Candes Saint-Martin, my favourite spot in La Touraine.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Medieval foodies

The castle of Langeais sits in the middle of the village by the same name. I remember walking up the stairs towards the drawbridge during one of our annual Loire tours, but I can’t really recall what it looked like on the inside. It wouldn’t surprise me if it was one of the few better-known castles that we didn’t actually visit.

But I suppose I am to find out soon. This year it is definitely on our list as from April 15th till August 15th it hosts an interesting exhibition about ‘A table au Moyen Age' or Food in the Middle Ages. According to the website of the Touraine tourist board this exhibition has some surprises in store for the visitors.

Apparently our modern perception of food in the Middle Ages has been strongly distorted by the so-called historical films. The first movie that immediately springs to mind is ‘The adventures of Robin Hood’ from 1938 with Errol Flynn, in which King John and his brawling rogues feast on huge plates of whole chickens, wild boars and legs of beef or mutton, with grease and wine dribbling down their chin.

The exhibition shows us that food and table manners were in fact far more delicate than that. Elegantly decorated finger bowls were used to rinse one’s fingers before eating, sauces were a light and subtle mix of sweet and sour, cutlery and plates were made of the finest materials. Stuffed peacocks and other birds or even the inevitable piglet with a red apple stuck between its jaws were only put on the table for decorative purposes and were by no means meant to be eaten.

Through manuscripts, kitchen utensils and accurate replica of medieval dishes the exhibition wants us to discover the real medieval cuisine and banquets, which were a true feast for the eye and the taste buds. Apart from the grandeur of life at court, we also get a peek at what the poor people used to put on their plates.

Being a 21st century ‘foodie’, I’m curious to find out which dishes the medieval ‘foodies’ liked and how they were consumed. I also hope that they’ll let us have a peek at the kitchens. I just love castle kitchens with their big open fireplace, large enough to roast a whole pig. I’ve read on the internet that the kitchens of the castle of Montpoupon have recently been restored. When we were there in 2007 large metal bars prevented the visitors from approaching the table, stove and other utensils that were on display. Maybe all that has changed now; my friends B. and J.L. will be able to tell me, as they will be visiting Montpoupon while I’ll be having lunch with my French friends who live in Francueil.

Just a little over three weeks to go! Almost time to start the countdown!



Jean said...

Hi Martine - Langeais is one of my favourite chateaux. It was the site of a very famous and influential wedding in history and there is a lovely exhibition inside showing the wedding ceremony. I once stood on the drawbridge and wondered how the 14 year old Ann of Brittany felt as she sailed down the Loire from Tours towards the chateau and her destiny in the middle of the night that December.

It's well worth a look inside. Also the view over the town is lovely from the tower.

Jean said...

PS I forgot to say, thanks for the tip on the food exhibition. We will do that on our next trip to LGP in June.

chm said...

At the chateau de Chateaudun, more or less between Orléans and Chartres, there is a medieval garden were are grown all the vegetables and herbs used in cooking at the time. Some are completely forgotten and some are still in use today. There is a sign with each plant explaining what it is and how it was used.

There are huge kitchens in the chateau, but no furniture or utensils. Still, interesting visit.

Lynn said...

This looks very interesting. As a self-described "foodie" myself I would be very interested in visiting this castle during the exhibition. The kitchens are always my favorite on any chateau/castle tour. I am putting this on my "must do" list for our vacation this summer. Thanks for the post!!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the tip! I would love to check this out too.
I bet you're getting excited about your trip.

ladybird said...

Jean, Lynn and Dedene, I'll consider my visit as a 'scouting trip' and let you know whether it is really as interesting as it sounds. I hope they'll let us take photos to give you a little preview!

Chm, Medieval gardens are great! I liked those of Loches and Fougères. And the Prieuré St. Cosme near Tours, where Ronsard used to live, has a superb herb garden!