[Sca-cooks] Trenchers, Etc. Was Size of Trenchers

Elise Fleming alysk at ix.netcom.com
Mon Jul 6 05:00:55 PDT 2009

Peter Brears, in his new book "Cooking and Dining in Medieval England, 
says (regarding bread trenchers) that "portions of solid foods were 
placed [on them] - once they had been cut out of the joints on the 
dishes - so that they could be cut into smaller pieces and lifted to the 
mouth...they were not plates.  Food was never piled on them, and sloppy 
foods never placed on them...Their function was to preserve the 
tablecloth from knife-cuts and any form of soiling, not to hold the 
whole of a person's entire course before them."  So, our idea of 
trenchers being equal to our modern plates would seem to be erroneous.

He cites use of silver trenchers in the 1360s and wooden trenchers being 
shipped in quantity in 1499 (16-25 cost a penny).

Marina (Jane Boyko) mentioned dessert trenchers (aka "roundels").  There 
are some photos of some in the V&A and one at Hampton Court on my Flickr 
page: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8311418@N08/sets/72157604451045938/ . 
  Unfortunately, the V&A ones aren't clear.  Her guess of 6 inches would 
seem to be accurate.  I found one modern source that said they were made 
of sycamore or beech and were about 5 - 5.5 inches in diameter.  In 1391 
the Earl of Derby had pewter "spyce-plates" which had weights from 6 
ounces to 1.5 lbs.

Besides being made of wood, roundels could be made of sugar paste or 
marzipan.  The banquet course (dessert) "plates" came in various shapes 
and could even be made of glass (which could be rented!).  Some were 
oval shaped, some had a handle on one side with which to hold the plate.

Here are some "poesies" that were I found in various books which were 
taken from period "roundels" or dessert trenchers.

1. Be neither dumb nor give your tongue the lease, But speak thou well 
or hear and hold your peace.  (Elizabethan)

2. I thou be young, then marry not yet/ If thou be old thou hast more 
gette/ For young men’s wives wil not be taught/ And old men’s wives be 
good for naught.  (16th c.)

3. Beshrew his heart that married me/ My wife and I can never agree/ A 
knavish queen by this I swear/ The goodman’s breeches she thinks to 
wear.  (16th c.)

4. The Ape would have half Leonard’s tayle/ To hide his bum naked as his 
nayle/ The meaning is, such as have store/ Should be more liberal to the 
poor.  (early 17th c.)

5. Biblical:  All they will live Godly in Christ Jhesu must suffer 
persecution 2 times 3.

6. We must enter the kingdom of God through much trouble and affliction.

People ate off the plain side and then turned over the roundel to read, 
sing, or perform the words on the back.  Designs came from many sources. 
  Sometimes colored prints were cut out, glued to the back, and 
varnished over.

Alys K.
Elise Fleming
alysk at ix.netcom.com

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