A Light Evening Meal

The St. Catherine’s Tourney offered a unique opportunity to create an entire meal from a single source, for a limited number of guests - this article describes a "miniature feast" based on Le Recuil de Riom.

Tasting a dish in the context of an entire meal is a fuller, richer experience than sampling a single food.  And yet, because of the unique nature of SCA feasts and the traditions that have grown around their presentation, it is difficult to create a feast that satisfies guests and yet follows the appropriate medieval traditions as well.  The St. Catherine’s Tourney offered a unique opportunity to create an entire meal from a single source, for a limited number of guests.

Who, What, When and Where:

This meal is based on a cookbook written in Riom, France around 1466, which was probably owned by a minor noble – a knight with a small manor or the social equivalent thereof .  Riom is a small village in France, about 100 miles west of Lyon, and 15 miles north of Clermont.  It was, at the time of this meal, the seat of the Dukes of Auvergne , the most famous of which was Jean, Duc de Berry .  Perhaps the owner was a magistrate, as Riom was and still is the judiciary seat for the area .

The menu reflects the status of the cookbook’s owner – although an abundance of food is served, the dishes are not the elaborate delicacies that might be served at the table of a King or Duke.  Several assumptions are made in preparing this meal.  The first is that, although it will be served during the day, this is an evening meal.  Secondly, although this meal is presented on March 22, which according to the current calendar is the final day of Lent (which would have been a day of severe fasting in preparation for the Easter feast day), it is not a Lenten meal, nor even a “fish day” meal.  (Further details on the distinctions between these are covered in the “Menu” section.)

The Recipe Sources

Most SCA cooks with an interest in medieval French cooking are familiar with the three most accessible works from the turn of the 15th century – Le Viandier de TailleventChiquart’s Du Fait de Cuisine, and Le Menagier de Paris.  Less common, but still available, are Le Vivendier and a much earlier source, Enseignements qui enseingnement a apareillier toutes manieres de viands.

However, there is still yet another French source from the 15th century that has not been as available to the Society.  This source is the Recuil de Riom, a text which unlike Le Viandier, survives only in a single manuscript today, and that is the source which most of his meal has been based upon. The details of this manuscript and a full translation can be found elsewhere on this site.


Le Recuil de Riom is a fairly short work, comprising only 48 recipes. However, details in the manuscript, such as the wear patterns of the pages and the page numbers included by the scribe, indicate that the entire work is present .  The structure of the work is very simple – a section on meat, a section on fish, and a section on sauces, with a few associated recipes for pasties, frumenty, and other “side dishes” scattered amongst the text.  Many of these recipes are similar or nearly identical to those found in contemporary works, which proved helpful during the translation process.

A few things are conspicuous in this recipe collection by their absence.  One, is that although there are recipes that follow Lenten restrictions (no animal products other than fish), these recipes do not specifically mention “Lent”, nor “fish days”, nor any other specific fast days.  Similarly, although the recipes follow humoral theory of the day, neither health recommendations nor dishes specifically for invalids are included in the recipe collection – they may have been included in the medical portion of the work, which I have not seen.  The last is that no mention of how these dishes would have been combined into a menu is present, and thus menus must be hypothesized from other sources.

Daily Meals and Rations:

In the majority of households in the 15th century, two daily meals were eaten, dinner and supper, though breakfast became more and more common, especially amongst those of high rank, beginning in the 14th century.  These were lengthy meals, often taking place over the course of two hours or more, and were served at approximately 10:00am and 5:00pm, respectively, although were often later in summer .  However, the dinner meal was often the only meal served on days of abstinence, and would be served after Evensong (the last Canonical Hour of the day) which was occasionally moved forward for the purpose.  These  days of abstinence varied in severity, from the milder “Ember Days” of Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday to more severe fasts before feast days .  

Dinner (the noon meal) was the more substantial meal of the day, with a more limited assortment of simpler dishes – this was based not only on practicality but on medical principle. Platina states that at supper “we must eat food which our stomach can digest easily; however, we must eat rather sparingly, and especially those of melancholy humor whose ills usually are increased by nighttime dampness and food weighing them down with discomfort .  There were, however, exceptions to this rule – Chiquart mentions that if a banquet is to be held on the day of a joust, the dinner should be lighter and the supper should be “more worthy and generous” 

Looking at Le Menagier de Paris, which is the most analogous source containing menus, meat-day dinners average 27 dishes and meat-day suppers average 21 dishes (Hinson).  By that standard, a feast containing only 12 dishes is quite meager.  However, several other sources indicate that it may still be reasonable.  The household documents of Edward III of England indicate that while “lordes” had five dishes to a course, other gentlemen had three plus “potage”, and grooms and others of low rank had only two .  Furthermore, even those of highest rank occasionally ate more abstemiously – Princess Cecill, mother of Edward IV, often had dinners consisting only of boiled meats with a single roast on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays .  Chiquart’s suppers are less than half of what he describes serving for dinner .

Diners in 15th century Europe were expected to share dishes with their dining companions – meals were presented in “bowls,” “covers,” or mes.  As set forth in John Russel’s Boke of Nurture, only those of the highest rank – kings and princes – recived a mes to themselves, while dukes, earls and others of the same rank dined two to a mes, knights and barons dined three-four to a mes, and all those of lower rank dined four to a mes  The dishes shown in this meal would have been shared amongst four people. 

As to the amount of food presented, 14th and 15th century household accounts have some indication of an appropriate serving size (by which I mean the amount of food served, rather than the amount eaten).  In the household of Alice Swofford in 1412, for instance, the average daily ration, per person, was a 2lb. loaf of bread, 1 lb of meat (including inedible portions, bones, etc), 3.5 pints of ale, and assorted other items – birds, fish, vegetables, etc .  However, in the household of Henry Stafford in 1469, the stated consumption of meat was nearly twice that, with an average of 1.04 lbs of meat served per person, per meal, and an additional 1.08 lbs of “delicate” meats served per “gentle” member of the household .  Yet larger quantities were served in the household of the Earl of Warwick.  Much of the “excess” was given away as alms, and as these quantities were averaged over a full month containing both feasts and fasts, daily consumption varied significantly .  On the assumption that the hypothetical knight or magistrate’s household would have had more modest consumption than Henry Stafford (Sir Henry Stafford was the third husband of the mother of Henry VII, Margaret Beaufort .), I have assigned each of the 4 members of the mes a daily ration of  1 lb of “coarse” meats (beef and pork) and .5 lb of “delicate” meats.  Under the assumption that approximately 2/5 of the daily meat ration would be eaten as supper, this works out to a total of 2.4 lbs of meat presented as part of this meal – this looks small, as presented, but again only needs to feed four people.  Another important point is that a large number of the calories consumed on a daily basis were from bread – over 2 lbs per day during this period.

Setting the Menu:

Although Bridget Hensch states that “[In the medieval menu] there is simply a profusion of dishes, each regarded as an isolated, self-contained unit, served with its own sauce or accompaniments and judged on its own merits” , this does not imply that there were not an expected order of and composition to meals in the 15th century.  This expected order varied from country to country, but was based on the same principles throughout Europe – digestibility of foods and how they were cooked 

Humoral Theory:

Not all authorities agree on how well diners actually applied humoral theory to their daily consumption of food (after all, modern diners often ignore doctors’ warnings regarding the healthfulness of various diets), but it is clear that they were an important part of culinary knowledge.  To quote Melitta Adamson, “Cookbook authors often display[ed] a profound knowledge of medieval theories of nutrition in their choice of terminology, use of medical source-materials, or inclusion of dishes for sick people” .  Analysis of several English coronation feasts shows that the menus were chosen to balance the humors of the dishes within the feast (Burkholder 24).  Perhaps most tellingly, one of the Dukes of Burgundy employed 6 doctors, one of which was required to stand behind the duke whenever he ate and recommend which dishes would be appropriate for him to eat that day .

“Balancing” of dishes worked on the principle of opposites – to counteract a hot food, add something cold, or to counteract a dry food, add something moist or use a moist cooking method .  These “opposites” were not always obvious –  even liquids, such as wine could be considered humorally “dry” (.  The ideal, balanced food matched the ideal humoral balance of the human body – warm and slightly moist .  The most common way of balancing foods was with sauces, which consisted mainly of spices combined with liquid ingredients and/or bulking materials (such as breadcrumbs).  Entire cookbooks were devoted to sauces – the 12th century physician, Maginus Mediolanensis stated in his work, De Sapoborus that “sauces are to be consumed only in small quantities and in order to check the various evils of food and to restore appetite” .  Maginus continues to say “sauces differ according to the foodstuffs for which they are made, for various foods require various sauces, as the cooks of the great lords know” .    

Order of Dishes:

The basic principle of medieval dietetics as it applied to the order of a meal was that lighter foods should be eaten before heavier ones.  Aldebrandin of Siena, the author of Le Régime du corps, stated in 1256 that “It is proper to eat light foods first and heavy ones afterward” .  However, the concepts “light” and “heavy” dishes don’t necessarily align with modern concepts of the same – for instance, “coarse meats”, that is boiled red meat (beef or pork) were almost always found near the opening of a meal  .  Some sample menus from 14th and 15th century France and England include:

From Beinecke 163 :

Ffor the kny3thys tabyll, The ffyrst cowrs: Venyson with furmente, Vyand bruce, borys hedys, Swan Rostyd, Pyke in sace, Custarde lumbard, and a sottylthe. The 2e cowrs: a potage icallyd gely, An potage blank de sore, pyggus irostyd, kyd irostyd, chickenys in doryd, Breme in sauce, tartes, brawn bruse, Conyngges irostyd, And a sotilthe. The thrydre cowrs: Bruet of almayne, Stewed lubard, Venyson irostyd, Pecokys irostyd, pertrych rostyd, pejons, Rabettes, Larkys rostyd, Payne puffe, pertrych boyled, A dysche of gely, long ffutour.  (Hieatt, An Ordinance of pottage : an edition of the fifteenth century culinary recipes in Yale University’s Ms Beinecke 163)

From Chiquart: 

For the supper.  First white fish, pasties, green soup, and a king’s bruet, and sausages(?) of fish tripes, endored rissoles, a chaut de mes, and a cameline bruet. (Cook)

From Le Menagier: 

XVII. Another Meat Supper. First platter. Capons with herbs, a cominy, daguenet [?Danish (JH)], peas, loach in yellow sauce, venison in soup. Second service. Get the best roast you can, jelly, portioned fricassee, little cream tarts well sugared.Third service. Capon pies, cold sage soup, stuffed shoulders of mutton, pike in broth, venison with boar’s tail, crayfish.

XVIII. Another Meat Supper. First service. Three sorts of soup, whole capons in a white broth, a cauldron of [things dug up–root vegetables?(JH)], venison in soup, loach and eels cut lengthwise on top. Second service. Roast, capons, coneys, partridge, plovers, whiting, small birds, kid, a sweet fricassee, etc., loach, carp and sea-perch, etc., jellied eels.–Pheasants and swans as side-dishes. Third service. Venison with frumenty, pies of turtle-doves and larks, tarts, crayfish, fresh herrings, fruit, claret, small pastries, wafers, pears, shelled nuts. (Hinson)

The pattern all of these menus follow is to open with boiled meats and potages (including vegetable potages, followed by roasted meats and other “baked” dishes, followed entremets and delicacies, including fried foods such as fritters .  This pattern does not include other “standard” portions of the meal, such as fruit and other hor d’oevres served at the beginning of a meal or the wine and spices served to close the meal .  Soups were often served in every course, and were apparently eaten while the other food was being served .  

Another characteristic of the first course is particularly acidic dishes to “open the stomach” – this function was served by salads in the 16th century, but is served by brouets featuring vinegar in the meal presented here.  This “ordre de mets” is distinctly French; English meals were often arranged to contain all of these meal stages within each course, and Italian menus followed yet different patterns.

Ingredients of Interest:

  • Verjuice: Verjuice is the lightly fermented juice of unripe grapes, and was very common in the 14th and 15th century kitchen.  It can be hard to find in the modern kitchen, although I did source some from a winery in Australia.  However, as reported by Terence Scully in The Art of Cookery in the Middle Ages, cooks in period were faced with verjuice shortages as well, and found several ways to deal with them – including verjuice made of sorrel shoots or crabapples and even, by the 15th century, the use of citrus juices.  
  • Spice Powder: The spices used when a recipe calls for “spice powder” are my own blend of Duke’s Spice Powder, based on the following recipe from LE VIANDIER DU TAILLEVENT.  

210. Fine Powder. Grind white ginger (9 parts), selected cinnamon (2 parts), lump sugar (2 parts), cloves and grains of paradise (1 part each).

I felt this was appropriate, since LE RECUIL only states “powder”, and the two works are compatible in both place and time.

  • Capon: The capon is to chicken what a “steer” is to beef; the castrated chicken is fatter and more tender than a “whole” rooster or hen raised the same way.  The capon was a dish for the rich, as unlike raising a hen, it was only useful for meat rather than providing eggs for its useful lifespan before being slaughtered.
  • Freshwater Fish: Freshwater fish was a delicacy grown in ponds on manors or fished from rivers.  I chose a trout as it was available at my local market.
  • Meats: Livestock (beef, pork and mutton) was usually available fresh, although less so in winter.  It could be purchased at market or kept on estates.  Birds were kept live until needed, or hunted; venison was hunted and was a high-status item.  Pork was prized for keeping well and was salted in large quantities, the “chine” or portion near the backbone was often boiled as a fresh meat .

The Menu:

1st Course – Boiled Meats

  1. Chappon es herbes et trumeaux de beuf – Boiled beef with herbs
  2. La puree d’engleterre – Pea pottage
  3. Ung broet kamelin – A cinnamon-flavored soup 
  4. Ung haricot de mouton Lamb stew

2nd Course – Roasted Meats

  1. A grosse poulaille, de la Jansse d’amends de gingibre blanc et de verjust “Fat Chicken” with a Jance sauce of almonds, ginger and verjuice 
  2. Cochons, poivre jaunet roast pig with yellow pepper sauce
  3. Tartes pellerines Eel Pie
  4. Ung broet blanc de poisson Fish with white sauce

3rd Course – Entremets

  1. Ung grané d’alouestez A gravy of birds (quails)
  2. Ung civé de lievres Rabbit stew

Also Served:

Miscelin Bread

Sources Cited:

Additional Sources:

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