On Friday, I cooked a four-course meal for thirty people. By the Wednesday morning, I didn’t even have a menu plan. You see, I had been sending the magazine I work for off to print, and it had over-run. Still, after a day of hard shopping and another day of solid and slightly frenzied cooking (with excellent help, thanks, Nix and Livi), it worked. I have a single, solitary photo to show for it:
A true Medieval menu (example) reads like a succession of species names, interspersed with a few sweet oddities like jelly, scattered among the savoury dishes. This feast was not a true Medieval menu. Each dish came from an original source, but the composition veered more towards the vegetarian-friendly and was structured in a way we’d recognise – a separate dessert course for example.
A couple of notable things before I get into the nitty gritty. Instantly, you notice that many things taste a little sweet. The savoury lines are blurred. Then, cumulatively, you notice that everything tastes like Christmas. The food has the spices, the dried fruit, the thick and stodgy texture. Perhaps it’s the case that our most traditional English Christmas dishes have simply endured, unchanged, while everything around them evolved.
This is the menu we served, with my thoughts in italics below.
On the Table
breney with chips, aromatic fruit salsa
15th-century English, very good with some anachronistic nachos
manchet bread and fresh homemade cheese with parsley and figs
Big mistake to home-make both of these, although the cheese was delicious and I would do it again under less pressured circs. Manchet bread was as close to white as you could get in the Middle Ages.
pottage of swedes
14th-century English, this recipe resembles the diet of average peasant. As befits peasant fare, this was uninteresting and filling
ember’s day tart
14th-century English, traditionally served on religious fast days. A different and very nice egg and onion tart; we didn’t blind-bake the pastry, which you do need to
rummaniyya, meatballs in pomegranate sauce
13th-century Egyptian, in a History of Food in 100 Recipes. Unusual texture with ground pistachios; flavoured with mint, cloves, rosewater
grete pie with beef and chicken
15th-century English; we dispensed with the under-pastry. All the dried fruit makes this taste rather sweet despite no sugar in it
roasted rice with parmesan
16th-century Italian. Cut down on the suggested sugar and cheese quantities here. Didn’t exactly regret this, but it wasn’t esp sweet or cheesy
16th-century Dutch. Good, fiddly.
spinach tart with mozzarella
14th-century French. Thought this might taste a bit too similar to Ember’s Day tart, but was totally different. Very cheesy and genuinely savoury, which made a nice change
wortes, cabbage and leek
15th-century English; forgot to add the parsley to this – that would have made it more interesting
chardewardon, pear mousse with white wine
15th-century English; popular and for once the dessert-like spices felt at home to a 21st-century palate; better with less sugar.