A centaur made of sugar

These fragments are taken from a Milanese banquet menu dated 1491. As well as providing descriptions of the sorts of food eaten at a large feast, the menu also indicates the theatrical presentation of each course (which, frankly, in some cases is distinctly surreal). Formal dining is one aspect of court life which underwent very few changes from the Middle Ages onwards.  Hors d’oeuvre courses consisted of pastries, poultry and fish, and were followed by main courses of more fish, and heavier meats. The meal ended with courses of sweet desserts and oysters. Each course is accompanied by especially chosen wines. Here are a few excerpts from the menu:

Three swans with their skins decorated with gold; two roasted reared geese with bowls of grape juice on the side; one large golden pastry of game per plate. The lids of the same game pies are to be in the form of three very high and ornate mountains with forts on top, decorated with gold.

Large boiled pikes covered with black pepper sauce; one large boiled Toro [fish] with bowls of blue sauce on the side; salted fish. The covers of the plates holding the salted fish should consist of a model of the Colosseum lavishly decorated with gold.

A course of large boiled meats: two whole calves; four whole heifers; four whole kids; two whole roe deer; eight hares; pigs; and two wild boar. On large platters should be served six large capons; six geese; six pheasants; six ducks; twelve pigeons; and ten partridges. On other large platters should go eight hams; two salami; six large sausages; six tongues.’  This course is to be presented as follows: ‘a centrepiece with a laurel tree which is cut open and spurts blood; a small boy comes out on horseback reciting apposite verses and mottoes with much grace and skill.

Fish jelly on large plates; saffron jelly on others; white jelly which looks like snow on others.  The plate covers are three different forts made out of jelly with drawbridges over a moat in which live fish swim, surrounded by golden cuttlefish with flowers all around.

A course of large fish; four fried John Dorys per plate in a sauce with olives and lemons; four fried sea bass covered with salsa verse per plate with sugar-coated aniseed.

To be served in the following mind-boggling manner:

a centaur made of sugar carrying a woman dressed elaborately in vegetable leaves, crosses a river, as he runs from another figure made of sugar who appears to be following him and defeating him.

Pies of sour apples; and other kinds of pies; black tarts with sour apples in basins and mashed pears in bowls.

This is presented in

three large ships loaded with apple jam, adorned lavishly with mottoes and carried by sailors from under the sea.

Oysters in large basins with little bowls of pepper on the side; truffles in little plates or cups; giant roast chestnuts with fennel and pepper.

To be served in

a galleon full of oysters presented with other marine creatures adorned with mottoes.

Large golden sponges; large golden marzipans; large columns of icing; and other things made out of sugar in the Roman manner and decorated with gold.

This teeth-aching course is delivered in

a large ship from the Fortunate Isles bearing Moors with mottoes, full of sugar and gold.

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