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It’s Just Another Magic Monday! Today Canada is celebrating Thanksgiving and it’s Columbus Day here in the States. Seems like a perfect day to discover what gastronomic pleasures we missed by not being born into the 16th Century noble classes of Scotland and England.

Meals back then were served in courses and they had to be served in a certain order. According to a Proper Newe Book of Cokery – mid 16 C . Here after foloweth the order of meates how they must be served at the Table with their sauces for fleshe dayes at dynner.

 The fyrste course:

Potage or stewed broath, Bolde meate or stewed meate.Chekins and Bacon.
Powdred beyfe, Pyes, Goose, Pygge, Roosted beyfe, Roosted veale,Custarde.

The seconde course:

Roosted Lambe, Roosted Capons, Roosted Connies, Chekins,Pehennes.

Got it?  This is only the meats! Vegetables and “sallats” were served too. After the first and second course, you were expected to stagger away from the table (wines and ales:)  to a special room or the garden for a banquet. Rules of a banquet were as strict as for a feast. Everything had to be served in the proper order.

First, a dish made to look like a beast, bird or fowl was paraded into the room and if it was edible it not usually served to guests, it was shared by the family the next day. In some circles “the dish” was merely a prop and put away afterwards for other occasions. A time-saver when you’re serving sixteen main dishes and preparing a table full of desserts.

 A banquet consisted chiefly of sweet dishes like cakes, fruits and wine. Marchpane ( a sugary treat made from ground almonds) was brought out after the “prop” and then twice more, at the middle and at the end. Fruit dishes, wafer cakes, marmalade and comfits rounded out the banquet.

Marchpane from Foods of the Tudors

In a lovely old book, The Pageant of Stuart England  author Elizabeth Burton reveals some dishes full of surprises.

Food in great variety appeared in all sorts of disguises, elaborately decorated, often with gold or silver fringe while ramparts of immortal crust on a large pie, often concealed something to amuse the guests.”

Let me repeat: “often concealed something to amuse the guests…”

Apparently baking live birds in a pie was exactly the type of amusement the nobility never grew tired of. “when the pie was opened, they flew about and caused a merry  mess. Bird droppings in the wine, birds ensnaggled in ladies’ hair, candles put out, all produced a gay hurly-burly, guaranteed to enliven any party.”  Birds in my hair would certainly make me lively!

 “When a venison pasty (pie) was set before Queen Henrietta Maria (Italy) all were startled when the pie was cut and a dwarf jumped out.”

 Startled? A small man jumps out of a pie and the guests are simply startled?

FYI, at the time of his “jumping out” Jeffrey Hudson was nineteen years old and eighteen inches tall. Unfortunately the author does not include the recipe for baking a Jeffrey or a blackbird in a pie.

So I found one for you 🙂

Recipe from Food of the Tudors

To make Pies that the Birds may be alive in them, and flie out when it is cut up.

From Epulario, 1598 (Olde English)

Make the coffin ( yes, pies were called coffins, apt, don’t you think?)  of a great pie or pastry, in the bottome thereof make a hole as big as your fist, or bigger if you will, let the sides of the coffin bee somewhat higher then ordinary pies, which done put it full of flower and bake it, and being baked, open the hole in the bottome, and take out the flower.

Then having a pie of the bigness of the hole in the bottome of the coffin aforesaid, you shal put it into the coffin, withall put into the said coffin round about the aforesaid pie as many small live birds as the empty coffin will hold, besides the pie aforesaid. And this is to be done at such time as you send the pie to the table, and set before the guests: where uncovering or cutting up the lid of the great pie, all the birds will flie out, which is to delight and pleasure shew to the company.

Delight and pleasure. Epulario had it right, this is what feasting, the holidays and special events spent with family and friends is all about. If today is Thanksgiving or a feast day in your part of the world, what special dish would you prepare? Is there a traditional dish in your family or culture that is only served on special occasions? What’s the most exciting or exotic dish you’ve ever ate or prepared? I’d love to hear from you.

To continue your history fix —  for more information about the history of Canada’s Thanksgiving visit my friend Patricia Sands wonderful blog post Happy Thanksgiving Canada. You can get great tips on How To Siege a Castle at Merry Farmer’s Blog and then move over to Word Wenches, where eight of the best and most prolific historical authors blog on topics all across the history spectrum.

Happy Thanksgiving to my Canadian family (brothers, sister, nephews, nieces, Mum and Dad) and friends! Feast on!

Kate MacNicol~

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