The content and ceremonial aspects of royal meals are always fascinating, are they not? Today we have a story from Paul Hentzner, a German visitor to England in 1598, who described dinner for Queen Elizabeth at Greenwich Palace during his stay:
But while she was still at prayers, we saw her table set out with the following solemnity:
A gentleman entered the room bearing a rod, and along with him another who had a table-cloth, which, after they had both kneeled three times with the utmost veneration, he spread upon the table, and after kneeling again, they both retired. Then came two others, one with the rod again, the other with a salt-seller, a plate and bread; when they had kneeled, as the others had done, and placed what was brought upon the table, they too retired with the same ceremonies performed by the first. At last came an unmarried lady (we were told she was a countess) and along with her a married one, bearing a tasting-knife; the former was dressed in white silk, who, when she had prostrated herself three times in the most graceful manner, approached the table, and rubbed the plates with bread and salt, with as much awe, as if the queen had been present: when they had waited there a little while, the yeomen of the guards entered, bareheaded, clothed in scarlet, with a golden rose upon their backs, bringing in at each turn a course of twenty-four dishes, served in plate, most of it gilt; these dishes were received by a gentleman in the same order they were brought, and placed upon the table, while the lady-taster gave to each of the guard a mouthful to eat, of the particular dish he had brought for fear of any poison. During the time that this guard, which consists of the tallest and stoutest men that can be found in all England, being carefully selected for this service, were bringing dinner, twelve trumpets and two kettle-drums made the hall ring for half an hour together. At the end of all this ceremonial a number of unmarried ladies appeared, who, with particular solemnity, lifted the meat off the table, and conveyed it into the queen’s inner and more private chamber, where, after she had chosen for herself, the rest goes to the ladies of the court.
The queen dines and sups alone with very few attendants; and it is very seldom that any body, foreigner or native, is admitted at that time, and then only at the intercession of somebody in power.
Today’s recipe is, of course, from the sixteenth century, and it is for Baked Oranges. This would have been an expensive dish at the time – oranges and sugar being imported from warmer foreign climes. They sound absolutely wonderful – they are individual pies made to look like oranges. Each is a hand-raised “coffin” made with a hot-water crust pastry spiced and coloured with saffron (or an alternative egg-pastry), and filled with candied orange, flavoured with cinnamon and ginger.
To Bake Orenges.
First take twelve Orenges, and pare away the yellow rinde of them, cut in two peeces, and wring out the iuyce [juice] of them, then lay your pilles [peels] in faire water, and when it is boyling hot, put your Orenges therin, let them seeth therin until the water be bitter. Then have another potte of water readie upon the fyre, and when it dooth seeth, put your Orenge pilles therin, and let them seeth again in the same water until they be very tender; then take your Orenges out of the pot, and but them in a bason of fayre cold water, and with your thombe take out the core of your Orenges and wash them cleane in the same water, and lay them in a faire platter, so that the water may run from them: then take a quart of Bastard, claret wine, or white wine, if you take a quart of bastard, put thereto a quatern of sugar: if you take claret or white wine, ye must take to everie pint a quaterne of Sugar, and set it to the fire in a faire pot: then put your Orenges therein, and seeth them till the liquor come to a sirrop: when it is come to a sirrop, take a fair earthen pot, and put your Orenges and sirrop all together, so that your Orenges may be covered with your sirrop, if you lack sirrop you must take a pint of Claret wine, and a quaterne of Sugar, and make thereof fine sirrop, and put it into your Orenges, and stoppe your pot close, and after this maner you may keep them two moneths, and when you will bake them, take an ounce of Synamon, and half an ounce of ginger, and beat them small, then take two pounds of sugar, and beat it in like maner. Then put your sugar, Sinamon and Ginger in a faire platter and mingle them together. Then take four handful of fine flower [flour], and lay it upon a faire board, and make a hole in the midst of the flower with your hand: then take a pinte of fair water, and eight spoonfuls of Oyl, and a little saffron, and theth them seeth altogether, and when it seeths, put in it in the hole in the midst of the flowere, and knead your paste therwith: then make little round coffins of the bignesse of an orange, and when they be made, put a little sugar in the bottom of them: then take your Orenge pilles and fill them full of sugar and spices afore rehearsed, and put them into your coffins ful of the same sugar and spices: when the spices be in them, close them up, and set them upon papers, and bake them in an oven or baking pan, but your Oven must not be too hot if your coffins be dry after baking, you may make a little hole with the point of a knife upon the cover of them, and with a spoone put a little of the sirrop to them, at another season you must make your paste with foure handfuls of fine flower, and twelve yolks of egs, and a little saffron, make your paste therewith.