I just wanted to say Happy Christmas to everyone and to share this fascinating article about the history of christmas traditions.

which includes this video from Warwick University about medieval christmas.

Also to share this recipe for boar’s head if you feel like going fully medieval. You really needed to start about two weeks ago, but you could always have a second more medieval christmas later in the year. This isn’t a medieval recipe, this is a workable modern recipe which replicates the medieval product as much as possible.

Boar’s head:

Stage One: Boning and Pickling. 2 to 3 weeks before required.

1 pig’s head, about 5.5-6.5 kg

1.5 kg pork shoulder with skin

225g large crystal sea salt

350g dark brown sugar

350g salt

25g saltpetre

Boil a kettle of water, and pour a little boiling water over each part of the head in turn, scraping it with the edge of a knife to remove all dirt and hair. Do not immerse the head, for this will raise the temperature of the meat. Today, a disposable razor may effectively remove the bristles. Finally pour boiling water into the ears and nostrils and use a stiff paintbrush to remove every trace of dirt.

Rinse the head in cold water , dry with a cloth, and lay facedown on a board. Using a sharp knife make a deep cut from beneath the tip of the chin back to the neck, then cut the gums from the lower jaw, to leave it completely exposed. Now remove the tongue.

Turn the head face upwards, probe for the top of the skull with the point of the knife, then gradually cut the flesh free the forehead and cheek, linking it up with the cuts made along the gums so that it may be peeled back. Be careful not to pierce the skin.

Continue working down to the snout, finally cutting through its tough inner sinews to remove the face completely.

Cut the rind from the pork shoulder and cut the meat into long strips some 2.5 cm square, along the grain of the meat.

Place the rind, strips and face in a shallow ceramic container.

Mix the salts, sugars and spices, tip into the meat, and rub them into all the pieces for a total of 10 minutes.

place the container in a cool but frost free place, and rub the meats in their own brine for 5-10 minutes each day until required.

Stage 2: Boiling the day before serving. 

Drain and rinse the meat, dry with a cloth, and using a strong trussing needle and strong twine, sew up the eyes and mouth. Cut the cured rind to fit the open back of the head, and sew the bottom half in place.

Prepare a forcemeat by finely mincing and grinding the following:

1.5kg pork shoulder meat

1.5 kg rindless streaky bacon

meat of 4 rabbits

225g English Onions.

50g salt

2tsp mixed spice

half a nutmeg, grated

2tsp ground black pepper.

Cut a further 450g streaky bacon into long strips about 2cm square.

Line the bottom of the head with some of the forcemeat, lay a few strips of the cured pork shoulder alternating with those of streaky bacon, covering these with the forcemeat, continuing this process until the head is completely stuffed.

Sew up the loose flap of rind to completely enclose the stuffing. Lay the head face upwards on a board, fold the ears down across the forehead, and bind in place with a broad strip of muslin. This prevents the ears from dissolving during boiling.

Lay the head facedown on a 60 cm square of muslin, and tie diagonal corners tightly together to cover the head.

Using some 6m by 8cm strips of muslin, tightly bind the head, to give it the required shape.

Place the head either on a trivet or on a bed of carrot, parsnip and onions in a large pan, cover with water, bring slowly to the boil, skim and simmer gently with the lid on for 5 hours.

Remove from the heat and allow to cool. When tepid, drain, turn onto a large dish, remove the binding and carefully unfold the ears to their erect position, holding them in place with skewers stuck in the ear holes. Leave in a cool place over night to set.

Stage 3: Garnishing the day of serving.

225g lard

1 pair boar tusks (or celery to represent them)

black food-colouring paste (replacing chimney soot)

1 glace cherry (formerly, artificial glass eyes were uses)

Sprays of fresh bay leaves and rosemary.

Chill half the lard. The remainder is beaten or warmed a little until soft and beaten with the black food colouring to form a black paste. Rub this over the head to give it the colour of a black wild boar.

Set the head on a bed of bay and rosemary on its serving dish and replace the skewers in the ears with sprigs of rosemary. Cut open a little of each side of the mouth and insert the tusks.

Cut out a flat shield shape from the chilled lard, decorate with an appropriate coat of arms or badge and set in the centre of the forehead.

Cut the eye shapes from thin slices of chilled lard, place over the eyes securing a half round glace cherry over each one with a clove.

Having been brought in with the appropriate cerimonial flourish the head may be sliced across, working from the neck end, and trimming off the skin around the area to be sliced. It has a very good flavour, resembling that of a very superior pork pie.

From Cooking and Dining in Medieval England by Peter Brears. 167-171.

ISBN: 9781903018873

I’ll be back in the new year with new posts, the first will be on Fontevraud Abbey.