Since we’ve tackled a roast peacock it makes sense to look at the roasted swan – which like the peacock would often be served in all it’s feathers along with a yellow pepper sauce and a side helping fo food poisoning as the skin, with the feathers attached wasn’t cooked. It appeared on the tables from medieval times and is listed in the accounts of Henry VIII’s and Elizabeth I’s feasts. They have, of course, been royal property since 1482.
Liber Cure Cocorum (or “The Art of Cookery” ) written in 1430 has a recipe for “Chaudron [Entrails] for wild ducks, swans, and pigs.” Please don’t try it at home given that bird flu is on the increase and all the swans belong to the Queen.
Take, wash the entrails of swans anon, And scour the guts with salt each one; Seethe all together and hew it small, The flesh and also the guts withal; Take galingale and good ginger And cinnamon, and grind them all together; And grated bread you take thereto, And mix it up with broth also; Color it with burned bread or with blood, Season it with vinegar, a little for good; Boil all together in a little pot; In service you shall set it forth.
If you must eat swan then could I suggest a meringue swan?
Thursday’s festive drink! Wine thickened with eggs. A medieval eggnog. I don’t think that this would work with red wine purely on the resulting colour!
Caudell. Draw yolkes of eyron thorow a streynour with wyne or with ale, that hit be ryght rennyng; put therto sigure, safron, & no salt. Bet well togedyr; set hit on the fyre on clene colys. Stere welle the bottom & the sydys tyl hit be ynowghe scaldyng hote; thu shalle fele be the staffe when hit begynnys to com. Then take hit of and styre alwey fast, & yf be nede, aley hit up with som of the wyne; or yf hit com to hastyly, put hit in cold watyr to myd syd of the pot, & stere hit alwey fast; & serve hit forth.
– Hieatt, Constance B. An Ordinance of Pottage. An Edition of the Fifteenth Century Culinary Recipes in Yale University’s MS Beinecke 163. London: Prospect Books Ltd, 1988.
Clearly this is a medieval festive food and only for the incredibly important diner. Essentially the bird was baked or even turned into a pie. Then the tail would be reattached – on occasion the whole skin with feathers would be saved and the cooked bird reinserted – it was a statement meal but records suggest it wasn’t always very edible ( Adamson – Food in Medieval Times). And quite frankly draping an uncooked skin over a baked meat sounds like an invitation to the worst kind of food poisoning.
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.
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.