What with the flying Birds and skipping Frogs

Today’s post explores a fancy 17th Century Christmas banquet as described by the author of a popular cook book. Before describing the requisite festive courses deemed appropriate for impressing guests, he provides detailed instructions on how to make a truly baffling centrepiece, complete with gunpowder, live frogs, and a marzipan-esque castle.

Make the likeness of a Ship in Paste board [a soft sweet mixture made from ground sugar and spices. Akin to marzipan], with Flags and streamers, the Guns belonging to it of Kickses [?], binde them about with packthred [twine], and cover them with course paste proportionable to the fashion of a Cannon with Carriages, lay them in places convenient, as you see them in Ships of War; with such holes and trains of Powder that they may all take Fire. Place your Ship in a great Charger [large dish or plate], then make a salt around about it, and stick therein egg-shells full of sweet water; you may by a great Pin take out all the meat out of the Egg by blowing, and then fill it with rose-water.

Then in another Charger have the proportion of a Stag made of course paste, with a broad arrow in the side of him, and his body filled up with claret wine. In another Charger, at the end of the Stag, have the proportion of a Castle with Battlements, Percuilices, Gates and Draw-bridges made of Paste-board, the Guns of Kickses, and covered with course Paste as the former. Place it a distance from the Ship to fire at each other. The Stag being plac’t betwixt them with egg-shells full of sweet-water (as before) place in salt.

At each side of the Charger wherein is the Stag, place a Pie made of course Paste, in one of which let there be some live Frogs, in the other live Birds. Make these Pies of course Paste filled with bran, and yellowed over with Saffron or Yolks of Eggs. Gild them over in Spots, as also the Stag, the Ship, and Castle. Bake them and place with with gilt bay-leaves on the torrets and tunnels of the Castle and Pies. Being baked, make a hole in the bottom of your pies, take out the bran, put in your Frogs and Birds, and close up the holes with the same course paste. Then cut the Lids neatly up, to be take off by the Tunnels.

Being all placed upon the Table, before you fire the trains of powder (!), order it so that some of the Ladies may be peswaded to pluck the Arrow out of the Stag, then will the Claret wine follow as blood running out of a wound. This being done with admiration to the beholders, after some sort of short paws, fire the train of the Castle, that the pieces all on one side may go off. Then fire the the trains on one side of the Ship as in a battle. Next turn the Chargers, and by degrees fire the trains off each other side as before. Let the Ladies take the egg-shells full of sweet-water and throw them at each other.

All dangers being seemingly over, by this time you may suppose they will desire to see what is in the Pies; where lifting first the lid off one pie, out skips some Frogs, which makes the Ladies to skip and shreek, next after the other Pie, whence out comes the Birds, who by a natural instinct flying at the light, will put out the Candles, so that what with the flying Birds, and skipping Frogs, the one above, the other beneath, will cause much delight and pleasure to the whole company. At length the Candles are lighted, and a banquet brought in, the music sounds, and every one is much delighted and content.

Having survived this table-piece, the guests are then treated to a staggering banquet:

A Bill of Fare for Christmas Day and how to set the Meat in order

A coller of Brawn
Stewed broth of Mutton marrow bones
A grand Sallet [salad]
A pottage of caponets [small capons]
A breast of veal in stoffado [stuffed]
A boiled partridge
A chine [back] of beef or sirloin roast
Minced pies
A Jegote [sausage] of mutton with anchovy sauce
A made dish of sweet-breads
A swan roast
A pasty of venison
A kid with a pudding in his belly
A steak pie
A haunch of venison roasted
A turkey roast and stuck with cloves
A made dish of chickens in puff-paste
Two brangeese roasted, one larded
Two large capons, one larded
A Custard

The Second course

Oranges and Lemons
A young lamb or kid
Two couple of rabits, two larded
A pig sauced with tongues
Three ducks, one larded
Three pheasants, one larded
A swan pie
Three brace of partridge, three larded
Made dish in puffe-paste
Bolonia sausages and anchovies, mushrooms and Caviare, and pickled Oysters in a dish
Six teels, three larded
A Gammon of Westphalia Bacon
Ten plovers, five larded,
A quince pie
Six woodcocks, three larded
A standing Tart in puffe-paste, preserved fruits, Pippins etc
A dish of Larks
Six dried neats-tongues
Powdered Geese

If you fancy your hand at authentic 17th Century mince pies, the author provides several recipes, including this one:

To make minced Pies

Take to a good leg of veal six pound of beef-suet, then take the leg of veal, bone it, parboil it, and mince it very fine when it is hot. Mince the suet by it self very fine also, then when they are cold mingle them together, then season the meat with a pound of sliced dates, a pound of sugar, an ounce of nutmeg, an ounce of pepper, an ounce of cinnamon, half an ounce of ginger, half a pint of verjuyce [juice of unripe grapes or sour crab-apples], a pint of rosewater, a preserved orange, or any peel fine minced, an ounce of caraway comfets [a small tablet of sugar enclosing a caraway seed], and six pound of currants. Put all these into a large tray with half a handful of salt. Stir them up all together and fill your pies, close them, bake them, and being baked, ice them with double refined sugar, rose-water, and butter. Make the paste with a peck of flour, and two pound of butter boiled in fair water, make it up boiling hot.

I’ll be following up this post with more recipes in the new year. For now, Shakespeare’s England wishes everyone a a very Merry Christmas.

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  • January 9, 2012 - 2:40 pm | Permalink

    Saw this too late, but now I have nearly a year to get the meal right.

  • December 22, 2011 - 9:32 pm | Permalink

    Makes Heston Blumenthal look tame and old fashioned.

  • Anonymous
    December 21, 2011 - 5:51 pm | Permalink

    I shall make the pie – powder and all.
    Sir J

  • December 21, 2011 - 5:34 pm | Permalink

    Goodness me, what a feast! I wonder how long that would have taken to consume.

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