Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Clean Feet and Full Bellies.

This date in 1731 was a Thursday – “Maundy Thursday”, to be exact, and good King George II was 48 years old. According to the tradition of the day this meant that he was obliged to wash the feet of 48 poor women at a special ceremony before the distribution of the royal gifts or doles known as “maunds”. “Maundy Thursday” is also called Holy Thursday in the Christian calendar. It commemorates the Last Supper - the day that Christ washed the feet of his disciples in a demonstration of his humility, thereby obliging many centuries worth of clerics and royals to imitate the act with varying degrees of attention to the true meaning.

As with most such acts on the part of elevated individuals, the royal foot-washing practice was purely symbolic on this occasion in 1731. The actual washing was done by the King’s Almoner (and I suspect a quick pre-wash was done already by office bearers further down the chain), so it is to be hoped that the old ladies were not too disappointed with the service.

The origin of the word “maunds” is obscure. It may be from the ancient Latin mandatum, meaning ‘command’ (refering to Christ’s command to the disciples to love one another), or from an ancient Saxon word maund for basket (and hence refers to anything offered in a basket), or from an ancient French word mendier meaning ‘to beg.’ It is unlikely that the token cohort of poor women of 1731 were disappointed with the maunds (including "maundy money") dispensed that year, even if the foot-washer was not whom they expected. They received:

“… boiled beef and shoulders of mutton, and small bowls of ale, which is called dinner; after that large wooden platters of fish and loaves, viz. undressed, one large old ling, and one large dried cod; twelve red herrings and twelve white herrings, and four half quarter loaves. Each person had one platter of this provision; after which were distributed to them shoes, stockings, linen and woolen cloth, and leather bags, with one penny, twopenny, threepenny and fourpenny pieces of silver and shilings; to each about four pounds in value”

Ling is an elongated fish from the cod family, and can be cooked in a huge variety of ways. Here are some early eighteenth century ideas.

For Ling
As for Ling you may send it up dry, garnish with raw Parsly; another way is boil'd with poach'd Eggs on it; another way is fry'd after it is boil'd, warning it over with the Yolk of an Egg, or with Eggs; or you may make a Ling Pafty, putting Cream, Eggs, and melted Butter over it.
The Compleat City and Country Cook, Charles Carter, 1732.

Quotation for the Day.

A converted cannibal is one who, on Friday, eats only fishermen.
Emily Lotney

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