Monday, May 18, 2009

A Law about Eating.

There have been numerous attempts throughout history to regulate personal extravagance in food and drink on the basis of religious, political, economic or moral grounds. In the midst of a period of great dearth and famine in 1346, Edward II promulgated one of Britain’s earliest sumptuary laws.
“Whereas, by the outrageous and excessive multitude of meats and dishes which the great men of our kingdom have used, and still use in their castles, and by persons of inferior rank imitating their example, beyond what their stations require and their circumstances can afford, many great evils have come upon our kingdom, and the health of our subjects hath been injured, their goods consumed, and they have been reduced to poverty; we, being willing to put a stop to these excesses, with the advice and consent of our council, make the following rules and ordinances, - That the great men of the kingdom should have only two courses of flesh meats served up to their tables; each course consisting of only two kinds of flesh meat: except Prelates, Earls, Barons, and the great men of the land, who might have an intermeat (une entremesse) of one kind of meat if they please. On fish days they should have only two courses of fish, each consisting of two kinds, with an intermeat of one kind of fish, if they please. Such as transgress this ordinance shall be severely punished.”

Needless to say, whenever or wherever they have been enacted, sumptuary laws have proven almost impossible to police, and we can be reasonably confident that the great men of Edward’s realm took little or no notice of the restrictions, and continued feasting as they had always done.

There are no early fourteenth century English cookery books known to us, so we must turn to The Forme of Cury, compiled by the Master Cooks of King Richard II in about 1390 for our recipes for today. Here are a couple of nice ideas for you – pork with sage for a “flesh” day and salmon with leeks for a “fish” day.

Pygg in sawce Sawge [sage]
Take Pigges yskaldid [scalded] and quarter hem and seethe [boil] hem in water and salt, take hem and lat hem kele [cool]. take persel [parsley] sawge [sage]. and grynde it with brede and zolkes of ayrenn [eggs] harde ysode [boiled]. temper it up with vyneger sum what thyk. and, lay the Pygges in a vessell. and the sewe onoward and
serue it forth.

Cawdel Of Samoun.
Take the guttes of Samoun and make hem clene. perboile hem a lytell. take hem up and dyce hem. slyt the white of Lekes and kerue hem smale. cole [cool] the broth and do the lekes therinne with oile and lat it boile togyd yfere. do the Samoun icorne therin, make a lyour of Almaundes mylke & of brede & cast therto spices, safroun and salt, seethe it wel. and loke that it be not stondyng [too thick].

Quotation for the Day.

Pork - no animal is more used for nourishment and none more indispensable in the kitchen; employed either fresh or salt, all is useful, even to its bristles and its blood; it is the superfluous riches of the farmer, and helps to pay the rent of the cottager.”
Alexis Soyer (1851)

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