Twelfth Night Menu 1580
The Household Book of the Paget Family, Recording the Menu for Twelfth Night, 1580
Food has always been an integral part of Christmas celebrations. A typical mediaeval Christmas feast would have included all kinds of meat and poultry as well as fish of some kind. The boar's head was particularly associated with the season and was often the centrepiece of Christmas dinner in the well-to-do households of the land. Frumenty, or plum porridge, also originated in the Middle Ages as the forerunner of plum pudding, although it was not until the 17th century that plum porridge or its variants were put into pudding basins to be steamed and shaped into puddings. Mince pies, containing meat and dried fruit, first made their appearance in the 15th century. The turkey also started to appear on the Christmas menu during the 16th century, so-called because it was imported into England by merchants from the Levant or Turkey. The Twelfth Night cake, always very elaborately decorated, was the forerunner of the Christmas cake. By the late 19th century, however, Twelfth Night had declined in popularity. The Victorians promoted Christmas itself, as we know it today, and disliked the revelry and excesses associated with Twelfth Night. So the Twelfth Night cake became transformed into the Christmas cake.
This document, a page from a 16th century household book, shows the food that a Staffordshire aristocratic household and their guests enjoyed on 6 January, Twelfth Night, in 1580 at lunch (prandium) and supper (cena), listed in two separate columns. Note that, although the date on the document is recorded as 1579, it is in fact 1580 because, until 1751, the Julian Calendar was in place in England and the year ended in March. The Lord and Lady (Dominus et Domina) in this document are Thomas Paget, 3rd Baron Paget, and his wife, Nazareth, whose family seat was Beaudesert on Cannock Chase.
The boar's head was the centrepiece. A wide range of meats and poultry, including turkeys, were served. There were also roast swans and peahens and a number of different types of smaller birds, such as blackbirds. Less palatable sounding dishes included chawden, a type of sauce made from offal. Cooking methods included roasting, baking, stewing and broiling. The only sweet item listed here is gingerbread, a sign of the growing popularity of sugar during the 16th century. The gingerbread may well have been baked into elaborate shapes and gilded for decoration. The gilt would have been removed prior to eating the gingerbread.
The document also shows the names of the family's guests and mentions the numbers of neighbours who were entertained. It refers to those 'not bidden', a reflection of the duty of large wealthy households to keep open house during the 12 days of the Christmas festival. We also learn that there was a masque or play held in the evening. Such entertainments were common throughout the Twelve Days of Christmas but especially so on Twelfth Night.
For a transcript of this document please see below.
© Staffordshire and Stoke on Trent Archive Service, 2009
Staffordshire Record Office, D(W)1734/3/3/280