Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A (Hypothetical) Wedding Feast

The other day I was browsing through Menagier de Paris (yes, I'm geeky enough that I browse through medieval cookbooks) and I came across the following menu:

L'ordonnance pour les nopces Hautecourt, pour vint escuelles, ou mois de Septembre:

Assiette: roisins et pesches ou petis pastés.

Potages: civé, quatre lièvres et veau; ou pour blanc mengier vint chappons, deux sols quatre deniers pièce, ou poules.

Rost: cinq cochons; vint hétoudeaux, deux sols quatre deniers pièce; quarante perdriaux, deux sols quatre deniers pièce. Mortereul ou...

Gelée: dix poucins, douze deniers; dix lappereaulx, un cochon; escrevices, un cent et demy.

Fromentée , venoison, poires et noix. Nota que pour la fromentée convendra trois cens oeufs.

Tartelettes et autres choses, ypocras et le mestier, vin et espices.

Here's the same section of text (slightly modified) from Janet Hinson's translation:

The arrangements for the Hautecourt wedding, for twenty dishes, in the month of September:

Platter: grapes and peaches or little pies.

Soups: civey, four hares and veal; or for blancmanger twenty capons, two sous four deniers apiece, or hens.

Roast: five pigs, twenty capons, two sous four deniers apiece; forty partridge, two sous four deniers apiece.

Jelly: ten chicks, twelve deniers; ten young rabbits, a pig; crayfish, one and a half hundred.

Frumenty, venison, pears and walnuts. Note that for the frumenty you will need three hundred eggs.

Tartlets and other things, hippocras and wafers, wine and spices.

In reading it, I'm struck by a couple of thoughts. The first is that the entire menu calls for a total of six pigs and forty capons to serve twenty people. That sounds like an awful lot. I took a quick look at the online facsimile at the BNF and it has the same wording. Perhaps there was something else going on here - I'll have to dig into it further.

The second thought was that it sounds like a pretty reasonable menu. It's lacking any reference to vegetables, but that might just be the omission on the level of "don't be silly, every dish gets served with vegetables". Then again, the menus at some of the restaurants I ate at on vacation also lacked references to vegetables.

If I were going to base a menu off of this, here's what I think I'd make:

First course:
Fresh peaches (peeled and sliced) and grapes (halved) with a dash of wine, served as a tartlet

Second course:
Rabbit in civey
Blanc manger

Third course:
Roast pork medallions with scallions and verjuice
Roast capon breast with yellow pepper sauce
Squab in pastry "in the Lombardy fashion"
... all the above served together with collards and parsnips

Fourth course:
Meat in aspic, with crayfish

Fifth course:
Frumenty with venison, served with poached pears and walnuts

Sixth course:
Custard tartlets, candied fruit and ginger, snowe, hippocras, wafers, anise in comfit, port.

I've taken a few liberties here and there, but on the whole I don't think a fifteenth century French noble would be overly surprised by any one dish. It'd be a bit on the pricy side to prepare (especially with the squab) but would be fun. I wonder if I could find twenty people willing to try it.


kuechenmeyster said...

Wedding feasts in late medieval times were held for several days. So there is in my opinion nothing unusual about the number of pigs and capons (see for example the description of the "Landshuter Hochzeit"). In some regions there had to be considered donations for the poor and food gifts for family members who didn't attend the wedding.

Doc said...

True, but in this instance I believe the menu is meant for a single sitting. The next line in Menagier lists the items to be served at supper.

Also, the previous menu in the text specifies a single day ("Arrangements for the wedding done by Master Helye in May, on a Tuesday; dinner only for twenty bowls.").

You're right about food from a feast being given to the poor. Wynkyn de Worde talks about setting aside cuts of meat for the alms bowl in "The Book of Kervynge" (England, 1508). I suspect that is the case here, though it's difficult to tell from the immediate text.

I'm going to see if I can find any other accounts of these feasts and see what they describe.

kuechenmeyster said...

If the text says "bowls" and not "persons" you have to assume, that there was more then one person per bowl. In some law texts from Nürnberg there was ordered, that common citizens should have just a limited number of bowls served and only 2 guests per bowl. In other towns the numbers of bowls and persons per bowl vary. There could be up to four guests a bowl. The bowl is mostly not the individual dish of a guest but the serving dish from which the table neighbours take their share. So there could have been at least 40 people or more present at the wedding feast of Master Helye.

kuechenmeyster said...

I didn't find the law of Nürnberg but the wedding law of Ulm of 1420. It says, that there are allowed only three courses of eight dishes each. There should be no more then 3 persons per dish. That is about 72 guests a wedding. (Dünnebier/ Paszensky: Kulturgeschichte des essens und Trinkens. München 1999. [Cultural History of eating and Drinking]). As I said other towns had similar regulations. I think I ones read about a regulation of wedding feasts in Paris, but I can't proove it at the moment.

kuechenmeyster said...

I posted my last comment early in the morning after getting up. Meanwhile I thought about it and have to confess, I made a logical mistake. Only few hosts would have been so bold to invite new guests for every cours. So 72 in the case of Ulm would be the maximum number of guests possible, when the host send his guests home after every cours and had new ones in the following - which some actually might have done, but generaly it is not common. So we are at the beginning again.

The main problem in the case of the menagier is, that I don't know how many guests per dish were allowed. So the number of guests could be between 10 and 20 up to maximum 40, depending an the number of main dishes per main cours and persons per dish.

Doc said...

The sumptuary laws did get very complicated. There's a listing of ranks in "The Book of Kervynge" that states how many of each rank should share a dish, and it ends with, "al other estates may syt thre or foure at a messe". So I think your upper limit of 72 isn't unreasonable.

To go back to the menu though, the roasts course calls for 40 partridges, which would suggest no more than 40 guests. Of course the assumption that everyone would get at least one partridge is not necessarily a good one - sometimes different foods were served to those of different ranks.

Still, even if there were twice that many guests, 6 pigs is an awful lot - up to 10 pounds of pork per person. Small pigs maybe? I keep checking the French text to make sure they didn't say "piglets". I can only assume they were giving much of it away.

Cathy Raymond said...

Bear in mind also that in general livestock were a lot smaller than their modern counterparts. For example, don't assume that a medieval pig would be as large, or as fat, as a modern one. I don't have the research handy to document the differences in size, but in general its surprising how much larger our modern farm animals are.

kuechenmeyster said...

I thought that first too, Cathy. So I checked it in the internet and found this book:"Bernd Fuhrmann: Konrad von Weinsberg: ein adliger Oikos zwischen Territorium und Reich" (sorry it is in German)on

If you take the numbers (about 38kg of meat per pork in medieval times) given on page 59, footnote 72, you'll come close to Docs estimation.