Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Medieval Britain and The Tudors

'Newe Conceytes'

Cookes with theire newe conceytes, choppynge, stampynge and gryndynge

Many new curries alle day they ar contryvynge - John Russell

1066 changed not only the politics and the language of Britain, but the very face of authority, now clean-shaven.

Ale barm was so vital that is was sometimes know as godisgoode.

In the twelfth century, a pound of pepper cost the equivalent to two or three weeks land labour.

Peacocks were used as center pieces, more for display than taste, as many said the meat was stringy. To emphasise social power through magnificent display; more than a hundred of them were presented at the installation feast for Archbishop Nevill of York in 1467.

Saffron was a costly statement, with more than 50,000 hand-harvested crocus flowers needed for each pound of dried stamens. The fields around Saffron Walden in Essex must have been a mirage of colour.

By Chaucer's time a sucking pig bought blind at market in a closed bag was already know as 'a pig in a poke' - or a shot in the dark, since its quality could not be inspected.

The old term messe for 'a dish' remains in the mess halls of the army and the expression to 'mess food about'.

Scullions might have made their beds on the kitchen floor, but these rooms cooled fast and Norman laws ruled that all embers had to be covered at night with 'couvre feus, or curfews'.

Stiff quince pasted, originally know as charedequynce, were the first marmalades - marmelo is Portuguese for 'quince'.

Usually the narrow trestles, used for tables, or boards (from which comes 'boarding school', 'board wages', 'bed and board') were set up as dinner approached in the hall.

Russell's Book of Nurture advised that it was considered rude to put your elbows on the table, and this was over 600 years ago.

The Dissolution of the Monasteries changed at a stroke the way the countryside looked and the rules according to which people ate. The monks, their masses and their fish-ponds disappeared. Eating fish became so associated with Catholicism that one would rather not eat fish and keep in favour with the new Protestant faith, eating fish went into a steep decline. Considering Britain is an island eating fish from then on was not a big part of the British diet.

In 1525 turkey was introduced from the colonies in America, fabulously expensive, they were sold for 6 shillings a piece.

The original term for grilling was broiling - the term that survives, like pumpkin pie, in most of the United States to this day.

Wafers were puffed up with yeast in the Flemish fashion, and biscuits - from bis cuit, or 'twice cooked'.

I have to tell you about this, a Frenchman complimenting British cooking. The quintessentially British boiled pudding was born, spawning a repertoire of dishes that would lead the French visitor Henri Misson to exclaim in delight,

"the pudding is a dish very difficult to be described, because of the several sorts there are of it: flour, milk, eggs, butter, sugar, suet, marrow, raisins etc are the most common ingredients ... They make them fifty several ways: Blessed be he that invented pudding for it is manna that hits the palates of all sorts of people ... Ah what an excellent thing is an English pudding! In Scotland they were called 'bag puddings' or 'clootie dumplings'. The earliest written record of a pudding boiled in a cloth comes from Cambridge in 1617 in a recipe for 'College Pudding' made of flour, breadcrumbs, suet, dried fruit, sugar and eggs.

It was a practice that in Yorkshire led quickly to the expression 'them as has most pudding can have most meat' and that continued right into the nineteenth century: in Mrs Gaskell's novel Cranford (1853) Mr. Holbrook served the 'pudding before meat' with no 'apology for his old-fashioned ways...'

I grew up eating pudding, but have never made it over here. I did run across a Boiled Pudding book in the dollar store, so really should have a go this winter. It is more a winter, stick to your ribs food.

By the 1690's tansies had metamorphosed from pancake to pudding and within a generation that most British of all puddings, Yorkshire, would appear for the first time a batter of milk, eggs, salt and flour poured into the hot fat of the dripping pan under roasting meat.

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