Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Food in a Time of Plague and Fire.

The regular dinners of the ancient Liveried Companies of the City of London are fine fodder for food historians. The dinners – especially those held on Election Day – were usually minutely recorded, and we have details of the bills of fare, provisioning arrangements, and attendees for many of them. In a previous post we looked at the election day dinner of the Worshipful Company of Ironmongers, held in July, 1687 – and it was a very fine bill of fare indeed that was provided for that feast.

Today I want to share several exerpts from An Historical Account of the Worshipful Company of Carpenters of the City of London, compiled chiefly from records in their possession, (1848) by William Pickering

We find, in 1633, that the carpenters sat down to a fine bill of fare on their Election Day:

1663. 6th August.
“It is ordered that the Eleccon day be solempnely kept as last yeare, & therefore the Liverymen be thereunto Sumoned according to custome, together wth the invitation of their wives as extra ordinary, paying v8 a cuoole, & also that the widdowes of the old Masters & Wardens, The Kings Surveyor, The master Carpenter, The Comtroller, & Mr May the paymaster, be invited to the said dinner. And it is further ordered therefore that pvision be as followeth; vizt pullet & white broth, Roaste Beefe, pasty of Beefe, Roast Turkey, Lumberpie, Capon, Custerd, & codling tart, & 14 mess of each; & that 6 quart bottles of wine be allowed to every messe, ½ thereof of sack & the other halfe of ffrench wine.”

But in 1665, the plague was approaching the City of London, and the level of fear was palpable. Meetings and public assemblies were forbidden, and the quarter-day observances of the Company of Carpenters were pared right down.

1665, 4th July.
“It is thought fitt and soe ordered by this Court, that ye general qrtr day for this yeare usually held the Thursday after St james tide, be not now publickly kept, held, or observed, as formerly it hath beene, in regard of the great danger of infeccon & contagion in this sad time of mortality, & also in obedience to the Lord Mayors precepts & others in authority prhibiting all publique Dinners, meetings, & Semblies or concorse of people by reason of the plague now raigneing, And further yt noe Summons be given to any of the Livery or Cominality to assemble at the Hall, but onely the Mastr and Wardens & some of the Assistants to meete & paye the Benefactors gifts, & for the widows and poore people to have theire Dinnrs and gifts pformed, wch is to be done  notwithstanding, but wth as little concorse as possible may be.

1665, 27th July
An order is given, that the election of the Master and Wardens be private “in regard of the great increase of the plague, without a sermon, dinner, musicke, and other ceremonies, only a cup of wine & Naples biskate.”

The following year, there was another disaster to deal with – the Great Fire of London.

1666. 11 Sept.
“Whereas, this day being the usuall day for principall and especiall auditing of the accounts of the new master & wardens; and whereas, by reason of the late dredfull fire in London, the accounts of the master & wardens for the yeare now last past could not be prepaired, calculated, and examined by the master & wardens or audittors, neither yesterday nor as yet att any other time hethertoo, nor indeed could the clerk of the said company by reason of the said fire & removal of the companies books papers & goodes out of the hall, prepare, write, & ingrosce the said accompts fit for the audittors hitherto, - It is now therefore ordered, that the said accompts be got ready against Munday next in the afternoon. And it is thought fit, in regard of the venison sent by Sr  John Shawe, that a moderate & frugall dinner be provided thatday, att the discrecion of the new master and wardens, onely 4 leggs of mutton boyled & 4 venison pasties &c.”

In memory of those bad days, and in honour of carpenters everywhere, I give you a recipe for Naples Biscuits. They might be nice to accompany your Thanksgiving and Christmas beverages too. The recipe was found in, of all things, a dictionary.

To make Naples bisket. Take of the finest flower half a peck, the whites of a dozen eggs, fine sugar two pound, as much milk as will make it into a batter, with a few beaten almon[d]s, and some fine grated bread, stir them well together till finely mixed; with this fill thin coffins, and wash them over with sugar and rose-water; set them in an oven indifferently hot, and when they are well hardened, take them out, butter or flower a little your coffins, to make them slip out the easier; and keep them in papered boxes in a dry place.
Dictionary of Obsolete and Provincial English: Containing Words from the English Writers Previous to the Nineteenth Century which are No Longer in Use, Or are Not Used in the Same Sense; and Words which are Now Used Only in the Provincial Dialects (1857) by Thomas Wright.


Foose said...

Lumberpie? Sounds ... unappetizing! Maybe a version of humble pie?

The Old Foodie said...

Hi Foose: it is a corruption of "Lombard" pie - a common dish at big events in the middle ages and beyond. A large 'coffin' filled with all sorts of good things. I realise, after your query, that I have not done a post specifically on Lumber Pie, so have flagged it for the future. Keep watching this space!