Friday, March 20, 2009

Dinner with Queen Eleanor.

Queen Eleanor (Leonora) of France (1498-1558) visited her brother, the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V (1500-1558) in Brussels in 1544. A royal retinue took some feeding in those days, as a contemporary account of her visit shows:

“Queen Leonora received daily for her mouth, 128 lbs. of beef, 2 ¼ sheep, 1 calf, 2 swine, 2 fat capons, 18 fowls, 4 partridges, 2 woodcocks, 2 pheasants, 2 hares, 24 quails or turtle doves.”

Clearly, all of this food was not for the Queen herself. I am not sure what the phrase “for her mouth” means (and hope that one of you will enlighten me) – perhaps it refers to the members of her personal household?

There was more. The same document tells us that additional supplies were provided for others in her train.

“For the kitchen of the suite were daily supplied 2 oxen, 18 sheep, 3 calves, 12 swine, 60 capons, 48 fowls and pigeons, and 40 head of game.”

When the omitted vegetables, bread, sweetmeats, ale and wine are added to this list, it was an awesome amount of food indeed. Sadly, there are no details of the actual dishes made from them, so we do not know what was served to the Queen. There are plenty of sources of medieval recipes however, and not a great deal changed over a few hundred years or so. I give you the recipe for a right royal quantity of small birds and poultry from the early fifteenth century cookbook Du Fait de Cuisine, by Master Chiquart Amizco.

And again a gravy of small birds and poultry: to give understanding to him who makes it, let him take about a thousand small birds and let these small birds be well plucked and carefully cleaned so that there remains neither feathers nor refuse; and take a hundred large poultry which are fair and clean, and let them be cut in half and cut into pieces, and one should make four pieces from each quarter, and wash them very well and cleanly with the small birds; and, being washed, put them to dry on fair, white, and clean boards. And take a great deal of lard and melt it in fair, large, and clean frying pans; and arrange that you have a fair and clean cauldron and put your small birds and poultry therein and strain your melted lard well and cleanly, then put it into the said cauldron over the said small birds and poultry. And take a great deal of bread according to the quantity of your meat and slice it into rounds and put it to roast on the grill until it is well browned; and have beef and mutton broth -- and let it not be too salty -- put in a fair and clean small cask, and put therein a great deal of clear wine; and when your bread is roasted put it to soak in the said cask of broth and clear wine. And take your spices: cinnamon, ginger, grains of paradise, pepper; minor spices: nutmeg, cloves, mace, galingale, and all spices -- and let the said master be advised not to put to much in of anything, but have a temperate and sure hand in putting in that which it seems to him is necessary. And while he is straining his bread and his spices, let him have his meat saut├ęd over a fair clear fire; and let him have a man who stirs it constantly with a big slotted spoon so that it does not stick to the bottom and that it does not burn; and the said master in straining his bread and his spices should put while straining either a third or a half or what he has strained with his meat, so that the said meat will neither be spoiled nor burn, until he has strained all of it and put it into the said broth. And, being strained and set to boil, the said master should check and taste if it needs spices, vinegar, salt or something else and that it has too much of nothing; and do not wait until your meat is overcooked but draw it back over a few coals, at least until it is time to take it to the sideboard, and there, at the sideboard, it should be arranged in serving dishes well and properly.

Quotation for the Day.

Chicken one day, feathers the next.


Foose said...

"For her mouth" might actually be "for her Bouche." It means "mouth" literally in French, but it also refers to the department or office of the Bouche, in charge of food service for the king or queen. The vast quantities mentioned would make more sense in referring to a department rather than the queen herself. I'm not sure how the "Bouche" may have differed from the "kitchen" also mentioned in your excerpt, though.

The Old Foodie said...

Hello Foose - thanks for this, I am sure you are right, but, as you say, how does that differ from "the kitchen"?

Foose said...

In England at the same time there was the "Bouge of Court" - referring to the quantity of food, drink, candles and fuel allotted to you by your degree (rank). I don't know if "Bouge" is related to "Bouche," or if the concept applied to the Continental courts as well. But if that is the case, perhaps then all that food mentioned for her "mouth" could indeed be specifically for Queen Eleanor, or at least to be set before her on the table, as a recognition of her rank. Perhaps the remainder, after she dined, was distributed among her household and/or religious houses and/or the poor?