Thursday, June 26, 2008

Historical Wedding Customs - Fantasy Writing - Part 3

Feeding the Guests

Medieval history provides plenty of rich detail for fantasy novelists planning the menu for a wedding (or any other feast). Barbaric by today's standards, etiquette at a medieval feast allowed eating with fingers, though forks and a knife were sometimes used. Napkins became popular during this era, so you can include them. Remember that, many who lived during these times were lucky to have enough to eat on a regular basis. Starvation was a real part of life and this fact may reflect in your character's table manners.

Traditionally, the wedding feast took place the same day as the wedding. Guests ate from wooden plates until the food was gone. Glassware may be constructed of precious metals, common clay or wood depending on social class. The Medieval Wedding Guide by Vanessa Hand offers specifics if you need a source for more details.

The Menu

Wedding feast particulars should fit the celebration based on social class. Every social class celebrated weddings. It wasn't uncommon for these elaborate feasts to serve up to six courses. Basics your characters would find on the menu include:

  • Roast quail
  • Turtledoves and partridge
  • Goose
  • Venison
  • Roasted boar (sanglier) Dangerous to hunt, wild boars have long sharp tusks and teeth. Yet, huntsmen scoured the forests using apple cores, rotten meat and peapods as bait. Your characters might even find them feeding on garbage dumped outside the village or castle. Smoking wild pig preserved the meat.
  • Gilded and slivered calves' heads
  • Fish Most fishing was done with nets made by spinning grasses, wool or flax. Contrary to what many would think the job of spinning to make fishing (or hunting) nets was man's work. Once they had the thread-like fabric spun, they knotted it into complex patterns and attached bits of stone, clay or led as weights. For fishing nets they attached a piece of wood which floated so they could spot their submerged nets. Fish were often preserved by pickling in a salty brine or a fermented sauce called garum which was prized by the ancients.
  • Roasted peacock
  • Mutton
  • Cheeses Because milk spoiled without refrigeration, people learned to make yogurt and cheeses. Aged cheeses can be kept without refrigeration for five years or more. Most aged cheese was made using rennet (a piece of the stomach lining from a cow).
  • Walnuts
  • Oysters steamed in almond milk Because animal milk spoiled, Medieval cooks depended on the milky liquid created by grinding almonds or walnuts and steeping the pulp in boiling water for five minutes before running the mixture through a sieve to remove coarse particles. Cooks prepared almond milk fresh as needed or could store it without danger of spoiling like animal milk.
  • Ale-flavored bread
  • Stewed cabbage
  • Tarts and custards
  • Spicy mulled wine.
  • Fruit Dried fruit included raisins, prunes, and dried apples. Without refrigeration, little food could be preserved. Apples were the only cultivated fruit. Depending on the climate of your fantasy world, characters can also collect wild fruits like pears, quinces, and even peaches. Strawberries raspberries and red currants could be found in the woods. Exotic foods like dates and pistachio nuts should only be found on tables set for the wealthy.
  • Fresh fruit preserves
  • Wine, Ale, and other Medieval Drinks Drinks included water, ale, beer, mead, milk, and wine. Within castle confines a well provided potable drinking water. Fruit juices made from cherries, sloes (a plum-like fruit), and mulberries present other possible fermented choices.

    What About Vegetables?

    Few vegetables were eaten during medieval times, but vegetables of this period include: carrots, cabbage, lettuce, leeks, cardoons, onions, shallots, parsley and asparagus.

    Unlike the variety of salads we experience today, a Medieval Sallat might consist of scallions, chives, radish roots, turnips, boiled carrots, young lettuce, herbs, nuts, olives, and vinegar and oil.

    Spices and Flavorings If you show your cooks slaving in the kitchen, keep the spices and flavorings period specific. Include: Cloves, cinnamon, saffron, mace, pepper, ginger, anise, nutmeg, basil, parsley, sage, tansy, savory, betony, and rosemary.
    What About Sugar?
    Honey was a popular sweetener and preservative usually supplied by the local monastery. Sugar became increasingly popular among the wealthy. They were the only ones who could afford it in large quantities.
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