Monday, March 14, 2016

A Marriage-feast in Georgia in 1671.

Jean Chardin (Sir John Chardin) was a Huguenot jeweler who moved to England in 1681 to escape the ongoing religious persecution of Protestants in France. During the 1660’s and 1670’s he travelled extensively in Asia, and the first volumes of the narrative of his travels were published in both French and English in 1686.

In 1671 Chardin visited Mingrelia in western Georgia. His account of a marriage feast in that country was repeated over the next several centuries in many books and journals for the general reader. The following comes from Instructive and Entertaining Lessons for Youth (1835) by Noah Webster.


1.The nuptial feast was celebrated upon a terrace of the palace, surrounded with estrades, which are beds of state, about six feet in depth, and elevated about two feet above the floor. The terrace was covered with a large pavilion, fixed upon five pillars, twenty feet high. The lining was of cloth of gold and silver, velvet and painted cloth, so neatly and artificially intermixed, that by the light of the tapers, it appeared like a wainscot of flowers and moresco work.

2.In the midst of this room of state, stood a jet, or fountain of water. The floor was covered with handsome carpets, and forty branches of lights illuminated the room. The four branches which hung nearest the prince, were of gold; the rest were of silver. Each branch supported a bowl of pure tallow, which supplied two matches, which gave a great light.

3.The guests were seated on the estrades. The prince in the center had an estrade somewhat higher than the others, and covered with a canopy. His sons and brothers were on his right hand; the bishops on his left, and the bridegroom was seated between them. The music stood at the lower end.

4.Soon after the guests were seated, the bridegroom was introduced by the patriarch, and was saluted first by the prince's relations, and afterwards by other guests, who successively paid him their compliments. Then some presents were made, consisting of gold, silver, and small cups.

5. After this ceremony, the guests took their seats and were served with supper. Before each one was spread a table-cloth, as large as the estrades; then bread was served of three kinds: one as thin as a wafer; another of the thickness of the finger; and the third was sweetened with sugar.

6.The meat was served in large covered silver dishes, each weighing, with the cover, four or five hundred ounces. These dishes were set upon a table at the entrance of the room; then certain attendants placed them before the carvers, who sent pieces of the meat to each guest in plates, beginning first with the princes.

7. The feast consisted of three courses, each containing sixty of the large dishes. The first course consisted of boiled rice, and meat of three different colors. The yellow, was boiled with sugar, cinnamon and saffron,—the red, with the juice of pomegranates,—but the white, or natural color, was the best.

8.The second course consisted of meats baked, stewed and fricasseed; with a variety of ragouts. The third course consisted of roasted meats. To all which were added, fish, eggs and sallads, for the ecclesiastics. The feast was conducted without the least noise, and with perfect order; every attendant performing his duty without uttering a word.

9.The cupboard contained a hundred and twenty drinking vessels, consisting of bowls, cups, horns, flagons and jugs. Some were of polished gold, others of enameled gold, others of silver, or set with precious stones. The horns were those of the rhinoceros or of deer, elegantly formed and embellished. After the third course, eight bowls were filled, and presented to the four persons nearest to the prince, four on each side. They rose when they drank,— those on the right hand first drank a health, being pledged by those on the left, - then the others on the left, - then the same eight bowls were filled for the next eight guests, and in their order the whole company was served.

The recipe for the day, inspired by the story of the wedding feast, comes from an English publication, The Magazine of Domestic Economy (London, 1837,) and purports to be from Turkey. I have chosen it as it specifically mentions rice (pilau) coloured three different ways.

Constantinople Pilau.
According to the quality and number of the guests take either mutton, fowls, or pigeons; boil them till rather more than half done, then put the meat and broth into a basin. Having washed the pot, melt some butter in it, and when very hot, having cut up the half-cooked meat into bits, the fowls into four, and the pigeons in half, throw them into the butter and fry till of a light brown. The necessary quantity of rice being well washed, is then to be placed over the meat in the pot, and the broth to be poured over the rice till it is covered to a full finger's depth; then cover the pot, and keep a clear fire under it, and, from time to time, take out some grains of rice to ascertain if it softens sufficiently or requires more broth; the rice must remain whole though thoroughly done, as well as the pepper which is used for seasoning. As soon as the rice is done, cover the top of the pot with a cloth five or six times folded, and the cover above it; and in a little time melt some more butter and pour it into holes made for the purpose, with the handle of the spoon; cover it quickly again, and let it simmer till served. It is served in large dishes, with the meat nicely arranged at the top. One may be white of its natural colour, another tinted yellow with saffron, and a third red with pomegranate juice.
Though the meat is fat enough for our stomachs, the Turks add as much as three pounds of butter to six of rice, which makes the pilau disagree with those unaccustomed to it.
Some persons prefer rice simply cooked with salt and water: it is served in many ways among the grandees of the Porte; and instead of meat, an herb, omelette, or nicely poached eggs are placed on the rice: in this manner, it can disagree with none.

Another of Chardin’s tales appeared in a previous post here.

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