The ladies at Lions and Lilies are currently much engaged with the production of a Christmas gift for their loyal readers so would like to thank Sir Justyn for his chivalrous gift of a three part Christmas blog.
Christmas in the modern world is heavily associated with a hearty Christmas meal, shared by family and friends and it was not so different in the middle ages. Advent was a time of fasting – which commenced on the fourth Sunday before Christmas and ended on Christmas day. A great deal of feasting and celebration occurred during this time and realistically only the most devout and self- disciplined worshippers would be able to fast during advent. The rich could actually pay someone in the church to fast on their behalf!
There are some differences in the dishes offered on the medieval menu and the way they were served. Roast meat was common; however, the medieval diet also included such animals as venison, duck, rabbit, pigeon, goose, peacock and even swan.
Christmas Eve was an occasion for a seafood feast and as Advent remained in place until Christmas Day, meat, cheese and milk were forbidden. The seafood feast might include everything from fried, roasted or baked fish with a variety of sauces, as well oysters, mussels, crabs, lobster, clams, and assorted shellfish, all served in an array of manner and form.
Even the lower class made merry with abundant food. Chickens, pork and pigeon were perhaps the most common of meats for the lower classes with boar being the most celebrated. The pig was usually fattened specifically for the event and spit roasted with a marinade or basted in spices and wine. The boars head was dressed and served as an entremets, primarily decorative in purpose, and sometimes a mock boar’s head, made of cake or other such food, was served as a subtlety. Poultry was a main staple of the medieval diet with chicken, duck and goose all present. Delicacies also included birds such as pheasant, quail, pigeon, peacock and swan. Turkey was not available for the simple fact that it was not introduced until the 16th century, from the New World.
Christmas was also a time for drinking – in fact any time was a time for drinking! Wassail (hot mulled cider), piment (sweetened, spiced wines of which included clarrey and hippocras) and caudell –a medieval ancestor of egg nog, were all consumed at Christmas. Of course you would also find such staples as ales, meads and wines that were present all year round.
Many recipes of medieval Christmas food and beverages can still be found today and I highly recommend you to seek them out and try them yourself. A great resource is the Eslite d’ Corps group pages, specifically on EdC Medieval Cooking. Here you can share ideas, experiences and comments regarding anything culinary in the middle ages.
Merry Christmas All from Sir Justyn and his Eslite d’ Corps!
Justin Webb a.k.a. Sir Justyn is a professional medieval performer, educator, medieval combat instructor and author, internationally renowned for public speaking and displays. He has performed, taught and spoken not only in Australia but also in England and France. He is also the leading member of Eslite d’ Corps, a high quality 14thC Living History group. You can learn more about Sir Justyn at www.sirjustyn.com and on his Facebook page.