A Chaucerian Feast Part 1. Go We Dyne; Feeste and Cheere; A Gentil Pasture
"Therwith she lough, and seyde, "Go we dyne" - Troilus & Criseyde, Book II
Chaucerian cooking has been the subject of a few modern cookbooks, including Pleyn Delit, Maggie Black's A Medieval Cookbook, and Fabulous Feasts, and it's possible to plan a Chaucerian feast based simply on the material in these books. Those new to Medieval cooking should begin with the recipes found there. Pleyn Delit also features several model Chaucerian feasts, both small and large, while Fabulous Feasts has a chapter entitled "A Chicken for Chaucer's Kitchen," where Squire Geoffrey embarks on a fictional journey through the food sellers and markets of London in order to procure ingredients for a farsed chicken. The chapter is rich in information and details on 14th c. London and its food districts.
However, going directly to period sources for research should be the goal of any historical food recreationist, and to accomplish this task one can rely on several medieval cookbooks available today which were also around during Chaucer's time. The primary recipe source for Chaucer is The Forme of Curye, compiled by the cooks of Richard II. Chaucer would certainly have eaten some of the dishes prepared by these very cooks, and such recipes as blankmanger and mortreux are found here. The Forme of Curye is available today as part of a 14th c. recipe collection called Curye on Inglish, which also contains 3 other manuscripts from Chaucer's time: Diuersa Cibaria, Diuersa Servicia, & Utilis Coquinario. These four main resources provide a wealth of Chaucerian material.
Appearing shortly after the arrival of The Forme of Curye, a collection known today as An Ordinance of Pottage may have been modeled on Curye, and contains corresponding recipes. It is in print today, with redactions by Constance B. Hieatt.
Other invaluable books that are contemporary with Chaucer are Le Viandier de Taillevent, the cookbook of Guillame Taillevent written in the 1370's and recently edited for publication by Terence Scully; Chiquart's On Cookery, also written in the 1300s; and Le Menagier de Paris, a set of domestic instructions & recipes written around 1393 by a wealthy Parisian householder, a man very similar to Chaucer's Franklin.
The next best source after these would probably be Thomas Austin's Two 15th-Century Cookery-Books, originally published in 1888, but featuring English manuscripts from 1425 - 1450. This is a little out of Chaucer's time period, but close enough to still be considered a viable reference.
In addition, Terence Scully's The Art of Cookery in the Middle Ages provides an excellent background in understanding the nature of cooking & food production in Chaucer's time, as well as detailing the presentation of courses in period banquets.
And so, with these sources in hand, and with the knowledge of Chaucer before us, the creation of a Chaucerian feast for a dozen guests or dinner for just a few is easily done, and is only limited by time, resources, and imagination.
"And with his wyf he maketh feeste and cheere" - The Shipman's Tale
First, let's begin with the arrangement of a Medieval meal. Dinners & feasts usually started with foods that were considered easily digestible, such as light meats, warm & moist foods such as soups and broths, moist fruits (especially peaches), and greens such as lettuce, cabbage, and "herbs." Spices were thought to warm the stomach, and were therefore an excellent stomach opener. Cheese was eaten both before and during the meal, as an aid to digestion and to help a "weak stomach."
Foods that were more difficult to digest, such as beef & pork and heavy fruits, like pears & chestnuts, were consumed later in the meal. In large feasts, very rich and exotic foods were served in smaller portions only to highly distinguished guests after the more filling and common dishes had been served to the entire hall. This practice would continue as the feast progressed, ending with the finest of delicacies being served to just the table of the king or nobleman in charge of the affair.
When meat was eaten, it was normally followed with cheese, which even physicians recommended for proper digestion. When fish was served, it was followed with nuts, for essentially the same reason.
Wines and ales of all sorts were consumed during the entire meal.
Sweets, like today, were saved for last, and spices were again used here as a digestive aid to end the meal. Wine, as a custom, was drunk just before retiring, and so the evening would usually end with a snack of sweet fruits & cakes, & spiced wines. This little repast was called the Voide.
Dinners were arranged in courses, each course containing several items, with several courses in each dinner. A feast may contain many courses with just a few dishes in each, or just a few courses with many dishes included. After the final course came the Voide.
At royal feasts, the courses were broken up with lavish presentations and spectacles, and fantastic and fanciful foods called solteties were presented. These exotic creations were crafted mainly from sugar and made to represent saints, warriors, heroes, scenes from mythology, etc.
"It is a gentil pasture ther thow goost" - The Prologue to The Monk's Tale
A modern Chaucerian feast should follow the traditional standards of Chaucer's time. Begin dinner with soup or broth, bread, & cheese. Follow with green vegetables, a meat dish of pork and chicken, or perhaps fish, accompanied with sauces, then move on to the heavier and fancier items, in smaller portions. End with sweets and spiced desserts. Serve wine and ale throughout the entire meal. Divide the various dishes among two or three courses, serving each course in its entirety and leaving time for talk, music, & entertainment for guests between courses. Make sure to fill your glasses in a toast to Squire Geoffrey as you enjoy a "gentil pasture" of good food and company.
A Chaucerian Cookery continues with:
Book II. A Chaucerian Feast
Part 2. Mete and Drynke; Maketh Feeste
© James L. Matterer
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Book I. A Chaucerian Cookery Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3