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Medieval Banquets

Medieval life and Times

Medieval Banquets
We have all heard about the extravagant feasts and banquets of the Medieval times of the Middle Ages. Menus for the wealthy were extensive, but only small portions were taken. Social etiquette  dictated that an extensive choice of foods should be made available. A  change in society had  emerged during the era of the Middles Ages when travel, prompted by the Crusades, led to a new and unprecedented interest in beautiful objects and elegant manners.

This change extended to food preparation and presentation resulting in fabulous food arrangements with exotic colors and flavorings - especially when preparing a Middle Ages banquet which was fit for a king.

Serving Medieval Banquets
Serving these elaborate banquets and organisation:

  • The different provisions necessary for food were usually entrusted to the squires of the kitchen, and were chosen, purchased, and paid for by one or more of these officials, assisted by the cooks
  • The dishes prepared by the cooks were placed, by the help of the esquires, on dressers in the kitchen until the moment of serving and carried to the tables in the Great Hall of the castle
  • The Great Table was set on a dais which was strictly reserved for the persons of distinction, often covered with a table cloth
  • Guests were shown to their seats after washing their hands at the entrance of the Great Hall
  • Buffets - these were a series of wooden planks with a number of stepped shelves. The number of shelves indicated rank! The more shelves the higher the rank. The 'Stepped Buffets' were covered with rich drapes and assembled for use at Banquets and Feasts
  • The Nobles finest plates of gold or silver were displayed on the 'Buffet' and servants served from them
  • The dishes, consisted of three, four, five, and even six courses
  • The main courses were sometimes made to imitate a sort of theatrical representation
  • Coloured jellies of swans, of peacocks, or of pheasants adorned with their feathers, having the beak and feet gilt, were served as a speciality and placed on the middle of the table on a sort of pedestal

French Medieval Banquets
The historian of French cookery, Legrand d'Aussy, describes a great feast given in 1455 by the Count of Anjou, third son of King Louis II of Sicily. This description illustrates the theatrical representation of the banquet:

  • On the table was placed a centre-piece, which represented a green lawn, surrounded with large peacocks' feathers and green branches, to which were tied violets and other sweet-smelling flowers
  • In the middle of this lawn a fortress was placed, covered with silver
  • The fortress was hollow, and formed a sort of cage, in which several live birds were shut up, their tufts and feet being gilt
  • On its tower, which was gilt, three banners were placed
  • The first course consisted of a civet of hare, a quarter of stag which had been a night in salt, a stuffed chicken, and a loin of veal
  • The two last dishes were covered with a German sauce, with gilt sugar-plums, and pomegranate seeds
  • At each end, outside the green lawn, was an enormous pie, surmounted with smaller pies, which formed a crown
  • The crust of the large pies were silvered all round and gilt at the top
  • Each pie contained a whole roe-deer, a gosling, three capons, six chickens, ten pigeons, one young rabbit, and, no doubt to serve as seasoning or stuffing, a minced loin of veal, two pounds of fat, and twenty-six hard-boiled eggs, covered with saffron and flavoured with cloves
  • For the three following courses, there was a roe-deer, a pig, a sturgeon cooked in parsley and vinegar, and covered with powdered ginger
  • A kid goat, two goslings, twelve chickens, as many pigeons, six young rabbits, two herons, a leveret, a fat capon stuffed, four chickens covered with yolks of eggs and sprinkled with spice, a wild boar, some wafers and stars
  • A jelly, part white and part red, representing the crests of the honored guests
  • Cream covered with fennel seeds and preserved in sugar
  • A white cream, cheese in slices, and strawberries
  • And, lastly, plums stewed in rose-water
  • Besides these four courses, there was a fifth, entirely composed of the prepared wines then in vogue, and of preserves. These consisted of fruits and various sweet pastries
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