Rhoddi i bob rhai a wyddost,
Hunting was one of the main activities of the court in the fifteenth century (see Noblemen’s interests: Hunting). In poems of request or thanks for animals or objects used for hunting, it is obvious that the real purpose of the hunt is to obtain meats for consumption. In his petitionary cywydd for a hunting horn from Sieffrai Cyffin of Oswestry on behalf of Siôn Eutun, Guto states that he would like to have a clau gorn a chig hely (‘he desires a loud horn and venison’, poem 99.29), and in the cywydd asking for a hunting knife that he sang on behalf of Siôn Hanmer he hopes that the knife will provide triphwn a fenswn (‘three loads of venison’, poem 76.73), a word used in this period for the produce of the hunt. In the same poem he also describes the knife as Gwiw lath a wna golwythion (‘a worthy knife which will make cuts of meat’, poem 76.31). The meaning of golwyth here is a slice or piece of meat.
The meats in the feast were distributed according to their value, with the best parts of the animal served to the gentleman or nobleman and his family who would be sitting at the bwrdd tâl ‘high table’. Deer provided the most common hunting meat, and fenswn or ‘venison’ later came to denote the meat of that animal. But other meats were popular too, such as wild boar which was called brawn, bacon, beef, lamb, mutton and rabbit.
Many kinds of birds too were cooked in this period, including swans, bitterns and peacocks. Large birds like these became especially popular as a dish, not only because of their splendour before being slaughtered but also because they could be made to look impressive, after cooking, on the table of the feast. In his eulogy to Sieffrai Cyffin at Oswestry castle the poet states, Amryw adar, mawr ydyn’ (‘Various poultry, they’re large’, poem 97.37). The meat of the bittern was obviously highly rated by the poets, and it was apparently more tasty than the meat of a heron, for instance, and easier to digest. Wild birds, in particular, were considered very healthy to eat and full of nutriment. Some of the wild birds that were hunted are named in the poems of request or thanks for a hawk, falcon or goshawk. The falconer used these birds of prey to catch them; see, for example, the cywydd by Guto requesting a hawk from Huw Bulkeley (poem 60, and see further Noblemen’s interests: Hunting: Falconry.
Occasionally, the method of cooking these meats is mentioned. Cooking the meat ar fêr was one of the commonest ways. A bêr was the metal rod for cooking placed above a fire (see The feast: Domestic arrangements). It is this method that is usually meant when referring to meats roasting on the fire. In the poetry the word rhost on its own came to mean ‘roast meat’. Dafydd ap Tomas of Blaen-tren is praised for the following reason:
Rhoddi i bob rhai a wyddost,
Prydu’n rhad, peri dwyn rhost.
You know how to give to all men,
to sing without payment, to order roast meat.
Rhys ap Siancyn of the Vale of Neath is said to have given gwin a rhost lawer ‘much wine and roast meat’ (poem 15.1) to the poet, and Siancyn Havard of Brecon was likewise very generous: rhosit er gwawd y rhost a’r gwin (‘you have given roast meat and wine in exchange for praise’, poem 31.14). Similar praise is extended to the feasts of Valle Crucis abbey (see poem 116.41 and poem 115.35).
To be served with the meats, various sauces were provided containing various kinds of spices, vegetables and herbs. Guto had wythryw saws ‘eight kinds of sauce’ at a feast in y Drefrudd provided by Joan Burgh (poem 81.59); and so too at Oswestry castle, provided by Sieffrai Cyffin: amryw saws yn fy mrasáu (‘various sauces fattening me’, poem 97.40). Syr Rhys pours scorn on Guto’r Glyn for lacking sauce, and proceeds to name several ways of cooking which were absent from Guto’s Christmas feast:
Ni bu i’r carl na siarled
Na saws, aeth ei wledd yn sied,
Ni bu na chrochan na bêr
Na gwin Siêp nac un swper,
Na diod o’r bragod brau,
Annair gul, un o’r gwyliau.
the churl had neither custard
nor sauce, his feast turned worthless,
there was no cauldron nor roasting-spit
nor wine from Cheapside nor one supper,
nor drink from the fine bragget
not one of the holy days, he is like a lean heifer.
In his cywydd of thanks for a stag’s hide the poet Llawdden refers to cooking the innards or ‘umbles’ of the stag in wine (wmlys ’r hydd / mewn gwin), an early reference to what is called in English ‘umble-pie’ or ‘humble pie’..]
The most convenient way of cooking during this period was by cooking the meat in a cauldron for a long time and slowly (see Domestic arrangements: Cooking equipment). A word frequently used by the poets for soup or broth is sew. It is a borrowing from Middle English seu, and the usual meaning is ‘minced meat stewed with onions’. The word was used so often by the poets that it came to mean ‘delicacy’, in general. In his eulogy of Wiliam Fychan ap Gwilym of Penrhyn, Guto praises his patron for providing sew a thir sy i’th werin (‘there’s broth and land for your people’, poem 57.23), and Siân daughter of Lawrence Stanstry was also busy: lliwio sew â llysieuoedd (‘Siân’s hand on the herbs / tinged the broth with herbs’, poem 97.57-8).
Bibliography: R.I. Daniel (gol.), Gwaith Llawdden (Aberystwyth, 2006), 7.15, and see also Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru s.v. wmlys, and ‘The Oxford English Dictionary’ s.v. umbles, humble pie.
: ‘The Oxford English Dictionary’, s.v. sew, n².
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