Day 4: Throughout the medieval period the boar’s head was regarded as a key part of the Christmas festivities – unfortunately by the time of Henry VIII there weren’t any left so Henry was reduced to wild boar pate sent as a gift by the king of France.
The Boar’s Head Carol dates back to the fifteenth century and references the “rarest dish all the land.” The actual serving of pigs at this time of year dates back much earlier to Neolithic times. Archeologists at Durrington Walls have discovered pits of pig bones that tell a story of midwinter feasting. The Anglo-Saxons referred to November as “blood month” because animals that couldn’t be kept over winter were slaughtered and many medieval books of hours depict November with a pig about to meet his end. Even the Vikings get in on the pig eating act with sagas recounting feasting upon wild boar.
Elizabeth Ayrton’s Cookery of England (1975) provides a recipe for the boar’s head, her recipe substitutes a pig’s head with that of a boar (incidentally can you still by such things?) https://app.ckbk.com/recipe/cook61886c03s001ss006r001/boars-head
In wealthy medieval households the boar required much preparation. The head itself was stuffed with forcemeat and often gilded and decorated – it’s tusks may have been retained to make it look more lifelike and it might be given eyes created from sugar paste. It was carried to the table amidst much fanfare.
These days there are once again wild boar in England – follow the link for more information. I think I’ll stick to pigs in blankets and sausage rolls though.
A rendition of the Boar’s Head Carol can be found here:
Cooking and Dining in Medieval England by Peter Brears. 167-171.