Last month I had the pleasure of attending a Stuart banquet hosted by St. Barbe Museum, Lymington. The event was part of a programme of activities organised to compliment the Museum’s new exhibition on food history, ‘A Taste of History – Local Food and Farming’ (6th October-17th November).
What a treat for a historian this event was. The costumed re-enactors were superb, their knowledge of the Stuart period (1603-1714) just incredible. The banquet showcased a fantastic array of dishes that had been recreated, by some of the re-enactors, using recipes (receipts) from cookbooks published during the seventeenth century, including:
- A Delightful Daily Exercise for Ladies and Gentlewomen by John Murrell (1621) – the white gingerbread;
- Delightes for Ladies by Sir Hugh Platt (1609) – the red gingerbread and lemon marmalade;
- Country Contentments, The English Huswife by Gervase Markham (1623) – the marchpane and leach;
- The closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelm Digbie (1669) by Sir Kenelm Digby – the apricot sweetmeats and syllabub;
- Rebecca Price’s Receipt Book (1681) – the biscuits;
- A Closet for Ladies and Gentlewomen (1636) – the Prince-Biskits;
- The Court and Kitchen of Elizabeth Commonly called Joan Cromwell (1664) – the gooseberry cream;
- The Cook’s Guide or Rare Receipts for Cookery by Hannah Woolley (1664);
- The Cooks and Confectioner’s Dictionary by John Nott (1725) – the jumbles.
Here is Gervase Markham’s (1623) recipe for ‘White Leach’:
To make the best Leache, take Isingglasse and lay it two houres in water and shift it and boile it in faire water and let it coole: Then take Almonds and lay them in cold water till they will blaunch: And then stampe them and put to new milke, and straine them and put in whole mace and ginger slic’t, and boile them till it taste well of the spice; then put in your isingglasse and Sugar, and a little rose-water: And then let them runne through a strainer.
Historians Mike and Jasmine were responsible for many of the stunning examples of food on display. The marchpane was a particular favourite of mine. Marchpane is similar to marzipan. In its simplest form it is made from blanched almonds that are ground finely and then mixed with refined sugar and good quality rose-water. The combination of these ingredients produces a malleable paste that can be fashioned into all manner of exotic shapes. Natural dye extracts are added for colour and spices such as a cinnamon and ginger are sometimes added. The banquet recreated at St. Barbe was typical of a spread that would have been found in a wealthy household. I was told the total amount of sugar required to produce the dishes on display amounted to approximately 5lbs. The wealthy Stuarts certainly had a sweet tooth!
Mike and Jasmine also gave a butter making demonstration. A simple, if slightly labour intensive, process that I always enjoy watching. I remember being taught how to make butter as a child, I haven’t made any since then but really should try to have another go.
Historical interpreter Helen Horsfall gave a short talk ‘Invitation to a Stuart Banquet’, packed full of fascinating facts about food during the Stuart period.
Customs and practices associated with dining Stuart style were also demonstrated and historian John Oakley had written a selection of information panels to accompany the banquet. John and Patricia Oakley are members of The Sealed Knot’s Learning Team. Included in John’s text panels were a set of guidelines for the Stuart diner. Here are a few of these observances:
- Men kept their hats on and swords in their scabbard;
- Servants helped the diner to wash their hands before sitting at the table to eat;
- The lowest Social Class first. All came to servants to have water poured over their hands for washing then took linen cloth from servant to dry hands and return it;
- After washing, the diner goes to designated table place and stands behind chair until the top person is ready;
- All stay standing for grace, and then sit after top persons are seated;
- Diner takes napkin from place setting and drapes it over left shoulder (women may use left arm);
- The knife was always used in the right hand;
- Food was taken with fingers with the left hand and transferred to individual plates;
- Food was taken with fingers of left hand and transferred to own plate. Food was then transferred to mouth with the right hand;
- Spoons were used with the right hand. A fork (if they had one) was for holding food instead of with the fingers;
- Knives are never put into mouths;
- Do not leave your spoon on the serving dish;
- If the diner wants salt he uses the tip of a clean knife;
- Diners do not leave the table before the top person, and leave when they do even it still hungry.
Another unique experience was the re-enactment of a Court Leet. This example of a session held by the Court Leet was set c1632 using real cases as a basis for the dramatisation. Where I live, in Hampshire, the Court Leet is still active. One session is held in Stockbridge and another in the City of Southampton. Southampton’s Court Leet takes place annually on the 1st Tuesday after Michaelmas, this year that was Tuesday 2nd October. Historically, this type of Court did not have any real powers to punish, although for petty crimes, fines or community based punishments were handed-out. The Court would refer serious crimes to the Quarter Sessions or the Assizes. The Court was also responsible for overseeing the town/city’s trade regulations, particularly in relation to weights and measures. The Town Clerk would act as Steward of the Court and the Sheriff as Foreman of the Grand jury.
The audience was completely enthralled by this theatrical and historical extravaganza.
The dramatisation was also interactive, we acted as the jury and helped decide the fate of:
- A waggoner whose cart had been damaged by an uneven road surface;
- A washerwoman (Mistress Pippin) wanting compensation from the owner of a pig who had eaten one of her customer’s neckerchiefs which had been left to dry outside, near to common grazing land;
- Finally, a widow is accused by the Town Bailiff of growing illegal substances (tobacco) on her farm. She claims the tobacco is for medicinal purposes.
Well done to all involved in organising this highly successful event. St. Barbe Museum’s next food history event takes place later on today (Saturday 20th October), ‘A Taste of History: Victorian Cooking’ (10-4pm). If you are a fan of Mrs Beeton and/or want to learn more about Victorian cooking, then pop down to Lymington in the New Forest. I will be there with my copy of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management and a selection of lovely Victorian china. There are lots of interesting activities happening throughout the day including: costumed guides; mini-theatrical performances based on oral history testimonies; examples of food from this period prepared by a historical food interpreter; Victorian kitchenalia; Victorian recipes and of course there will be an opportunity to visit the Museum’s new exhibition all about local food history. For more information, CLICK HERE.