Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Acquisition, trade and wine - a plentiful supply for Medieval England

Recently MedievalMorsels visited Baron Rothschild’s stately pile in Buckinghamshire. Waddesdon Manor is jointly opened to the public by the National Trust and the Rothschild Foundation. It is  a spectacular chateau style house with a striking parterre, sculpted grounds with views to die for! First up, after enjoying our picnic, a visit to the relatively new suite of wine cellars!

More than 10,000 bottles of wine are stored in the vaults, documenting over 150 years of the Rothschild family’s ownership of two of the most famous Bordeaux vineyards in France: Château Lafite Rothschild and Château Mouton Rothschild. Even I had heard of these noble wines!

But it was not thoughts of grape and wine, political marriage alliances and traded goods in Medieval England (of which more below) that most inspired me during visit to Waddesdon Manor, the wine cellars and the wine shop. (Yes! One must exit through the gift and wine shops!)

Waddesdon's Gardener's Ale made with local quince!
Quince at 12th scale for a Medieval, Tudor dollhouse by MedievalMorsels

It was instead the sight of bottled Gardener’s Ale made from quinces - now there’s a Medieval brew if ever I have supped one! Do we have the industrious Cistercian monks to thank for this invention? Or your common or garden (excuse the pun) peasant who might have gathered quinces from a hedgerow and attempted a little home brewing?

Of course our earlier visit to the wine cellars had me thinking about consumption of wine in England in the Middle Ages. But even before these times, the Romans had imported wine to England and probably introduced viticulture. The Saxons had imported wine from noblemen’s estates in Northern France.

According to  Catherine Pitt’s Ph.D thesis on the wine trade of Bristol in the 15th and 16th centuries the Norman Conquest in 1066 reinforced English ties to French provinces in the North and guaranteed a supply of wine from these estates. Though it is claimed in the Domesday Book (1086) that there were 42 vineyards in England, England was not proficiently self-sufficient to meet its wine demands. In the thirteenth, fourteenth and most of the fifteenth centuries wine imported to England via Bristol and London mostly came from English held provinces in France.

Catherine goes on to point out that the marriage of Henry II of England to Eleanor of Aquitaine in 1152, led to England acquiring a large area of southern French vineyards. Bordeaux being the capital city of Aquitaine.
Food by MedievalMorsels for Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine by professional doll artiste Louise Goldborough-Bird
The English loss of Burgundian provinces in 1224 meant the provenance of wine imported to England shifted from the North to the South of France. This was further secured by the marriage of Edward I to Eleanor of Castile in 1254, which included the wine producing lands of Gascony.  The wine trade with Gascony fell by half during the war with France, and the eventual loss of the province in 1453 brought an end to the English domination of the wine shipping business.

Diplomatic relations with Spain and consequently Iberian wine imports go back centuries too. Henry II married his daughter to Alfonso VIII in the twelfth century and the Anglo-Spanish trade boom of the late thirteenth century has been attributed to Edward I’s Spanish marriage in 1254. However, probably this wine trade was only minor compared to the Gascon trade.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

A honeyed life across the sea


One inch scale dolls house miniature food, raw honey by MedievalMorsels

Honey! MedievalMorsels has been inspired to add a new food to its range of Medieval and Tudor, Renaissance dolls house miniature foods. It’s about time honey was added you might say, we’ve been eating since time immemorial. So precisely what has been the source of this inspiration?

The hefty food history reference volumes in the town library? No, certainly not those...

A recent attendance at Leeds University International Medieval Congress - the second biggest annual gathering of Medievalist academics and their followers in the world - after all, its theme this year  was ” Food, feast & famine” ? Not that’s not it…

Stung by a bee? Thankfully not, no bees were hurt in the making of this blog post!


A sweet treat, honey,  for a Medieval, Tudor, Renaissance or rustic 1:12 dollshouse

Inspiration came from the image of a bee-keeping monk! This was no ordinary monk: he was young, he was keen to teach his craft to others, to ably demonstrate his know-how using the tools of his trade and the produce from his pastime. It was evident for all to see -  this young monk had a stinging passion for bee-keeping!


A monk bee-keeper with his wares at Bristol Elementary School’s Medieval Faire, Vermont , US

He had a primitive conical shaped bee skep, a bee hive to you and me, made from rushes wound around then fastened together with cord. He could tell you that monks needed bees to pollinate their monastery  herb and vegetable gardens and the crops on their lands. That monks also used the bees’ by-products. That honey was for the monks’ own consumption and to make mead, the first purposefully fermented alcoholic drink, known from earliest antiquity.  And that monks used beeswax to make fine, sweet smelling candles - much superior to tallow ones which were smelly and smokey, made from rendered (melted) animal fat. Eeew...

Was that alcoholic or non-alcoholic mead in this young monk’s jug? And had he brought a jar of honey, a fresh honeycomb and candles to sell from his market trader’s cart? Well, I judge that must be so…


Seth, then 12 a 6th grader, with bee keeper’s cart - culmination of weeks of medieval studies

But the marketplace in which this novice monk was selling his wares looked - erm - somewhat modern!  Was he a little out of time and place perhaps? Well, yes to both. Seth is the elder son of a miniaturist friend and he lives in the USA. So, not only is he in the wrong millennium (let alone the wrong century) for a Medieval monk, he is also on the wrong continent! But not to worry,  because he thoroughly looks the part in his bee-keeping outfit. And he certainly knows his stuff. Full marks all round - to our monk and the bees!

12th scale honeycomb for a dollshouse, handmade by MedievalMorsels

MedievalMorsels and honey bees have worked on this miniature honey project

A little bird, oops bee,  tells me that Seth, now at Mount Abraham Union High School has a younger brother Andrew who was a Medieval falconer back in 2014, and the family is wondering what Medieval trade their youngest, Meredith, will take up in 2018! And all of them love honey! But those are stories (with pictures) for another day...

Apple fritters dipped in honey or quinces stewed with honey anyone?

Let’s consider  the last words, researched by Seth, in praise of the indefatigable honey bee:

"A swarm of bees in May, is worth a load of hay.
A swarm of bees in June, is worth a silver spoon.

A swarm of bees in July, isn't worth a fly" - Unknown.

Saturday, 30 July 2016

Best sellers - MedievalMorsels claims bragging rights!

Last week I was pleasantly surprised to learn that MedievalMorsels has passed the milestone of two hundred sales.  As a dolls house food modeller working in rather a "niche" area, I was quite pleased with the news! If not pleasantly surprised...

Niche in this case means making Medieval and Tudor dollhouse food at 12th scale (also called 1:12 or one inch scale). The collectable, but not eatable, food items are meant to be played with by adults not children though. And, for those eager to read a little, come a well researched food history provided online which allows the miniature enthusiast to place them accurately in their chosen period Medieval (Middle Ages) or Tudor/ Renaissance miniature setting. Authentic but affordable! That's my motto, or should I say "unique selling point"?

But I must share my rookie mistake, a three-fold error as it happens, as I first contemplated what typical dollshouse Tudor fare might me. It’s all rather embarrassing... I imagined that a wooden plate with a torn brown wholemeal loaf and a random chicken leg would "do the trick". Wrong, wrong, wrong....

First, individual plates for diners were not used back then, "trenchers"  or slices of stale or dried bread or, later, wooden trenchers were used instead.

Second, apart from royalty, people were not served individually but in fours, or much less usually at high table in twos. Diners helped themselves to “gobbits” of food from communal dishes, usually with their fingers, a spoon or perhaps a personal knife usually worn on a belt.

Third and last, cut chicken meat perhaps - and only the breast meat at high table for the most important guests - but strict Medieval and Tudor dining etiquette would not allow gnawing on a chicken bone. And, as we have learned, certainly not from an individual plate with a side order of bread as I had fondly imagined! Some serious research was needed if I was to make a "go" of MedievalMorsels.

Fast forward two and a bit years and here are MedievalMorsels' top three best sellers...

In third place - my personal favourite - is Red Herring. This was one of my first modelling challenges and I attempted it only after perfecting my white herring! Herring - of any hue - are close to my heart. This is because my mother was the daughter of a fisherman, away at sea on the herring "drifters" out of Great Yarmouth fishing in the furtherest North Sea for long periods at a time.

MedievalMorsels' 12th scale period dollhouse food - smoked , brined red herring
Pies of all types for your dolls house table, one inch scale food by MedievalMorsels

In second place sundry pies , which I thoroughly enjoy making as you can see. The Oxford English Dictionary traces the first use of the word "pie" as it relates to food to 1303, noting the word was well-known and popular by 1362. But why the word pie? Its derivation may be from magpie, shortened to pie. The magpie is a bird that collects a variety of things and an essential feature of early pies was that they contained a variety of ingredients. Not to be confused he Medieval term "chewit" (chewet) or “coffyn” also meaning pie. Cornish pasties - eaten by Cornish miners in the tin mines for centuries - are a relict of the medieval pie with their contemporary mixture of minced or ground meat, root vegetables and spice - white pepper in this case.

Pots, kettles, cauldrons of pottage for a period dollshouse kitchen, 1:12 scale food

MedievalMorsels make four different pottages for the one inch scale dollshouse kitchen
In first place - dah dah - pottage. Stew or porridge to you or me. Nourishing medieval pottages were based on grains and pulses available from essential stores all year round plus any seasonal root vegetables, salad leaves (including cabbages)  and fruits cooked in a large pot directly over the fire. It was a classless dish, particularly suitable for fasting days in better off households, and was popular in the Medieval Period as well as in Tudor/Stuart times and even later periods. MedievalMorsels makes red lentil, beef, spring vegetables and pease pottage in metal cauldrons and a smaller matching pottage serving in wooden bowls, complete with bread trenchers and a wooden spoon!

So that is where MedievalMorsels is at. I must admit having access to a reference library and a good camera helps. As well as a very knowledgeable sister who first got me using fimo clay. And who has generously lent or given me much in the way of supplies when she orders for her own modern dollshouse food making business at "abasketof" .

Thursday, 21 July 2016

A summer joust

MedievalMorsels has learned this morning from the veritable "wireless" (that's not wi-fi you know) that jousting is to make a comeback. English Heritage has launched a campaign to get jousting - the sport played by Henry VIII - recognised as an Olympic sport, in time for Tokyo 2020. 

Remarkably perhaps, the organisation has lobbied the International Olympic Committee and the Fédération Equestre Internationale. And today it launches an online petition. English Heritage argues that jousting demands levels of athleticism, agility and equestrianism that make it an ideal candidate for the Olympics. 

Wholemeal bread and cheese - period dollhouse food by MedievalMorsels

12th scale Medieval Tudor dollshouse food - bread and cheese platte
A demanding sport requires a nutritious and filling diet so how about this platter of best cheese, whole cereal bread and an apple to clean the teeth afterwards for a picnic breakfast or lunch or supper in the tilt yard?

Just in time for the long English school holidays a summer of fun is promised at English Heritage sites. Included for the first time will be female jousters . Learn about the rudiments of jousting in this short video or from English Heritage's home page.

 "That's the way to do it"! Be sure to take your medieval or modern picnic too.

Friday, 15 July 2016

St Swithun's Day - is rain predicted?

Today 15th July is St Swithun's Day. And the olde saying goes: 
St Swithun’s day if thou dost rain
For forty days it will remain
St Swithun’s day if thou be fair
For forty days ‘twill rain nae mare
What credance can we give this prediction, will it rain for yet another 40 days if we encounter an unwelcome shower this very summer's day? And what is the provenance of this weather folklore? 
First, the history of this weather legend. St Swithun (or Swithin) was an Anglo-Saxon bishop of Winchester who died in around AD862. The clergymen requested that his remains be interred among the common people outside the church, but in 971, after he had been made patron saint of Winchester Cathedral, his body was dug up and moved to a new indoor shrine. According to some writers this caused sufficient displeasure in the heavens for a terrible downpour to strike the church and continue unabated for 40 days, hence the legend. 
Now this is all firmly Medieval (Middle Ages) territory so MedievalMorsels took to wondering about rainy day food. Pottage it must be! No need necessarily for bread to go with it - the grain is in the pot! Choose from red lentil pottage, spring vegetables pottage, beef or pease pottage! 

Red lentil pottage by MedievalMorsels  for a 12th scale dolls house

Miniature food for a period style dollshouse, vegetable pottage

Comfort food for any Middle Ages rainy season - cauldrons of pottage

MedievalMorsels 1:12 scale dollhouse food - pottage, pease pottage
Nourishing medieval pottages were based on grains and pulses available from essential stores when not in season, plus any available root vegetables, salad leaves (including cabbages) and even fruits. Cooked in a large pot directly over the fire it was a classless dish and particularly suitable for fasting days in better off households. Popular in the Medieval Period as well as in Tudor/Stuart times it was eaten even as late as Georgian  times.
Porridge, pottage, stew by MedievalMorsels, one inch scale food
Medieval Tudor dollhouse food, 12th scale pottage bowls
Now for the veracity of this ancient weather lore. According to the Royal Meteorological Society there is the tiniest glimmer of sense to the rhyme. Because "the middle of July tends to be around the time that the jet stream settles into a relatively consistent pattern. If the jet stream lies north of the UK throughout the summer, continental high pressure is able to move in, bringing warmth and sunshine. If it sticks further south, Arctic air and Atlantic weather systems are likely to predominate, bringing colder, wetter weather." 
The rhyme, according to the RoyMetSoc as it is colloquially known, just needs a little re-rendering:
St Swithun's day if thou dost rain
For forty days, relatively unsettled there's a fair chance it will remain
St Swithun's day if thou be fair
For forty days, a northerly jet stream might result in some fairly decent spells
But then again it might not

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Eggs, egges and eyren

What do Geoffrey Chaucer (c.1343 - 1400) and William Caxton (1422 - 1491)  have to do with egges, eyren or eggs? 
MedievalMorsels makes 1/12th scale geese eggs for a Tudor dollshouse

One inch scale duck eggs for  Medieval diorama
Well, Caxton introduced the first printing press into England in 1490 and he printed Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, previously available only as bound as manuscript volumes, in the same year. Because of the diverse regional dialects spoken cross England it was difficult for Caxton to choose which Middle English word to use in his printed books, aimed at all readers.  
1:12 miniature food - hen, pheasant, duck and goose eggs
Caxton illustrates this point in his own book, telling of a misunderstanding about eggs...

Travelling merchants from the north of England ask to buy " egges" from a woman from southern England (tending poultry and selling eggs was a female only occupation, as was dairying) but she is unable to understand them. In fact tells them that she speaks no "French". Egges is a word that derives from Old Norse and it is only when they offer the word "eyren" derived from Old English that both parties come to understand each other.
One inch scale dollshouse hen's eggs by MedievalMorsels
Caxton had to decide which dialect words to choose to set in print and, as an article by the British Library tells us, he opted for a London dialect "aimed at a clerke and noble gentylman". 

Effectively he chose Chaucer's mother dialect, the renowned author lived in London, so it is largely owing to Chaucer and Caxton that our present spoken English language, derived from this emerging form of standardised Middle English, sounds as it does.

MedievalMorsels sells a dozen loose 12th scale hens eggs for your dollshouse kitchen as well as duck, goose, pheasant eggs , and also quail eggs - all for the one inch scale period or modern dollhouse. Colours are hand blended and speckles are painstakingly added to some of the eggs (nah - I use tea dust to roll the eggs in!).

Friday, 6 May 2016

Oxford - Beating the Bounds on Ascension Day 2016

MedievalMorsels spent the morning yesterday, willow stick (wand if you will!) in hand, in splendid sunny weather marking the boundary stones which demarcate the Parish of St Michael’s at the North Gate - "Beating the Bounds" in other words. An age old parish practice, probably dating from Saxon times.

In the days before maps and written title deeds a knowledge of the physical boundaries of property was very important, the parish was the basic unit of taxation and government. So the custom grew up of walking the boundaries, stopping at intervals to strike boundary stones to ‘mark' the bounds. Each Ascension Day groups from English parishes used to mark the boundary stones in chalk and strike them with willow wands.20160505_120256 (1).jpg
A boundary stone on the Bodleian Library
At St Michael’s at the North Gate, the City Church of Oxford, this activity has been recorded since 1428 but probably dates back to before the Norman conquest. Prayers were offered for the crops which sustained life but now, keeping the tradition alive in a modern city parish, prayers are offered for the shops, colleges and city workers, students and visitors. You see, the boundary stones or their known positions are to be found not in field or hedgerow but in shops, delivery yards, bicycle sheds, Oxford Colleges, on walls and in the street!
At St Peter's College a prayer was offered for agricultural research and crops
A boundary stone was to be found in the kitchen at a well known food outlet
Colleges or buildings of note wholly or partially within the parish boundary include St Peter’s College, Brasenose College, The Bodleian Library, Exeter College, Jesus College and Lincoln College. So we had a very illustrious morning indeed - honey coloured stonework, notable architecture under a clear blue sky.
 Moving on to mark a few more stones

The boundary mark in Marks and Spencer's ladies department - a Father Ted moment perhaps?

Boundary stone duly marked we crossed the Bodleian Library quad full of visiting tourists

Coffee, tea and cake courtesy of Brasenose College 
Brasenose College was kind enough to provide coffee and cake to a parched throng of willow wafters part-way through the morning.
The brass nose at Brasenose College
Lincoln College was hospitable enough to provide a traditional ploughman’s lunch and pints of ivy beer brewed by the Bursar a couple of days previously.  To finish off, madrigals were sung from Lincoln College tower and hot pennies thrown  for local children - previously waifs and strays of the parish perhaps - to collect form the lawn in the quad.

Now about that ivy beer - at lunchtime on Ascension Day the connecting door between Brasenose and Lincoln Colleges is opened and members of Brasenose are entitled to be entertained to free beer by Lincoln. It became the custom for Lincoln to taint the beer with ground ivy to discourage the Brasenose students from taking too great an advantage of the hospitality. The beaters were able to take advantage of this enduring custom too….a very nice ale, very welcome and drinkable actually!