In the old City of London, in the Middle Ages, the various trades formed guilds (which became corporations) in order to regulate and protect their respective industries. Each corporations took up the title of ‘Worshipful Company’ and adopted a particular set of insignias or symbolic items of clothing or livery – giving rise to the alternative collective name of ‘Livery Companies.’
The Livery Companies held regular dinners, the most important of which was the annual election dinner, usually held on or near the feast day of the patron saint of the specific company. I have previously given the bills of fare for the Ironmongers’ Feast in 1687, and a dinner of the Worshipful Company ofCarpenters in 1633.
Today it is the turn of the Merchant Taylors [Tailors] Company. A menu for a dinner held by the Company in 1430 is given in Memorials of the Guild of Merchant Taylors of the Fraternity of John the Baptist in the city of London, compiled and selected by the Master of the Company for the Year 1873-4 and published in 1875. Only the first course of what would have been at least two, and possibly three (if the occasion was grand enough) is given in this nineteenth century source. Unfortunately I have been unable to find out any more information about this particular dinner, from the non-primary sources available to me.
Le primer cours.
Brawn oue mustard. [Brawn with mustard]
Blank brewet de rys. [Broth of rice]
Chynes of pork vel hakel beof. [Chines of Pork or ?hashed Beef]
Swan, rosted. [Swan, roasted]
Fesaunt vel capon, rosted. [Pheasant or Capon, roasted]
Checons, bake. [Chickens, baked – i.e. in pies]
Jely vel Penynage. [Jelly or ????]
Venison, rosted. [Venison, roasted]
Partrich vel cok, rosted. [Partridge or Cock, roasted]
Plover, rosted. [Plover, roasted]
Rabettes, soukers. [Rabbits, ‘new-born’ or ‘suckling’?]
Snytes vel quayles. [Snites or Quails]
Fruture goodwyth. [Fritters of some sort]
Quynces, bake. [Baked Quinces]
As you will see from my ‘translation’ of the above menu, the dish of ‘penynage’ – given as an alternative to the ‘jely’, remains a mystery. I do hope one of you with far more knowledge than myself of fifteenth century food, can enlighten us all.
The most interesting dish on the menu to me, is the foetal or newborn rabbits. These were a delicacy at the time, and Rabbetes souker rost appear in the coronation menu of King Richard III in 1483, which I featured in my book Menus from History: Historic Meals and Recipes for Every Day of the Year.
Sadly, I am unable to provide a recipe for newborn rabbits, but I am able to give you one for another of the dishes on this menu. I cannot believe I have not given a recipe for baked quinces (or wardens - a type of pear) in any previous posts - the dish was a staple at fine dinner in the medieval era. At the time, ‘baking’ meant cooking in a thick pastry shell, there being no shaped baking containers such as we take for granted nowadays.
Quyncis or Wardouns in past.
Take & make fayre Rounde cofyns of fayre past; þan take fayre Raw Quynces, & pare hem with a knyf, & take fayre out þe core þer-of; þan take Sugre y-now, & a lytel pouder Gyngere, & stoppe þe hole fulle; & cowche .ij. or .iij. wardonys or quynceȝ in a cofyn, & keuere hem, & lat hem bake; & for defaut of Sugre, take hony; but þen putte pouder Pepir þer-on, & Gyngere, in þe maner be-for sayd.
Two fifteenth-century cookery-books : Harleian MS. 279 (ab 1430), & Harl. MS. 4016 (ab. 1450), with extracts from Ashmole MS. 1439, Laud MS. 553, & Douce MS. 55: Thomas Austin.