Thursday, July 03, 2014

A Warning Before Dinner.

Yesterday I gave you the bill of fare for the wedding feast of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York in 1486, and promised to expand on some of dishes in future posts. Well, the future starts today, so before moving on several centuries and to another continent tomorrow, I will try to unravel the first item – the ‘warner before the course.’

The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘warner’ as ‘one who warns or gives warning to others’ – no surprises there. The OED however gives the first reference to this usage as occurring in 1565 – almost eight decades after Henry’s marriage, so clearly an update needs to be notified. The OED also gives another definition of the word ‘warner’ – ‘a mechanical device for giving warning’, citing the first usage as in 1823. In the context of a grand feast, a ‘warner’ was a ‘subtlety’ which preceded (and thus ‘gave warning’ of) the course. Subtelties were impressive structures that were paraded around the hall at intervals during the feast, and were intended to both entertain and to serve as messages of propaganda, religious devotion, or power. They were often made from both edible and non-edible materials, with moving parts and sometimes provided bursts of flame, fountains of wine, and other spectacular displays. In view of the strong mechanical element, I would suggest that a ‘warner’ at a feast would also fit the OED’s second definition of the word.

The author of the book which provided the bill of fare for Henry’s wedding feast, the Account of London published in 1790, gave a description of a very spectacular warner at the inthronization feast of Archbishop Wareham in 1504:

.. the first course was preceded by “a warner, conveyed upon a rounde boorde of viii panes, with viii towres embatteled and made with flowres, standynge on every towre a bedil in his habite, with his staffe: and in the fame boorde, first the king syttinge in his parliament, with his lordes about hym in their robes and Saint Wylliam, lyke an arcbishop, sytting on the ryght hand of the kyng: then the chaunceler of Oxforde, with other doctors about hym, presented the said lord Wylliam, kneelyng, in a doctor's habite, unto the kyng, with his commend of vertue and cunnynge, &c. &c. And on the third boorde of the fame warner, the Holy Ghoste appeared with bryght beames proceedyng from hym of the gyftes of grace towarde the fayde lorde of the feaste.” This is a specimen, of the antient sotelties. This was a Lenten feast of the most luxurious kind. Many of the sotelties were suited to the occasion, and of the legendary nature others historical; but all, without doubt, contrived "with great cunnynge."

Sadly, I am unable to give you instructions for a warner to construct for your next feast. Instead, here is another recipe from A Noble Boke off Cookry (1500)

To make potage for somer sessone
Tak felettes of pork or of befe well betten in a mortair rawe and in betteinge alay the

fleshe with egges then tak up the fleshe in a faire vesselle and putt ther to pouder of cloves pouder of pepper and salt and coloure it with saffron and mele it well and mak ther of small pilotes and cast them into a pan with watir boiling on the fier and when it is well boiled put them in a faire vesselle then tak almonde mylk mad with brothe of freshe beef and put it in a faire pott putt ther to hole cloves mace pynes raysins of corans gengile mynced then set the pot on the fiere and sturr it welle and put the pilotes in the pot and let them haue one boyle or twaine and colour with cawdelle hewe and salt it and serve it.

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