Saturday, December 28, 2019

Medieval Dining and Social Class

Merriam-Webster defines the term “upper crust” as the highest social class or group, especially the highest circle of the upper class — Centuries after Europe’s medieval era’s end, a flaky, upper crust was still appreciated, regardless of whether one cared if he was considered part of the “upper crust” by others, or not.

             Many phrases which we use today have culinary connections, and the origins of some of them are offered below.

The Upper Crust

When discussing society, the expression “upper crust” comes from medieval times when the great crusted meat pies were served from the top of the Lord of the Manor’s dining table on down. Obviously, the gentry got first choice of the crisp, flaky crust, while those seated at the foot of the table were more apt to get the soggy, under crust.

Above the Salt

In the banqueting hall of the baronial castle, the nobility sat at the head of the great T-shape table with the “Lord and Master,” while the first cousins, second cousins, and so on, dwindled into the distance down the table. At the point of demarcation which set apart the landed gentry from the common serfs, was placed a “great standing salt,” or "ceremonial salt." It was passed from there, up the table; if you sat “below the salt,” you were not only “not worth your salt,” but you did not get any.

Humble Pie

In England, this “pie” was made from “umbles” — the heart, the liver, and the gizzard of a deer. When the huntsman brought back the kill, the Lord of the Manor and his guests feasted on venison. The huntsman and the servants, being of inferior rank, had of necessity, to be satisfied with “humble pie.” — Sources: A variety of authors including Patricia Easterbrook Roberts and Judith Visser

Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura J. Graber, is the Site Editor for the Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia

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