If You Think Your Mama Can Cook

Memories of the day after Thanksgiving always fade by Christmas. You forget that horrible feeling that comes when your stomach reels under loads of ungodly amounts of food. Maybe its some primeval instinct to stock up for the long cold winter, but by Christmas we're all ready to go at it again. The key word remains 'gluttony.'

But no modern excess can match the monumental efforts of our forbears. I probably wouldn't be hard for most of us to put ourselves out for the court by doing mortal damage to a couple of geese or an eighth of a cow, but even our Victorian friends would turn their noses up at such paltry quantities of grub. And to get a true idea of the real spirit of Christmas, (or any holiday for that matter) you've got to go further back, back to times when eating was a full time occupation.

"On this day in 1387, Richard II will taste:

The First Course:

A Potage called Viardbruse


Hedes of Bores

Grete Flessh

Swannes roasted

Pigges rosted

Crustade Lumbarde in paste

and a Sotellte."

For two more courses, both larger than the first Richard's feast continued. It included delicacies likes cranes and pheasants, larks and an almond soup. It took all day to eat as dish after dish was scooped up with spoons and fingers. By sunset, the last goblets of wine were brought in and the guests left to make their peace with God and stomach.

Fiction has always made use of monumental festive gorgings to patch over any gaps in the plot. Chaucer sneaks them in in his prologue to the Canterbury Tales writing of a house where it "seemed to snow food and drink and every kind of delicacy one can think of." And in Dickens' Christmas Carol, the crusty Scrooge's transformation begins when he supplies a complete spread, including goose, for his new friend Tiny Tim.

But literary consumption cannot match real life. The medieval feasts, especially on the holy days and the state occasions, were more monumental efforts from production to the final apoplexy than any novelist's depiction. No mere modern could ever dream of doing justice to such spreads.

Everything took on a grander scale then. At one feast, the Archbishop of York laid in 300 quarters of wheat, 300 tuns of ale, 100 tuns of wine, 104 oxen, 6 wild bulls, 1000 sheep, 304 calves, 304 piglets, 400 swans, 2000 geese, 1000 capons, 2000 pigs, 104 peacocks, over 13,000 other birds, 12 porpoises and seals and 13,000 dishes of jelly and all this was only for part of the meal.