THE FEAST BOOKLET FROM A CHAUCERIAN FEAST
"Swevenes engendren of replecciouns" -The Nun's Priest's Tale
"Dreams are born of gourmandizing"
A Chaucerian Feast was originally conceived after I discovered a copy of Pleyn Delit, which lists a menu of foods from Chaucer's writings. It has been my experience, though, not to rely completely on modern interpretations, and so, using Pleyn Delit as a basis, I decided to research Chaucer and his foods myself. This of course meant reading practically every work he had written, for Chaucer, although we know was an overweight man, was not overly fond of food and wrote little of the culinary favorites of his day. Bread, ale, and wine are the most often mentioned, but other foods are not specifically defined: roasted meat, drink, etc. If it were not for the inclusion of the cook in The Canterbury Tales, this feast would be a sad one, indeed! Albert C. Baugh's Chaucer's Major Poetry proved an invaluable source for the poetry, for it not only presented his works in the original language but also provided an excellent glossary, with the translations of food references based on the same cookbooks that I was researching. A wonderful interlinear translation by Vincent Hopper was also used. After discovering all possible food references from Chaucer, I then turned to several period cookbooks for further research, trying to stay as closely as possible to Chaucer's original intention. My two main sources for this feast were Curye on Inglish and Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery Books, both originally written during or just after Chaucer's lifetime. Only one recipe, the roasted pears, came from a different source, that being Chiquart's "On Cookery," from the 14th Century. Pleyn Delit was occasionally consulted, but not heavily relied upon.
Here, then, is the food for A Chaucerian Feast. May you enjoy, and may sweet dreams be born of your gourmandizing.
Barley-breed, Broun Breed, Wastel-breed - barley bread, brown bread, & white bread.
Blankmanger - "To make blaumanger gros. Tak rys & pike hem & wasch hem & stepe hem & tempere hem with good almound melk, & do it in a pot & mak it to sethe ones, & than do it doun & tak braun of hennes or of capouns, & hew it in gobetes, & cast thereto & stere it togedere, & do thereto sugre & salt & whit gres & mak it charchaunt, & dresch it in disches, & set therin fryed almoundes, & straw sugre aboue & serue it forth." - Curye on Inglysch, p. 89.
Chaucer's cook is an expert at making blankmanger, which Hopper translates as "spiced chicken." Judging by the many versions of the recipe that appear in period cookbooks, most medieval cooks were probably at least familiar with this dish. By its strictest definition, blankmanger is any bland, white pottage based on almond milk, and (except for a few fish-day versions) contains ground poultry, thickened with rice flour; the standard English flesh-day version was ground capon (or chicken) with rice and almond milk. In some recipes the poultry is in chunks, rather than ground up- thus "blaumanger gros," gros, of course, being "large" (Curye on Inglish, 171-172). For this event, the blankmanger was made according to the instructions in the receipt above, except that honey was substituted for the sugar in the final garnish. Today's modern blancmange is a type of rice-pudding dessert, much beloved by the English, and only bears a slight resemblance to its medieval forerunner.
Mortreux - "Mortrews. Take hennes and pork and seeth hem togyder. Take the lyres of hennes and of the pork and hewe it small, and grinde it al to doust; take brede y-grated and do therto, and temper it with the self broth, and alye it with yolkes of ayren; and cast theron powdour fort. Boile it and do therin powdour of gynger, sugur, safroun and salt, and loke that it be stondyng; and flour it with powdour gynger." -Curye on Inglish, p. 107.
Hopper translates mortreux as "stew," but a better definition comes from Curye on Inglish: "a boiled dish of finely ground food in broth" (202). Pleyn Delit treats mortreux as a soup, but also claims that it can be prepared as a pate, which appears to be how our medieval cook wishes it done, as we are advised to "loke that it be stondyng." Other period recipes also imply that the mixture is at least slightly thick. The above receipt calls for "powdour fort," which Curye on Inglish defines as a mixture of ground spices, usually pepper and/or cloves (208). Mortreux is named after the mortar in which it was prepared.
Wyn - wine.
Bake Mete - "A-nother manere. Tak fayre porke y-broylid, & grynd it smal with yolkys of Eyroun; than take Pepir, Gyngere, & grynd it smal, & melle it with-al, & a lytel hony, & floryssche thin cofyns with-ynne & with-owte, & hele hem with thin ledys, & late hem bake, & serue forth." -Two Fifteenth-Century Cookbooks, p. 47
At first glance, "bake mete" would appear to be simply "baked meat," but a closer look brings a different definition. Both Baugh and Hopper translate this as "meat pie," and Two Fifteenth-Century Cookbooks has an entire section devoted to "Bake Metis,' from which this recipe comes. It is a simplified version, or "a-nother manere" of "Tarte de Charre," which appears earlier on the same page. For this event it was prepared exactly as instructed above, with the addition of currants and dates, two items which appear in the "Tarte de Charre" recipe. Meat pies were a common feature at the Franklin's table, where it "snewed" meat and drink.
Chicknes with the Marybones - "Schyconys with the bruesse. Take halfe a dosyn Chykonys, & putte hem in-to a potte; then putte ther-to a gode gobet of freysshe Beef, & lat hem boyle wyl; putte ther-to Percely, Sawge leuys, Saurey, noyt to smal hakkyd; putte ther-to Safroun y-now; then kytte thin Brewes, & skalde hem with the same brothe; Salt it wyl." -Two Fifteenth-Century Cookbooks, p. 32.
Of the many recipes researched for A Chaucerian Feast, this is the only one I found in which the chicken is boiled with the beef, a requirement we must fulfill in order to stay true to Chaucer's writing. His cook is proficient at this dish, and it is easy to imagine him serving it to his employers, the wealthy Guilds men, while on their merry pilgrimage. The use of marrow bones is common in medieval cookery, and for this event, beef shank bones were used, as advised by Pleyn Delit.
Stubbel Goos with Percely - "Goce or Capon farced. Take parcill, Swynes grece, or suet of shepe, and parboyle hem in faire water and fresssh boyling broth; And then take yolkes of eyeron hard y-sodde, and hew hem smale, with the herbes and the salte; and cast therto pouder of Ginger, Peper, Canell, and salte, and Grapes in tyme of yere; And in other tyme, take oynons, and boile hem; and whan they ben yboiled ynowe with the herbes and with the suet, al togidre, then put all in the goos, or in the Capon; And then late him roste ynough." - Two Fifteenth-Century Cookbooks, p. 81.
The innocent-sounding name of this dish is actually a misnomer, for our good friend Roger Hodge the cook is much berated by Chaucer's host for preparing his goose in a manner not fit to be eaten- "Of many a pilgrym hastow Cristes curs, for of thy percely yet they fare the wors, that they have eten with thy stubbel goos; for in thy shoppe is many a flye loos." Thus implying that his poor stubble-fed goose has flies mixed in with the parsley stuffing! Happily, the flies have been left out of "Goce or Capon farced," and the stuffing was made as above, using both the grapes and (in honor of the Summoner) the onions.
Venysoun - the venison for this event was prepared by Patri Cormaker of Afongara, according to instructions in Two Fifteenth-Century Cookbooks: "and roste hem on a spitte." The whole deer was expertly spit-roasted all day and brought steaming into the feast hall, still on the spit, on the shoulders of two young men.
Wortes - "Buttered Wortes. Take al manor of good herbes that thou may gete, and do bi ham as is forsaid; putte hem on the fire with faire water; put ther-to clarefied butter a grete quantite. Whan thei ben boyled ynough, salt hem; late none otemele come ther-in. Dise brede small in disshes, and powre on the wortes, and serue hem forth." -Two Fiftenth-Century Cookbooks, p. 69
Baugh defines wortes as herbs, and Chaucer has his Chanticleer in the Nun's Priest's Tale dream of a sly "col-fox," hiding in a bed of herbs: "And in a bed of wortes stille he lay." But, to the medieval cook, wortes were more than just the plants we use for seasonings and spices today, and included such vegetables as cabbage leaves, beet greens, borage, parsley, leeks, etc. (Two Fifiteenth-Century Cookbooks, 69). Namely, any combination of greens and members of the onion family. For this event, the wortes used were cabbage leaves, spinach, parsley, various greens, and onions.
Fecches - fecches are vetches, which are strictly defined as legumes. But a more loose translation is "beans," which is exactly what Chaucer means when he writes "nought worth two fecches." Not worth two beans, in other words. The fecches used for A Chaucerian Feast are a mixture of both beans and legumes.
Wafres - "Waffres. Take the Wombe of A luce, & sethe here wyl, & do it on a morter, & tender cheese ther-to, grynde hem y-fere; than take flowre an whyte of Eyroun & bete to-gedere, then take Sugre an pouder of Gyngere, & do al to-gerderys, & loke that thin Eyroun ben hote, & kley ther-on of thin paste, & than make thin waffrys, & serue yn." -Two Fifteenth-Century Cookbooks, p. 39.
Wafers were enormously popular in the Middle Ages, and resembled our modern waffle. The above receipt has as one of its main ingredients the womb of a pike, and it is thereby assumed that this wafer was originally intended to be eaten on a fish-day or during Lent. Fortunately for our modern tastes, fish womb is not readily available at the local supermarket, and these wafers have been prepared, mercifully, without.
Peres - "Again, pears cooked without coals or water: to instruct the person who will be cooking them, he should get a good new earthenware pot, then get the number of pears he will be wanting to cook and put them into that pot; when they are in it, stop it up with clean little sticks of wood in such a way that when the pot is upside down on the hot coals it does not touch them at all; then turn it upside down on the hot coals and keep it covered over with coals and leave it to cook for an hour or more. Then uncover them and check whether they have cooked enough, and leave them there until they are cooked enough. When they are cooked, put them out into fine silver dishes; then they are borne to the sick person." -Chiquart's 'On Cookery', p. 108.
This recipe is much less elaborate than it appears, and is simply pears baked in an oven, very much like our contemporary baked apple, but without the addition of sugar and spices. Baked pears must have been considered to have medicinal properties, hence the instruction to give them to the sick person, and to a person sick in bed and suffering the tortures of the medieval physician, a hot and tender baked pear must have had a soothing effect. John Russel's Boke of Nurture describes a "Feast fit for a Franklin" which ends with "apples and pears (possibly baked)."
Chese - cheese. Walsh-notes - walnuts. Hony - honey. Grapes Whyte and Rede - red & white grapes.
Gyngebreed - "Gyngerbrede. Take a quart of hony, & sethe it, & skeme it clene; take Safroun, pouder Pepir, & throw ther-on; take gratyd Brede, & make it so chargeaunt that it wol be y-leched; then take pouder Canelle, & straw ther-on y-now; then make yt square, lyke as thou wolt leche it; take when thou lechyst hyt, an caste Box leaves a-bouyn, y-stkyd ther-on, on clowys. And if thou wolt haue it Red, coloure it with Saunderys y-now." -Two Fifteenth-Century Cookbooks, p. 35.
This recipe is, as W.E. Mead says in The English Medieval Feast, gingerbread without the ginger. Pleyn Delit, however, speaks of the forgetfulness of the scribe who neglected to include the ingredient, and therefore includes the spice in its modern version. Either way, this bears litle similarity to our contemporary gingerbread, and is instead more like a confection or candy. It is among the many sweets brought to Sir Thopas: "They fette hym first the sweete wyn, and mede eek in a mazelyn, and roial spicerye of gyngebreed that was ful fyn, and lycorys, and eek comyn, with sugre that is trye."
Voide - "Wine was drunk before retiring in the Middle Ages, accompanied by spices and often cakes, dates, figs, raisins, etc. The little repast was often called the voide." -Chaucer's Major Poetry, p. 136
Claree - "Claree: wine to which honey and spices were added." - Chaucer's Major Poetry, p. 266.
Claree is known today as claret, and the claree for A Chaucerian Feast was made by infusing red wine with honey, cinnamon, and cloves.
Cake - "Bryndons. Take Wyn, & putte in a potte, an clarifyd hony, an Saunderys, pepir, Safroun, Clowes, Maces, & Quybibys, & mynced Datys, Pynys and Roysonys of Corauns, & a lytil Vynegre, & sethe it on the fyre; an sethe fygys in Wyne, & grynde hem, & draw hem thorw a straynoure, & caste ther-to, an lete hem boyle alle to-gederys; than take fayre flowre, Safroun, Sugre, & Fayre Water, and make ther-of cakys, and let hem be thinne Inow; than kyte hem y lyke lechyngys, an caste hem in fayre Oyle, and fry hem a lytil whyle; thanne take hem owt of the panne, an caste in-to a vesselle with the Syrippe, & so serue hem forth, the bryndonys an the Sirippe, in a dysshe; & let the Sirippe be rennyng, & not to styf." -Two Fifteenth-Century Cookbooks, p. 15
When Chaucer mentions cake in The Canterbury Tales, and he does several times, he is referring to a type of flat round loaf of sweet bread, not the "cakys" of above. These little strips of pastry could in no way be the large round cake that the Summoner's buckler imitates, but the temptation to serve this treat, which contains all the elements of Baugh's voide (wine, spices, dates, figs, and raisins) proved too strong.
This feast booklet would eventually be expanded into what is now A Chaucerian Cookery.
For the original quotations from Chaucer mentioning these food items, please see Chaucer's Foods A-Z.
Here is a photograph of a haunch of venison being served to the royal high table at The Chaucerian Feast. Note the stuffed goose already on the table.
Master Huen Damebrigge of Wychwood has been cooking feasts for the SCA since 1980; he still cooks for approximately 2-3 official events a year. Master Huen currently resides in the Barony-Marche of the Debatable Lands in AEthelmearc.
A Chaucerian Feast ©1992 James L. Matterer
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