The job of recording the comings and goings from the household and the management of the accounts fell to the steward, who kept a detailed day to day tally in the Household Book. Some of the surviving household books are a marvellous source of information on daily life on a manorial estate, and one of them is a source for us today.
Thornbury is near Bristol in Gloucestershire, England. In 1508, the holder of the manor, the Duke of Buckingham, began to ‘castellate’ the manor – which then became Thornbury Castle, which you can visit today. The Duke’s household book records the guests and provisions for the Christmas just before this conversion began.
Thornbury, The Feast of the Nativity, Saturday 25th December 1507.
Dined 95 gentry, 107 yeoman, 97 garcons. Supped 84 gentry, 114 yeoman, 92 garcons.
Archates: 4 swans price 12s, 4 geese 2s, 5 suckling pigs 20d, 14 capons 8s, 18 chickens 18d, 21 rabbits 3/6d, 1 peacock 2s, 3 mallards 8d, 5 widgeons 10d, 12 teals 12d, 3 woodcocks 8d, 22 syntes 12d, 12 large birds 3d, 400 hens eggs 3/4d, 2 dishes of butter 20d, 10 flagons of milk 10d, 1 flagon of rum 6d, 2 flagons of frumety 4d, in herbs 1c.
Kitchen spent of the Lord’s store:
1 carcase and seven rounds of beef 20s
9 carcases of mutton price 16s
4 pigs 8s
1½ calves 4s
11 bottles and 3 quarts of Gascony wine price 13s
1½ pitchers of Rhenish wine price 15d
½ pitcher Malvoisey price 6d
Spent in aile [ale] 171 flagons, 1 quart, price 13s 7½d
In spite of the spelling, it is not difficult to understand the basic meats and so on served at this dinner. This menu is rich in birds – considered fine food partly because, having an aerial life, they were closer to God, and therefore suitable for the fine aristocratic body, especially on a holy day.
It is interesting that ‘flagons’ of ‘frumety’ were purchased. ‘Frumenty’ was a sort of wheat porridge – a staple food for most ordinary folk, but a mere side-dish for the wealthy, and almost obligatory alongside venison. On ‘fish’ (that is, not-meat) days, the well-to-do might have it with porpoise or whale, as in the following recipe, taken from the Form of Cury (the book of the Master Cooks of King Richard II, written about 1390)
Furmente With Porpeys.
Take clene whete and bete it small in a morter and fanne out clene the doust, þenne waisthe it clene and boile it tyl it be tendre and broun. þanne take the secunde mylk of Almaundes & do þerto. boile hem togidur til it be stondyng, and take þe first mylke & alye it up wiþ a penne. take up the porpays out of the Furmente & leshe hem in a dishe with hoot water. & do safroun to þe furmente. and if the porpays be salt. seeþ it by hym self, and serue it forth.
[Form of Cury, c.1390]
Quotation for the Day.
He who has not Christmas in his heart will never find it under a tree.
Roy L. Smith