat broth, a bit of finely chopped parsley with a little finely chopped and fried onion, and then a small amount of sweet spice. You can omit the onion if not desired.


A more thorough review of Martino is in the works, but I just recently acquired the text and have not had the opportunity to work it into the mix.


Analysis of the Manuscripts


      Compiling the data is only a small part of the project, drawing conclusions from that information is what can be applied to our attempts at recreation. For the foreign language manuscripts I must rely on the translations of others, but with early English, I can read it myself. Because of this I have more information from English manuscripts than the other countries. As I analyze more manuscripts, I hope to remedy this situation.


From English Sources

Recipes with References to Garnish - 83

Number of Garnishes per recipe:   One – 42           Two – 22             Three or more – 15        Non-Specific – 4

Most Frequent Garnishes:               Confits – 13      Almonds – 13       Ginger – 14                   Sugar – 15

Specific Garnishes:

Almond, Blanched; Almonds; Almonds, Fried; Barberries; Borage Leaves; Box Leaves; Cherries; Cinnamon; Clarey; Cloves; Comfit, Caraway; Comfit, Cinnamon; Comfit, Long; Comfit, Red Anise; Confit, Anise; Confits; Cubebs; Date, Sliced; Fennel; Gillyflowers; Ginger; Ginger, Pared; Ginger, Powdered; Honey; Lemon Slices; Lemons; Mace; Oil; Orange slices; Oranges; Parsley; Parsley in Vinegar; Pine Nuts; Pomegranate Seed; Prunes; Saffron; Salt; Sauce, Red; Sauce, White; Silver Foil; Spice Sauce; Spice, Powdered; Sugar; Sugar, White; Verjuice; Vinegar; Violets; White Powder; Wine.


      For the English sources, the numbers are a bit skewed by the inclusion of the Markham information. Falling very late to just out of period, he demonstrates how drastically the Elizabethan cuisine elevated and changed cooking in England. This is very obvious from the prevalence of Orange & Lemon slices and many of the cooking techniques discussed in the manuscript.


From French Sources

Recipes with References to Garnish - 28

Number of Garnishes per recipe:   One – 16           Two – 8               Three or more – 3         Non-Specific – 1

Most Frequent Garnishes:               Sugar – 8           Cheese – 3           Parsley – 4                     Almonds – 3

Specific Garnishes:

Almond, Red; Almonds, Peeled; Browned Spices; Cheese, Grated; Cinnamon; Cinnamon, Powdered; Cloves; Confits; Egg, Hard; Feathers; Fried Almonds; Gooseberries; Laurel/Bay Leaves; Parsley, Cut; Parsley, Leaves; Parsley, Sauce; Pine Nuts; Pomegranate Seed; Saffron; Scallion; Spice Powder; Spices, Fine; Sugar; Verjuice, Grains; Vinegar; White Violet.


      The French recipes, while not numerous, show minute attention to detail. Instructions appear that involve placing single strands of saffron on the surface of a warm soup to give a "fringed" effect. Laurel leaves are painted in gold and silver to adorn the dish and one dish is actually give three separate garnishing options.


From Italian Sources

Recipes with References to Garnish - 54

Number of Garnishes per recipe:   One – 25           Two – 24             Three or more – 4         Non-Specific – 1

Most Frequent Garnishes:               Sugar – 20          Spices – 15           Rosewater – 11               Parsley –

Specific Garnishes:

Almonds, Fried; Almonds, ground; Cheese; Cheese, Grated; Cheese, Ground; Cinnamon; Cloves; Lemon Juice; Marjoram Sauce; Orange Juice; Parsley; Parsley, Cut; Pepper; Pine Nuts; Pomegranate Seed; Rosewater; Spices; Spices, Powdered; Spices, Sweet; Sugar; Sugar, Ground; Verjuice; Vinegar; White Mustard Seed


      Unlike the English sources, the almond does not seem to find as much favor as a ubiquitous garnish. The prevalence of sugar and rosewater can be attributed to Platina's love of glazing the top lid of tarts with the mixture. If you were to lump rosewater in with sugar (for it is not found without as a garnish) then Cheese would jump into the top ranking with 6 mentions.


From German Sources

Recipes with References to Garnish - 16

Number of Garnishes per recipe:   One – 13           Two – 2               Three or more – 0         Non-Specific – 1

Most Frequent Garnishes:               Sugar – 7          

Specific Garnishes:

Almond Milk; Almonds, Ground; Cinnamon; Confit, Fennel; Onions, Young; Parsley, Cut; Pomegranate Seed; Seasoning; Sugar; Sugar, Coarse; Sugar, White.


      It is with the German that availability of translated sources becomes critical. For the magnificent source Ein New Kochbuch only a couple hundred of recipes have been translated. The manuscript most likely includes over a thousand recipes that have not been translated. With investigation it is most certain that more garnishing instructions will be found.


From Spanish Sources

Recipes with References to Garnish - 10

Number of Garnishes per recipe:   One – 4            Two – 2               Three or more – 4         Non-Specific – 0

Most Frequent Garnishes:               Cinnamon – 3    Sugar – 3              Pomegranate – 3             Cheese – 2

Specific Garnishes:

Cheese, Grated; Cinnamon; Coriander, Shredded; Lard, Melted; Lemon, Cut; Marjoram; Mint; Parsley; Parsley, Shredded; Pepper; Pomegranate Seed; Sugar.


      Here is where the purposeful omission of An Anonymous Andalusian Cookbook becomes painful. Representing the early period of Spain's history, it contains no fewer than 130 recipes with garnishing instructions. But as mentioned, these reflect the Moorish style of food preparation much more than the European. A study of Middle Eastern garnishing techniques would be an interesting project all by itself. One of the garnishes found in the represented manuscript that most assuredly reflects the Moorish heritage is the appearance of Shredded Coriander alongside the Shredded Parsley!


From Libellus de arte coquinari:

Recipes with References to Garnish - 4

Number of Garnishes per recipe:   One – 3            Two – 1               Three or more – 0         Non-Specific – 0

Most Frequent Garnishes:               Cinnamon, Powdered – 3              White Spice Powder – 1   


      Libellus is the oldest known European cookery book. It is believed to be from the area of Northern Europe and represents four different copies of what is believed to be an even earlier Ur text. Each of the four manuscripts contains less than 40 recipes, most of them variations on the same dish. The garnishing instructions are for three separate dishes from 3 of the texts. Only one of the recipes is assuredly the same dish, hen mortrewys, and interestingly the primary difference between the two manuscripts are the garnishing instructions.


Interpretation of Data


      One question that I have asked myself is how did garnishing start? Unfortunately it is a question that will most likely never be answered. It is obvious beauty was important to the cooks and diners; one only has to look to the extensive instructions for preparing Soelties and the aforementioned 46 different colorants to know that the visual appeal was very much in consideration. But how this desire for beauty evolved, and how it came to express itself in the identified techniques will most likely remain a mystery.


      One speculation that came about during a discussion I had with THL Tara Carr is the possibility that garnishing was originally based on humoral theory – modification of dishes to make them more balanced. As can be seen in the data above, one of the most common garnishes is sugar. In humoral theory sugar is one of the few perfectly balanced foods; therefore it should be a good thing to add to any dish. Another common garnish is the topping of fish with vinegar and parsley. Vinegar is Cold to the 1st degree and Dry to the 3rd degree, parsley is Hot and Dry to the 2nd degree. Fish is Cold and Moist to the 3rd degree. Maybe that balances out? My grasp of Humoral theory is not that great, perhaps someone with a better understanding might delve further into this idea. Regardless, if this is why garnishing began, by the time these instructions were being written down in manuscripts the garnishes had moved towards the category of "that is just the way it is done", and the traditions were continued because they were traditions.


      A second possibility might be found with the conspicuous consumption that is so prevalent in other areas of court life. With the common instruction to strew on spices after the dish is complete the cook would be adding to the expense of the dish in a very visible way. But to truly understand if this was the case we would have to see it, which we cannot do. What we can do is consider the plating methods used during period.


      Most evidence suggests that food service consisted of one dish per plate, and often the food did not cover whole plate. A thorough analysis of period artwork depicting food service could further refine this understanding, but that would be a whole other project. Even when foods were "messed forth" one plate would serve 2 – 3 people, and still the food would not take up all of the real estate on the platter. The point of this is; when the most common garnish of "cast on fine spices" was cast upon, more likely than not the spices would fall upon both the food and the plate. Therefore; the spices would be highly visible, and a display of excess.


      But as mentioned, this is all speculation.  I have not been able to find a source that explains how it all got started, but it did. My analysis of the manuscripts has made that pretty clear. We may not know why, but we can get a good idea of how.


Specific Dishes


      As with almost any historical subject one can study, what was garnished and how is dependant upon the time and place you are considering. Interestingly enough it also appears to depend on the dish being garnished, at times independent of time and place.


      Consider the ubiquitous dish BlancMange (and for this I owe thanks to THLady Tara Carr who has done an extensive analysis of the dish across cultures and time). An analysis of 13 different recipes for BlancMange from 6 different sources; three English, two Italian and one French shows all 13 dishes have similar garnishing instructions that break down as follows with the number of occurrences in parentheses:

Fried Almonds (6), Anise Comfit (4), Pomegranate (3), Blanched Almonds (2), Sugar (2), Rosewater (1), Almonds (1), Powdered Spices (1)


Of the 13 dishes, only 4 of them did not have almonds as a garnish, and as the numbers above indicate, most of them had multiple garnishes. This suggests that simply by looking at the plate of white mushy stuff you are being served, the diner would know by the garnish that he was being served BlancMange.


      Another dish that turned up to have consistent garnishing technique was the Geles found in the Harleian Manuscripts. There are three separate recipes for Gele, one in MS 279 and two in MS 4016. They all three have instructions to garnish with Almonds and Pared Ginger and the earlier recipe (MS 279) adds clove.


Harleian MS. 4016, ab. 1450 A.D.

Gele – Take Calves feet … And then cut fair side ribs of the sides of pigs, and lay them on a charger or on a dish. And set it fair on a cold place, and powder the gely thereon; And then take fair blanched almonds, and cast anone theron er it cool, and foils of tried pared ginger; and let stand to cool.


Gele of peason – Take a pike new right drawn, and smite him in fair pieces, and seethe him in the same liquor as thou doest Gele of flesh … And put a piece of one and a piece of another in a fair dish, as thou doest other gele of flesh, And pour the liquor there-on, as thou doest other gele of flesh; and cast there-on almonds blanched, and foils of tried ginger pared, and set it in a cold place and let it gele.


Harleian MS. 279 about 1420

Veal, & lay him in water to soke out he blood; then take him up, and lay him on a fair linen cloth, & let the water run out of him; … cut fair Ribs of the side of the pig & lay them on a dish, and pull the limbs of the Chickens, each from the other, & do a-way the skin, & lay them in a dish fair (couched) laid & pour thine jelly thereon, & lay Almonds thereon, and cloves, & peeled Ginger, & serve it forth.


      The earliest manuscript in this study is Libellus de arte coquinaria which yielded four recipes with garnishing instructions. All four called for Powdered Cinnamon and one of the four added on White Powder as a second garnish.       One of the four dishes is Mortrews which at its simplest interpretation means "made in a mortar". Mortrews are a common dish found in many of the manuscripts and 11 were found with garnishing instructions. The breakdown of the garnishes is as follows:

      Ginger (5), Powered Cinnamon (4), Cinnamon (1), Powered spice, White Spice (1), White Power (1)

            Subset dish in 2 Harlieans garnish with Anise Comfit & Borage leaves – same dish in both MS.


      Along with the specific listing of a garnish I found several instructions to "Plate as you would Mortrews" or "Dress as Mortrews" without specifically describing the garnish. I find this very intriguing and believe that this implies more than just garnishing, but a specific style of plating that would be unique to the Mortrews style of dish. More research could shed some light on the subject, but that is another project.


      As previously mentioned, the most common instruction – "cast on fine Spices" This instruction was so common that in some manuscripts I quit counting the occurrences and just recorded the recipes with interesting garnishing instructions. Another instruction that was almost as common was the casting on of sugar.


      A final dish with a common garnish is Fritters. I came across six dishes and all were garnished with white sugar. The dishes came from three sources one Italian, one English and one German. It is something like this that proves to be the most helpful for re-creation. Some "general rules" that can be applied across the board to assist the cook in planning garnishes should their dish not have specific instructions. Other than Fritters the only dish that seems to lend itself to such a rule is fish.


      Fish dishes have a fairly consistent set of garnishes. Parsley is the most common, usually accompanied by an acid. Most usually vinegar, occasionally verjuice and when it becomes available orange juice. As with any rule, there are always exceptions.            In Markham you find Orange and Lemon slices decorating your fish. (And everything else, so much so that the English data is skewed. Elizabethan is very different really needs to be considered separately). In De Nola you are instructed to add mint & Marjoram to the parsley and he omits the vinegar. De Nola also has an interesting fish dish garnished with pepper & lemon.


      Ironically parsley proves to be a common garnish not only for fish but for meat and poultry also. Shredded parsley, chopped parsley, whole parsley you can find it as a garnish all over. The only thing I have not found is to place a single piece of curly parsley on the plate next to the food.


Interesting Examples


      Now that you have seen some of the hard numbers and we have discussed groups of similar dishes, it is time for some specific examples. In the following pages you will find some interesting recipes that illustrate some of the garnishing techniques. In some of the wordier recipes I have truncated the instructions by using ellipses (…) in the text.


      Here is the only example I have found for an item that is prepared as a dish itself that one of its primary usages is as a garnish. From Sabina Welserin:


185 If you would fry white Strauben
Take an egg white and a spoonful of water and of flour and stir it together well until the batter becomes smooth. Put sugar in the batter and make it thinner than other batters. Make eight or ten small holes in a small pot [let the batter run through] and fry it through that. And make nice long strips, as long as the pan. They are not as thick as other Strauben
. Make a round stick three fingers wide, so that the pastry can be wrapped over it, and twist it around with the stick and take it out, and when you have taken it out, then take hold of the pastry and curve it over the stick so that it goes together like a Hohlhippe. And set them on a board, one after the other, and always set two close against each other. This is pretty around a tart.


      This quote from Marx Rumpolt's Ein New Kochbuch makes it clear that the purpose of the pomegranate seed is as an attractive garnish.


6. Green field salad prepared/with pomegranate seed sprinkled/is pretty and decorative.


      In this excerpt from Libre del Coch we see what I believe is a technique similar to that used by modern Italian cooks. After the dish is prepared and plated, just before service, the Italian cook will lightly drizzle Extra Virgin Olive Oil over the dish. It provides a different flavor and lovely sheen to the dish.


42. Almodrote (31) which is Capirotada

Almodrote que es Capirotada

You shall take partridges and after they have been well-plucked, put them between the embers; and when they have been there for the space of a Paternoster (33), take them out and clean everything off them, and roast them, and baste them sufficiently with your bacon fat; and when they are roasted, cut them as if to make portions of them, … and then take them out and put them on a large plate, all around, in this manner: a layer of bread slices, and another of partridges, and in this manner fill up the plate with a platform of bread slices and another of partridges; and when the plate is full, cast the almodrote on top of it all and then take melted lard and scatter it over the plate.


      Similar to the drizzle of Olive Oil, modern cooks often drizzle on a strong and highly contrasting sauce for both flavor and visual appeal. I believe the below recipe from Libro di cucina/Libro per cuco to include instructions with a similar technique.


XXII Sprouts of life/health
If you want to make sprouts of life, take the rounded cabbage sprouts and boil them for a little while.  When they are a par-boiled take them off the heat and strain away all the water.  And then fry them well in plenty of fat.  Take verjuice, parsley, water, spices and salt and mix them well together before putting them on top (of the sprouts), and let them boil well together.  Then take a little marjoram, temper it with water and put it above (the dish) and it will be good.


      In contrast the following recipe from Harleian MS. 4016 provides explicit instructions to make sure that the meat is completely covered in the sauce. Which leads me to believe that the instructions that simply say put the sauce above do not intend that the primary foodstuff be completely covered in the sauce?


Other pike Galentine – Take brown bread, and steep it in a quart of vinegar, and a piece of wine for a pike, and a quarter of powder cinnamon, and draw it through a strainer skillfully thick, and cast it in a pot, and let boil; and cast there-to powder pepper, or ginger, or of cloves, and let cool. And then take a pike, and seethe him in good sauce, and take him up, and let him cool a little; and lay him in a bowl for to carry him in; and cast the sauce under him and above him, that he be all hidden in the sauce; and carry him wherever thou wilt.


      A third saucing instruction that seems to parallel a modern technique comes from Harleian MS. 279. Although difficult to parse out, this either says to make a sauce that has both red and yellow streaks in it or to create two separate colored sauces – one red a one yellow. The end effect will be the same; the sauce will have a marbled appearance.


Capon in Salome – Take a capon & scald him, roast him, then take thick Almond milk, temper it with wine White other Red, take a little Sanders & a little Saffron, & make it a marble color, & so at the dresser throw on him in your kychon [a plate of some sort?], & throw the Milk above, & that is the most comely, & serve it forth.


      Then again, below we have examples from Libro di cucina/Libro per cuco and Harleian MS. 279 (respectively) that are quite clear that there is to be no garnish.


LIII Good and perfect hens with sumac (instructions not to garnish)
If you want to make hens with sumac for twelve people.  Take twelve hens, two pounds of almonds, one ounce between cinnamon and ginger, sloes (sosine *), half a quarter (of an ounce) of cloves, half a pound of sloes and a pound of sumac.  Take the hens and put them to fry whole in melted pork fat. … This dish should be very strong with sumac, and with spices and with cinnamon, and sour because of the vinegar and sumac.  When it is well boiled together take it back (of the heat) for serving.  And put the hens under the sauce, and don't add anything else to the dish.
  If you want to make it with chopped chickens take the ingredients in the same respect.


Chickens in dropeye – They should be fair boiled in fair water till they be enough, then take them first, & chop them small: & when they be enough, temper up a good Almond milk of the same, & with Wine: allay it with Amyndon, or with flour of Rice: then take fair fresh grease, & put Alkenade there-to, & gather his color there-of, & lay the quarters 5 or 6 in a dish; & if thou likest, put there-on powder of Ginger, but not above, but in the pottage, & then serve forth.


      So far, the only instructions that I have found that involve turning vegetables into something that resembles a flower are in the below recipe from The English Housewife. Even the author refers to it as a strange salad, which might indicate that it is a new and different thing. Considering this I believe it is only appropriate in Elizabethan feasts.


18 The making of strange sallats.

Now for the compounding of sallats of these pickled and preserved things, though them may be served up simply of themselves, and are both good and dainty, yet for better curiosity, and the finer adorning of the table, you shall thus use them: first, if you would set forth any red flower that you know or have seen, you shall take your pots of preserved gillyflowers, and suiting the colours answerable to the flower you shall proportion it forth, and lay the shape of the flower in a fruit dish; then with you purslane leaves make the green coffin of the flower, and with the purslane stalks, make the stalk of the flower, and the divisions of the leaves and branches; then with the thin slices of cucumbers make their leaves in true proportions, jagged or otherwise: and thus you may set forth some full blown, some half blown, and some in the but, which will be pretty and curious. And if you will set forth yellow flowers, take the pots of primroses and cowslips, it blue flowers then pots of violets, or bugloss flowers; and these sallats are both for show and use, for they are more excellent to taste than to look on.


      No manuscript competes with Liber Cure Cocorum for beauty when reading the recipe/poems the author has chosen to use. I include the below piece for beauty and for the succinct instructions that make it very clear that the ginger is a garnish for beauty's sake.


107. For stondand fygnade.                                            For a standing Fignade

Fyrst play þy water with hony and salt,                    First ply thy water with honey and salt,
Grynde blanchyd almondes I wot þou schalle;         Grind blanched almonds I would thou shall;
Þurghe a streynour þou shalt hom streyne,               Through a strainer thou shalt him strain,
With þe same water þat is so clene.                         With the same water that is so clean.
In sum of þe water stepe þou schalle                       In sum of the water steep thou shall
Whyte brede crustes to alye hit with alle;                 White bread crusts to allay it with all;
Þenne take figgus and grynde hom wele,                 Then take figs and grind him well,
Put hom in pot so have þou cele;                            Put him in pot so have thou seal;
Þen take brede, with mylke hit streyne                    Then take bread, with milk it strain
Of almondes þat be white and clene;                      Of almonds that be white and clean;
Cast in þo fyggus þat ar igrynde                              Cast in thou figs that are ground
With powder of peper þat is þo kynde,                   With powder of pepper that is thou kind,
And powder of canel; in grete lordys house            And powder of canel; in great lords house
With sugur or hony þou may hit dowce;                  With sugar or honey thou may it douse;
Þen take almondes cloven in twen,                          Then take almonds cloven in twain,
Þat fryid ar with oyle, and set with wyn                   That fried are with oil, and set with wine
Þy disshe, and florysshe hit þou my3t                     Thy dish, and flourish it thou might,
With powder of gynger þat is so bry3t,                   With powder of ginger that is so bright,
And serve hit forthe as I spake thenne                    And serve it forth as I spoke then
And set hit in sale before gode menne.                   And set it in sale before good men.


      One interesting item that surprised me is what appears to be the garnishing of soups with a contrasting sauce. I found two examples of this in Le Menagier.


Verjuice and Poultry Soup.

(This is for summer.) Cook in quarters your poultry or veal or chicks, in stock or other liquid with bacon, wine and verjuice, until the taste of the verjuice passes: then fry your meat in good sweet fat, and have egg yolks and powdered herbs well beaten together and put through the sieve; then pour your eggs into the pot into your stock, pouring from above in a fine thread, and stir briskly with the spoon, and let the pot be at the back of the fire: then have defoliated parsley and grain verjuice, boiled in meat stock, in the spoon, and let the pot be at the back of the fire, or otherwise boiled in a small pot in clear water to remove the first greenness; then serve your meat, and pour the soup over it, and on top add your parsley and grain verjuice, boiled.


      This first example begins with making a soup with fried meats and thickened with eggs. Then there is a separate set of instructions for creating a second sauce of parsley and verjuice in meat stock or clear water specifically to remove the first greenness. I believe this implies you are making a bright green parsley and verjuice sauce. Your plating instructions are to put your meat in the bowl, pour your soup over it and then add the green sauce on top.


Grated Soup.

Cook your meat, then fry it in fat, then grind grain, ginger, etc., and mix with verjuice: then have bread moistened with the meat stock, ground and passed through the sieve, and add spices, bread, and all into the cauldron and boil together; then have grain verjuice or gooseberries boiled in a slotted pan, or in another water in a cloth, strainer or otherwise, that is in order to remove the first sharpness, then serve your meat in bowls with the soup over it, and, on top, your grain verjuice.


      From the same source a very similar method is the second example. Again we have instructions for making your soup and a second sauce in a separate pan. Put your meat into your bowl; pour the soup over it and then the secondary sauce over top. With this particular translation I am a bit confused by the ingredient "grain verjuice" and would like to get clarification on the translation. But the method still seems to be a contrasting sauce drizzled onto a soup.


      I would think that the garnishing sauces, when drizzled over the finished dish, would be applied artfully because there is no real reason not to. This is not to say that I envision a period cook applying the sauces carefully in drops and then dragging a toothpick through them to make elaborate designs, but it could look pretty without that extreme.


      The two recipes we just covered are examples of utilizing contrast to emphasize the garnish. Unfortunately contrast not hard and fast rule. In the data I have found an example of a strawberry tart garnished with pomegranate seeds – not a whole lot of contrast there. Also, a cherry tart garnished with whole cherries while a good indicator of what is in the tart, not high contrast.


      Like the cherry tart, my personal belief on modern garnishing is that the garnish should give the diner an indication of what is in the dish. Because of this part of my analysis is weather or not the garnish is one of the constituent components of the primary dish. The answer is occasionally, but statistically it is not common. It is more common for the garnish to be something that is not present in the primary dish. So much for my personal beliefs.


      In the same league as parsley, almonds are very common garnish. If you are preparing a dish that has almonds in it, almonds in some form, be it blanched, slivered or otherwise would be a good garnish choice. The data reflects that almonds were used to garnish all kinds of dishes weather or not the dish had almonds in it; but in the modern age adding nuts to a dish that does not already have nuts will cause problems with those of your diners with nut allergies.


      Interestingly, while it was not common for the garnish to indicate what was in the dish, I found one example of where the idea was taken to the extreme. One recipe for gingerbread called for several garnishes, including box leaves. Often, in period, gingerbread was molded for presentation and those molds made of boxwood. I know it is a stretch, but it is my best guess as to why. This instance is significant in another way in that I found very few occurrences of inedible garnishes. There was one recipe that instructs you to keep a couple of feathers off of the partridge when you pluck it and then place them on the finished dish. And although technically edible, I will comment on gold and silver leaf here. There were very few recipes that called for them, I believe that they can be best left to the Soeltie.


      Almonds are not the only nuts used for garnish. In the Italian texts you also find pine nuts put to good use. This makes sense considering the regional differenced. I also found two interesting recipes that use ground nuts as a garnish. They are from two drastically different sources:


XXV Mushrooms - Libro di cucina/ Libro per cuoco
If you want to make mushrooms, take dried mushrooms and put them to soak in hot water and wash them well.  Then boil them a little and make them cook how you want and prefer.  Then take onions and herbs and season with strong and sweet spices, and then add the mushrooms and fry everything together.  Take unpeeled almonds and grind them and then put on top of the mushroom dish, alternatively you can add verjuice and it needs to be served hot.


White Mortrewys of Pork - Harleian MS. 279

Take lean Pork, & boil it; blanch Almonds, & grind them, & temper up with the broth of the pork, & lay him up with the Flower of Rice, and let boil together, but look that the pork be small ground enough' cast there-to Minced Almonds fried in fresh grease; then season them up all flat in a dish; throw there-to Sugar enough, & Salt, & at the dressing, strew there-on powder Ginger mixed with Almonds.


      The second example is exceptionally intriguing because it seems to have a set of instructions for preparing the Mortrewys and a second set of instructions for preparing the garnish of Almonds fried in grease and mixed with sugar and ginger.


      Finally, one cannot forget comfits. There were references to Anise comfits, both red and white, Caraway comfit, Fennel comfit, and plain old Sugar comfits. And as mentioned in Food in Britain these tend to be used primarily on sweet dishes and blancmange. Comfits are a great deal of fun and many articles have been written on making them. You can also purchase ready made comfits in the form of candies, just watch out for the very brightly colored ones.


A Strange Tidbit


      An issue which could be a research project in itself is the references to items being "Fringed" and "Garnished" in Le Menagier. It is a tad confusing, and here I have presented an alternate translation to one of the items. The point that I believe the author is trying to make is that if you take a soup and carefully place saffron around the edges to form a pattern then it is a technique called "Fringed". The discussion goes on to consider parsley and the other words used to describe adding this garnish. Hinson and Powers have differed in their translation as can be seen below. Perhaps this is the birth of the term "Garnish"?


Gourds. Let the rind be peeled, for that is best: and always if you want the insides, let the seeds be removed, though it is said that the rind is worth more, then cut up the rind in pieces, then parboil, then chop lengthways, then put to cook in beef fat: almost at the end yellow it with saffron or throw saffron thread by thread, one here, another there; this is what cooks call 'fringed with saffron'. (Hinson)


George Soup, Parsley-laced Soup. Take poultry cut into quarters, veal or whatever meat you wish cut into pieces, and put to boil with bacon: and to one side have a pot, with blood, finely minced onions which you should cook and fry in it. Have also bread browned on the grill, then moisten it with stock from your meat and wine, then grind ginger, cinnamon, long pepper, saffron, clove and grain and the livers, and grind them up so well that there is no need to sift them: and moisten with verjuice, wine and vinegar. And when the spices are removed from the mortar, grind your bread, and mix with what it was moistened with, and put it through the sieve, and add spices and leafy parsley if you wish, all boiled with the blood and the onions, and then fry your meat. And this soup should be brown as blood and thick like 'soringue'. Note that always you must grind the spices first; and with soups, you do not sift the spices, and afterwards you grind and sieve the bread. (I don't think wine and vinegar are necessary.)

Note that this is only called parsley-laced soup when parsley is used, for as one speaks of 'fringed with saffron', in the same way one speaks of 'laced with parsley'; and this is the manner in which cooks talk. (Hinson)


Alternate Translation:

Note that because of the parsley only it is called "garnished" (housie) brewet. For just as one saith "Fringes" (frange) with saffron, so doth one say garnished with parsley; and it is the manner of speaking of cooks. (Powers)


German Soup. Take coney flesh, fowls or veal, and cut in pieces: then half cook in water, then fry in bacon fat; then have finely minced onion in a pot, on the coals, and some fat in the pot, and shake the pot often: then grind ginger, cinnamon, grain of Paradise, nutmegs, livers roasted on a spit on the grill, and saffron mixed with verjuice, and this is the yellow coloring and the liaison. And first bread browned on the grill, ground and sieved; and at serving, put three or four pieces of your meat in the bowl and the soup over, and sugar on the soup.

(Note that he is at fault; for no cooks say that German Soup should be yellow, yet this fellow says it should. And anyway, if it should be yellow, should not the saffron be put through a sieve, but it is to be ground and mixed and put thus into the soup; when it is sieved, it is to give color: when it is sprinkled on, it is called fringing.) (Hinson)


Application in Recreation Feasts


      While the title of this article is beyond the Soeltie, please do not take this as an attack on Illusion foods. The Soeltie is a wonderful aspect of recreation feasts and when possible should be included. This is simply an attempt to encourage an attempt at period garnishing. I believe it can be incorporated into a feast plan with only a little extra effort. Here are some suggestions how:


Š       Buy a couple of pomegranates, seed them beforehand and keep them in plastic baggies (if you wait until day of feast they will never get seeded because seeding pomegranates is a pain in the butt)

Š       Bring extra almonds – fry up a few and hold them in a bowl where you will be plating

                  (don't add to a dish that does not have nuts listed – allergies)

Š       Have a small bowl of coarse sugar

Š       Have a small bowl for powdered canela cinnamon

Š       Have a fresh pepper grinder set to coarse on hand

Š              Buy a couple bunches of Flat Leafed Parsley (but don't just lay it on the side of the plate)

Š       If you are serving fish, make sure you have an appropriate acid garnish

Š       Simply using different serving pieces for each dish improves the feel of presentation

Š       Make sure garnishes are on ingredient lists – even though it is just a garnish it will still trigger allergies




      Obviously there is much more to learn about period garnishing techniques, but I believe that it is worth pursuing. Once a good understanding of the period practices are firmly ensconced in the cooks' repertoire their inclusion into our feast recreation should be a thing of relative simplicity. As with most things, what and how you garnish will depend on the time period and region that you are attempting to recreate. But having an understanding of what was done in other times and regions can help the cook make educated guesses when no garnishing instructions are provided.


      If you have any questions, or require any additional information, please do not hesitate to contact me at vox8 at mindspring.com (put SCA in the subject header). Most of this information is up on my website, please feel free to visit: http://www.serenadariva.com and click on SCA Cookery. And if you happen across any information that you think might help us all in this area, please send it on!




Adamson, Melitta Weiss. Daz buch von gutter spise (The Book of Good Food). Krems, Germany. 2000.


Austin, Thomas (ed). Two fifteenth-century cookery-books: Harleian MS 279, & Harl. 4016, with extracts from Ashmole MS. 1439, Laud MS. 553, & Douce MS. 55. Oxford University Press, London. 1964.

      Humanities Text Initiative, University of Michigan. Accessed 02/06



Ballerini, Luigi (ed), Parzen, Jeremy (trans). The Art of Cooking, Maestro Martino of Como. University of California Press, Berkeley. 2005.


Best, Michael R. (ed). The English Housewife by Gervase Markham. McGill-Queen's University Press, 1986.


Carroll-Mann, Robin (trans). Libre del Coch by Rupert de Nola. Stefan's Florilegium. Accessed 2/06



Grewe, Rudolf and Hieatt, Constance B. Libellus de arte coquinaria: An Early Northern Cookery Book. Arizona, 2001.


Grasse, M (translate), Gloning, Dr. Thomas (transcribe). Marx Rumpoldt, Ein New Kochbuch c. 1581.

      Accessed 02/06 http://clem.mscd.edu/~grasse/GK_Rumpolt1.htm


Hinson, Janet (trans) Le Menagier de Paris. D. Friedman's Recreational Medievalism. Accessed 02/06.



Milham, Mary Ella (trans) Platina On Right Pleasure and Good Health. Pegasus Press, Arizona 1999.


Power, Eileen. The Goodman of Paris (Le Menagier de Paris). Harcourt, Brace & Company, 1928.


Renfrow, Cindy (trans). Liber cure Cocorum, from Richard Morris' transcription of 1862.

      Online Culinary History Network. Accessed 02/06. http://www.pbm.com/~lindahl/lcc/


Renfrow, Cindy & Fleming, Elise. The Colorful Cook. The Compleat Anachronist #109, Society for Creative Anachronism. 2000.


Scully, Terence. TheVivendier: A Fifteenth-Century French Cookery Manuscript. Prospect Books, Great Britain. 1997.


Smithson, Louise (trans). Libro di cucina/Libro per cuoco (14th/15th c.) Anonimo Veneziano. Personal Website. Accessed 2/06 http://www.geocities.com/helewyse/libro.html


Welserin, Sabina. Das Kochbuch der Sabina Welserin. From handwritten manuscript, Augsburg, 1553. ed. by Hugo Stopp, trans. by Ulrike Giessmann. Heidelberg: Carl Winter Universitätsverlag, 1980. Translated by Valoise Armstrong 1998. Accessed 02/06       http://daviddfriedman.com/medieval/cookbooks/Sabrina_Welserin.html

Wilson, C. Anne. Food & Drink in Britain: From the Stone Age to the 19th Century.
Academy Chicago Publishers, Chicago. 1991.


Copyright 2006, 2007 by Barbara Benson, 2942 Old Norcross Road, Tucker, GA  30084. voxeight at gmail.com. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited and 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.


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org