Group hosts class on medieval table manners
Fri, 2016-09-23 05:00 News Staff
By PAMELA GRANT
Movies often depict medieval mealtimes as barbaric affairs. They show men tearing off great chunks of meat, talking with their mouths full, and tossing their unwanted food aside. However, this is far from reality.
A local medieval group, known as the Society of Creative Anachronism, or SCA, taught a class on historical table manners. The class was held Wednesday night in the meeting room of the Copperas Cove Public Library. Joe Simmons (known in the SCA as Lord Eric Bentbow) led the class and sought to dispel common myths and shine some light on how things actually were.
Simmons began the class by showing an old movie clip showing how medieval table manners are often depicted in Hollywood. The lord in the movie ate in the stereotypical manner and was generally crude and unrefined.
“I want to try and give people an idea of how they actually ate in the Middle Ages rather than how they were led to believe for years,” said Simmons.
Historically, a diner was to be quiet and polite. There were several rules and regulations that followed during public feasting events. Rules included things like: “Do not lean on the table”, “Eat quietly at all times”, “Do not stare about, wiggle or waggle, or scratch the head”, “Do not speak with your mouth full”, and while waiting for everyone to be served and the meal to begin, “One should look about pleasantly and not stare incessantly at the food or people”.
It was also very important to keep the tablecloth clean. Spilling, wiping one’s mouth on the tablecloth, and other means of dirtying the cloth were highly frowned upon.
In medieval times, they ate in a groups called a “mess” which was a meal with enough food to feed four people. Depending on rank, people would eat in groups ranging in size from five to one. Regardless of the group size, the amount of food remained the same.
Eating utensils included a knife, a trencher or dish (in the earliest days, the trench would be made from four day old bread, but after the 1500s, they were replaced with wood or metal dishes), a spoon, a tankard or drinking vessel, and a voider. The voider was used to place trash items into to be taken away. It was normal for them to share one or two drinking vessels. Because they shared drinking vessels, they would wipe their mouth before drinking, and wipe off the vessel after drinking.
Another rule was that “Food eaten should be in small bits and eaten with the fingers of courtesy”. The fingers of courtesy were the thumb and middle finger. This meant that the mouth would be covered even while eating.
While the SCA does work to recreate medieval times, there are changes that have been made with regards to table manners. For example, they don’t use a communal bowl, and they eat and drink from their own individual plates and drinking vessels rather than sharing.
“This was very informative for me,” said Colin Darby (known in the SCA as Sigurd Hrafnsson). “The entire concept of appearance is everything applies pretty much everywhere in period…Manners count for quite a bit if you want to impress other people, and the conspicuous display of wealth is normal.”
Darby said that he resisted joining the SCA from 2000 until February of this year when he finally gave in and joined.
“I honestly thought the medieval customs, titles, and extra names were silly,” said Darby. “But it so happened that I hung out with some friends in January [at an SCA event]…and I looked around and realized that, for once in my life, no matter who I looked at…I fit in.”
Darby said that he enjoys being in the SCA and said that he enjoys participating in armored combat.
The SCA is a medieval group that works to recreate the most enjoyable aspects of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Activities include, but are not limited to armored combat, weaving, brewing, leather work, shoemaking, and cooking.
Those interested in joining the SCA or learning more about the group are welcome to join one of the SCA’s future events. The group meets every Thursday at 7 p.m. in Harker Heights at Carl Levin Park. They also meet at the Copperas Cove Library every third Wednesday of the month at 8 p.m.