Wednesday, December 21, 2016

A Medieval "Family" Christmas Dinner and Giveaway

***A CHRISTMAS GIFT FOR YOU***
Two commenters will receive a copy of my latest medieval THE LADY OF THE FOREST and a $5 Gift Card.

Christmas has been celebrated with big ‘family’ dinners for hundreds of years. Even a Medieval Christmas featured a great spread. Well, if you were the lord and lady. If you were not, the fare might look a little different. Oh, and when the lord invited you, be sure to bring your own utensils~

Boar’s Head was a traditional dish for the Lord and Lady of the castle. The head was roasted and served with great ceremony, often with an apple or orange in its mouth. The rest of the pig was served as bacon or in regular pork. The ‘marchers’ would sing “the boar’s head carol” the chorus of which was: “The boar’s head in hand bring I,With garlands gay and rosemary, I pray you all sing merrily.” (Cosman).
According to “Medieval Christmas,” (History Learning Site.com) in the countryside, the wild boar’s head would likely be offered to “the goddess of farming” to ensure “a good crop in the following year”—a practice not sanctioned by the Church, of course.
There would be wild fowl, poultry including goose, and if the lord is given permission, swan. Often the skin of the fowl would be coated with oil and saffron to make it golden. Some sources report that in certain rich households the feathers might be carefully replaced on the swan, and the resulting main course carried to the high table with great ceremony.
Other meat included venison, which was a staple. But only the lord and lady, along with others of importance, got the good parts of the deer. The poor got what was left—the heart, liver, tongue, feet, ears and brains or the “umbles.” Those delicacies were cooked up, mixed with whatever else might be handy, and made into a pie. “Therefore, the poor would eat ‘umble pie.’ (“Medieval Christmas”) We still have that phrase when we say ‘eating humble pie.’
The Christmas pudding known as ‘fumenty’ was popular. Made of boiled wheat it was usually mixed with currents and dried fruit. (recipe link below). Then, of course, there was the mincemeat pie, made of real shredded meat, spices and fruit.
The lord of the manor usually provided Christmas dinner for his tenants—but they often had to bring their own food. And dishes. And cloths. And fuel to cook the food. Frances and Joseph Gies wrote: “Tenants…usually…owed the lord bread, hens, and ale, which they brewed themselves, while in return he gave the Chrismas dinner, consisting mainly of the food they had provided….[T]he tenants often even provid[ed] their own fuel, dishes, and napkins.”
In the early 1300s, some prosperous tenants of one manor received “‘two white loaves, as much beer as they will drink in the day, a mess of beef and of bacon with mustard, one of browis [stew] of hen, and a cheese, fuel to cook their food…to burn from dinner time till even and afterwards, and two candles.”’ A less prosperous tenant had to bring their own (Gies).
Another manor connected to an abbey required the tenant bring “firewood, dish, mug, and napkin but the lord provided bread, broth, and beer and two kinds of meat.” And in a real treat, “the villeins were entitled to sit drinking after dinner in the manor hall” (Gies).
Other parts of the medieval Christmas celebrations were just as interesting as the food. If you’d like a really quick and fun read, I recommend a British website, part of a teachers’ groups of pages: http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/medieval_xmas.htm.

And if you want to try fumenty or learn to make sugarplums or check out other medieval recipes, try http://www.godecookery.com/mtrans/mtrans15.htm.

A NOTE: the medieval era encompasses several hundred years, so what may have held true in the Early Medieval years may have evolved by the High Medieval period.

BTW. My great-grandmother made her own minced meat and we always had mincemeat pie for Christmas at her house. I remember being revolted when my mom told me the pie really had meat in it. 

Do (or did) you have family Christmas traditions?

Sources:”Medieval Christmas.” History Learning Site. http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/medieval_xmas.htm

Gies, Frances and Joseph. Daily Life in Medieval Times. New York: Barnes and Noble, (originally pubished by Harper Collins), 1990. 106-107.

Cosman, Dr.Madeleine Pelner. Medieval Holidays and Festivals: A Calendar ofCelebrations. New York: Charles Scribner & Sons, 1981. 95-96.



 (some of this information appeared in a previous year's Christmas post.)

25 comments:

  1. My husband's family's tradition is to all gather together on Christmas Eve and make gingerbread houses and eat food.
    My family tradition growing up was to open 1 gift Christmas Eve. This was because we usually headed to my dad's house late late Christmas Eve or early Christmas day. So we got to open 1 present at Mom's on Christmas Eve then the rest when we got back on New Year's. It was fun :)

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  2. Oh, the suspense of waiting for the rest until New Year's! But it all sounds delightful, Erin!

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  3. I loved reading about Medieval Christmas, especially the food traditions, Barbara. I'm a big foodies and every year I make homemade rolls, cinnamon rolls, fudge and ginger cookies.

    A special tradition my husband and I take part in is that we buy each other a bunch of small stocking stuffers and wrap them individually. Then, starting on December 1st, we open three presents each (usually in the evening)until Christmas Day. Now, these are small things (chocolate, candy, spices, baking ingredients, pens, stuff you can grab at the dollar store) but it's a special family tradition for us.

    Happy Holidays!

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    1. I love that tradition that you and your husband have! Very special. Thanks for stopping by.

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  4. Thanks, Barbara. It would be fun to attend a reenactment of a medieval holiday feast. And find out what roasted boar's head tastes like. Or even humble pie!

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    1. I so agree, Mary Anne! I'd love to taste what those dishes were like originally, when the seasonings were so different from now. Thanks for coming by.

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  5. Cool, our tradition is going to the family mass on Christmas Eve,and every year I make an English trifle from scratch

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  6. Cool, our tradition is going to the family mass on Christmas Eve,and every year I make an English trifle from scratch

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    1. The family mass is a wonderful Christmas Eve tradition. And Trifle from scratch! Love to try that out. Glad you are here today.

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  7. We always play games on Christmas eve night and open thr smallest present that was under the tree.

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    1. Another good tradition. That smallest package is a neat rule. Bet it brings some surprises sometimes :) Good to see you!

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  8. I guess Vegans would have had their heads chopped off! LOL! Very interesting post, Barbara...but I kinda gagged at the swan and feathers. Happy Christmas feasting. xx

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    1. Oh, yes. Can't imagine what that poor bird tasted like. I guess even then the emphasis was on 'presentation' lol.

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  9. We only celebrate with my dad's family. When I was little the guys would go out and cut down a fresh tree for us to have for Christmas. Now we use an artificial since the family has grown, we need the room. Now we try to make dishes that everyone like to eat so that no one is left out and everyone feels special! Merry Christmas!!!!

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    1. How thoughtful of your family! I grew up in the country and we used to cut down a fresh tree every year. I never thought I'd give that up but sure enough, as I got older the artificial tree became desirable. No matter how hard I tried, those real needles escaped into the carpet!

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  10. Loved reading the ingredients and origins of these celebration foods. Our tradition has evolved so I guess not really a tradition...

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    1. I know! Isn't it interesting that some of the dishes we still have now were completely different back then. And the cooking must have taken hours upon hours. But, then, the ladies had cooks and didn't need to worry about it. And of course if we were poor, we wouldn't have the fancy foods that needed all the preparation :)

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  11. I guess you could say our lack of tradition was a tradition. My Dad was a railroad engineer and because he'd be out on a run, we might have Christmas on the 23rd or 26th or whenever he could get into town. So, our tradition was just to get everyone together!
    Love the medieval traditions, though, it's so amazing what they ate. The one that really gets to me when reading about medieval life is how the Lords and Ladies loved their eels. Ughhhh! Boar's head might be interesting, though. Great post, Barbara.

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  12. Thanks Hebby. I like your family's flexibility about celebrating. Family is more important that a set day or hour!! And boy do I agree about the eels. I tried eel once and didn't care for it. But I guess it's all in the perception.

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  13. Great post and I enjoyed reading about everyone's family traditions!

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  14. Wonderful post. Enjoyed reading about the different traditions. but eel, yuck! Merry Christmas!

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    1. Thank you so much, Tena. I agree==eel isn't my idea of a delicacy :) Glad to see you here.

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  15. Very interesting Barbara! Thank you for the informative post. Merry Christmas and happy New Year!!

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  16. Medieval food always makes me glad I live in the current era. My mother-in-law loved mince pie and I always had to make itfor her while she was alive. But it was the Americanized/modern version with apples and spice, no meat. Joyous Yule to you!

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