The Changing Menu 1400-1900

Maggie Black looks at the cultural history of three February menus, based as much on show as the cooking.

Over the centuries it is not only the foods eaten which has changed but its serving and presentation has also evolved.

Three menus for February meals from different periods demonstrate the changing approach. Since the only coherently recorded meals of earliest times were feasts, detailed for the accountants, I have chosen 2 formal meals to match my first one as nearly as possible.

This meal was a royal banquet given after Henry IV’s second marriage, to Joan of Navarre on February 7th, 1404. It had three separate parts, a ‘flesshe’ dinner, a ‘fysshe’ one, and a third, lighter meal, labelled as completing the trinity. Each meal consisted of 3 courses, with anything from 6 to 16 dishes in each. At least 2 pastry dishes and 2 sweet ones were included in each dinner, each course ending wit a sotelte (subtlety).

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