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