Wednesday, January 30, 2013

First, Catch Your Game.

Silly me. The question of the sixteenth century pancakes has nagged at me since Monday’s post. Eventually, one has to give in and accept an internal nag, as they inevitably have substance. I did and it had. The list of the Top Ten Forgotten British foods is already complete, because I have previously posted on the topic of Sixteenth Century Pancakes.

So, instead, let us consider sumptuary laws.

Sumptuary Laws have a long, but not very successful history. Many monarchs and rulers in many countries have instituted them over the centuries, for a variety of reasons. They have all had very limited success, primarily because the power-brokers themselves don’t like their excesses being limited, and if a sufficient number of the populace ignore or flout the regulations, inevitably they fade away or are actually repealed.  

The motivation for the promulgation of sumptuary laws was varied. A particularly devout and personally abstemious leader may have felt that excessive and conspicuous consumption would bring the wrath of God upon the nation. Archbishop Cranmer and his bishops in 1541made some very specific orders as to the exact number of courses and dishes that the various ranks of the clergy might eat, it being seen that men of religion had moved too far from the concepts of simplicity and abstemiousness – to the point even of becoming gluttonous. In Cranmer’s own words however, “this order was kept for two or three months, till, by the disusing of certain willful persons, it came again to the old excesses.”

Sometimes the motivation was less to do with morals and more to do with pride and maintaining one’s position. To some rulers, it was unseemly that a mere ordinary citizen might emulate or surpass one in finery or at the dining table.

Most often, sumptuary laws applied to clothing, and they were frequently quite detailed as to colours, fabrics, trims, styles and so on, but sometimes, as in the example of Archbishop Cranmer, they applied to food.

Has every country at some time or other produced sumptuary laws? It seems so. Let us go to Spain. The first sumptuary law in Spain was issued in 1234 by James I (“the Conqueror”) of Aragon. He was a devout man, and was apparently shocked by the extravagance of his subjects, who were reveling in the expulsion of the hated Moors from the kingdom. The Jewish population in were enjoying a new era of prosperity too, which no doubt increased the Catholic monarch’s resolve to curb the lifestyle of his subjects.
James therefore decreed that none of his subjects should sit down to a meal of one dish of stewed and one dish of roast meat, unless it be dried and salted. Unlimited game might be eaten, provided that it had been hunted or caught by the individual themselves, but otherwise only one dish of game could be on the menu.
I don’t know how long or how faithfully James’ subjects abided by the laws, but given the history of such laws, I suspect not very long or faithfully at all.

If you can catch your own pheasants, the following recipe might just be the thing.

Pheasants (Spanish way)
Take your pheasants, singe, prick, and draw them; mince the livers with a lump of butter, scraped bacon, champignons, green truffles, if you can get any, some parsley, green onions, pepper, salt, sweet-herbs, and fine spice; mince all well together, and put it into the body of your pheasants, and tie them up at both ends; then blanch them in a stew-pan: they being blanched, put them on the spit, wrapped in slices of bacon, and paper tied round: take a stew-pan, put into it an onion cut into slices, a carrot cut into small bits, with a little oil, give it some tosses over the fire, then moisten it with gravy, good cullis, and a little essence of ham; put in it the half of a lemon cut in slices, four cloves of garlic, a little basil, thyme, a bay-leaf, a little parsley, green onions, and two glasses of white wine. If you have any carcasses of pheasants, pound them, and put them into this sauce; and if you have none, pound the livers you kept of your pheasants, after you have taken off the gall. When your cullis is well skimmed, let it be of a good taste; now put in your liver pounded, and strain off your cullis. Your pheasants being done, draw them off, take off the slices of bacon, dish them up with your Spanish sauce over them, and serve them up hot for entry. They are also served up cut into pieces. After they are done, cut them, and put them in a stew-pan with your Spanish sauce, and serve them up hot for a small entry, or hors 
The Practical Cook, English and Foreign (1845), by Bregion and Miller.


Quodlibet said...

Janet, I think you might enjoy this article in today's New York Times, about marginalia in cookbooks. Made me think of you.

The Old Foodie said...

Thanks, Quodlibet, this is a lovely article. I love this sort of scribble in old cookbooks - to me, they add value.