Sunday, September 16, 2012

Order of foods, 16th and 17th century Dining in Northern Europe

 I thought it would be interesting to discuss, or at least in this case... ramble on, about some of the origins of our present day dining habits. Much of which has a setting back 500 years or so. Here we see an increased interest in breakfast in a somewhat similar way to what we partake in today as well as Dinner and Supper, though many people now prefer a heartier Dinner in the evening with only a small lunch earlier in the day which is most likely reflective of our tendency to work far away from the home. On the other hand, it was not uncommon for labouring folk to partake in a similar style meal, though their late night meal might not be overly hearty either... and then again, sometimes the same can be said true of us.

But... This is not where all the similarity doth lay.

 Looking back at a German styled feast I created for the SCA some years back, I chose to read up on Meisters Eberhard to better arrange, and decide, on my menu. Of course there were outside influence where I let others add dishes to my initial menu, but I still tried to keep it in period order and not too much catering to too many individuals as some period feasts would allow but my budget would not. Anyhow, comparing his reflections on various ancient schools concerning the humours and use of food and comparing that to menus of the time, I could assemble a feast that was both seasonal and ordered. The results was a meal that commenced with salads and soups (one that superficially included an early course fruit) which increasingly moved onto coarser meats and then ended with fruit, dairy and nuts with some spicy sweets.

 This was not an unusual ordering for English cuisine as well and rang true from medieval to modern however it did not happen overnight. When regarding the humours, we have to consider meals cooked with this in mind is going to only really benefit the individual rather than the mass when food choices become too refined.

  Jumping ahead almost 100 years in the same country (England), I can see the same sort of ordering of foods kept quite in-tact. We have bread, wine, salad, some meat, followed by stewed-like meat dishes followed by pies, the roast meats and later sweets and dairy. These are, no doubt, from larger feasts, but the order remains similar, and as mentioned earlier, there is some reasoning to this.

Going back to Eberhard, and his reflections on food, we can find out that:
(digging out old notes that I managed to keep from the above mentioned feast)
-bread should be 1-2 days old, butter could lead to loss of appetite if too much is eaten, this suggests to me that it may be okay to serve early (with caution) but cheese, which raises the appetite may be less harmful but it should not be too old or new. This makes sense, especially as very new cheese would not be so distanced from milk which should always be taken in last.
-Some fruit are actually fine to eat early on, these being things like peaches or apricots, pears (also advisable at the end of meals) or mulberries while some others have use throughout a dinner such as grapes (which I notice shows up with poultry and still does today) and pomegranate (also often showing up in such dishes) while some are to be eaten at the end of a meal such a figs (also considered best with nuts against poisons that harm the body), cherries, plums and quince.
-Nuts are also best eaten at the end of meals, as well as dairy
-Roasts and Fried meats are more difficult to digest while, younger and smaller animals seem to provide the best meat (being easier to digest and be used by the body) and he actually suggests that both should not be eaten at the same meal... of course, we know this advice was either ignored or, at the least, the choices were there at large feasts. Meat and fish, in general, are very nourishing.
-Apparently many grains seem to give gas while vegetables helped with bowel movements (I dare say they may have been onto something with much of this).

and I haven't even touched on the basic hot, dry, moist, chill aspects, just the symptoms and orders which are not tied in the same way. The specific use of these qualities, however, can explain some food combinations in various dishes, some of which we may still be familiar with in their modern concept.

But looking at those few notes, we can see how some items may be limited while other enjoyed more at our re-created feasts. We can also see how our own modern eating habits may have developed if we come from a country that was influenced by this style of eating.

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