Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Breakfast with the Earl, 1523.

The surviving household account books of the great aristocratic estates of Britain and Europe are a wonderful source of information about costs, provisioning, and meals in previous times. They were maintained by the steward, who was the most important and powerful member of the household staff –accountable for all of the financial and other day-to-day transactions, and answerable only to his Lord or Lady.

Some of these books contain detailed information about meals served on specific days. Large manorial and aristocratic households were expected to provide hospitality to travellers and other guests, and the number of these ‘strangers’ was also recorded. The meal I am going to tell you about today fits (unintentionally) into the meaty theme of yesterday. It describes breakfast on a day in August in 1523, in the household of the Earl of Surrey.

The concept of breakfast as consisting of entirely different dishes from those served at the other main meals of the day is a nineteenth century construction. In previous times, breaking the fast’ was achieved by eating up whatever was leftover from the previous night’s dinner. This was pragmatic, there being no refrigeration, so food had to be used up pretty quickly, and anyway, breakfast cereals as we know them were not invented until the second half of the nineteenth century.

Here is what the nobility had for breakfast on the day, in addition to bread and ale, which were a given.

To ye Duke’s Grace of Norf [Nofolk?], a bowled [boiled]capon and a peyce of beyfe. To my Lorde Hawarde, a brest of mutton and a checkyn. To the Duchess of Norf, a capon bowled and a peyse of befy. To my Lady and my Lady Wyndham a peyse of beyf.

As the recipe for the day, I give you the instructions on baking chickens from A Noble boke off cookry ffor a prynce houssolde or eny other estately houssolde, written in about the year 1500. Note that ‘baking’ meant cooking in a pastry ‘coffin’ in the oven – a pie in other words – there being no shaped metal baking containers at the time. ‘Roasting’ used to refer exclusively to cooking on a spit over an open fire.

Bak chekyns

To bak chekyns tak chekins clene skaldid and truse them as short as ye may colour them with saffron and salt them then couche them in coffins and take salt lard of pork and dice it smale and melleit with vergious saffron and good poudurs and couche them in coffins and close them and bak them and serue them.

Quotation for the Day.

I want there to be no peasant in my kingdom so poor that he cannot have a chicken in his pot every Sunday.
King Henry IV of France (1553-1610)


Judy said...

So Herbert Hoover wasn't the first with the theme of a chicken in every pot! Makes you wonder how far back that promise goes.

The Old Foodie said...

I think Hoover knew he was quoting King Henry when he said that. Not too many new sound bites in politics! I dont know if Henry got it from anywhere though!