A Renaissance Thanksgiving Feast

Happy Turkey Day! Guests are about to descend on us all like locusts devouring everything in their path, and I’m sure we’re all starting to sweat about the oyster dressing and the pumpkin pie and the turkey, my God, it will never be done in time. Me no exception. What I’d love to have for Thanksgiving is the services of my last book heroine, a pro chef who could whip out a Thanksgiving dinner for thirty without even breaking a sweat. Even if they didn’t have Thanksgiving in Renaissance Italy.

Still, a Renaissance Thanksgiving Day feast from Carmelina’s talented hands would be quite a spread. And if you’re bored with the usual turkey-and-mashed potatoes fare, why not throw yourself a Renaissance-themed dinner instead? Here you are, complete with recipes straight from The Serpent and the Pearl!

The Appetizers
Most of my recipes for this book were culled direct from real-life Renaissance chef extraordinaire, Bartolomeo Scappi–and il maestro had very specific directions when it came to the pre-dinner spread:

The side-board should be furnished with these things: with jellies, visciola cherries, morello cherries, quince and quince pastes, Neapolitan and Roman mostaccioli, several shapes of marzipan creations . . . always rolled wafers and small ciambelle of raw dates, pistacios, pinenuts, and Milanese almonds, dried figs of various sorts, several sorts of olives and small capers, compote of fennel and other fruits . . . caravella pears, papal pears, acciole pears, riccardo pears, rough pears, bergamot pears, Florentine pears, and other sorts of pear . . .

Clearly seven kinds of pear aren’t enough to fill up your guests, because he goes on to list the types of cheeses (March, Florengine, Romagnola, Roman, Ligurian, Majorcan, fresh and dry, ewe’s milk, mozzarella) and salamis (salsiccioni, mortadelle, prosciutto, sowbelli, salt ox tongues, buffalo tongues, pork tongues, semi-salted cow meat, salted steer meat, salt pork belly, and pork jowl) you should stock up on as well. By the time a typical Renaissance side-board was set up, your guests would be full and waddling home without even touching the meal.

For your Thanksgiving, keep it simple and stick to a classic tray of cheeses, meats, fruits, and nuts. Come to think of it, Scappi is probably where we got the idea in the first place.

The Soup
Try the asparagus soup in beef broth which Carmelina serves to a visiting archbishop. Heather Webb (of upcoming debut novel on Empress Josephine) made a wonderful creamy modern version for a blog hop.

The Salad
Renaissance salads couldn’t be simpler: a big dish of lettuce sprinkled with bright blue borage flowers, like the one Carmelina muses serving to the College of Cardinals. (Borage gives you courage, according to legend–just what scheming cardinals and family get-togethers alike both need). Dress this lovely simple salad with a plain vinaigrette.

Elaborate entrees are par for the course in Renaissance cuisine, where meals were set to impress as much as nourish. If you’re feeling ambitious (and have a good butcher on hand like d’Artagnan’s or Savenor’s) try this gorgeous shoulder of boar with dates, prunes, and cherries, as cooked by food blogger Deana of Lost Past Remembered in my last blog hop. Or if you want to stick with something fowl for Thanksgiving, go with a capon or big free-range chicken instead of the usual turkey. Just cook two if you’ve got a crowd coming, and then you can cook both the Capon in Coriander and White Wine recipe which is Carmelina’s favorite (replicated here by Lori of Little White Apron) and the Capon with Lime version Carmelina plans for Cardinal Borgia (replicated by Sara at Cupcake Muffin, and it’s delicious).

The Sides
A cheese and onion tourte like the one Carmelina made her first five minutes in the Borgia kitchens will fill the bill nicely, and Theresa of Outlander Kitchen and Island Vittles made a beauty! Round things out with a dish that makes an appearance in the forthcoming The Lion and the Rose–baked macaroni layered with provatura cheese and butter. Kitchen apprentice Bartolomeo offers to make it for Carmelina when she’s feeling blue–because pasta with a great deal of butter and cheese cures all. Amen–so dust off your mom’s tried-and-true mac n’ cheese recipe.

The Desserts
They loved their sweets in the Renaissance, and they weren’t afraid to get fancy! Marzipan, molded sugar subtleties, cakes and tarts of all kinds . . . but keep things simple at the end of a heavy meal with these light and autumnal desserts: the peaches in grappa Giulia Farnese eats at her wedding feast, the spicy baked apples she comfort-eats the next morning to get over a disappointing wedding night (another recipe from Lori), and the milk-snow (a sort of glorified, stiffened medieval whipped cream reproduced gloriously at Inn at the Crossroads) she takes to bed with a much more satisfying lover later down the line.

To Drink
A hot posset with red wine and spices, of course! Chelsea from “Inn At The Crossroads” has a lovely recipe. And to go with, how about some sugared Renaissance biscotti from Christiane at “Taking On Magazines”?

Happy eating, and happy Thanksgiving!