In the sixteenth century the Sheriffs of the English city of Chester took part in a competitive event on Easter Monday, after which they enjoyed a special breakfast. The proceedings of the day were noted by Edmund Burke in the Annual Register, (Volume 52, 1825), in the chapter on Antiquities.
The Sheriffes' Breakfaste.
"There is an anchant custome in this cittie of Chester, the memory of man now livinge not knowinge the original,* that upon Mondaye in Easter weeke, yearely, comonly called Black Mondaye** the two sheriffes of the cittie doe shoote for a breakfaste of calves heades and bacon, comonly called the sheriffes' breakfaste***the manner beinge thus: the daye before, the drum sowndeth through the cittie with a proclamation for all gentelmen, yeomen, and good fellowes, that will come with their bowes and arrowes to take parte with one sherriff or the other, and upon Monday-morning, or on the Rode-dee, the mayor, shreeves, aldermen, and any other gentlemen, that wol be there, the one sherife chosingone, and the other sherife chosing another, and soe of the archers; then one sherife shoteth and the other sherif he shoteth to shode him, beinge at length some twelve score: soe all the archers on one side to shode until it be shode, and so till three shutes be wonne, and then all the winers’ side goe up together firste with arrowes in their hands, and all the loosers with bowes in their hands together, to the common-hall of the cittie, where the mayor aldermen and gentelmen, and the reste take part in lovynge manner; this is yearly done, it being a commendable exercise, a good recreation and a loving assemblye.”
*By some MS. Annals, quoted in another part of Archdeacon Rogers’s book it appears to have been begun in 1511.
**So called from remarkably dark and inclement weather, which happened on an Easter Monday, when King Edward the Third lay with his army before Paris, and proved fatal to many of his troops. See How's Chronicle.
** *In the year 1640, the sheriffs gave a piece of plate to be run for, instead of the calves-head breakfast. In 1674, a resolution was entered in the corporation Journals, that the calves-head feast was held by ancient custom and usage, and was not to be at the pleasure of the sheriffs and leave-lookers. In the month of March 1676-7, the sheriffs and leave-lookers were fined 10/- for not keeping the calves-head feast. The sheriffs of late years have given an annual dinner, but not any fixed day.
Robert May’s Accomplisht Cook (1660) contains a number of recipes for Calves Head in the section on The A-la-mode ways of dressing the Heads of any Beasts. I give you my two favourites:
First scald it and bone it, then steep it in fair water the space of six hour, dry it with a clean cloth, and season it with some salt and bruised garlick (or none) then roul it up in a collar, bind it close, and boil it in white wine, water, and salt; being boil’d keep it in that souce drink, and serve it in the collar, or slice it, and serve it with oyl, vinegar, and pepper. This dish is very rare, and to a good judgment scarce discernable.
To roast a Calves Head with Oysters.
Split the head as to boil, and take out the brains washing them very well with the head, cut out the tongue, boil it a little, and blanch it, let the brains be parbol’d as well as tongue, then mince the brains and tongue, a little sage, oysters, beef-suet, very small; being finely minced, mix them together with three or four yolks of eggs, beaten ginger, pepper, nutmegs, grated bread, salt, and a little sack, if the brains and eggs make it not moist enough.
This being done parboil the calves head a little in fair water, then take it up and dry it well in a cloth filling the holes where the brains and tongue lay with this farsing or pudding; bind it up close together, and spit it, then stuff it with oysters being first parboil’d in their own liquor, put them into a dish with minced tyme, parsley, mace, nutmeg, and pepper beaten very small; mix all these with a little vinegar, and the white of an egg, roul the oysters in it, and make little holes in the head, stuff it as full as you can, put the oysters but half way in, and scuer in them with sprigs of tyme, roast it and set the dish under it to save the gravy, wherein let there be oysters, sweet herbs minced, a little white-wine and slic’t nutmeg.
When the head is roasted set the dish wherein the sauce is on the coals to stew a little, then put in a piece of butter, the juyce of an orange, and salt, beating it up together: dish the head, and put the sauce to it, and serve it up hot to the table.
[For an eighteenth century recipe for Calves Head Pye, go to a previous post, here.)