Post # 52 Feast of the Ages

October 1, 2012 at 1:15 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Sorry for no post on Friday.  I was under the weather and it slipped my mind.

We’re about to enter that long season of feasts.  Here in the U.S., it starts in November with Thanksgiving.  Then there is the Christmas season with its round of parties and religious observances for multiple faiths.  Next is ringing in the New Year, followed by Superbowl Sunday.  That’s usually where I end the feast season, but others tend to continue it through to Valentine’s Day.  The late Fall and Winter seasons are prime for feasting.  Feasting is a fun, uplifting activity during a cold and dark time.

Feasts in America are about having friends and family gather in one place to enjoy each others’ company and share whatever bounty is prepared.  Sometimes gifts are exchanged, and most times extras “for the feast” are brought.  Sometimes feasts are held to mark special events like an anniversary or a birthday.  Many times, the feast is sponsored by one person, the host, who makes up all the elements of the feast.  It wasn’t always this way.  In days gone by, all the guests at the feast participated in the making of the feast.  It was a real community effort.

What exactly goes into a feast is not written in stone anywhere.  A feast is a gathering of people to celebrate and enjoy good food.  Traditions sprang up from what was available at the time, so many feasts are identified by the food prepared.  In America, the majority of households serve roast turkey, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving.  The Easter feast for many features ham.  Celebrations during the summer highlight things that can be cooked outdoors to enjoy the weather so hot dogs and hamburgers are in abundance then.

In the middle ages in Europe, the year was marked by food events.  When to prepare the fields; when to plant; when to harvest; when to preserve.  They were all marked by feasts or festivals.  Festivals typically fell during market times while feasts occured during religious observances.

In any household of the middle ages that had the wherewithal, a feast would start shortly after noon and would last until well after nightfall.  Each course took several minutes to serve and savor and enjoy.  The master of the house sat high at the table, or else sat at the high table.  Today, we have the habit of sitting the children at a different table from the adults.  This is similar to what happened then.  The master of the house, whether it was the king, earl, duke, prince, whatever would sit where all could see him.  Honored guests sat at the high table and it was a real political battle at times as to who would sit there and exactly where at the table.

The kinds of foods served would usually depend on the time of year.  Preserved foods in the winter and early spring, along with fresh fish held in indoor ponds were very common.  Salted meats were also very common during the cold parts of the year.  Bread and cheese were plentiful and played an important part of any feast.

Entertainment during a feast was a must.  Musicians, dancers, balladeers, poets, and actors kept the guests occupied during the time between courses.  Talking to your dining partner was considered a must.  The whole event, the food preperation, the service, the entertainment all had to be carefully orchestrated to go flawlessly.

And the wine and ale flowed like a river.  It wasn’t unusual for a household to run out of the staples after a good feast and depend on being invited to other feasts to make it though the year.

The feasts, or dinner parties, or every day meals that I serve are based in large part on those same principles.  I look to what I have and make the most of it.  I plan when all the dishes come together, and I bring my family and guests to the table at the right time.  We nearly always have television or music on to keep us entertained, but we’re always talking, too.  Everyone has a full plate, and a full glass, and can go back for more if they choose.  For myself, I’ve always felt that if you take enough to start with, you don’t have to go back for more.


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