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A Merry Feast

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A Merry Feast

Eating and Entertaining

Thomas Fella. A book of diverse devises. Manuscript, 1585, 1593-1594, 1622

Whether they were preparing for humble gatherings or elaborate feasts, English women could draw on a wide variety of festive recipes to enliven their tables: salads of flowers and herbs, exotic new foods like turkey, and sweetmeats of all sorts. Presentation was important. Each course had its proper layout, napkins were folded in "the forms of sundry creatures" and meat was ceremonially carved.


The illustration of a meal in Thomas Fella's A Book of Diverse Devices (Manuscript, 1585-98, 1622) reveals details of a typical period table setting: square trenchers (wooden plates), knives to spear and bring food to the plate, a covered salt cellar, one fork (for cooking, not eating), and one cup to be shared. The beverage in another cup is being mulled at the fire, and a dog eagerly awaits tidbits.


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As refined sugar became increasingly available, hosts and hostesses used it to sweeten everything from carrots to meat and to create extravegant conceits such as marzipan sculptures, sugarwork cups, and three dimensional confectionary scenes designed to awe guests.


Hannah Woolley offers her readers instructions detailing how to make these dazzling sugared sculptures:


To Cast All Kinds of Shapes, What You Please, And to Color Them:


"Take 1/2 pound of refined sugar. Boil it to a candy heigh with as much rosewater as will melt it. Then take molds made of alabaster and lay them in waer one hour before you put in the hot sugar. Then when you have put in your sugar, turn the mold about inm your hand until it be cool. Then take it out of the mold, and color it according to the nature of the fruit you would have it resemble."


From Hannah Woolley, The queen-like closet. London, 1675. 

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