On Friday, Ivan Day gave an amazing presentation, which I was, unfortunately, unable to attend. I was waiting for some detailed information from those who did attend so that I could share them and this afternoon, Elise Fleming (Dame Alys) posted her notes from the lecture.
Ivan Day, noted British food historian, professional chef and confectioner, and fount of much knowledge, gave a lecture for The Ohio University’s Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies in Columbus, Ohio, 4 April 2014. Fourteen members of the Society for Creative Anachronism attended, unfortunately out-numbering the University’s students and staff. SCAdians came from Illinois, Indiana, and Pennsylvania as well as Ohio.
Ivan’s topic was “Flaumpens, Chewitts and Bakemetes”, subtitled “Pastry as a Sculptural Medium in Late Medieval Europe”. These are my brief notes, based on the photos that were used in the presentation.
British food went into a decline at the end of the Edwardian period. Part of the reason was the conscription (and frequently death) of many young men to serve during World War I. Culinary talent was lost along with them. There were a number of food extinctions (like flaumpens, a type of meat pie where the egg-endored crust is folded back in triangles to expose the contents). But, there were also survivals such as chewitts. These continue today as pork pies (see the Wikipedia entry), common in many shops in the UK. Bakemetes was another term for a type of pie, made in a pastry case (coffin), and common throughout Europe in the late Middle Ages. One can find examples in contemporary art. Ivan noted that these were “court dishes”. The recipes would move with a noble bride who made an international marriage.
What went into these pies, he asked? Balls of minced, spiced veal, barberries, grapes… (http://www.historicfood.com/Pie%20recipe2.htm) And he then showed a photo of a lumber (also lumbar) pie which he made using eels. “Court cookery”, Ivan told us, necessitated a high skill level. It was sophisticated cookery, not simple or plain, and definitely was, as he put it, “no bowl of goop!” The presentation of the food picked up the zeitgeist of the time: gothic, baroque or byzantine. Pastry could be formed into geometric shapes with different colors of jellies set in each. A later example can be seen at http://www.historicfood.com/Jellies.htm . (See also http://foodhistorjottings.blogspot.com/search/label/Robert%20May where they are called “cut laid tarts”. An Elizabethan example is in a subsequent photo, called a “strap work tart”.)
Ivan described (and showed examples of) decorated pastry cases. Venison pasties, designed to preserve venison for two to three months, were huge. Since venison doesn’t improve with salting, the meat was placed inside a thick rye flour pastry case and then baked very slowly. The thick pastry prevented bacterial growth as did the clarified butter that covered the venison. These pasties were frequently sent over long distances as gifts to family or to nobility. While not quite the same, examples of a much smaller, decorated meat pie can be seen at http://www.historicfood.com/Edward%20Kidders%20Lamb%20Pasty.htm . The two photos that Ivan showed us are at the top of that link.
We then saw a photo of a series of playing cards which had pastry designs on them. One cookery book informed the reader that templates could be made from the designs in his book and then placed on the pastry so it could be cut to shape. Examples of designs are on some of the pastry cases mentioned earlier, as well as here: http://www.historicfood.com/Setcustards.htm . We saw the photo of the “crown” with the lion (on the left) and were told that pastry forms (such as those on the first photo on the right) were filled with custards or with jellies. (An example of enlarging and using a cookery book design for a template is at https://www.flickr.com/photos/8311418@N08/3552826878/in/set-72157618506182935 .
Using royal menus from Queen Victoria’s reign, Ivan pointed out that while the main courses were “modern”, the foods on the sideboard consisted of medieval dishes that hadn’t disappeared: brawn, baron of beef, and Christmas pie were three that I jotted down. Ivan showed an ingredient list from 1763 for a huge Christmas pie which weighed 22 stone (308 lbs!). There were too many animals and birds to jot down! Hannah Glasse (“The Art of Cookery”) has the earliest known printed recipe for a Christmas pie although “Grete Pyes” are included in “Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery Books” and a 1394 manuscript in the archive of the Worshipful Company of Salters in London which Ivan showed in a photo.
Ivan showed some pages from a book by Conrad Hagger (1719, Augsburg) which depict birds made of pastry. The shapes are augmented by armatures which are inside. We can learn a lot, he informed us, by using later recipes and working backwards. Later recipes often include “secrets” and hints on how to make a particular dish that aren’t in the earlier versions. A photo from Hagger’s book can be found at https://www.flickr.com/photos/8311418@N08/3552815152/in/set-72157618506182935 .
We then heard about several “trick” dishes, three of which are described in Robert May’s cookery book, “The Accomplisht Cook” (“Triumphs and Trophies in Cookery”): a ship with cannons that fired, a bleeding stag, a castle with guns that fired, frogs that escaped from a pie. The earliest account of a pie with live birds that were set free when the pie was opened is in the 1475 Vatican Library account of the wedding banquet of Costanzo Sforza and Camilla Marzano d’Aragona.
Ivan showed us a brief video of a German “nef” in the shape of a ship which actually moved across the table, musicians playing, and cannon shooting at the end. However, I cannot find the link to the video that appeared online a while ago which shows the ship in action.
Ivan spent a little time showing sugar “trionfi” from the Sforza wedding: a depiction of Mt. Helicon; a sugar pail filled with sugar coins, one side having the bride’s emblem and the other side the groom’s emblem. A full account, with contemporary drawings of the sugar items, is in “A Renaissance Wedding” by Jane Bridgeman, a somewhat pricey book.
While we have heard that it was only the confectioners who made the sweets, Ivan has found a wage bill for cooks who made marchpanes during Henry VIII’s time, so perhaps some of the confectionery work was also done in the regular kitchens. Ivan has also found records of 300+ molds for making decorative pastry. These appear in the wills of the time as part of the inventory of the deceased’s possessions.
By this point, the primary talk was finished, but Ivan asked if he could continue and we certainly didn’t object! Among the snippets were these:
• Information that a contemporary of Hanna Glasse was Ann Cook, who was an actual cook as opposed to Hannah, who wasn’t.
• Martha Washington’s cookery book which was said to date from later in the 1600s, actually has recipes from the 1608 edition of “Closet for Ladies and Gentlewomen” which Johnna Holloway edited in 2010.
• “The Accomplish’t Ladies Delight” was probably a publisher’s compilation, not something done by Hannah Wooley.
• John Murrell’s “New Book of Cookery” is commonly said to be from 1618. Ivan has a copy from 1615 and EEBO’s copy is also 1615, which pushes the date earlier than 1618.
Reluctantly, we let Ivan stop. Everyone departed to the dessert table, to chat with SCA folk, and to corral Ivan for personal questions.