Saturday, 31 January 2015

Wolf Hall fascinates viewers to BBC

The BBC's "Wolf Hall" adapted from Man Booker prize winning author Dame Hilary Mantel's two novels (Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies) continues to win critical acclaim from all quarters. That is despite the authentic dimly candle-lit scenes that have inconvenienced some viewers.

And so I have found myself peering very closely at the food that appears on the screen, in the hope of reproducing as much of it as I can at dollshouse miniature one inch (or 1/12th) scale. I have viewed some scenes many times, using the rewind button.  But even after many views, pencil poised above my notepad, it is sometimes difficult to ascertain precisely what is being served and eaten!

This is a labour of love though! The atmospheric scene settings and acting are impeccable. So what if I cannot tell the difference between a damson and some other English plum in a fruit bowl piled high and barely registering during a brief panning of the camera! I will just have to model both types of fruit. And what were those small white chunks - fish, most probably herring?

So far in Episode One we have been treated to a Cromwell household breakfast of wholegrain brown bread - termed "maslin" bread in  its day - and boiled eggs.
Twelfth scale Tudor food Wolf Hall maslin bread- wholegrain rye and expensive wheat grains

One inch scale Tudor dollhouse food Wolf Hall boiled eggs by MedievalMorsels

Then we have had sumptious cherries on a fine plate offered by Cardinal Wolsey to Thomas Cromwell whilst seated at his writing desk. I did have fun modelling these, choosing a plate for them and posing them with some lovely dollshouse scale medieval maps since I did not have miniature parchment scrolls to hand. Perhaps I need to make some......

MedievalMorsels authentic one inch scale Tudor food -from Wolf Hall Cardinal Wolsey's cherries

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Quinces - a most peculiar fruit?

The Christmas season is well behind us now but I was intrigued at the special seasonal fruit produce that made its way into the shops. Amongst the piles of ever popular oranges were crates of clementines, mountains of mandarins, and sloths of satsumas.

But more ancient and impressive of all of these, in supermarkets in Gibraltar and Spain at least, were the quinces. Looking like a knobbly cross between a pear and an apple, quinces do not soften as they ripen. But quinces are highly aromatic fruits and this quality was not lost on those living in the Middle Ages.
Quinces in a supermarket in Gibraltar, not so pretty are they?

One inch scale dollshouse fruit - quinces for a period setting!
 The quince in fact held a pre-eminent place in Medieval, Tudor and Renaissance kitchens and homes. One quince, or better still a bowl of them, would scent a room. Practically inedible raw, when cooked quince flesh turns pinkish and imparts an aromatic taste to whatever they are cooked with.
A 12th scale pewter dish of quinces lends aroma to a Tudor room.
Quinces made perfect pastes and jellies, the forerunner of marmalade and jam. England's Henry VIII is reported to have been fond of them. Quince jelly  or “membrillo” is still eaten widely in Spain today, mainly as an accompaniment to cheese . I tried it with “manchego” cheese this Christmas! Truth be told I was left a bit non-plussed...

MedievalMorsels : quinces for pie-making in the Tudor kitchen
 So MedievalMorsels just had to model this strange fruit, so versatile and well loved in the Middle Ages.

Perhaps quince fruits are not as rare as we might imagine. Some can be found, not at the greengrocers of in the supermarket, but in domestic gardens! Japonica quince for example - a cultivated quince from Japan. grown for its blossom. Now I come to think of it I have seen largish, scruffy fruits on leafless Japonica bushes in front gardens in winter here in England. I suppose they could be cooked and their aroma sampled! Well this spring, or summer? I will have to have my camera handy and snap some at least!

Thursday, 22 January 2015

At last! Wolf Hall on BBC TV

The first episode of the BBC's eagerly awaited adaptation of Hilary Mantel's Tudor historical drama "Wolf Hall" hit the UK's TV screens last night. Lets hope that UK's TV event of the year is swiftly syndicated world wide. And as a miniaturist I hope too that the number of Tudor dollshouse enthusiasts will grow!

Wolf Hall is the first Booker prize winner of a trilogy by Mantel which charts the rise to power of Thomas Cromwell.  Low born but able, intelligent and aspiring, Cromwell was ready to make his mark in Tudor society. He fast became a confidant of his master Cardinal Wolsey and then, following Wolsey's fall from favour, of Henry VIII himself. He achieved this by working behind the scenes and advising the King during the protracted negotiations with Rome to try to secure the King's divorce from his first wife, Spain's Katherine of Aragon. The eventual divorce, self-proclaimed by Henry in the end, paved the way for his marriage to Anne Boleyn and England's irrevocable break with the Church of Rome.

The BBC has produced a lavish and historically accurate six part historical drama of  Wolf Hall and its Booker winning successor "Bring up the Bodies". Mantel is the first author ever to win two Booker prizes - a feat indeed! I had raced to finish the book before the first episode was transmitted, but I fell short by some 120 pages of its 650. A little bedtime reading left then! As a modeller of Tudor ( and earlier Medieval) foods I have been noting every mention of food, whether simply prepared or consumed. Interestingly Mantel has the achieved feat of two Booker prizes, but has not resorted to description of a feast from what I have read so far. Perhaps this is because Cromwell is not elevated enough as yet in my reading to be invited to attend them.

12th scale Tudor dollhouse food white herring by MedievalMorsels

In episode one we heard Cromwell mention the need for nutmeg and saffron when Wolsey's household is unceremoniously downsized on a winter's night from York Palace to Esher Place. These were exotic and expensive spices, traded by merchants in the Middle East. But we also see Wolsey in happier times offering Cromwell a pewter plate of cherries (it must be early summer). Later on in the episode, Cromwell is dining with Thomas More who is at odds with Wolsey and stands in the way of Henry's divorce. Their mutual host remarks that it seems as if More dislikes his herring. Later, to point out the difference between himself and More, Cromwell compliments his host and the herring - asking for he recipe of the accompanying sauce.   

Tudor/Medieval dollshouse food one inch brined and pickled herring

MedievalMorsels models one inch white herring for your Tudor dollshouse kitchen scene, maybe I need to add a pewter plate of 12th scale herring, cubed with white sauce to eat with fingers as we saw Cromwell do. A new range of authentic medieval and Tudor dollhouse food for Wolf Hall foodie enthusiasts beckons! Certainly I am going to work on some plates of luscious cherries! My sister and her co-proprietor Gillian already model these in lovely punnets, as well as on cherry pie making preparation boards and a cherry pie-making table in their Etsy shop "abasketof...".