This first hand-out was for my first class. It was a small class, only four people, but it was an early morning class with a lot of people late to the event so I try not to be discouraged :). This one I'm rather happy with, and wanna share it with you!
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14th Century Feasts
How, where and why they ate feasts in Europe, and simple ways to re-create for an SCA meal.
A class written and taught by Christoffer Koch
Why did most nobility eat feasts the same way?
. 14th Century Europe is a time of change, a tipping point in history. Three cultures fought for dominance in Europe: England, France and the remains of the Holy Roman Empire.
. Each culture attempted to become the superior force amongst the people and to sway members of each kingdom to their side or the other, at the same time they couldn’t stray too far to make them uncomfortable.
. As a result, in the 14th century there was a uniform understanding of morals and civility on many topics. One could travel across much of Europe and be able to dine and follow the feasting customs correctly.
Where would they have eaten a feast?
. Each dwelling, be it grand castle or simple shack, had a central location that would have been used for eating meals. Often times in a peasant's home it was an all-purpose location, while in a landed nobles manor a separate room would have been set aside just for feasting.
. The feasting hall for the nobility would have been in a central location of the manor, for ease of access for both guests and servants. It would have been well lit, well ventilated and kept temperature controlled by large hearths and open windows.
. As some middle age feasts would have gone on for an entire day, the room was decorated to the taste of the noble.
Why would they have eaten a feast?
. Feasts would have been eaten for many things: celebration, holidays and affairs of state.
. Nobles would hold feasts to celebrate any number of things. Weddings, birthdays, etc.
. Many nobles would throw feasts to celebrate not just secular holidays, but religious ones as well. Celebrating feast days of saints, doing feasts for Lent or other religious situations and in honor of new Bishops/Archbishops in an area.
. Many nobles would host others from various countries across Europe. These would be to cement political alliances, formalize trade agreements, make alliances for joint ventures or any other number of things. Feasts would be thrown in honor of celebrated guests, not only to show them respect and honor but as well to show off strength and personal wealth.
How did they eat feasts?
. Like much of their lives, feasts in the 14th century were steeped in tradition and cultural behaviors.
. On the day of a feast, the hall would be arranged to seat the number of guests. Tables would be set out in a U pattern, allowing all to sit on the outside and see any entertainment provided. The High Table would be at the center point of the U, raised up, and the noble and his invited peers would be sitting on chairs. The rest of the feast would sit on benches.
. Your seating placement to the noble determined your rank of precedence, the more important you were in the kingdom and eyes of the noble the closer you sat to him. Ladies, as they shared the title of their husbands, would sit with their husbands unless otherwise issues arose.
. Upon entering, a guest would see the table set for them. Linen clothes for tableclothes were laid across the bare tables, a surnap (cloth for drying hands) and spoon was placed for each guest (if able) and a goblet would be set for guests to share between partners. Bowls would be set down if the food of the day called for them, or they were brought out when served.
. After the guests were all seated an elaborate washing ceremony took place, during which the water was strained and tasted before the noble might use it to wash. Hand washing was an important ritual and was done between each course.
. Being that religion was a key important factor in meals, a prayer would be issued after the hand washing and before the meal begins.
. Food was delivered out on pieces of bread called a trencher. This is a hardened piece of bread, the top removed with a straight knife to turn it into a platter or bowl. Many trenchers were made several days in advance for the bread to sufficiently hardened to act as a platter and plate. Trenchers would also be made out of ceramics or stylized wood, but this was rare.
. Trenchers not only acted as a food platter for the feast, but meals for the servants after!
. A note, large platters and plates did exist in period. Being that your average noble did not have enough for a 200-1000 person feast, they were rarely used.
. Guests were expected to share with their partner, often times their spouse but sometimes others. Reaching over was considered rude, as was double-dipping or taking too much and making a mess.
. Good manners were expected, of both the servants and the guests. Servants were not to remove a trencher until the guests motioned for it to be removed, glasses should not be refilled unless it requested. Guests were expected not to suck on their fingers, as these were the main methods of retrieving food, and it was frowned upon to horde or take more choice pieces of a meal without offering it to your partner first.
. Many different specialized servers would serve a feast. Your average server would bring out the platters of food for which the guests would take pieces off of and eat. Specialized servers trained in the art and protocol would handle the hand washing/tasting. Another specific server would bring out the salt from the cellar and place it for those needing it. Specifically trained male carvers would cut and portion the meat. Designated servers would only handle the liquid pouring, and others would be assigned clean-up of any meal pieces that needed to be removed.
How can we replicate this period feast style for our SCA feast style?
. Some things will be easy to replicate, some will require several people to work together. Your best bet is to grab your friends and get a table together to enjoy the experience as a group!
. Table decoration is simple, a white linen or simple plain white table cloth will do. A salt cellar, sometimes called a nef, is a dish or container that holds salt and would have been placed on a table as well. I recommend a glass dish or glass shaker if possible.
. Do your best to eat in period! Avoid forks (unless your persona is Italian), use only a spoon and a knife. Use your right hand to eat with, and your left keep reserved for other tasks you may need.
. A simple wooden or glass bowl can be filled with fresh water and used to wash hands before and between meals. If you can get a server who wants to play along, have them sample the water and pass around the bowl for you!
. Seat yourselves according to order of precedence. Find the highest ranking member of your table and make him or her the center. Starting from their right, have everyone at your table sit in order of precedence after that. If you’re able to have a server who wants o play along, have them serve you in that same order!
. A small prayer before the meal was period, designate someone to say one for your table in the style of their persona!
. Trenchers are easy to make, even if you don’t bake bread! Go to your local grocery store, and purchase a bread loaf on average 4-6 inch wide and no longer than a foot. Let it sit out and harden for 24-48 hours, cut and remove the top to flatten it (or slightly hollow to store items inside) and tada!
Texts used for research -
. The Medieval Kitchen: recipes from France and Italy by Odile Redon, Francoise Sabban and Silvano Serventi
. To the King’s Taste by Lorna J. Sass
. Food and Feast in Medieval England by Peter Hammond