I have a wonderful find for you today! Have you ever wondered about a quiet life? A very quiet life. Life in a silent monastic order? (I can hear a lot of my friends roaring with laughter at the thought of myself adhering to a no-speaking rule. But I digress.)
Lots of questions about the life. How would one communicate to Sister Bertha that she wais a miserable, nasty old biddy? That one’s cell was too austere, and could one please brighten it up with a pic of Brad Pitt? That one was not up to spending one more day on one’s knees in the herb garden – wasn’t there enough time on the knees already? An how would one get another ladleful of the delicious monastery gruel or morsel of hard monastery bread at dinner-time?
The sisters of the Monastery of Sion in Middlesex in the fifteenth century had a ‘Table of Signs’ to get around the rules of silence. I have searched the list, and cannot find the signs for the cursing, lusting, and work-avoiding issues that came immediately to my own mind (I am clearly not monastery material), but luckily a large percentage of the signs relate to dinner-table manners are there. I give you a selection, just in case you ever need them. They do also indicate that perhaps the dining life was not too austere.
Depending on whether you want white or brown bread:
BREDE: Make with thy two thombes and two forefyngers a roude compas. And if thou wole haue white make the sign thereof. And if brown, toche thy cowll sleue.
So if your desire is for ‘White’ bread you would:
Drawe thy two right fyngers by thy cheke douwarde.
Want butter on your bread?
BUTTUR OR OTHER FATNES. Draw thy two right upper fyngers to and fro on thy left palme.
Ale to wash it down?:
Make the signe of drynk and drawe thy hande displaied afore thyn eer dunwarde
The sign of drink being:
DRYNK. Bowe thy right fore fyngere and up it on thy neder lyppe.
For an Egg:
Bowe thy right fore fyngere’ upon they left thombe to and fro. As though thou should pill [peel] eggs.
And the fish or the meat today, sister?
FYSSHE. Wagge thy hand displaied sidelynges, in maner of a fissh taill.
FLESSHE. Reyse up with thy rigt fyngers the skyn of thy left hande.
And a nice piece of fruit to finish off?:
PERE. Joyne all thy fyngers in length of thy right hande and wagge douwarde.
I particularly love the fish request!
Perhaps more of these signs another day, if you are interested.
Today I give you:
The Lady Abbess’ Pudding.
Take the thin rind of a fresh lemon, and let it soak for half an hour in half a pint of new milk, then sweeten with two tablespoonfuls of sugar. Put the whole into a saucepan, and when well heated, add two large fresh eggs and the milk of a cocoa-nut, and put the custard aside to cool. Shred four ounces of beef suet very finely, grate two ounces of fresh cocoa-nut and stone and mince two ounces of Muscatel raisins. Cut four ounces of stale bread into thin slices. Butter a plain round mould, and stick raisins upon it in even rows. Put a slice of bread at the bottom, and place upon it a little suet, a few raisins, a little chopped lemon-rind and juice, three grates of nutmeg, and a little custard, and repeat until all the ingredients are used, being careful to place bread and custard on the top. Let the pudding soak for an hour, then lay a buttered paper on the top, tie in a floured cloth, plunge into boiling water, and let it boil quickly until done enough. Turn it out carefully, and serve with the following sauce in a tureen. Mix a teaspoonful of arrowroot very smoothly with two table-spoonfuls fo cocoa-nut milk. Pour over it a quarter of a pint of boiling syrup flavoured with lemon rind and cinnamong, stir all together until the mixture is nearly cold, then add two tablespoonfuls of cream, a few drops of vanilla essence, and a dessertspoonful of brandy.
[From: Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery. c1870]
Quotation for the Day ..
What an idiot is man to believe that abstaining from flesh, and eating fish, which is so much more delicate and delicious, constitutes fasting.
Napoleon Bonaparte ?