Saturday, 28 June 2014

Richard III's statue has been relocated in Leicester (England)

I have mentioned in previous posts that I have a sister who lives in the centre of the city of Leicester. She has been able to witness recent developments. 

First, to set the scene. On 23 May 2014 the long awaited outcome of a Judicial Review held earlier in March 2014, was delivered at the Royal Courts of Justice, London. The deliberations were not about where King Richard III should be buried (Leicester or York or any other place) but whether several defendants, including the Secretary of State for Justice, had a duty at common law to consult about where and how the King's remains should be re-interred. The action had been brought by the Plantagenet Alliance  a group of fifteen collateral descendants of king, who believed they should have been consulted. 

King Richard III (2 October 1452 – 22 August 1485)

The Judgement found that 'there are no public law grounds for the Court interfering with the decisions in question'. 'Since Richard III's exhumation on 5 September 2012, passions have been roused and much ink has been split. Issues relating to his life and death and place of re-interment have been exhaustively examined and debated. The Very Reverend David Monteith, the Dean of Leicester Cathedral, has explained the considerable efforts and expenditure invested by the Cathedral in order to create a lasting burial place "as befits an anointed King". We agree that it is time for Richard III to be given as dignified reburial, and finally laid to rest.'

Re-located in Leicester Cathedral's precincts 

Leicester has been re-designing its city centre and cathedral precincts to create a Richard III themed pedestrian experience which links the important sites. This transformation is not yet complete. But this week Richard III's statue has this been re-located from Leicester's Castle Park to it's Cathedral precinct. He has been furnished with a new sword, replacing his dagger. 

My sister did wonder, below, what type of deliveries were expected by road back then in the 15th century. Hay? Armour? Or perhaps, most enticingly, street food in the form of MedievalMorselsThe most likely street food would have been the ever popular pie or "chewit" sold by itinerant traders. Individually sized, encased in pastry-crust and therefore easy to carry and easy to eat. 

Medieval street vendor's pie by MedievalMorsels

Saturday, 21 June 2014

World Cup is on.Time for a Beer. What's so peculiar?

I was making a steak and ale pie, so I needed some dark ale with great taste to "inform" the stock. I chose Theakeston's "Old Peculier". Then I got absorbed , as I hoped the ale would be in the pie, in looking at the emblem on the bottle's neck and reading about it. 
A peculier bottle of beer devoid of contents!

Could this be the Archbishop of York?
Explained on the bottleneck, Theakston's most famous beer takes its name from the seal of the Peculier Court of Masham which was granted back in the 12th century. "It was the custom at the time for the church to administer the law, and this proved too arduous a task for the then Archbishop, who was based in York. So with due archiepiscopal aplomb, he set up the independent Peculier Court, headed up by the Peculier of Masham."

Theakston's by contrast was established in 1827 not in the 1200's. This particular "Legendary Strong Ale" is 5.6% proof and is made from barley and wheat.

Now, from earliest Medieval times cereal was needed for bread-making and to feed the animal stock that worked the land - oxen and horses later.The demand for cereals was immense in proportion to the population, because insufficient land was under cultivation. So it was fortunate that a huge new granary opened up, also in the 12th century, when Germany expanded onto the plains of Eastern Europe.
Image courtesy Medieval Woodcuts Clipart Collection

Beer drinkers should pay attention from this point. So plentiful and cheap were supplies of cereal from the Baltic that, courtesy of the well organised Hanseatic League traders plying their trade across the North Sea, there was now grain enough to spare in England - even for brewing!! Fermented barley, known as malt was an essential ingredient. A weak,  unfiltered and cloudy "small ale" was home brewed, often by women of the household. Drunk by all classes of medieval society, and their children, it provided some nourishment. Because water is boiled as part of the process, ale was a safer drink than water itself. Its alcoholic content would also discourage micro-organisms to some extent, although ale did rapidly go sour. Strong ale was no doubt brewed for medieval festivities, or for consumpion in alehouses.

What is the difference between ale - drunk in one form or another from the earliest times across  many civilisations - and beer I hear you ask!? Its a historical difference now rather lost in the  move to modern beer production. Ales were made long before hops first reached England's shores in 1524. The beer making process practised in continental Europe used hops, which imparted a bitter taste that balanced the sweet malted barley.

Ale drinking habits continued throughout England into Elizabethan times after 1524, when hops and beer making began to gain some ground in London. According to Anne Wilson’s book “Food and Drink in Britain” by Elizabeth I reign (1558 - 1603) even ale came to be lightly hopped, helping it keep better. Hops, now grown locally to London were no longer an expensive imported item from the Low Countries (Belgium and Holland). Annette Hope in her book “Londoners’ Larder notes that both ale and beer could be made very strong “..and London ale houses, where the ‘ale-knights’ sat all day, drinking until they fell off their stools, were a byword.” A byword for excess! 
MedievalMorsels 12th scale dolls house food, predominantly wheat with barley loaves, and barley bannocks

MedievalMorsels one inch scale dollhouse miniature food rye with barley flatbread loaves
 MedievalMorsels makes a range of one inch dolls house miniature foods from Medieval and Tudor times- flatbreads that used barley as an ingredient in varying proportions with rye and other grains. It also produces dainty barley bannocks that would grace a rich guildsman's dining table!

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Gloucester's claims to fame!

House in Cathedral precincts

The Old Crypt Schoolroom erected in 1539 

We were in Medieval Gloucester the other day. Gloucester's fine cathedral remains partly under scaffold wraps as the long process of masonry cleaning and restoration continues.  
In 1216 the cathedral witnessed the first coronation of King Henry III at the tender age of nine. Henry III has several claims to fame. The son of (bad) King John who was forced to sign the Magna Carta, he established England's first parliament, bringing the practice of absolute monarchy to an end. He was the only English monarch to lose his crown twice but he died as monarch! First, he became unpopular with his barons and subjects and was deposed by his ruling Council. Then, as an ageing king his son - later Edward I - regained the Plantagenet crown in battle. But effectively it was his son who ruled, side-lining the king who now had time on his hands. He was a pious man, devoting himself to re-building Westminster Abbey in the new Gothic style of architecture, as well as other fine churches, in the second half of his "reign".
Some Grotesques have had a structural make-over.
Whilst speaking (writing) of Gloucester we cannot overlook the marvellous Gloucestershire Old Spots Pig, awarded "traditional speciality guaranteed status" from the EU, putting it's bacon, pork and ham products on a par with Champagne and Parma ham! The once commonplace orchard grazing pig belongs is a breed that has been formally recognised relatively recently, to protect its ancient bloodline. As it happens, the Princess Royal is Patron of the Gloucestershire Old Spots Pig Breeders’ Club, whose motto I love - "100 years of porcine perfection"!
Medieval Tudor dollhouse miniature food -12th scale cured bacon

I imagine that most home-killed medieval free-range pork was equally delicious, regardless of breed. MedievalMorsels makes one inch scale doll's house miniature bacon joints for your Medieval, Gothic or Tudor dollhouse scene.  Visit MedievalMorsels in the future when I hope to have developed other porcine products, 12th scale doll's house miniature ham and pork models!

Gloucester's other claim to fame of course is Beatrix Potter's charming children's story "The Tailor Of Gloucester". Its one of my personal favourites, after "The Tale of Peter Rabbit". I grew up with these tales, at home we had a near complete set of the little books. Tradition carries on, so when my god-daughter was born I sent her a book each year for the first years of her life. Some of Gloucester's narrow alleyways are little changed from their not so whimsical representation in this little gem of a story.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Herring in disguise -kipper or bloater?

I had a lovely lightly cured kipper or was it a bloater for breakfast (or was it lunch?) the other day. The last time some wonderful freshly preserved fish like this came into the house they were eaten before I got around to photographing them. Not so this time! 

And here they are - handsome fellas artistically posed with some red pears which set them off rather attractively don't you agree? 
 My partner often does some food shopping so surprises abound! And the connections I can with medieval eating practices seem endless, giving me food for thought, and blogging material!

Can there ever be such a thing as a fresh kipper?  Lets consider a Dark Ages or Middle Ages (Medieval) fisherman, or indeed a Renaissance times "trawler of the sea". In northern Europe herring was a popular, cheap and plentiful fish caught from earliest times - there is evidence it was fished before 1000 AD!! That's over one thousand years pursuing this versatile fish. 

Woodcut of ocean going fishing vessels dating from about 1550
A smelly job 
 But herring is an oily fish and goes bad very quickly, so immediate steps had to be taken to preserve it for transport to market. The processing on board ship involved gutting, flattening, salting and packing the fish into barrels. A very smelly and messy business I have no doubt. 
Brined "white herring" by MedievalMorsels 
Historical re-enactors' brined herring

 Peasants living close to North Sea ports in Europe, or even in medieval London, would have easy access to brined "white" herring. It was a relatively cheap "staple" food.  It offered a "fresher" and welcome alternative to the even saltier, often many-years-old, "stockfish" (salted cod). This dried fish by con trast needed the equivalent of a medieval mallet as well as long soaking (often in unclean water) to render it edible! 

Its fitting that the herring was in fact MedievalMorsel's first 12th scale dollshouse miniature food to be listed in my Etsy online shop. My maternal grandfather was a Suffolk-based drifter-man away for long periods  at sea chasing herring in the early 1900's. And I grew up in King's Lynn, Norfolk  an important Hanseatic League port for medieval merchants trading in barrels of herring and other produce from and via the North Sea!

 I will tell the tale (tail!) of medieval red herring another time. And ,yes, the kipper versus bloater thing will have to wait until then too....