Monday, July 28, 2014


A Medieval Meal for Real by Ivan Day


In his blog, Food History Jottings, Ivan Day tries to dispel many of the myths and outright falsehoods that written about the history of British food. Ivan's website, Historic Food, chronicles his life and all his activities of being a celebrity chef.

In his own words, Ivan Day is an independent social historian of food culture and also a professional chef and confectioner. He runs practical courses on all aspects of British and Italian food history at his home in the English Lake District. He is also the author of a number of books and many papers on the history of food and has curated many major exhibitions on food history in the UK, US, and Europe.

It was by a lucky coincidence that I came across Ivan's blog on a medieval meal at Gainsborough Hall. After reading it, I asked his permission to quote and paraphrase parts of his post and also use his images here. So all the quoted text and images are copyrighted to Ivan Day.

Here're some excerpts from his work for KBS, the South Korean equivalent of the BBC, on authentic English medieval food and dining. For their show A Food Odyssey, KBS didn't wish for the popular versions already available from many sources, but were looking for someone with well-cemented historical research credentials, who was a celebrated chef to boot.

"My aim was to accurately recreate an ambitious medieval meal in a high status household, so we chose to film at Gainsborough Hall in Lincolnshire with its wonderful great hall and kitchen complex. I enlisted the help of the outstanding re-enactment group Lord Burgh's Retinue, who regularly work at the hall. [...] At Gainsborough we filmed a high table sequence led by Paul with full Plantagenet dining ritual, from Latin grace and blessing to washing of hands with an ewer and basin. The table and buffet was dressed correctly for the period and there were demonstrations of carving, sewing, and correct service."

The roasting range in the kitchen of Gainsborough Hall, above, was "probably being used for the first time in four hundred years as it was intended, for roasting a full range of meats and poultry for a high status meal. A goose sawce madame, four rabbits, four mallards, a woodcock, and other game birds roasted on the hand-turned spits."

Here're some pictures of some of the foods that were served at the feast.

A chastelet, a pie made in the form of a castle with different fillings in each tower, awaits a spectacular flambé with brandy before being brought to the table.

An early fifteenth century gingerbread coloured with red sanders wood is ornamented with box leaves pinned on with cloves.

The pièce de resistance: A soteltie waits to be taken to the top table. This was originally made by Ivan's incredibly gifted friend and colleague Tony Barton for his 2003 exhibition, Royal Sugar Sculpture at the Bowes Museum.


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