friday feast: 13th century vittles

 Medieval Feast set in the Great Hall, Warwick Castle (photo by mharrsch).

Welcome, Lords and Ladies! 

There’s nothing like a little boar’s head on a platter to make me yearn for England. I always think about our Elizabethan banquet wedding reception in London, where a feisty wench passed around the boar’s head paté.

You probably know how much I love all things British.

 Warwick Castle photo by Andrew®.

That’s why I was quite excited when I came across Linda Ashman’s Come to the Castle! (Roaring Brook, 2009), a hilarious account of a Medieval banquet held in a 13th century castle. It mentions boar, as well as lots of other tantalizing dishes which brought back delicious memories of my visit to Warwick Castle (a great Medieval castle built by William the Conquerer). Ah yes — who doesn’t love rhapsodizing about, “Peacocks, pike and pigeons, capon, venison and boar,/Mutton, eel and mackerel, sturgeon, porpoise, pig and more!”

 Recommended for grades 2-4 (40 pages).

The book has already been thoroughly reviewed by Sylvia Vardel of Poetry for Children and Abby (the) Librarian, among others, so I thought I’d just share two of my favorite poems from it today. In Come to the Castle, the Earl of Daftwood, who has every creature comfort known to man, gets bored one day and decides to host an elaborate banquet and jousting tournament. Easy for him to say, since everyone else has to do all the work. Through lively poems, we hear the distinctive voices of each of the castle inhabitants, gaining insight into their lives, attitudes, and concerns. From steward to squire, herald to gong farmer, lady to knight — the sights, smells, and flavors of 13th century England come to uproarious life.

Guess which are my favorite poems?

 Chocolate Swan Subtlety by Andre de Montsegur.

The first comes from The Cook, who must whip up a bountiful feast in just two short days. Though the Lady of the Castle wishes to regale her guests with the exotic meats mentioned above — including a dozen courses, a vast array of sweets, and a subtlety (a truly elaborate show-off dish, such as an “edible cathedral,” or “a knight astride his horse”), the Cook can’t manage it. What does she do? (Warning to Sara: this poem contains the word, “eel”.)


I have no fresh capon. No porpoise or eel.
No sumptuous roast for a memorable meal.
Still I must follow the Lady’s command.
A feast in two days? I’ll use what’s on hand:

Gizzards and lizards and kidneys and feet —
Grind it up well into mystery meat.

Bind it with egg, mix it with spice,
Throw in some currants and mustard and rice.
Drop it in stews, bake it in pies,
Roll it in balls (or some other disguise).
Toss on some flowers, gild it with gold.
Present it with antlers or feathers. Be bold!

A fine work of art to fill them with awe —
So what if it’s cold, or the meat is still raw?

You know, there’s nothing that says “party” like gizzards and animal feet!

Fancy a little game pie? (photo by Timmy Toucan.)

The other poem I really like is from The Suitor. He is one of many guests vying for the hand of the Earl’s daughter. In the company of underarm scratchers and wipe-your-snot-on-the-tablecloth gluttons, it’s nice to have someone lay down the law on table manners.



My conduct is impeccable; my manners, very fine.
I do not scratch my fleas or pet the canines when I dine.
I swallow all my food before I take another bite.
I belch, but not too loudly, for it would not be polite.

I do not ask my host what sort of meat is in the pie.
I drink my soup without removing rodent hair or fly.
I would not use the tablecloth to clean my runny nose —
Oh no! I use my hand, of course, then wipe it on my clothes.

I take great care to aim below the table when I spit.
I entertain the ladies with my eloquence and wit.
In summary (as all can see), I’m gracious, charming, wise,
valiant, poised, and modest; as a husband, quite a prize.


Don’t you wish you could marry him right this minute?

As you can tell, this book is a riot, written in the same humorous vein as The Midwife’s Apprentice by Karen Cushman, and similar to Good Masters, Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schlitz, with its great read-aloud, role playing potential. Who doesn’t like dung and dog bones strewn all over the floor? S.D. Schindler’s illos resemble illuminated manuscripts on parchment paper. He’s done a great job of capturing the color, pagentry, and earthiness of the period, adding much humor via facial expressions and intricate detail. I love his pictures of all the food. Naturally. ☺

Today’s Poetry Friday Roundup is being hosted by Irene Latham at Live. Love. Explore! I bet she’d fancy some fruit tarts and custard!

♥ Visit Linda Ashman’s website for reviews and commentary about Come to the Castle. It was included in the New York Public Library’s 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing for 2009!

♥ There’s also a great interview with Linda and Abby (the) Librarian here.

*Spreads posted by permission, text copyright © 2009 Linda Ashman, illustrations © 2009 S.D. Schindler, published by Flash Point/Roaring Brook Press. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2010 Jama Rattigan of jama rattigan’s alphabet soup. All rights reserved.