Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

28 August, 2008

Yes, Virginia, They Had Silverware Back Then

Madison beer blogger Kent Palmer made a trip to the medieval-themed restaurant, Medieval Times, recently and he blogged about the experience. Kent notes, "There were great similarities to what people believe of times gone by: princesses, chivalry and regality." I can only hope that neither he nor anyone else in his party came away believing that the cuisine they were served has any similarity to what was found at the regal dining table in medieval times.



The vegetarian meal was extra-special: a roasted kabob of potato, red pepper and onion plus a portabella mushroom stuffed with wild rice, and a slice of garlic bread.

Extra-special it may have been but blatantly modern as well. Potatoes, Bell peppers, and wild rice are all native to the Americas which means that no medieval chef would have been serving these vegetables to his lord nor a grain native to the Great Lakes area. Instead vegetarians would have been enjoying something like skirret pie or roasted turnips.

‘Dragon soup’ – vegetarian -- preceded it all, a tart tomato bisque. I guess dragons are really flowers or plants or something and not giant treasure-hoarding lizards with the power of fire, ice, or psionics.

There was no tomato soup in the medieval times because all the tomatoes were still in the Americas awaiting the arrival of the Spanish, who would kill off the natives and bring the venerable fruit back to Europe. And, as near as I can tell, soups back in the day weren't named after mythical beasts. Instead they had rather normal names like "cinnamon soup", which was essentially chicken soup seasoned with common medieval spices like cinnamon, clove, and grains of paradise.

The carnivores carried on over carrion of chicken, half-a-one each.

They gave no one any silverware; it’s part of the shtick. You drank the soup from your pewter bowl and used your hands to rip through the chicken. Just like you can’t get a plastic fork in an airport, maybe they were trying to prevent terror attacks on the King.


Chicken was certainly a part of the medieval diet (but not turkey!) but you'd have probably had help when eating it. The Joe and Jane Six-Packs of the Middle Ages usually ate with their hands. However, those dining with the king would have had silverware. The fork came to Italy from Byzantium in the 11th century but it took a few hundred years before Italians really took to them. It wasn't until the 16th and 17th centuries that the fork began to be used in other parts of Europe.

While medieval diners wouldn't have been using forks, they would have had spoons and knives. However, those at the lower end of the totem pole at a royal feast were probably found to be sharing a knife. This is not to say that people wouldn't put a little manual effort into their dinner, but there was decorum to be upheld when dining with the king; he wouldn't have stood for his courtiers to be all slovenly, parading around his hall with their doublets soaked in soup and gowns adorned with bits of chicken.

By the way, napkins were generally worn over the shoulder.
|| Palmer, 2:31 PM

2 Comments:

Heh, interesting little history lesson. Alas, Medieval Times is not exactly a bastion of historical accuracy, but more, as you've already pointed out, the typical modern person's perception of what medieval times were like. Which is to say, not at all accurate.

Still, it's really pretty amusing to go to this thing (with the right attitude). I mean, who doesn't love a good joust?
Blogger Emily, at 11:31 AM  
I've never been to Medieval Times though I think it would be fun. The same thing here applies to Ren Faires. About the only period food at them is the funnel cakes. I've seen a recipe for them from the 16th century.
Blogger Palmer, at 11:41 AM  

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