Guest Author - Elizabeth Bissette
Because the Feast of Advent, (the days in December leading up to Christmas), forbade meat, chicken, milk and cheese, Christmas Eve dinner in the Middle Ages focused on an abundance of seafood dishes. These were generally more unusual than those for ordinary dinners. The feast of Christmas then continued until Epiphany or "Twelfth Day".
Emphasis was placed on friendship and generosity at meals, with everyone getting together for large meals. Sweets were also a huge feature of the Christmas table and Plum Pudding & Mincemeat Pie, almonds and rasins were other common holiday foods at the time, as were breads, cheese, ale, & wine. For meat, venison, duck, hen, and an enormous range of fowl & poultry were served with a variety of sauces, as were beef, pork, & rabbit. A Boar's Head, real or made of cake, was also always a part of the Christmas table.
The ancient tradition of the Bean King or Mock King continued in Medevil times. A ring, coin and/or bean were baked in the cake, often shaped like a crown. Whoever found the bean in their portion was proclaimed the Bean King, and was a comical ruler of the Christmas celebration. Finding a ring meant marriage in the next year, a coin, wealth.
Another ancient myth that carried over was the barnacle goose. Tales of a tree of barnacles that bloomed into geese remained popular through the 18th century. It was even accepted by some herbalists. For example, John Gerard in his Herball, or Generall Historie of Plantes, published in 1597, writes: "...there is a small llande in Lancashire called the Pile of Foulders...whereon is found a certaine spume or froth, that in time breedeth unto certaine shels." These he said opened to show: "the legs of the Birde hanging out...til at length it is all come foorth." It was said that the bird hung there until fully grown then dropped into the sea: "where it gathereth feathers, and groweth to a foule, bigger than a Mallard, and lesser than a Goose."
Homes had been decorated with greenery since the Saturnalia. The practice is described in London as early as the 12th century. The tradition of singing carols was also observed at Christmas dinner. Often paid carolers and minstrels were hired and the entertainment included masqued performances and mummery.
Some Medieval Recipes for Christmas
Easier than modern recipes, this type allows children to mold their own shapes with it. Traditionally, pieces were decorated with non-poisonous leaves (try rose-leaves) pinned down with cloves.
1 lb. Honey
Up to a pound of bread crumbs, white or wheat (unseasoned and finely ground, stale or toasted)
1 tbsp. each ginger and cinnamon
1/2 tsp. white pepper
pinch saffron and few drops red food coloring
Bring honey to a boil, skimming off scum. Keep pan over very low heat, add the spices and food coloring. Slowly beat in bread crumbs to form a stiff, well-blended mass. Remove from the heat and turn onto lightly greased baking sheet or shallow pan. Spread evenly with a rolling pin. Turn the pan over onto wax or parchment paper, & tap until gingerbread falls from the pan. Turn over again and shape.
Cherry Cheese Torte
3 1/2 c ricotta
1/4 c grated parmesan
1/4 c sugar
1 1/2 eggs
1 Tbs. minced, crystallized ginger
1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. white pepper
1/2 lb can of dark sweet pitted cherries, drained
Beat ricotta, parmesan and sugar. Beat in eggs one at a time. Stir in spices and cherries. Put half into pie crust. Bake at 350° F 50 minutes or until set. Let cool and refrigerate.
2 envelopes active dry yeast
1/2 c granulated sugar
1/4 pd (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1/2 c warm milk
5 large egg yolks, room temperature
4 1/2 c all-purpose flour
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1 tsp. grated lemon peel
1 tsp. vegetable oil
1 pound cream cheese, room temperature
4 c confectioner's sugar
1 bean, 1 ring, 1 coin
5 tbsp. milk, room temperature
3 tbsp. lemon juice
Purple, green andd gold or yellow srinkles
Combine yeast and granulated sugar in bowl of mixer. Add melted butter and warm milk. Beat at low speed 1 min. With the mixer running, add egg yolks, then beat for 1 minute at medium-low. Add flour, salt, nutmeg, and lemon peel, beat until well mixed. Increase speed to high and beat until the dough pulls away from sides of the bowl & forms a ball. Remove dough, form into smooth ball. Lightly oil a bowl with vegetable oil. Place dough in the bowl and turn to oil all sides. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm, draft-free place until doubled, (about 2 hours).
Make filling: combine the cream cheese and 1 c confectioner's sugar. Blend. Set aside.Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Turn dough out onto a lightly floured board, pat into rectangle about 30 in. long and 6 in. wide.
Spread filling over the bottom half of the dough, flip the top half of the dough over the filling. Seal the edges, pinching together. Shape into a cylinder and place on prepared baking sheet seam side down. Shape into a ring and pinch the ends together so there isn't a seam. Insert objects into the ring from the bottom so they're completely hidden.
Cover and place in a warm, draft-free place. Let rise until doubled in size, about 45 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Brush top with 2 tablespoons of milk. Bake until golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove and let cool completely.
Make icing by combining remaining 3 tablespoons milk, lemon juice, and 3 c confectioner's sugar. Stir to blend well. With a rubber spatula, spread evenly over the top of the cake. Add sprinkles, alternating colors around the cake.
Traditionally cut into 2-inch-thick slices with all guests present.
3 1/4 lbs. plums
4 c white or red wine (depending on plums)
2 Tbs. honey
Black and white pepper, cinnamon and cloves to taste
1 Tbs. anise seeds
Wash & pit plums. Bring wine to boil, add plums and simmer 5 min. Drain, reserving wine. Puree plums into heavy saucepan. Put over low heat, stir in honey. Stir in a little cooking liquid. Add salt and spices. Cook over low heat approx. 10 min. until thickened. Stir in anise seeds.
Stuffed Dates in Honey
4 lbs. dates, pitted
2 cups blanched almonds
2 cups honey
Stuff each date with 1 almond. Sprinkle with salt. Place in a baking pan, cover with honey and bake at 325° F 15 minutes, stirring once halfway through. Sit unti cool. Remove from honey before serving.
Pears in Wine
2 c. red wine
2 Tbs. cinnamon
1 Tbs. sugar
1/2 c. sliced dates
4-6 pears, peeled, cored, and sliced thin
drop or two of red food coloring
Boil the pears until they are tender but not too soft, (if they're already soft, skip this step); drain. In a separate pan heat wine, cinnamon, and sugar. When hot, add dates, pears, salt, and food coloring. Bring to a boil, allow to cook for several minutes. Allow to cool a little slightly before serving.
or Pears in Honey Wine
3 lbs. pears, peeled, cored, & sliced
1/3 c. honey
1/3 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. of ginger, cinnamon & nutmeg
1 tsp. cardamom
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. anise seed, crushed, mixed with 1/4 tsp. sugar
few threads saffron or yellow food coloring
few drops red food coloring
1/2 c. red wine
1 tbs. cider vinegar
cinnamon sticks to garnish
Boil pears until just tender (if already soft skip this step); drain and set aside. Add a teaspoon or so of water to the anise/sugar to make a thin sauce. Bring honey to a low boil; remove scum as it rises. Add sugar, spices, anise sauce, & food coloring(s) and continue cooking until sugar is dissolved. Gently stir in pears, wine & vinegar. Cook until warm, remove from heat. Serve hot or cold with cinnamon on top.
(Yellow & red cakes with wine sauce)
4 1/2 c flour
2 c sugar
1/2 c (or more) cold water
few drops yellow food-coloring
1/4 tsp. salt
1 bottle sweet red wine
1 1/2 c honey
1/2 c red wine vinegar
few drops red food coloring
1 tsp. ea. pepper, cloves, & mace
1/2 c ea. chopped dates, currants, & slivered almonds
1 c figs, diced
Simmer figs in a little wine; set aside. Bring remaining wine & honey to a boil; reduce heat, skim off scum until clean. Add vinegar, red coloring, pepper, cloves, mace, fruits, figs, & nuts, return to a boil, reduce heat to a low simmer.
In a separate bowl, mix flour, sugar, & salt. Dye water yellow, slowly work enough water into flour to make smooth dough. Roll out on floured board, cut in strips about 1 in. wide and 4 in. long.
Fry strips in oil in a deep skillet until lightly browned and & crisp. Drain. Place the cakes on a serving platter, spoon on fruits & nuts with lots of syrup.
13 apples, peeled, quartered, and sliced
4 1/2 oz. margarine
3/4 c brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
3/4 c orange juice
1 1/2 Tbs. orange rind
3/4 c brandy
walnuts for garnish
Sauté apples in butter until soft. Add brown sugar and cinnamon. Cook until sugar is dissolved; add orange juice, rind, and brandy. Cook until sauce thickens; decorate with walnuts.
Honey Fig Pies
Pastry shell or dough
1 tsp. each of black pepper, white pepper, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves
Dice figs as small as possible. Mix in saffron and spices to taste. Form pastry into medium sized circles and spoon mixture into the center of them. Cover with one another and seal edges. Fry in oil until lightly brown & crispy, drain. Heat honey and skim off scum. Brush on pies after they're drained. Serve hot or cold.
2 pounds lean stew beef
1-1/2 c shortening or bacon greese
4 c apples, peeled, cored, and chopped
2-1/2 c raisins
1-1/2 c currants, chopped
2-1/2 c sugar
3 c pie cherries
1-1/2 pints strong cold coffee
1 pint cider
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg
6 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cloves
1 Tbsp. mace
1 Tbsp. allspice
Cook meat until tender. In large pan, add all ingredients except meat and simmer for 30 minutes. Add meat and stir well.
Place in pie shell and top with cooked chicken pieces or pastry crust. Bake at 350° for 45 minutes-1 hr, or until the pastry is golden brown and the filling set. Serve hot or cold.
(Pork & Cheese Pie Crown)
1 & 1/2 lbs. pork roast, boiled and diced small
1 & 1/2 cup shredded white cheese
sugar to taste - (up to 1/4 cup)
1 & 1/2 Tbs. ginger
1 tsp. ea. cinnamon & cloves
pastry dough for a 9-inch pie shell, with extra for points
2 Tbs. oil (for frying)
Pre-bake pie shell. Mix pork with cheese, sugar, and spices. Taste and adjust seasonings. Add broth from boiling to moisten, then place in pie shell. Roll out the extra and cut into small pointy triangles. Fry these in oil until lightly browned on both sides. Drain. Decorate the pie with the triangles by placing their bases well into the filling, with the points upwards. Bake at 375° 45 minutes, or until filling has set. Serve hot.
Beaten egg yolks
Boiled & minced veal & pork
Minced dates & currants
Salt cinnamon, pepper, clove, mace, cardamom, ginger to taste
Mix flour and egg yolks for pastry dough. Combine veal, pork, egg yolks, dates, currants, sugar , salt, & spices into soft, thick, moist mixture. Make a thick batter of egg yolks and flour. Roll out pastry & cut it into medium-sized circles.
Take a circle of pastry, and fold it in half, with the middle of the fold on top; then, fold back the round edges up to the middle of the fold forming a small pocke at the end opposite the folded middle. This is the bottom of the hat.
Seal the edges well, gluing with egg. Stuff the cavity the meat mixture, then cover the entire bottom of the hat with batter, sealing the meat in completely.
Set the hat bottom down in hot oil, cooking until the batter is done and the filling is completely sealed within, then cook the entire pastry in the oil until done. It will become puffy and will lightly brown. Remove from oil, drain and serve.
Decorate with a feather for a Robin-Hood look.
Beef Ribs in Wine
4 lbs. beef ribs
1/4 c fresh parsley, chopped
1 large onion, minced
1 c currants
1/2 Tbs. each pepper, cinnamon, & cloves (or use to taste)
1/2 Tbs. red food coloring
few threads saffron
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 liters red wine
3/4 c red wine vinegar
Roast beef until done; place in a large baking pan. In a separate pot, combine all the other ingredients. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook until currants are plump and soft and the onion is cooked. Pour over beef; cover baking pan with foil and cook at 400° for ˝ hour-45 minutes. Remove, place on a serving platter and spoon on currants, onions, & syrup.
Green and Gold Chicken and "Eggs"
1 lb. mixture of lamb, veal, and chicken dark-meat, cooked and diced
6 eggs, beaten
˝ c cooked chestnuts (whole or ground)
1 c mozzarella or brie, diced or shredded
˝ - 1 tsp. each: black & white pepper, savory, cumin to taste
few thread saffron (or few drops yellow food coloring)
˝ tsp. salt (or to taste)
2 egg yolks
few drops yellow & green food coloring
unseasoned bread crumbs
Combine all ingredients except chicken in a large bowl; mix well. Stuff the chicken with this mixture, reserving leftover stuffing. Rub olive oil over the entire bird, then lay belly-down on foil on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt & pepper. Bake at 350° until the skin begins to turn golden. Do not let fall apart. Remove from oven and immediately brush the entire bird with egg yolk which has been dyed either gold or green, or use a combination of colors in any whimsical manner. Return to the oven for a few seconds, to set glaze - don't overheat. Garnish with "eggs" made from the leftover stuffing.
To make the "eggs," take the remainder of the stuffing and mold it into small, egg-shaped balls, adding breadcrumbs to stiffen. Place on a well greased baking sheet and bake at 350° for ˝ hour, or until done. Brush with with colored yolk, with a quick return to the oven to set the glaze.
Goose stuffed with eggs, onion and grapes
(Serve on a platter surrounded with shellfish for Barnacle Goose)
2 dz. hard boiled egg yolks, chopped
2 lbs. seedless grapes
4 bunches fresh parsley, chopped
3-4 large onions, chopped
1 Tbs. each ginger, pepper, cinnamon, & salt
1 stick butter
Sauté onions and parsley together in butter until onion softens. Mix grapes, egg yolks, and spices; add the butter, onions, & parsley. Mix well. Stuff the goose and place in a roasting pan. Rub a little oil into the skin, sprinkle with salt & pepper, roast at 400° 2-3 hours, until tender and deep golden brown.
Baked Stuffed Mushrooms
1 lb. mushrooms with caps
1/2 to 1 stick melted butter
1 c bread crumbs
fresh chopped parsley
1 Tbs. oil
1 crushed garlic clove
1/2 c grated parmesan cheese
1/2 c white wine
1 minced medium onion
Remove mushroom stems and chop. Place caps on buttered baking sheet and set aside. Sauté chopped stems, onions, and garlic in oil. Mix other dry ingredients. Add to melted butter and wine in a sauce pan and stir. Mold a small amount on the cap of each. Bake 20 minutes at 350 F.
3 Tbs. butter
2 onions, thinly sliced
2 carrots, diced
1 cinnamon stick
2 lbs. chestnuts, peeled
6 c chicken stock
1/8 tsp. mace
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
salt & pepper to taste
1 c heavy cream
Melt butter. Add onion, carrot, & cinnamon stick. Cover and cook until vegetables are browned. Stir frequently near end to prevent burning. Remove cinnamon stick. Blend in chestnuts and stock. Cook until chestnuts are tender, 15-20 minutes. Puree in blender. Return puree to pot. Add seasonings and whisk in the cream. Keep warm but do not boil.
1 lb mixed olives (Kalamata, Alfonsio, Green and and/or Oil Cured Black Olives)
1 TBS balsamic vinegar
1 TBS extra virgin olive oil
Pinch of red pepper flakes
2 sprigs rosemary
Sprig of thyme
Slice open olives. Mix all other ingredients. Mix olives and marinade and refrigerate for one week, shaking mixture once a day.
1 lb. peas
2 oz. butter
1 Tbs. chopped fresh mint
1 tsp. sugar
freshly ground pepper
Cook the peas in a little boiling salted water 2-5 minutes until tender. Drain and set aside. (For frozen peas, follow directions on pkg.)
Heat butter and add peas, mint, and sugar. Toss and cook on low heat 2 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve.
1 1/4 lbs carrots
1/8 tsp salt
2 1/2 tbsp butter
1/4 c wine
1 tbsp currants
2 tsp brown sugar
1/8 tsp cinnamon
1 oz. dates.
Boil carrots in water with salt 10 minutes, drain and mash. Stir in all remaining ingredients. Simmer over low heat until hot.
1 1/2 lbs potatoes
1/4 lb onions
3 Tbs milk
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp olive oil
1/2 tsp pepper
Boil unpeeled potatoes for 15 minutes. Peel & allow to cool. Shred. Chop onions finely and saute in oil until translucent. Mix onions, potato shreds, salt and pepper. Form cakes about 1 in. thick and place in greased baking pan. Sprinkle evenly with milk. Bake at 425° F 1 hour.