English Subtlety Paper with Pictures

A Subtlety

Ansteorra Taking the Castle at Gulf Wars

I.  A History of Subtleties

Subtleties are works of art in food and story telling.  A subtlety should be, per Hunter, an intermission with in a meal between courses that entertains while heavily disguising the origins of the main ingredients.  Fooling, or tricking the eye into seeing the unusual and mythical, while using every day food items in unique ways, that promoted thought and good will towards the host.

Hunter notes the coinciding of the change of venue for the banquet course (to another room) to promote conversation in the fifteenth century with the publication in the vernacular of Platos Symposium (defined as a meeting to exchange ideas after a meal… The qualities of wit and wisdom associated with the literary …appear to metamorphose sotil into the more modern sense of subtle through association with the sweetmeat course (Hunter 1986:38,39). Witty conversation was to work with the sweetmeats or confectionery subtleties to help the diner digest physically and mentally. Once the effects of wonder wear off, the need for quick wit, humor and subtle sayings represent the transfer of ingenuity from the chef to the guests. The subtlety is creative and prompts creativity; if the chef can make it, the guest should be able to comment on it. Unlike with many other performance genres, the subtlety relies on ingenuity from both the audience and the director in order to be successful. It also depends on a unique form of ingenuity: playing with nature. (Martins)

From the 1300 through 1500, subtleties, also known as soteltie in English and an entremet in French, (Martins) became the rage for royal and noble displays as stiff competition between England and France raced on during the fourteenth and fifteenth century.  (The Renaissance cornered the market on subtleties; art work in food started much earlier).  There were early notations of subtleties occurring, from the book Satyricon, by Petronius, who wrote that at a Roman feast dinner included a rabbit that had been made to look like the mythological winged horse Pegasus. Another earlier example, written by an Egyptian caliph in the eleventh century describes from one Islamic feast day a hundred and fifty seven figures and seven table sized palaces made of sugar. (Mintz, pp. 88/Martins).

These feats of food were put on by the nobility and very wealthy. These fleeting art works were for display and thought not for a monetary gain at first sight or taste.

The intention of a subtlety is to create an experience rather than something that can be given as a gift or sold.  Unlike permanent displays of power, the subtlety it not durable, it spoils, it has a fixed life-span that ends when it is eaten. The subtlety also enters the dining hall in motion: the set itself is wheeled in, fire blazes out of the mouths of beasts and the actors are put into life-like poses intended to be animated by other performers or the imagination. (Martins)

Monarchs put the feasts to good use as ways to make a vivid point, i.e. the inducing of guests to pledge allegiance to a planned crusade.  An example of this was when Philip the Fair, at the Feast of the Pheasant, show cased a giant Saracen entering the feasting hall leading an elephant (there is question about the edibility of said pachyderm), with a knight (Oliver de La Marche) playing the role of the captive Eastern church. (Wheaton, pg. 8/Martins).  Another example of the royal use of subtleties was by Henry VIII.  George Cavendish wrote about a feast sponsored by the great Tudor king in such waxing enthusiasm for the feast “…I do both lack wit in my gross old head and cunning in my bowels to declare the wondrous and curious imaginations in the same invented and devised.” (Henisch, pp. 236/Martins).  The feasting was a display to move men and women into wondrous thoughts, glossing over a harsh reality of court life; or a grand and compelling gesture.

A subtlety could be a simple item such as a redressed peacock on proud display, stuffed fowl riding roast piglets or as elaborate as a full pastry castle with trees containing candied fruit, mythical beasts glazed and stuffed as well as musicians.  Allegorical scenes were not uncommon.  Some scenes could be “Castle of Love” or “Lady of the Unicorn”.  (www.refernce.comm/browse/subtlety).  Subtleties could comprise of just the edible or as the more elaborate a set up became, a combination of paper machie and lumber to support a larger and even grander display.  These decorative subtleties were for powerful displays and less about eating, with the production being done by carpenters, metals smiths and painters and very little with chefs. (www.reference.com/browse/subtlety). Horace Warpole describes a banquet given in honor of the birth of Duke of Burgundy, where the centerpiece was of wax figures moved by clock work at the end of the feast to represent the labor of the Dauphiness and the happy birth of the heir to the monarchy. (Craig, pp. 17)

Creating a display:

Creating a display seems to rely heavily on allegorical content from myth, fantasy or biblical content, such as the Pegasus from myth at the Roman table (Scully, pp. 107) or Lady of the Unicorn.  Part of the thought process that goes behind making a display is how each animal is viewed in allegorical terms.

“…the horns of an antelope might get caught in a bush in

the same way humans might get caught in a life of sin. The nightingale represented love, the elephant implied chastity, the ape, ludeness and lust and the peacock, the purity of someone who never turns to sin.” (Martins)

The main display item, per these views, should play upon the strength of the subjects or as humorous joke on the subject presented.


The menu for adding a subtlety could be during the end of a course or at the end of a meal.  One menu described a 5 course meal with a crown subtlety at the end.

“…At each end, outside the green lawn, was an enormous pie, surmounted with smaller pies, which formed a crown. The crust of the large ones was silvered all round and gilt at the top; each contained a whole roe-deer, a gosling, three capons, six chickens, ten pigeons, one young rabbit…

To serve as seasoning or stuffing, a minced loin of veal, two pounds of fat, and twenty-six hard-boiled eggs, covered with saffron and flavoured with cloves.


This display put on for an honored guest shows the detail and extravaganza that went into each dish and into the visual delight for the guests, not only for the bodily need of food but also for the intellectual delight and discussion by the guests long after the meal had been consumed.

II.   “Ansteorra Taking the Castle at Gulf Wars”

Using these as a guide line, I have decided to work with the subject of “Ansteorra Taking the Castle at Gulf Wars”.  This plays on the upcoming war between Ansteorra and Trimaris held in kingdom of Meredies.  I decided to recreate the castle with towers (though my memory could be faulty on whether the current castle has towers or not) stuffed with sugared fruits and to have golden eggs and mead inside the castle as the “prize”.

Hay bales made of gingerbread detail the field that the fighters take, whether it is to capture the castle or a “bridge”.  The path leading up to the castle and around the castle is of  gold springerfel cookies.

The shortbread shields and swords are to represent the fragility of the on field items used upon the field of war in their broken nature. Colored marzipan flowers represent the ladies and lords that comprise the spectators from all of the known world of the SCA.

The Ansteorran knights and dons are made of chickens with a crest of black and gold rooster feathers symbolizing the cockiness of the Ansteorran fighter upon the battle field, while the peacock feather symbolizes the beauty and proud display that fighters put into their looks and their fighting.  The idea of a piglet used for a horse (representing the jousting community) may or may not be incorporated at this point in the display due to the availability of a suckling piglet in February.

The “ponds” are sauces for the chicken.  These represent the rains that are almost always constant at the Gulf Wars site, causing flooding both at the fighting areas and the camping areas.  The broken sea shell at the base of the castle gate represents the defeat of Trimeriss at the hands of the three Ansteorran knights and Dons at the gate.  The shields and weapons of the knights are painted in gold and silver gilding for a little bit of extra flash.

The ever present pine trees are represented by the asparagus bunches so that the forest the fighters fight in or around is represented.


An Elizabethan kitchen included whole spits from which to turn oxen and pigs in as well as a host of chefs and underling to present a note worthy subtlety for the royal courts pleasure. This varies greatly from a modern kitchen, which is lucky to be able to roast a piglet in…one at a time.  Trying to prepare a feast is a multi-week task for cooking of many animals where on a feast day many animals could be cooked at one time in these huge roasting pits.

Redon insists that the first part of an evolved kitchen is the knife.  The knife is the first line in slice, cutting, and chopping the variety of items necessary to prepare a feast.  Modern knives less likely to go dull with the serrated edges, making the process of cutting and chopping easier then in period where a kitchen knife would need to be sharpened periodically.

Next was the mortar and pestle for grinding up spices, herbs, breads and meats for measured inclusions into a chef’s careful creative dish. (Redon)  Personally I prefere to use a mortal and pestle for small items; however due to the fact there is only me and not a kitchen of help I find a small coffee grinder or a small cuisinart helps with the items that require more then a Tbs.

Then the various pots, pans and molds necessary for the final cooking.  The molds could be of would or metal.  (Craig).  The plates for serving dinner on were of baked bread (trenchers) during Henry VIII and prior. During Elizabeth’s reign her plates were of silver instead of bread trenchers, showing a higher level of dinner ware then previous kings.  I used either metal molds or silicon for easier washing (again see singular kitchen person not a horde of helpers) as well as pots and pans with non stick surface to aid in clean up.


Spices included but were not limited to ginger, cinnamon, cloves, grains of paradise, long pepper, aspic, round pepper, cassia buds, saffron, nutmeg, bay leaves, galingale, mace, cumin, sugar, garlic, onions, shallots and scallions (Taillevent, pp, 230).  Spices not only add flavor and color but were also testaments to the wealth of the host adding to the sumptuousness of any given dish.


Some times the color was more desired then the flavor and the spicing used would over power the dish so much so as to be less sumptuous then a less colorful dish. Vivid colors, Wheaton explains, were highly prized and were often achieved at the expense of flavor (Wheaton, pp. 15/Martins) Taillevent also suggested more common spices for green coloring such as parsley, sorrel and winter wheat still green.  Gold and silver leaf was brushed onto the surfaces of food i.e pastries for a greater visual impact. (Martins)

III.  Making of the Subtlety

The overall idea for the subtlety is a gorgeous piece of edible artwork meant to invoke the awe and hurra of winning Gulf Wars.  As I attempted each section, I realized that there were cooking steps with in the main cooking dishes, which had to be done i.e. rendering lard from pig fat or soaking walnut shell husks for black coloring.  Each item is a separate cooking experiment.

Each edible item had to be researched, redacted via trial and error several times  then set up for the final display with extra items on hand in case some thing “broke” beyond repair.

I first started with small items such as the making of yogurt from milk to make the cheese for the “glue” on the castle walls.  Then to orange peels and candied fruit.  The two type of cookies used were fairly easy to find though the springerle cookie recipes offered many different variations, the one used was the oldest recipe I could find.  The springerle were then redacted with only a slight modification (peach schnapps instead of cherry schnapps).  The short bread is just one of my favorite type of cookies so again after finding a period recipe, redaction was used to find the best flavor with the ingredients in the right proportion.

The orange peels were the redaction for which to try candied fruit on.  The peels are pretty and tasty and very period.  They are also the basis for making of candied fruit which are used to stuff the towers with.

Gulf Wars has many battles, the bridge battle and the town battle as some of the more anticipated portions.  I thought that having an edible representation of this would be a really nice touch. So I went in search of a period dish that could be made into squares that was tasty.  I hit upon period gingerbread.  Unlike modern gingerbread, period gingerbread has a rather thick almost fudge like texture that can be molded into square forms easily.  First though period bread had to be made, Raston.  The raston requires ale yeast and must for the yeast part of the bread for rising.  The bread will form a “foot” when cooking as the bread rises.  The foot and the crust is removed and the soft inner part of the bread is then allowed to dry.  (A foot is the bottom part of the dough ball that the dough rises on when cooking to form the bread.) Once the bread has dried, it is ground up into bread crumbs, mixed with honey and spices then formed into square “hay bales” tied up with a rough twine.

The castle walls I was dreading redacting as the recipes were elusive.  Once I found the recipes I wanted to use as a basis, there was the rendering of lard from pig fat.  Finding pig fat was a rather interesting task that took several grocery stores and more then a few weird looks.  The first set of rendering did not go well as the fat ended up cooking to long and taking on a scorched taste.  The second batch, again with the odd looks for buying just the pig fat at the meat counter, went much better.  I did experiment between using butter and duck fat vs. butter and pig lard.  The lard won hands down for dough durability.  The flavor has a distinctive pork flavor; however the soft farmer’s cheese really goes well with it.

Once I had the lard done and the dough in the right consistency, a template for making walls and then towers had to be worked on.  None of the research I had showed or mentioned how a circular form was built or how battlements were made.  From what I can glean the actual square cut battlements could have been cut out by hand, free form.  I didn’t want to trust my hand battlements to such guess work so I made a paper template from which to cut out the square portions at the top of the dough.  For the actual towers, a sheet of paper was tied with string, then covered with foil, sprayed with oil then the battlement cut dough was wrapped around the form and cooked up right.  In period, my guess for the towers would be that the head cook would have used either a round wooden form or metal tube, well greased.  I did not have access to either so choose to use some thing more available that was potentially as period.  Paper, string and oil were very much available though the foil would not have been, though this could be symbolized as a metal tube.

The choice of what type of meat to use bounced from using whole ducks to piglets, or possibly whole goats as well.  The eventual solution came from what would fit into my oven.  Whole ducks would be ideal but the necks are overly long so that an upright duck would not fit into my oven.  Laying down the duck to roast produced a great roasted duck, but not one that would stand on its own with out serious bone breakage and destroying of the overall form.  Whole goats were also right out due to the stove size issue.  What I did settle for were whole chickens that could be cooked up right with use of metal tubes and very small young piglets.  Upright chickens, I believe were period as seen from the cockatrice descriptions (half chicken front and half fish back) with the use of twine and wire to make the whole subtlety work.  While my chickens do not include heads or feet which were available at certain stores, I went with the more common neckless and footless variety due to the oven size again.

Many period feasts had sauces for the meats.  I thought that using blue ceramic dishes with the period sauces would be great ways to display the sauce while making a reference to the “rain” that is ever present at Gulf Wars.  I debated using rye flour “cups” however I found that the only reference to a rye dough was used for the baking of thick walled “coffins” for meat pies.

Each of the edibles has the food groups of meat, pastry, sweets.  I was missing vegetables, when the idea of representing the pine trees hit.  There was only one vegetable that I could think of that would stand upright well and could be cooked in a tasty manner that wouldn’t turn it to mush.  Asparagus spears fried in butter and wheat flour then tied with coarse twine, makes a great “forest”.

I decided that gold leaf should be included as a bit of a zing to show the richness of the display.  Leafing was mentioned in the menu section as silver leaf and gilt (usually referring to gold leaf) all around.  (www.elizabethan-era.org.uk)  Unfortunately edible gold leaf was a bit pricy, so I used a gold leaf that was just as pretty but contained a little more copper then is considered safe to eat.  The gold leaf is real, just not edible so is not included in the eating section of this display.

The flowers are made from marzipan.  This is a very period almond sweet that is very moldable.  Figures were made out of marzipan such as trees, animals or flowers.  Not having any molds for people with period clothing or animals and not being much of a sculpture I went with a flower mold.  The flowers have been colored with cinnamon and turmeric which is not tasty but give a good color.  I have included a few of the colored flowers with the edibles to show that in period color was some times preferred over taste in a subtlety.  I really liked the idea of the flowers representing those who watch the battles, the flowers of the kingdom lords and ladies who support and put forth great effort for fighters to be clothed, geared, fed and get to any event or war.

The idea for the sweet stuffed eggs was another subtlety I really wanted to try and the idea of gold foiled eggs just made me squee.  This was more of an added cool item then some thing that had to go into the display (like the castle walls).  With the golden eggs being the “prize”, sort of a Jason and the Argonaut’s reference, I decided that mead should also be included in castle, because what goes better with a win then wine?

There are many different aspects to this display.  Each portion has a story to tell in the making of or the cooking of and not just the representing of an idea.  I had an incredible time put every thing together and doing the research for all these ideas.  Nothing was easy and in some cases rather nerve-wracking, liking making sure the walls didn’t crack or crumble in the wrong spot or that the milk turned into actual yogurt and not rotting milk.

I have included all the recipes with the research and redactions. Most will have commentary on what I tried while working through each recipe.  The ingredients are as period as possible with only minor substitutions i.e. walnuts instead of chestnuts for seasonality or availability.

IV.  Recipes


Castle Pastry Walls

Pastry from the period manuals is with out modern measurements so a bit of guess work is involved.  Making a good pastry is not as easy at it sounds.  The pastry has to be tasty, yet able to hold the interior ingredients if being used as a shell or in this case be able to stand up to being stood up.  Working from 3 books, Pleyn Delit and The English Housewife and The Medieval Kitchen, I redacted a fairly good recipe for pastry castle walls that borrowed this or that from the suggested recipes in each book.

The first recipe is from Pleyn Delite.  Here the original description for castle walls in a subtlety is “Take and make a foyle of gode past with a rollere of a foot brode & lynger by cumpas.  Make iiii coffins of the self past upon the rollere the gretnesse of the smale of thyn arme of vi ynche dep; make the gretust in the myddell.  Fasten the foile in the mouth upwarde, & fasten the otheree foure in every side.  Kerve out keyntlich kyrnels above, in the manere of bateilllyng and drye hem harde in an oven other in the sunne… FC 197”

(Hieatt, 140)

Translation goes “Take and make a dough with a roller a foot wide and long.  Make coffins (lengths?) the width of the small of your arm and an inch deep.  Make the greatest one in the middle.  Fasten the dough on the end upward and fasten the other four on every side.  Curve out the dough in the manner of the batteling and dry them hard in an oven or in the sun…

The original recipe that was offered in Pleyn Delite is more of a how to fashion the castle, only detailing the manner in which to make the castle…the actual dough seems to be up to the cook.  Pleyn Delite does offer a recipe that seems to be from the writers’ point of view not from any actual attached recipe in the book.

The second recipe is from The English Housewife.  The recipe starts as:

Of the mixture of pastes, to speak then of the mixture and kneading of pastes, you shall understand that …your fine white crust must be kneaded with as much butter as water, and the paste made reasonable lithe and gentle, into which you must put three or four eggs or more according to the quantity you blend together, for they will give it sufficient stiffening. (Markham, pp. 96)

The third recipe for dough is from The Medieval Kitchen.  The recipe is not original but a translation.  Cut the fat into the flour.  Dissolve the salt in 1 cup of the water, then add the flour mixture along with the egg.  Work with your fingers until a smooth dough forms, adding more water as required.  Shape into a thick disk, wrap in waxed paper or plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 12 hours or overnight before using.  A larger paite will require you to double the recipe. (Redon, pp. 225)

I did like the base recipe from The English Housewife, but the dough was rather bland with only butter, egg and water to the flour.  After a bit of researching, I found that The Medieval Kitchen used lard with butter which makes for a tastier crust.  There are pros and cons for making a tasty crust as some recipes assumed that the crust would not be eaten and some assumed the crust would be.  I w2anted a crust that would bake well, stand up as walls and deliver a very good taste to accompany the cheese “glue” and the candied fruits.


3 C. Flour        ¼ C lard           2 egg    1 tsp salt           2 Tbs water

My Redaction:

The recipe I did work ended up being a bit of The English Housewife and part from The Medieval Kitchen. The measurements I used will make one wall and a quarter at ¼ inch thick.  The dough is sturdy, easy to mix and very tasty, all the qualities I am looking for when researching the multitude of recipes suggested.

This makes 1 and 1/5 wall of good flavor and stoutness.

I combined the flour and salt together and formed a well in the center.  The butter and lard was melted together.  The lard used was from rendered pig fat, giving a slight pork flavor to the pastry.  I allowed these to cool to slightly warmer then room temperature then added in the well in the middle of the flour.  I then added an egg and 2 Tbs of water.  Everything is mixed until dough is formed.

On a lightly floured surface, I turn out the dough and roll it to about ¼ inch thick.  Now the original recipe says to 1 inch thick, however I am not making the castle as tall as a foot high so the walls do not need to be quite so thick.

Using a paper pattern I cut out squares in the upper portion of the battlements along walls.  The bastion walls also have battlements cut along the upper portion, however instead of being baked flat these round portions of the castle are wrapped around a greased form and baked upright.

The walls are connected to the bastions with brie cheese.  Any soft cheese will work and compliment the flavor of the slightly salty and slightly pork flavored pastry.

Rendering Fat into Lard

Lard is the rendering of animal fat into a solid(ish) state to be used in cooking or as a base for an herbal rub such as a bruise balm.  Rendering fat into lard isn’t hard, just time consuming.  After reading a blog call www.JoePastry.com and being a huge fan of Little House on the Prairie when young, I decided to render my own lard instead of using Crisco or expensive farmer’s market lard (usually flavored with rosemary).

The first step is to pick the type of fat to be used.  The fat from the back or the sides of an animal are usually considered better then the fat from around the organs.  (This is not including caul fat which has different cooking properties).  The fat from the organs, I am unclear as to why, seems to be more odiferous then the melting fat from either the back or the side.  I have heard that leaf lard is the way to go (as being the fat from the back) or that you should never use leaf lard (being the fat from the organs). So the naming of the fat differs depending on where you live, hence the reference as back, side or organ fat.  The exception to this is the ball of fat found on some sheep referred to as tail fat.  The rendering method is the same, just the location is different.

The type of lard you want is the next step.  Pork, beef, sheep, chicken or even duck can be made into lard or just fat for chicken or duck fat.  Why the fowl get fat instead of lard for theirs I don’t know…it just is.  All have very different tastes.  Each animal imbibes the fat with a flavor.  Some flavors are stronger then other.  Tail fat for instance tastes strongly of mutton while duck tends to have a smoother flavor that is not very strong, more like a hint of duck.

Once the type of fat for rendering has been decided upon, place the fat into a pan and cover with either a lid or foil and cook until the meat parts turn brown.  I cooked the fat in the oven, though a wood burning stove with room for a pan would work as well.  2lbs of fat take about 2.5-3 hours.  Once the meat pieces in the fat start to turn brown take the pan from the oven and allow this to cool a bit.  Ladle into molds.  I used muffin molds which measure ¼ cup per muffin round.  Once the liquid has been put into molds, put the mold pan into the freezer.  This makes the lard easier to remove from the pan by running a butter knife along one edge and levering up.  The small rounds usually pop right up if they are frozen solid. The individual lard cakes can be stored in plastic bags in the freezer for up to 3 months.  The crispy pieces left over, are called crackling and can be used for other dishes.  Save these!


Candied Orange Peel


Cut the peel of an orange into five pieces and scrape away the skin inside with a knife; then set them to soak in pure fresh water for nine days, and change the water every day.  Then boil them in pure water, but only until they come to a boil, and when this is done spread them on a cloth and let them dry out well.  Then put them in a pot with enough honey to cover them and boil over a slow fire, skimming.  And when you think that the honey is cooked …then take out your orange peels and arrange them in a layer, and sprinkle powder of ginger over, then another layer, and sprinkle, etc., until finished; and leave a month or more before eating.

(Hieatt, pp. 133)


6 thin skinned oranges

2 cups honey

Powdered ginger


I had to do a few variations.  The first is that I had no Seville oranges, so I used think skinned Texas navels.  The sections were cut into 6 sections instead of 5; however seeing that the navels were fairly large I was pretty sure the extra section could be over looked.  The orange peels of a Seville orange are reputed to be bitter, hence the soaking and draining, besides making the peels more flexible.  So instead of soaking for 9 days, I soaked the peels for 24 hours.

I skipped the step where the skins were to be blanched.  What could have happened if Seville oranges peels were used would be that I would have put the peels into boiling water for about 30 seconds, enough to soften them up even further.  The navel peels were pretty flexible and soft after 24 hours so the thought of making them softer worried me a bit.

Next I put the skins into honey, enough to cover and boiled till the peels were saturated and limp, roughly 15 minutes in the boiling honey bath.  The peels were then placed on parchment paper and sprinkled with ginger.  I placed anywhere from 5-6 peels per parchment sheet.

Dragee and Spices in Confit

Candied Fruit

This recipe has been condensed by the authors as being extremely long and convoluted.  Here is their shortened version.

To clarifie suger, and to mak anneys in counfite, which directs us to make caraway, coriander, fennel and ginger into confit the same way…

1 cup sugar                   ½ cup water                 6 oz anise seeds

Combine sugar and water in a heavy pan for 5 minutes, add seeds and stir until the syrup begins to look white; set aside for 10 minutes.  Then put back over low heat, preferably over a protective mat or heat diffuser, and stir until the sugar coating softens enough to be poured.  Pour onto a cookie sheet or a piece of clean screening over a cake rack. Spread the seeds out with a paring knife separate them as much as possible; as they harden…

(Hieatt, 135)


1 C sugar         ½ C water        Dried fruit and nuts


I wanted to try this with dried fruits and nuts as seeds are very very tiny and take copious amounts of time.  I choice apricots, plums, and figs as these were all available in period and very tasty.  I also did a round of anise seeds just to see what would happen.

I did the almonds and the figs first.   I added the sugar and water together then boiled.  Once the sugar water started to boil I added the almonds and figs.   The mixture was allowed to boil then cooled.  Once the mixture had complete cooled, I heated up the pot with the items again.  I did this 5 times.  The 5th time I heated up the sugar water mixture most of the water had evaporated turning the sugar into a coating that clung to the fruit and nuts.

These two were my favorite.  The figs taste like Christmas candy while the almonds are just tasty!  The plums and apricots did not do so well.  The plums were cooked to a jam and the sugar coating did not stick to the almonds.  That was an interesting lesson to learn!

The anise seeds I added 2 cups to the 1.5 cups of sugar water.  This was a mistake.  The surface volume of the 2 cups of anise seeds exceeded the sugar water coating ability.  I added another .5 C of sugar and .25 C of water.  It should have been 1 full cup of sugar and .5 cup of water instead.  While the anise seeds did come out sugar coated I believe that they could have been better had more sugar water been available at the start.


Take one Measure of honey, and dissolve it in four of water, beating it  long up and down with clean Wodden ladels, The next day boil it gently, scumming it all the while til no more scum risth; and if you will clarifie the Liquor with a few beaten whites of Eggs, it will be the clearer.  The rule of it’s being boiled enough is , when it yieldeth no more scum, and beareth an egge, so that the breadth of a groat is out of the water.  The pour it out of the Kettle into wooden vessles, and let it remain there till it be almost cold.  Then tun it into a vessel, where sack hath been. (Renfrow, pp. 33)


Take one measure of honey and dissolve it in four of water, stirring it long with a clean wooden ladle. The next day boil the mixture gently; skimming it the entire time until no more scum rises.  If you want to clarify the mixture add a few beaten egg whites so it will be clearer.  The rule being that the honey and water has boiled enough when a raw egg floats above the mixture by one groat length.  Once this has happened pour the honey/water into wooden vessels until almost cold, then pour into a vessel where a sack (of herbs) is ready.  Other way to read “…where sack hath been.” Is where old strong wine has been so that the new honey and water would build on the old wine must (read old yeast).


Honey              Water               (herb satch/sack optional)


I made a few adjustments to the recipe due to a personal taste and ideas. The first change was that I used 18-20 lb’s of honey to about 3 gallons of water.  Not quite the 1:4 ratio suggested, more like 1:3.  ( I like sweet wines).

The next change was the lack of egg whites used for skimming of the honey.  I believe that the use of egg whites in honey, while boiling was due to a very raw honey in period being used for the start of mead.  When I say raw, I am talking wax and bee parts still stuck into the honey.  These impurities needed to be removed and the quickest way to do so was to boil the honey while skimming which is where egg whites come in and help to trap the impurities making the skimming and cleaning easier.  With today’s honey, there are few if any impurities in commercial grade or even farmer’s market honey, which removes the necessity of adding egg whites.

I noted that most meads/meatheglins are made with herbs and or fruit/rinds.  I wanted a drink that tasted of honey.  Plain and elegant.

The modern methods I employed was a good cleaning with a 1:20 solution of bleach to kill any bacteria including wild bread yeast that may be growing in my kitchen.  I used commercially available yeast, having non on hand from the old country.  I then used English oak chips about 1/3 cup to flavor the honey and water mixture during the first stage of brewing.  The chips were removed after 5 days when the green mead was then racked into a glass carboy.  The steps outside of period were lack of egg whites due to the clarity of the honey used, commercial yeast instead ale or wild house yeast, and as sterilized as possible containers.

Fighters  and Horses

Sauce for Fat Capon:


Save the fat of the capon and the liver also, and strain through a sieve with beef broth, and add a little ginger and verjuice, and boil in a frying pan all together, and bind with egg yolks beaten then a generous amount of sugar and the wings and thighs of the capon, and pour your sauce underneath.  (Taillevant, pp. 134)


1 C chicken fat 1 chicken liver              1 C beef broth

1 tsp ginger                   1 tsp verjuice                1 egg yolk

1 Tbs sugar

Note: Verjuice is a type of sour grape juice in period that requires substituting by using lemon juice or vinegar with a touch of sugar instead.


After assembling all the ingredients, I did a minor cheat.  Instead of straining the liver through a sieve, put the liver through the cuisnart for a very fine paste which is what the sieve would have done.  This was for both time saving and the fact I do not own a sieve.

The chicken fat instead of being from a freshly roasted hen, was saved from a previous dinner’s fat skimming, where as the period cook had to actually use the fat from a freshly cooked hen to whip up this lovely sauce, modern cooks can save the fat for another day.

Next I separated the egg white from the egg yolk and set this to the side.  The fat and beef broth were then combined into pot set on low.  The egg yolk was then added along with the liver, ginger and sugar.  The mixture was then stirred till combined and the fat melted.

Since verjuice turning the heat on medium till the mixture bubbles slightly.  After the sauce has boiled for 2 minutes, turn off the heat and allow the mixture to cool slightly.  Add the egg yolk and sugar.  I did not have verjuice.  This is a rather hard to find item.  What I used in place of verjuice was balsamic vinegar which I like as it is sour with a touch of sweet.

This sauce was allowed to simmer for 5 minutes.  The resulting sauce is a complex, rich and very smooth.  This is well worth the effort!

Capon in Salome:

Take a Capoun & skalde hym, Roste hym, then take pike almaunde, mylke, tmper it with wyne Whyte or Red, take a lytyl Saunderys & a lytyl safroun, & make it a marbyl coloure, & so atte the dressoure throw on hym in ye kychoun, & throw the mylke a-boue, & athat is most seemly, & serve forth. (Renfrow, pp 110)


Take a capon and boil him, roast him, then take pike (?) almonds milk, temper it with wine. White or red.  Take a little sandalwood and a little saffron and make it a marble color and so at the dressing throw them in the kitchen and throw the almond milk and that is most seemly, and serve it.


1 chicken roasted (with saved melted fat roughly  1 cup)

1 C almond milk           1 tsp saffron     a pinch of sandalwood

1/2 C red wine or white wine


For part of this recipe I had to use the fat from the chicken, about 1 cup worth, melted.  To that I added the almond milk with the sandalwood and saffron.  Once the sauce was made, I divided this into two batches and added white wine to one and red wine to the second.  This gives me two sauces instead of one.  The taste prior to the wine is silky and very rich.  Renfrow says to boil the sauce in a pan till reduced though the original recipe does not say to boil.  (Renfrow, pp. 110)  I simmered these until slightly reduced, about 5 minutes.

Now the sandalwood has a strong smell and a stronger taste.  I had to go very very easy on the sandalwood to make sure that I did not have a sandalwood sauce but a mixture of all the flavors.  When I say pinch..I mean a small pinch.

I wanted to have two sauces from this recipe so I added white wine to half the mixture and red wine to the other half.  This gives two sauces instead of one.  As this recipe stands you’ll end up with roughly 3 cups of sauce.  1 and ½ if you divde the base sauce into two.

This is a really nice sauce.  I think the red is my favorite so far!

Stuffed Suckling Pig


The piglet, slaughtered and bled at the throat, should be scalded with boiling water, then scraped; then take some lean pork, remove the fat and offal from the piglet, and cook them in water: then take twenty eggs and hard-boil them, and some chestnuts boiled an skinned: then take the yolks of the eggs, the chestnuts, good and plenty of powdered ginger mixed with the meat; and if the meat becomes too hard add some egg yolks.  And do not open your pig at the belly, but through the side, making the smallest hole you can: then put it on a spit, and then fill it with your stuffing and sew it shut with a big needle; it should be eaten with yellow sauce if it is winter or with cameline sauce if it summer.

Note that I have also seen piglets larded, and they are very good.  That is how they prepare them nowadays – and pigeons as well.  (Redon, pg 104)


9-14 lb piglet                1 lb bacon        4 C walnuts      7 cooked eggs

2 Tbs ginger (ground or fresh)   saffron


When I started this project, I had no idea how hard it was to find piglets.  They are as rare and as hard to find as peacocks!  I actually had to contract a slaughter house for the piglets so the actual slaughter and saving of internal organs was not available.  This precludes the ability to pull the offal out through one small slit in the stomach and then refill with the stuffing through that one small slit.  So with that in mind I have edited this recipe for a more modern consumer of purchased piglets.

I had thought to brine the piglet; however there is no mention that brining is needed.  Very young piglets do not need to be scalded to loosen up bristles though older pigs do, which is what this recipe is describing, a much older piglet that is still shy of full grown weight.  With the smaller piglet purchased for table size and cooking space availability this means that the actual cavity much smaller as well.  I substituted the chestnuts for walnuts as chestnuts are a seasonal item unless bought canned, which given the notoriety of canned items, I went for fresh shelled walnuts instead.  Those were the two main issues that had to be changed for this recipe, other then the need to sew up the piglet from neck to anus.

The bacon, walnuts, cooked eggs, and spices were mixed together in a large bowl.

The piglets were rinsed clean then stuffed with the mixtures and sewn back up.  An apple was stuffed into the mouth for a bit of humor.  Not having a spit available a grill or oven will have to do for the modern day medieval cook.  Once the piglet was done the meat was allowed to rest before serving.

The piglet was very tender and moist, and unfortunately very gamey.  The stuffing was nice, perhaps a bit more ginger needed.  I did feel bad for using so small a pig, one that had not grown to full size but I felt that this recipe would benefit from as close to authentic as possible working with a size of piglet that would fit into my oven.

Battlefield Haybales, Roads, Flowers and Trees




Take fine floure, and white of eyren, and a litul of the yolkes; And then take warme barm, and put at thes togidre, and bete hem togidre with thi honed so longe till hit be short and thik ynough.  And caste sugur ynowe thereto; and then lete rest a while; and then cast hit in a faire place in an oven, and lete bake ynoug;  And then kut hit with a knife rownde aboue in maner of a crowne, and kepe the crust that thou kuttest, and pile all the crèmes within togidre; and pike hem small with thi knife, and saue the sides and al the cruste hole withoute; And then cast thi clarified butter, and medle the crème and the buttur togidre, And couer hit ayen with the cruste that thou kuttest awey;  and then put hit  in the oven ayen a litull tyme, and take it oute, and serue hit for the all hote.

(Renfrow, p. 205)


Take fine flour and white of eggs and a little of the yolks; and then tame warm barm and put at these together and beat them together with the honed so long till it be short and thick enough.  Cast sugar now and then let it rest awhile.  Then cast it in a fire place in an oven and let bake enough.  Then cut it with a knife around within together. And pick them small with the knife and save the sides and all the crust hole with out.  And then cast the clarified butter, and melt the crumbs and the butter together, and cover it again with the crust that has been cut.  Then put it in the oven again a little time, and take it out and serve it forth all hot.


1 Tbs. sugar                             2 eggs                          ½ C warm ale or beer

½ cup barm                              3 ½ cups flour


I gathered all the supplies together including beer, which was left out for several hours to reach room temperature and to go flat.  Barm is the left over yeast sediment from a brewing batch of either beer or wine.  I did not have a batch of ale going at this time so had to do a small cheat.  I used a packet of wine yeast with a Tbs of sugar and ½ C of the flat(ish) beer.

After the barm was mixed, I made a well into the flour and added the eggs and barm mix with ½ C of the remaining beer.  Everything was then stirred till mixed.  Once everything was combined and formed a soft dough ball, I placed the dough on a well floured board and kneaded for 5 minutes, adding flour to the board as needed.  Next I put the well kneaded dough ball back into the bowl that was floured on the bottom (to prevent sticking) and covered with a cloth.

The dough was then allowed to rise for an hour before turning placing onto a backing sheet and placed into an oven till done.

Gingerbread Hay Bales:



First Recipe:

Take a quart of honey & seethe it, skim it clean; take saffron, powdered pepper, throw thereon; take grated bread, make it so stiff that it will be cut; then take powdered cinnamon, & strew thereon enough; then make it square, like as thou would cut it; take when thou cut it, and caste box leaves above, stuck thereon, and cloves.  And if thou will have it red color it with sandalwood enough. (Renfrow, pp. 230)

Second Recipe:

Take a quart of honey clarified, and seethe it till it be brown, and if it be thick put to it a sih of water: then take fine crumbs of white bread grated, and put to it, and stir it well, and when it is almost cold, put to it the powder of ginger, cloves, cinnamon, and a little liquorice and aniseeds; then knead it, and put it into moulds and print it: some use to put to it also a little pepper, but that is according unto taste and pleasure. (Markham, pp. 120)


1 C honey        2 C breadcrumbs (white bread preferred)

1/8 tsp ground black pepper, ginger, cinnamon, cloves

Whole cloves and cinnamon powder for display


I actually played around with the flavor a little bit and added a few more spices.  1/8 tsp cinnamon, cardamom, ginger and nutmeg. (I’m a spicy type of cook you know!)

If you will notice the bread crumbs are from a whole wheat bread I had.  In period if this dish were to be served to nobility or royalty the probability that the bread was made from good white flour with out a lot of whole wheat is much higher then a whole wheat or grain based bread.  I would suggest a good bread made from white flour, water, either ale or water , and the yeast can actually be the must from the bottom of the ale barrel or ale yeast if you wanted a more purist type of bread.

Place the honey in a pot and boil.  Skim the foam as it appears, add the pepper and the saffron and stir in the bread crumbs.  After the bread crumbs were added…in went the spices. Continue stirring until the mixture starts to stiffen up. Place in a mold lined with wax paper.

Here I used parchment paper.  As long as there is a lining that can be used to pull the fudge like dessert from the mold, you’re probably going to be safe using either wax paper or parchment paper.  A period mold would have been made of wood; however that takes wood and time, not some thing a lot of modern day people have access to or ability to carve well.  So I went with a metal mold picked up at a kitchen shop just for the purpose of molding dough.

This is the gingerbread mix firmly compacted down into the mold.  2 cups of bread crumbs does not make a lot of gingerbread.  So if a lot of gingerbread is desired you need to up the bread crumbs, spices and honey by a lot!

When the mixture has completely cooled remove from the mold, dust with cinnamon and stud with cloves.

Since I had already used cinnamon and cloves for taste, I sprinkled sugar over the resulting hay bales.  These are about 3 inches long and 1 inch high.  Small thick and very spicy!

Scotch Petticoat Tails

Petits Gateaux Tailes


Circa 1568:Rub six ounces butter into one pound of flour, then mix in six ounces of powdered sugar and a teaspoonful of baking powder.  Add a little water, and work into a smooth dough with the hands.  Divide into two portions.  Roll into round cakes about the size of a dinner plate.  Cut a round cake from the center of each with a cutter four inches in diameter, then divide the outside of each into eight.  Prick all over each with a fork. Dust with the finest of sugar, and bake on buttered tins in a moderate oven for about twenty minutes, till crisp and golden.  Dust with castor sugar.

(Craig, pp. 112-113)


6 oz. butter       1lb of flour        6 oz powdered sugar    1 tsp. baking powder

1 oz sugar for dusting


When combining the ingredients, I stirred the flour, sugar and baking powder together to achieve a well mixed consistency in the dry ingredients.  I used chilled butter, cut into squares, and worked into the dry mixture till everything reached a cornmeal stage then continued working till the butter was fully incorporated.

When the mixture could be saturated with no more butter I added just a touch of water to allow a dough to form and cooked for 20 minutes.

Now you may wonder about the fork marks (actually a tooth pick was used).  I have done a little reading on the subject and the over all consensuses is that it was a) traditional and b) used to let the steam from the melting butter out with out creating craters in the dough.

There is also suppose to be a circle taken out of the center but I did not have a circle cutter to fit and I like the whole pie cookie idea.  So I left the center whole.

For the shields, I cut the short bread into rectangles and triangles, to represent the Trimarian defeat at the hands of Ansteorrans, pressed the dough into a shell form and baked.  Once the cookies were baked, they were broken in half to signify defeat.

Springerle Cookies

This recipe is from Godecookery on line:

The Springerle cookie originated in Swabia & Switzerland by the 14th century; we use our own, original recipe, based directly on the Baseler Springerle receipt, one of the oldest Springerle recipes known to exist today:

Take 1 pound flour and pass it through a fine sieve and place it overnight in the oven hole (to keep it warm). Take a pound of dry sugar and 4 eggs, but big ones, 2 spoons cleaned anise (if you want good ones then roast the anise first). Then 2 tablespoons aged Baseler cherry schnapps (helps to get rid of the egg taste and helps the dough rise). Let the oldest boy mix the sugar eggs and anise. Then the second oldest, then the third, altogether at least 1/2 hour. Then add the schnapps, mix the flour, and knead the dough until it stays together. Roll the dough out, but not too thin, and carefully press, but with enough pressure the mold into it. Afterwards store on flour dusted board for 24 hours, in a warm place. Then bake with low heat. To get them nice and white, before baking, dust some flour on them and then blow it away. If you don’t get feet (a bottom layer) in your springerle, then the boys or the house girl will scold you: “It was badly stirred, or there was a draught in the room.” Springerle without feet are a nuisance.

Source: http://www.springerle.com/springerleE/REZEPT/rez03.html <Feb. 7, 2004>



4 C. Flour        2 C. Sugar        2 tsp ground anise         2 Tbs schnapps

4 Eggs


I combined the flour and sugar first, and then added in the ground anise, mixing well.  Next I made a well in the center of the dry ingredients and added the eggs and the schnapps.  Now the original recipe calls for cherry schnapps as it hides the egg flavor and helps the rising process.  I had peach schnapps on hand so used that.  I justify the change as the flavor does not matter so much as long as it goes with the anise and covers up the extreme eggyness of the batter.

When mixing the dough together, I found that the dough crumbles a lot for the first few minutes.  Keeping kneading.  The dough does eventually incorporate everything though there will be a moment or 4 when there will be a temptation to add in another egg or a touch of milk.  Do not do this!  Keep on kneading.  Everything will blend well turning into this rich, slightly sticky yummy dough.

When the dough ball stage has been reached, turn out on to a well floured surface and roll to about ¼ (or slightly thicker).  Sprinkle the surface with flour and make sure that under the dough is well floured too.  At this point you can either flour your cookie molds or lightly grease them.  I lightly floured the dough and lightly greased my molds as there will be some serious presage onto the dough going on.  Press the mold into the dough, so that the carvings will show through.  Do not be scared to LEAN into it.  Peal the mold off carefully then using a sharp knife cut out the pressed dough from the main batch of dough.  Place either on a parchment lined cookie sheet or a floured surface to dry.

Once all the cookies have been pressed, cut and set onto a surface, allow to dry for 12-24 hours depending on the humidity then bake the cookies at 325 degrees until dry but not golden.  Keep a close eye on the cookies.  Once cooked, they come out very rich and almost cake like.  Yummy!


(Fried Asparagus)


If you wish to eat asparagus, take them, and clean them, and parboil them.  And when they are parboiled, flour them with wheat flour; and then put them in the paella, and fry them until they are cooked.  And they go on platters.  And whoever  whishes, put vinegar on it.  (McDonald, pp. 19)



1 C. wheat flour            2 Tbs salted butter        ¼ C. red wine (or balsamic) vinegar

*McDonald suggest olive oil instead of butter and red wine vinegar – I liked butter and balsamic vinegar better, so cooked the asparagus accordingly.


The ingredients for this are pretty straight forward.  Wheat flour, asparagus, and butter.

I took a large handful of asparagus and cut off the last 2-3 inches so that only the tender top 5 inches were left.  The ends are cut off as they are usually tasteless and woody.  Not some thing even the best butter can remedy, so just remove them until you get to the green tasty parts!

I then placed the spears into water and let these be parboiled for 1 minute.  After that the spears were drained.  Parboiling does a quick cook with out destroying.  Note: do not over boil!  Just a quick hot boiling bath for 1-2 minutes. to soften up the asparagus cell fibers and you are good to go for the frying!  (well after draining off the water that is).

The wheat flour was spread out onto a small plate, where the individual spears were rolled.  After the spears were rolled in the wheat flour, 1 Tbs of butter was melted into a pan and half the asparagus was fried until golden brown on all sides.

*hint: if you want to use 2 Tbs of butter per batch, don’t hesitate.  There can almost never be to much butter where asparagus is concerned!

Then the cooked spears were removed onto a clean plate. The last Tbs of butter was melted and the remaining asparagus was fried. Once all the asparagus was cooked a bowl with balsamic vinegar was placed to the side for easy dipping.  These are excellent either plain or with vinegar!

Ymages in Sugar


And if ye will make any ymages or any other thing in suger that is casten in moldys, seethe them in the same maner that the plate is, and poure it into the moldes in the same manere that the plate is poured, but loeth youre mold be anoyntyd before with a litell oyle of almaundes.

(Heiatt, pp. 142)


And if you will make any images of any other thing in sugar that is cat in molds make them in the same maner that the plate is, and pour it into the molds in the same manner that the plate is poured, but let your mold be anointed before with a little almond oil.


1 C ground almonds     2 C powdered sugar     1 egg white

1 tsp vanilla                  pinch of salt.


I originally did this exactly as a poorly read Sugar Plate Ymages recipe from Heiatt and came out with the same type of candy that required boiling to produce a firm hard candy.  What I inadvertently did make was a Medieval Middle Eastern dessert called Samak wa-Aqras.

Marzipan is an almond thick paste that can be formed into flowers, trees, birds etc.  In period the marzipan would be colored with saffron, cinnamon etc to produce colors that would some times over ride the flavor of the candy.

I had to go to a different source (http://www.joepastry.com/category/pastry-components/marzipan/) for a good recipe for marzipan.  Once I had different ingredients, the marzipan actually came out much better.  I produced an almond paste and not an almond mix that needed to be boiled to form a candy.

I will note that my ground almonds could have been ground more finely and my powdered sugar was bought instead of taking regular table sugar and grinding finer in a mortar and pestle.

I mixed the almonds meal and the powdered sugar (1 ¼ C) together then added the egg white and vanilla along with a hint of salt.  Everything was combined until a thick but wet paste was formed.  I kneaded the mixture with more powdered sugar until a nice but not to dry dough was formed.  This required roughly another cup of powdered sugar.

For the forming of the roses, I used a silicone mold as opposed to a wooden or metal set of molds.  My molds were dusted with sugar instead of almond oil as I felt my dough was still a little to moist to use oil on.

I did three different types of roses.  One set of roses was just out of the plain dough with out any coloring.  The next two sets of roses were made using common spices.  I used cinnamon and saffron for a reddish brown coloring and turmeric for a yellow.

I was worried that after the roses were formed, the dough would loose the formed shape.  I found that leaving the roses out for a few minutes, stiffened the dough up nicely so that when the roses were put into air tight containers that the forms were not lost.

V. Conclusion

This project has taken an incredible amount of time and effort.  The idea is very fluid with broad historic guidelines as well as the ability to pick and choose which recipes that a person could choose from.  Each recipe requires researching on how to make i.e. the pastry walls required research on the various forms of pastry as well as the ingredients.  There were multiple trial and error efforts to arrive at a suitably pastry that could hold up to the standing stress and still be edible.  Several types of poultry were tested for standability yet the conclusion was that a modern stove is too small for ducks with heads and feet so headless and feetless chicken, which can be stood up in the oven with help (which per the research is very period) is a feasible option.

There were several dilemmas, via trial and error were over come, such as the finding of pork fat to render into lard, a period springerle cookie recipe, and the finding of small enough piglets that could be found locally.  There were many stumbling blocks.  Each step or new discovery added to the depth of the overall project.

The hardest section for me was actually deciding on what type of display for a subtlety I wanted to try.  I had thought to duplicate a listed period subtlety; however the diversity of the hardware decided me against making the non edible portions.  I wanted a totally edible display (or at least 95%).  I also wanted a display that was relevant to those in the SCA, hence the Gulf Wars theme.  I think the theme plays well with the historic use of subtleties of making a statement.  The display is 95% edible and still very eye catching as well as being relevant in the statement attempted.





Craig, E., (1953). English Royal Cookbook, Favorite Court Recipes. Hippocreen books.

Hieatt, C., hosington, B, Butler, S. (1979). Pleyn Delit: medieval Cookery for Modern Cooks. University of Toronto Press.

Markham, G., (1986). The English Housewife. McGill-Queens University Press.

Martins, P. (1998). Subtleties, Power and Consumption: A Study of French and English cuisine from 1300-1500). Nyu.edu

McDonald, W., (2004). Recipes from Banquet dels Quatre Barres.

Redon, O., (1998). The Medieval Kitchen, Recipes from France and Italy. University of Chicago Press.

Renfrow, C., (1996). A Sip Through Time. Pg.113

Renfrow, C., (1998). Take a Thousand Eggs, A collection of 15th century recipes. 2nd edition.

Toussaint-Samat, M., (1992). History of Food. Barnes & Nobles.

The Viandier of Taillevent , ed. Terence Scully,(University of Ottawa Press, 1988).  As present by http://www.reference.com/browse/subtlety and by Patrick Martins, nyu

The Vianderi of Taillevent., (1998) presented in “A Collection of medieval and Renaissance Cookbooks).


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