Here Are 10 Things You Should Know Before Hosting a Medieval Feast
Here Are 10 Things You Should Know Before Hosting a Medieval Feast

Here Are 10 Things You Should Know Before Hosting a Medieval Feast

Larry Holzwarth - April 14, 2018

In medieval times a proper feast was an extravagant affair, with immoderate servings of food and beverages, entertainment, dancing, and minimal place settings. Unlike the formal table settings prevalent today, there were no forks, and guests ate with a knife and a spoon, which they were expected to bring to the table themselves. If they wanted to consume the proffered beverages, they were expected to bring their own drinking vessel as well. Most were of wood, which prevented breakage when things got out of hand, as it often did.

A medieval feast varied depending on the nation and the regions of some nations. Southern French customs and cuisine had more in common with Spain than with those of Paris. Brittany was closer to the customs of the British across the Channel than it was of Paris. One thing all large medieval feasts had in common was the large number of servants required to properly host one, and to care for the guests conveyances as they dined and drank, which often went on for days at a time. Compliance with the Church calendar was another consideration when planning menus, as was of course the season of the year.

Here Are 10 Things You Should Know Before Hosting a Medieval Feast
Roast Peacock dressed in its feathers was a common dish during medieval feasts and banquets, appreciated for its showy display. Wikimedia

Here are ten customs of the medieval age which should be followed when planning a proper medieval feast.

Here Are 10 Things You Should Know Before Hosting a Medieval Feast
A French banquet at which the host appears to be dining with two women and the guests seem to be all male. Wikimedia

Treating and serving the guests

When the Lord of the Manor determined to host a feast invitations were of course sent out, delivered by servants, to those it pleased him to beckon. These were not necessarily all of the higher classes. Tenants of his lordship’s estates were often welcomed to the Great House, but seated according to their lower class standing. A guest’s rank in class could be ascertained by the distance from which they were seated from his Lordship’s table, or in the case of a single table (which was rare) the distance from his host’s chair.

The fork had not yet made its appearance, and the only dining utensils used at table were the knife and spoon. They were not found at the table, but brought to the table by the guest, along with a drinking vessel. Spoons were nearly always made of wood, as were the drinking vessels, although his Lordship and favored guests sometimes drank from pewter mugs, or even vessels made of gold or silver. Knives were used to both cut some foods and to convey them to the mouth, thus they had to be both sharp and carefully used.

His Lordship and those guests who were in his opinion worthy to sit at his table were placed in a position where they were in clear view during the dining, usually on a raised dais. At least one, and often two or three tables were arranged perpendicular to his elevated seat, with guests sitting on only one side of the tables, the other remaining open for ease of access by the servants. The guests were arranged in groups called messes, and each mess would share from some of the foods brought to table, such as one roast per mess, or one beef pie for the group.

The number of servants was of necessity greater than the number of guests, as all diners were required to wait until his Lordship took his first bite or sip of each course before starting on their own. In like manner, no person took their seat at the table until his Lordship was comfortably seated at his place. If he rose during the course of the meal, unless he ordered otherwise, all the diners were expected to rise as well. His Lordship was of course the first served, and since he likely had no desire to see whatever had been placed before him grow cold, he needed sufficient servants to ensure that all his guests were served quickly. It was considered improper for anyone, including the Lord of the Manor, to begin eating before all were served.

In medieval feast was not divided into courses in the same manner as formal dining today, with an appetizer course, a soup course, and so on. There were different courses served and a lull between them, during which the table was prepared for the succeeding course and the guests were entertained with music, or by dancers which were more acrobats than ballet performers. A feast in France might have seven or more courses, each consisting of several dishes presented to each of the messes at table. In Britain there were more likely to be three.

Here Are 10 Things You Should Know Before Hosting a Medieval Feast
Ruins of the medieval Italian town of Venetia in a photograph taken about 1910. The thousands of servants lived in dormitory type quarters outside of the walls. Library of Congress

The Servants

Besides the servants who waited at table there were hundreds of others working as cooks and cook’s assistants, butchers and meat carvers, scullions, dispensers of wine, beer, ales, and brandy and other beverages. Water was not one of them, the drinking of water, especially during the taking of meals, was considered unhealthy and damaging to the digestive process. Tea was not yet a beverage well known in Europe, nor was coffee. Ciders were popular, both hard and soft, and would be offered to guests as an alternative to the more potent beverages.

Most larger cuts of meat, whole hogs and suckling pigs, and even most fowl were cooked over open fires, roasted on spits. The spits required constant and steady rotation, and this was accomplished by human hands. Some larger cuts of game animals required two servants or more to maintain the rotation of the spitted meat at a rate determined by his Lordship’s Master of the Kitchen. Other servants were required to maintain the temperature of the fires by adding wood in a manner which would neither increase nor decrease the heat significantly during the cooking process.

Contrary to popular belief, vegetables were a popular foodstuff in medieval Europe, though many of the more common vegetables today were absent from the table. Several different types of beans were popular, as were cabbages and leafy greens. These were collected and prepared by servants under the supervision of cooks, and brought to the table by the servers. Other servants brought cheeses from their storage cellars to the cooks for the creation of sauces, and to the tables for consumption of the diners. Grapes, in those regions where they could be grown, apples, and other fruits were popular, and grapes were usually consumed the day they were picked by the servants, otherwise they were destined to become wine.

The Church calendar dictated the menu throughout the year, with Lent being a season of fasting and all Fridays throughout the year were fast days. In medieval times, fasting meant no animal based foods, including dairy foods. Fish were allowed, and this put additional burdens on his Lordship’s servants, both in the preparation of the meals and its service. Often on fast days, when eggs were not allowed, eggshells would be stuffed, sometimes with roe, and offered at table. Fish, both fresh and salted, was prepared in ways in which they appeared as other than what they were, imitating other meats.

Because the vast amount of food prepared for a medieval feast was not completely consumed by his Lordship and his guests, the servants were expected to help eat it, ensuring that there was no waste, which was sinful in the eyes of the Church. Other than smoking and pickling, preservation of food was little understood and impractical. The practice of allowing the servants to share in the consumption of the meals they helped prepare and serve was common throughout the medieval period, and even on days when there were no invited guests in his Lordship’s home, they usually were fed the same meals that were prepared for their masters, though in lesser quantity.

Here Are 10 Things You Should Know Before Hosting a Medieval Feast
Arriving guests were offered a towel and water with which to wash their hands, as is the guest to left in this depiction. Conde Museum, Paris

The course of the meal

Medieval doctors and philosophers were divided over the proper foods for consumption and the proper means of consuming them. Nearly all agreed that eating upon arising on the morning was bad for the health, other than for children, and that the largest meal of the day should be taken around noon. The manner in which food was taken was also considered important to health, with lighter foods taken first to “open” the stomach, followed by heavier foods, and then finally those which encourage digestion to “close” the stomach.

The medieval feast was typically served in a manner which reflected these beliefs. The first servings were of fruit and vegetables, the type dependent on the region. In the Mediterranean areas this could be grapes and olives, while in Northern climes guests were served apples and various nuts, often sugared. The heavy course of meat included lamb, pork, both from domesticated pigs and wild boar, occasionally beef, venison, rabbit, squirrel, and other game. Fowls included chickens, ducks, geese, grouse, swans, and even peacocks and peahens.

Pottages and stews were common, brought to the table in the pots in which they were cooked, and guests used their spoons to transfer the contents to their plates, which were often flatbreads. Other plates were of wood or pewter. Once food was on the plate it was either eaten using the spoon and knife, or by using the fingers. Napkins were scarce, and between dishes the servants would offer guests a finger bowl and towel to cleanse the fingers before going on to the next dish. Some pottages included meats, a pottage of kid goat and leeks was a popular dish in Northern Europe.

The heavy portion of the meals was followed with digestives, as the table was cleared of the heavier foods, giving us the word dessert, derived from the French desservir. Almonds coated with honey or sugar, along with cheeses of varieties determined by location, were common. Blessed were the cheesemaker’s and their product’s. These were served with wafers similar to what Americans call cookies and their British cousins biscuits. Mulled ciders and wines often were lingered over, particularly in the cold months of the year. A period of rest following the completion of the meal was deemed paramount to healthful digestion.

A long, boisterous and rollicking drinking session typically did not follow a medieval banquet. Those didn’t become commonplace until the Reformation. During the medieval period the authority of the Catholic Church was unquestioned, and officially the practices of gluttony and drunkenness were sinful. Because of the Church’s position, no self-respecting Lord of the Manor would host a feast without having the Church’s representative present as a guest. In many areas of France and Spain in particular, the Lord of the Manor was a Bishop of the Church, and the feast was a celebration of one if the Feast Days of the ecclesiastical calendar.

Here Are 10 Things You Should Know Before Hosting a Medieval Feast
Coronations and other elevations of the nobility were suitable occasions for lavish banquets, sanctioned by the Church. British Library

The Company

Although his Lordship had the option of having his Lady join him at the head table during a medieval feast, it was relatively uncommon for the other men at his table to be accompanied by their wives, and for those seated at the lesser tables it was always stag, unless his Lordship stated otherwise. Most medieval feasts were thus all male affairs, and frequently the conversation had more to do with discussion of business and politics than anything else. Because of the manner in which the meal was served and consumed most often his Lordship’s wife chose not to attend, or sat with him at the head table but eating very little.

The diners at his Lordship’s table had their meat cut for them by pages, after they selected it when offered to them by servers. Those at the lesser tables weren’t offered this nicety, and it was not unusual for the guests unworthy to sit at the head table to cut the meats of their fellow diners, seated on one side or the other. On the rare occasions when a woman was present it was considered gallant to offer to cut her meat, or any other comestibles deemed too large to be conveyed to the mouth. Since many of the diners eschewed using their hands and instead used their knife to function as a fork, this was somewhat unsanitary.

These acts of graciousness were established by the social order, in which the younger were required by the manners of the time to offer their services to their elders, and all gentlemen were required to offer to assist a lady in any and all situations which might otherwise cause her embarrassment. In this manner it was customary to offer the shared use of a drinking vessel to another guest who lacked the foresight to come properly equipped. The same applied to the sharing of knives. It will be perceived that dining in the manner of the day was a potentially messy affair.

The guests who were of sufficient social status to sit at the host’s table were seated in cushioned chairs. The rest of the diners, along the lesser tables, were perched upon backless stools for all but the most lavish feasts of the very wealthy who could afford chairs for all of their guests. As in the Arab world, the left hand was used to touch any of the shared food, or to use one’s spoon to removed pottage or stew from the communal pot or bowl. The right hand was reserved for the purpose of conveying food from one’s own plate to one’s own mouth. Food was always transferred to the plate prior to transfer to the mouth.

On certain feast days, a medieval feast might begin with the noon meal, continue with entertainment following the dessert course, and then after a few hours have a second full meal, though of smaller dishes and lighter foods. Officially the Church frowned on long evening repasts which continued well into the night, as it was believed that they led to gluttony, drunkenness, gambling, blaspheming, and other lengthy steps along the road to perdition. Clergy condemned the late suppers from the pulpit, determined to protect their flock from the weakness of the flesh.

Here Are 10 Things You Should Know Before Hosting a Medieval Feast
Medieval monks with organ grinders. The monasteries were one of many sources for beer, ales, and wines throughout the medieval world. Wikimedia

The Wine and Beverage List

In Spain, Italy, and the South of France, the menu at a medieval banquet was considerably different than those of Northern Europe and the British Isles. These differences are still apparent in the cuisines of the differing regions today. Olive oil, as a cooking fat and a flavoring, was common in the Mediterranean regions, as were olives taken as a fruit at table. Vinegars made from red and white wines were common, as were the wines themselves. Fats from animals were rare. Grapes, figs, and pomegranates would all be expected at the table both as an early course and a digestive. Cheeses made from the milk of goats or water buffalo were common.

In the North, wines were expensive, and the more commonly served beverage was beer. Vinegars made from ciders were far more prevalent than those made from wine. Olive oil was rare and fats made from animals, such as butter and lard, were the most commonly found. Although dried figs were available for the wealthy and would be served at a banquet, apples and pears were the more commonly found fruits on the dining table. Cheeses derived from sheep and cow’s milk, aged in caves and cellars, were used in cooking and served to be eaten at table, nearly always at the end of the meal.

Eggs were eaten everywhere, and in medieval societies, which frowned on the consumption of breakfast, they were prepared in myriad ways. They could be roasted in their shells, boiled in their shells, fried, scrambled, coddled and poached. The earliest custards emerged during the medieval period. It was not only the eggs of the domestic fowl that were served on medieval tables, the eggs of other fowl were prized dishes as were the eggs of fish and sea turtles. The eggs of birds were proscribed during days of fast, but those of the sea were not.

Bread was the common thread in all regions, but even it varied in its appearance and ingredients by area. At a medieval feast bread appeared on the tables in both loaves and to serve as bowls and plates. Ovens were rare and expensive, and throughout Europe bread was prepared directly over fires, or placed in lidded pots to be buried in the coals of a fire. Most bread was prepared, cooked, and eaten within one or two days. In northern Europe bread appeared in the nature of pie crusts, and meats, fish, and vegetables were often prepared in pies. Eel pie was a popular dish at a medieval feast.

In the Mediterranean regions, a beverage made by simmering ground raw almonds, and then straining out the almonds, was highly popular. It was and is called almond milk, and it was an expensive luxury in the North, but would have been present at most feasts during Lent, used as a preparation substitute for animal milk. Almond milk was typically used as an ingredient in cooking rather than as a beverage for drinking, except in those areas where almonds grew in abundant amounts naturally. Bitter almonds as they are found today were then as yet unknown.

Here Are 10 Things You Should Know Before Hosting a Medieval Feast
Although this scene is post-medieval, the kitchen of the middle ages and the foods being prepared are much the same. Wikimedia

Preparing for a medieval feast.

A nobleman who decided to host a medieval feast had a great deal to do to prepare for the event, which fortunately fell to his staff to accomplish. One step was the preparation of the dining area, usually the Great Hall of his manor house. The walls were covered with tapestries, the sumptuousness of which depended on the wealth of the owner. The tapestries were there to reduce the noise and to protect the diners against drafts. They also served to protect the walls of the Great Hall from the spatter of juices and other mess which could occur during the feast itself.

The first step for the cooking staff was to plan a menu. Dishes to be prepared could range from a whole roast oxen to small birds such as quail or even robins. In the medieval world, beef was usually not roasted, as medieval cooks believed that its nutritional properties were best preserved when it was cooked by boiling. Nearly all game was roasted, but the image of a side of venison on a spit is a misleading one. Medieval cooks often removed the meat from an animal or large fowl, chopped it finely with other ingredients such as fruits, nuts, vegetables, or other meats, and then stuffed the mixture back into the skin for cooking.

One of the reasons for the fine chopping of meats and other foods is that it symbolized wealth and affluence. Simple roasting of cuts of game or other animals was associated with how the lower classes, of necessity, prepared their food. The lighter breads of the upper classes used a finely milled flour which was too expensive for the lower class. Their bread was of coarsely ground flour, often supplemented with barley or other grains, such as rye. Medieval cooks would often present finely chopped meat of one animal in a creation in the shape of another, such as goose appearing on the table in the shape of a swan, or a mythical creature such as a unicorn.

The staff would also prepare the kitchen and the outdoor cooking areas where larger game might be roasted, ensuring that the necessary spits, hangers, and cranes needed to manipulate the cuts of meat were available and in proper working order. In Northern manor houses a room known as the buttery was checked for proper stocking. The buttery had nothing to do with butter, it was the room where beer and cider were stored, in barrels known as butts. Schedules for the preparation and actual cooking of the feast were established by the head cook of the house.

One of the most important considerations, and one of the largest expenses for the host, was the availability and quality of firewood. For cooking, the firewood had to be well-seasoned, dry, and of sufficient shared characteristics that it produced even, consistent heat. Charcoal was also needed. One French kitchen master employed by the Duke of Savoy wrote that for the preparation of a two day feast and banquet, at least 1,000 cartloads of firewood were recommended, and enough charcoal on hand to fill an entire barn.

Here Are 10 Things You Should Know Before Hosting a Medieval Feast
Medieval dishes remained part of British holiday cuisine for centuries, including Boars Head (top) and roast swan, (center, with cygnets), Wikimedia

Presentation of dishes

It was a vanity of the medieval wealthy to produce displays which were ostentatious, and these were common at the feasts where the Lord of the Manor hoped to create a memory among his guests which surpassed any other. Thus minced roast goose, chopped and prepared separately from the bird’s skin, was reinserted after cooking and the goose served at table as if it were swimming in a pond. In a similar manner venison may be presented at table in the form of a lion or other big cat, the appearance limited only by the imagination and skills of the cook preparing the dish.

Spices were often used to change the color of dishes, among the spices valued for this purpose, as well as for their flavor, were saffron and turmeric. Turmeric was used to impart color to the crusts of pies and loaves of bread, rendering them a soft golden appearance, and the impression that the guests were being offered gilded loaves. A Cardinal of the Catholic Church, Pietro Riario, served such loaves to his guests at a banquet he hosted near Rome in 1473. The menu also featured a whole roasted bear. According to one biographer, the good Cardinal died later that year of a digestive issue.

The Duke of Normandy and later King Charles V of France employed a cook by the name of Guillaume Tirel. Tirel later served as the cook for Charles VI when he ascended to the French throne. Tirel wrote one of the earliest books on the theory and practice of cooking, which remains influential in French cooking six centuries later. In it Tirel stressed the use of spices and combinations of spices and herbs, the preparation of meat and fish dishes separately from sauces, and the desirability of presenting dishes in an attractive and dramatic fashion.

Many of the histories of the medieval age stress the banquets and feasts which became famous based on the extravagances which were presented, and the sheer amount of food which was prepared, rather than the quality of the food which was eaten by those attending. From various works it becomes obvious that cooked peacocks and swans were presented as though still living, posed extravagantly to draw attention to the host’s table, but there is little if any written commentary over what they tasted like, nor evidently much interest at the time.

Many medieval feasts were multiple day affairs and featured, in addition to the opulent dining and drinking festivities, jousts and other tournaments, horse racing, hunts, and other activities of the day. While these events were underway the estates servants went about preparing the meals and the manner of presenting them to those invited to dine with the Lord of the Manor where the event was held. For the common man, outside of the walls of the great estates, there was no knowledge of the event and nobody to comment on the feasting within.

Here Are 10 Things You Should Know Before Hosting a Medieval Feast
The ruins of the old Bishop’s Great Hall at Lincoln are on the right. The Catholic Church exerted great authority over the nobility, and bishop’s were part of the wealthiest classes. Wikimedia

Misconceptions of medieval feasts

A common image of the medieval period is one of the idle wealthy lords and dukes of the realm, drunkenly gorging themselves with joints of meat and fowl, and tossing the bones over their shoulders to their dogs. This is a false one, at least on those occasions when food was consumed in the company of guests. The great banquets and feasts of the middle ages were, as much as they could be, genteel gatherings where manners and consideration of others was paramount. The rigid social structure of the medieval world held sway inside the banquet halls and during the feasts, all under the authoritarian eye of the Church.

Another misconception is that food was heavily spiced and thus spices were cherished despite their expense because they helped cover the smell of already spoiled meats and other foods. This too is false. The methods of preserving meat through smoking, pickling, and drying were well known and practiced. Fresh meat, both domestic and from game, was widely available for those who had the money to buy it. Spices were valued for the same reasons that they are valued today, because they enhanced the flavor of various dishes in ways that made them special, different, and regional. Spices enhanced standing.

Many of the dishes which are common today made their first appearances as the ideas of cooks preparing medieval feasts and banquets. Meatballs made from finely chopped pork and game were not strangers to the medieval table. Neither were meatloaf, although the loaf could be in the shape of an exotic animal such as an Egyptian crocodile, or a mythical dragon. The fasting imposed by the Church led to accepted foods such as fish to be finely shredded and shaped into an appearance of being something else entirely when presented at the table.

Another misconception of the medieval feast is that beef was the most often served meat, supplemented by fowl. Cattle were valued as draft animals and cows were a source of milk, which was mostly preserved in the form of highly salted butter and as cheese. Beef was considered to be a lesser dish, for consumption by those who could not afford better. Because cattle consumed grain they were expensive to raise, and sheep were considered a more economical food source, both as lamb and as mutton. The most common domesticated meat source was pork, as pigs ate anything, included waste, and largely ran free in medieval communities.

Because the great medieval feasts were largely contained within the estates of the nobility and accessible to only their fellow nobles, the clergy, and the wealthy, they were intended to enhance the stature of the host. They were representative of the wealth and power of the host, and the ostentatious displays of the food were part of this demonstration of his wealth. But the feasts were also demonstrations of his gentility and noble stature. Both were far removed from the perception of a medieval feast as a bacchanalian affair.

Here Are 10 Things You Should Know Before Hosting a Medieval Feast
A musician playing a cythara, an ancestor of today’s guitar. Wikimedia

Entertainment

The great feasts and banquets of the medieval age were filled with entertainments including dancers, masked performers, mimes, jesters, jugglers, minstrels, and other musicians. Trumpeters lined the walls and heralded the entrance of a course during the meal. The trumpeting drew the attention of the guests to the head table, where the cook’s piece de resistance was presented to the host. Smaller versions or dishes which contained the same preparation presented in a less flamboyant manner were distributed to the lesser tables.

In English and Northern European feasts another form of entertainment was presented in the form of subtleties. A subtlety was the use of the food itself, in some form or another, to entertain the guests. Subtleties were brought to the tables at the end of the course, to encourage conversation and to amuse the guests while preparing themselves for the next course. Often these were lines of verse spelled out in marzipan, or the shapes of various figures made from the placement of fruits and nuts. In France the subtleties were known as entremets, meaning between the courses, and were sometimes edible in themselves, sometimes not.

The entremets preceding a course which would include fish were often small boats shaped like swans, with a fisherman sailing on a sea of watered silk. While the guests were amused by the entremets the entertainers would perform in the U shape created by the manner in which the tables were aligned, with all guests afforded a clear view by the practice of seating them only along one side of the table. As the guests were entertained the servants cleaned the tables in preparation for the next course. Only the head table was covered with a cloth at most feasts and banquets, and the practice of using plates made of bread to hold dishes made with sauces was undoubtedly a messy one.

During the appropriate season the guests were entertained with music such as carols for the Christmas season and so forth. Entertainments were less elaborate during Lent and Advent. Often the host’s wife and her attending ladies, if she was not attending the feast, would join the company for the entertainments, excusing herself when the trumpeters entered again to announce the entry of the next course. The company did not join in the singing and were expected to award the performers with polite applause.

The entry of some courses were part of the entertainment. In the event of the course containing a roast, the spitted meat was brought directly into the main hall, often followed by a grate containing hot coals, over which the spitted roast would be suspended as it was carved, and portions served to the messes. The entry of peacocks was invariably accompanied by the spread of the tail behind the roast fowl, swans were often accompanied by cygnets made of confectionery sugar, following in a trail behind their “mother”. These were carried to the head table to be carved before the host, while the lesser tables were being served less showy dishes.

Here Are 10 Things You Should Know Before Hosting a Medieval Feast
Hanging tapestries in the Great Hall is an essential part of replicating a medieval feast. Wikimedia

How to replicate a medieval banquet.

Any Lord of his Manor can easily replicate a medieval feast today, with some nods to modern technology and foods. While spit roasting a side of oxen or venison may prove daunting on the average outdoor rotisserie, smaller portions can be easily accommodated. Suckling pigs can be purchased and fit on larger grills and in ovens. Obtaining a swan or a peafowl might prove difficult. Other fowl would have to be substituted but the spirit of the preparation of a fowl course would be similar to that of the Middle Ages. The same applies to the offering of robins as a dish during one of the courses.

Most of the preserved meats known during medieval times are known to us today, including salt cod and other dried salted fish, pickled beef, pickled eggs, and even salt pork and bacon. We have an immeasurably greater variety of fruits and vegetables available fresh in the market, the challenge would be limiting the feast to those available to the medieval host. Think turnips, beets, cabbage, beans, chickpeas, sweet peas, carrots, and wild lettuce. Fruits included could be plums, figs, apples, pears, and some citrus fruits, but not the navel oranges or tangelos common today.

Hanging tapestries to cover the walls of the dining hall should not present any difficulty for a true Lord of his Manor, and he should be free to rearrange his own furniture as he sees fit, even if there are no servants to aid him in the task. It may be wise for him to ask the Lady of the Manor to attend but on the other hand, if he is going to truly replicate a medieval feast and not allow his guests to bring their ladies she may not wish to attend. The fasts demanded by the Church have long since been eased to the point that they are only an issue on Fridays during Lent.

Obtaining flatbreads to be used as plates is as simple as a visit to the bakery section of a market. Expecting his guests to provide their own spoons and knives is probably not necessary, and unless his Lordship doesn’t intend to stock his equivalent of his buttery he may want to consider the use of forks, or at least sporks, rather than having his guests use their knives to place meat in their mouths. Medieval guests frequently drank their beer or wine from wooden vessels. Cups made from paper, which is made from wood, should provide a wholly satisfactory substitute.

The entertainment to be provided between courses, and the servants to carve the meat and serve the guests, may be a bit more challenging to provide, but an enterprising Lord of the Manor should be able to find the way if his pockets are deep enough. There is really no reason why a reasonable imitation of a medieval banquet cannot be presented today, and a memorable time enjoyed by all of his Lordship’s guests. There might not be a wild boar’s head at the center of the table, and a turkey may need to fill in for a roast swan, but the spirit of the thing is what should be sought. It’s probably a good idea to omit the acrobats and the mimes though.

 

Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“The Worlds of Medieval Europe”, by Clifford R. Backman, 2003

“A Companion to medieval England”, by Nigel Saul, 2000

“Le Viandier de Guillaume Tirel dit Taillevent”, edited by Jerome Pichon and Georges Vicaire, in French, 1892

“Food in the Middle Ages: A Book of Essays”, edited by Melitta Weiss Adamson, 1995

“Delizia! The epic history of the Italians and their food”, by John Dickie, 2008

“Fast and Feast: Food in Medieval Society”, by Bridget Ann Henisch, 1976

“The Art of Cookery in the Middle Ages”, by Terence Scully, 1996

“Deux Traites d’art culinaire medie”, by Mulon, in French, 1958

“Food and Eating in Medieval Europe”, edited by Martha Carlin and Joel Rosenthal, 2003

“Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women”, by Caroline Bynum, 1987

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