Friday, November 25, 2011

Medieval Feast Rhetoric History Presentation

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Presenting Anna of Byzantium (my daughter), John, the longbowman from the Battle of Crecy (my son) and Mary of Burgundy (me). My gown was fitted extremely tightly, as I read a 15th century Burgundian could be. I could not move my arms very high, so I needed help getting my hat on. I do not have a lady-in-waiting but I do have men-in-waiting. Their attempts to put my hat properly upon my head were not successful. I had a horrible time trying to tell them how to put my hat on, because I had absolutely no trouble putting it on my head the other night when I finished sewing it. The guys were insistent that their plan would work, except that they each had different plans and they were not working with one accord. With their numerous attemtps, the hat would not stay on my head. Instead it would l-e-a-n on one side, nearly taking me down with it (remember I only have one balance nerve). Then they started to
arguediscuss with each other the proper solution to making the hat stay on. Helplessly I stood at their mercy, as my husband insisted on "this" method and my son insisted on "that" method. Meanwhile my hair, which I had put up in a french braid, started to tumble down upon my shoulders. Oh, the guys had solutions for that too! Finally they managed to improperly set it upon my head. (The hat should be at a greater angle, which I was able to make happen without any trouble the other night.) I stood oh so still, trying not to breathe, lest it should topple over, taking more of me down with it. I would never have made this hat (a henin) except it was infamous for being paired with a burgundian. My character, Mary of Burgundy, was the richest lady in late 15th century Europe. All the men wanted to marry her. She was the sole heir to the Burgundian lands. There is a famous painting of her, Mary's Book of Hours, in which she is wearing the most complicated of the Burgundian gowns. Ah, yes, she surely had many ladies-in-waiting. As the guys
foughtstruggled with their individually perfect solution to fix my hat, I threatened them with a blog post but they laughed. Honestly, two diametrically opposed forces were in operation around my head! Definitely a heady experience! As I stood there, allowing my hair style to be vastly succombed to a manly barrage of barettes and bobby pins, I grew hotter and hotter (it was an unseasonal warm day in Virginia) I begged for air-conditioning. Finally they had success, we posed...and the hat teetered again. I told my son to just make a comedy picture and we'd pose with him holding my hat in place. Oh no, that would not do for Mr. Fledgling Period Accuracy (see what happens with my taking the kids to Colonial Williamsburg all the time???) Finally the hat perched for a few nano-minutes and pictures were conquered. (Query-Who forgot to take my daughter's sneakers out of the photo view??? fyi-That's not period accurate.)

After that Kodak moment, I
demandedasked for help taking the Burgundian off. That was an experience too but I finally emerged from my chrysalis. Meanwhile I gave a mini-history lesson on the Burgundian. The hennin was only worn by the upper class, because it was impossible for work to be done while wearing them. (I think I proved that quite well. Bravo for me.) The gowns were lined with fur, to keep a lady warm in those drafty castles...though mine was roasty toasty...atypical for Virginia this time of year. (That took on new meaning when I watched "Joan of Arc" last week. You could see everyone's breath even when they were inside the castles.) Underneath this a kirtle would be worn. Most of us are familiar with this medieval garment, which could be worn alone with a belt, called a girdle, or under a Burgundian gown. In the Rodgers and Hammerstein "Cinderella" movie the other night, the queen wore a kirtle with a girdle (now I feel like Dr. Seuss). When you see pictures of Maid Marion, she is more than likely wearing a kirtle. I made my kirtle with detachable sleeves, because there was no way I could wear the sleeves under the gown. After being fiddled with for so long and roasting on this very warm day, I forgot all about attaching them. Now I was Joan of Arc.
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My daughter was Anna, whose father was ruler of Byzantium in the 11th century. During the first Crusade, she met many knights who came through on their travels. As a result, she wrote a history book of the First Crusade. The Byzantium culture was a blend of east and west (Rome). The garments were Roman in form (tunic and toga) but the materials and decoration were Eastern.

My son was a longbowman from the Battle of Crecy, in the early 14th century. He is wearing a gambeson, a quilted jacket that was worn under chain mail, to help protect him from the blows of swords. He wears a bracer on his left arm (not sure of the name) to hold back the fabric so that it won't get in the way when he shoots the arrows.

Let the Feast begin!! (By the time we began, the sun was setting, so I never got the lovely full shot showcasing the feast and lit "stained glass as I had wished. I had planned an earlier feast with a 12 pound turkey, but the guys insisted on a 20 pounder, that despite several days of thawing in the fridge, I spent most of the morning trying to dig out ice and giblets from the cavity. You know, they only recommend 1 pound of turkey per person. I have hungry guys! It's to help them maintain their energy levels, since they are my men-in-waiting.)
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My son played the Surveyor, blowing the trumpet, then announcing each of us as we took our seats. (That boy loves to make noise and he was in his element.) My husband was introduced as Sir Galahad. We had to explain to him who that was. We told him he was on the search for the holy grail. He had no idea what that was so we told him. He had no idea where that was. Now he's getting into character!
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Then he blew the trumpet to announce that Lady Anna would give us the history of Thanksgiving (in Medieval context).

After the Surveyor announced the prayer, my husband said a prayer of Thanksgiving.

Yet again the Surveyor blew the trumpet, to announce that Lady Anna would remind us of proper ettiquette from the Babees' book.
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Then we had the Wassail ceremony. (Lots of info here at the Colonial Williamsburg website.)
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Next came the presentation of the salt.
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Then the Upper Crust Ceremony where Lady Anna presented the bread to me. I cut it in half and offered the upper crust to our most important and distinguished guest, Sir Galahad. He said to send the salt shaker to his side of the table too because he was important!
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Then we had the laver ceremony, where we washed our hands in water full of herbs and spices.
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Then we had the presentation of the food! After each presentation we clapped! Feasting was more about fanfare and presentation and eating was secondary. Food items were presented in quite a fanciful manner and I did the best I could to try to accomplish this.

Presenting Roasted Peacock a l'Orange...
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Our feast was actually our Thanksgiving dinner. I compromised a lot in blending the two. There were no turkeys in Europe in the Middle Ages. Instead they might eat peacock. (I disguised our turkey to look like a peacock, because medieval cooks liked to make their cooked meats look like their original condition.)

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Please forgive my feeble attempts at French. I don't know much French but an item or two had a French name and I wanted to disguise modern food names, so one late night when I was tired, I went sort of crazy with the French. The kids helped add their ideas (they know less French than me) during a break this morning. The bill of fare is a blend of French and merry olde English. Appropriate, no?

Presenting Array D'Sallat. (I had read that a vegetable tray would be part of a feast, with the food in the form of a coat of arms. My son chose this coat of arms, which he found in a few of his Osprey books. He had me julienne and chiffoned the vegetables and he placed them artistically on the silver tray.)

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Presenting Coup a Fruits...
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Presenting Frosted Sallat with Forest of Mint, with Stained Glass Sallat embedded in snow...
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Presenting Bundles of Haricots Verts with a touch of truffle oil (we found an $8 bottle at Wegman's versus the $600 per pound truffles in their produce section. Now that I've smelled it, I think it's over rated. At least now we know why the chef judges on Food Network insist on proper application.)
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Presenting Sauce Aux Canneberges...
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Presenting Pumpkins Stuffed with Ciabatta herb Dressing (there was a European form of pumpkin in the Middle Ages)...
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Presenting Trio D'Pommes...(my husband loves potatoes and he always wants the traditional two, then we found a unique one at Wegmans, read on...)

Blanc...
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Amethyst (no dyes are artifical additives, these are truely purple potatoes) ...
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l'Orange with Honeyed Mallow from the Marsh of Egypt (sweet potatoes topped with homemade marshmallows, which stuck to me the day before, check previous post. The marshmallow might have stuck to me but they tasted spot on.)...
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Presenting Aus Jus...
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Presenting Delicacy of Peacock (Giblets were a big deal to my son a year ago. I never include them on the table because I do not like them. Last year he talked me into cooking some up to set aside on a small plate just for him. At the last minute I decided to tease him with it but I guess his curiousity in it has now passed.)
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Ta da!

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(Some of these dishes were very heavy and still hot. I suggested walking around the table to select our food like a buffet but my son wanted to pass the dishes. I knew my daughter couldn't manage all that. My husband served us, just like we see at Colonial Williamsburg's Under the Redcoat.)

During dinner we talked of all things Medieval. John, the longbowman, took the charge by asking Lady Anna questions. She talked about herself, mentioning that she was highly educated. The longbowman started talking to her about the difference in universities in Italy (where the students weren't learning enough so they took charge, demanding stricter classes) and northern Europe (where the professors needed to reign in the unruly students). I pondered the near future of Italy in light of such industrious students. John, the longbowman, predicted a rise in the arts.

I talked about the hostess, Mary of Burgundy. She had commsissioned a Book of Hours be made for her. Despite the considerable time invested in working on the project, the monks have not yet finished it. John, the Longbowman, related where all the colors come from (which he first learned from one of the carpenters at Colonial Williamsburg.)

(my daughter's...)
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(my son's)
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(They are unfinished because they truely are a time consuming task. I told the kids we'd just play it up because we read all about the intensity of the work and the laboriousness of the task.)

John, the longbowman, started talking about his bow and the Battle of Crecy. Even though his bow was 7' long before being strung, it was simply called a bow. He thought the term "longbow" quite appropriate. He was so chatty that he fell behind in his eating. While he finished his food, Lady Anna regaled us with selections from "Song of Roland."
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(We got the following idea from one of the Playbooth Theater interpreters at Colonial Williamsburg. I asked him for ideas for our last two history presentations. He remembered, asked me about them then VOLUNTEERED information for the next one. Huzzah!=) He suggested magic. Despite his fascinating specific ideas, we didn't have the means to pull it off. But I got to thinking we could pull out some science experiments and I knew my son would have a blast with it. Also we read in all the GA Henty books that the hero knows everything about everything, which sounds just like my son. In the one Henty book of the era, the hero's father was an alchemist and the book had a hilarious chapter on scaring the bejeebers out of the enemy with some chemical puffs of color.)

When John, the longbowman, finished eating, he regaled us with a bit of magic he learned from an alchemist. When asked about this, he explained that an alchemist's goal was to make gold out of an object. Even though they haven't figured out how to do that, they learned a lot of other tricks. He showed us how he could turn air into lead. (I missed the photo on that but saw the trick.)

He changed the color of water by adding clear liquid to purple to get...
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blue!
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He added more clear liquid and got red!
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Then we watched him add powder to another container of clear liquid...
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which resulted in fizz...
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Then he attempted to make an egg go inside of a bottle without pushing it in. He put fire into the bottle...
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then quickly placed an egg on top, then left the egg there. The egg did try to slip in, but didn't work. John, the longbowman, said the cook needed to find smaller eggs from the chicken.
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Then we sang music from the era. "Be Thous my Vision" is an Irish hymn, written in 8th century AD. "All Glory Laud and Honor" was written by Theodulph of Orleans while he was imprisoned in a French monastery in AD 820. "All Creatures Great and Small" was written by St. Francis of Assissi in AD 1225.

We ended the evening with dessert. This was the one and only
completelyalmost accurate medieval recipe. Can you guess? The night before I was busy with this...
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so that I could make this...
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I made mincemeat from scratch on Wednesday so that I could make mincemeat pie. My mom always makes this for the holidays, but by using "none such mincemeat" from a jar. I also use this in a very light and not too sweet fruitcake that my mom always made too, so I knew what type of flavor I was aiming for. I used a Colonial Williamsburg recipe for the base, except I could not bring myself to use suet. Besides, where would one buy suet? I found a gourmet website that recommended coconut oil in lieu of suet. After much research, it looked as though I had to use a fat of some sort. I experimented with the coconut oil. The taste was very close. I used beef, fresh apples and some candied fruits, but no alcohol. I'd like to try this again with dried fruits, no fats, and preferably no beef but my son is voting for the beef. Must be the Texan in him. We'll see.

All this was a result of all our resources in the last 10 weeks.
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My son additionally used these Osprey books, a $60 value for which I paid a sum total of $4. He has been looking for time to read the books and told me he truely enjoys them. Wow! They are his now. Osprey books were first suggested to us by our favorite interpreter at Colonial Williamsburg. Many, many thanks to him. They were a great wealth of information for my son's character and for the first time, we had an easy time figuring out his costume, props, history, and interpretation.
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