NOVEMBER IN THE GOOD OLD DAYS
My historical fiction trilogy, The Margaret Chronicles, the first of which is still out to publishers (fingers crossed), is set in the 14th century. I’m sure my ancestors back then were peasants. In fact, most people were peasants. They lived in a feudal society where they were essentially at the bottom of the pecking order. Only about one percent of the population was comprised of wealthy members of royalty and royal hangers-on.
Peasants worked hard in the month of November, aware that winter with all its hardships was right around the corner. For weeks villagers harvested crops and replanted for the spring. In preparation for slaughter, pigs were led to the forest to feed on the “mast” of beechnuts and acorns. On November 11, the feast day known as Martinmas or the Feast of St. Martin, the pigs were slaughtered.
In my book, the main character Meg is the village swineherd. When the book starts she is taking pigs to the forest. She regrets that all of them will die the next day in the annual slaughter, but is resigned to the necessity. The village is under stress due to continuing famine and bad weather, a real “perfect storm” of events which occurred in England from 1315 to about 1322. The period was marked by crime, disease, mass death, and, according to some historians, even cannibalism and infanticide.
The medieval illustration below shows two men beating the branches of an oak tree to force acorns to the ground. Note the pigs which are hairier and smaller than our present-day varieties.
After the animals were slaughtered and butchered, every part of the pig would be used, including its blood, brains, and intestines. The meat would be salted down for winter consumption. While the slaughter was hard work, villagers knew their survival through the winter depended on everyone pitching in. Afterwards, they could feast, sing, listen to stories, and drink. And thank St. Martin for providing for them once again.
In my next blog, I'll have a "little bit of this and a little bit of that." Until then, take care and . . . if you are a reader, thank you! If you are a writer, sit your derriere in the chair and write. And if you are a cook, try this recipe and let us know how it tastes!
French Country Sausage (Saucisse a Cuire)
This recipe combines ingredients that would have been typically used during the Middle Ages in French country cooking. Sausages were traditionally stuffed into casings of animal intestines, or fried as patties, as below.
1 pound fresh pork (shoulder or Boston butt)
1 pound fresh veal (stew meat or shank)
½ pound slab bacon, rind removed
1 tablespoon each freshly ground pepper and salt
1 teaspoon each of fresh herbs (thyme, sage, marjoram, parsley) all finely chopped
1 teaspoon each of exotic spices (nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves) all ground
¼ cup dry white wine
2 to 4 tablespoons flour (for light dusting of sausage patties before frying)
Vegetable oil, as needed (for pan frying)
Chop meat, and slab of bacon (with its fat) into coarse pieces. Partially freeze meat. 2
Place these very cold meat chunks (excluding bacon) into a meat grinder on a medium coarse setting and grind them all together.
Finely dice the cold bacon pieces (including fat) by hand, and add to ground meat mixture.
Mix in the salt, herbs and spices; then pour in white wine. Blend well with fingers. Allow the mixture to rest overnight in a tightly covered bowl in refrigerator so all flavors can mingle.
With moistened hands, shape the sausage mixture into round patties about ¾” thick and 2” wide. Lightly dust both sides of the patties with flour prior to frying. Place them in a lightly greased pan set over medium heat. As they cook, gently press the patties with a slotted spatula to squeeze out excess fat. Brown patties 5 to 8 minutes on each side, then drain on paper towels and serve hot. Makes 20 sausage patties
Courtesy of Robin Trento, the J. Paul Getty Museum | The King’s Table: Recipes for a Medieval Feast, http://blogs.getty.edu/iris/files/2011/01/kings_feast_recipe_pack.pdf?x92839