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by Fred McMillin
for December 7, 1999

 

A Trencher Quencher

 

Prologue

Joan of Arc liked to break off a piece of what would become known as a trencher and dip it in wine before eating it.

England's first book on etiquette was written by the Dutch scholar-priest Erasmus (1466-1536). The napkin should lie over one's right shoulder, and food should be put on the trencher. (by Betty Wason).

Trenchers

Serving Trenchers at the McMillin Cooking School


The Rest of the Story

OK. But what's a trencher? (from the French trancher, "to slice") During the Dark Ages and on into the Renaissance the trencher was a flat piece of old bread (typically four days old). A shallow hollow (trench) was cut out and meat with sauce was placed in it. The meat was cubed not sliced, for it was eaten with the fingers (though a gallant knight might sometimes spear a cube with his knife and offer it to his lady.) The trencher would absorb the juices, for convenient eating, too.

Historian; Peter Brears tells us that in the 1500s the square-cut trenchers of wholemeal bread were gradually replaced by trenchers made of wood, The hollow became a "bowl" of about 6" in diameter. In one corner there was a second small depression that held the diner's salt. Erasmus cautioned that the meat cubes should NOT be dipped into the salt, but rather the salt should first be sprinkled on the meat.


Wine Service

The Czech scholar Comenius left us a description of how wine was served at the forkless, trencher-using dinner table. "The butler filleth strong wine out of a wine pot, or flagon. [Wine glasses were just coming into use.] The cups or glasses stand on a cup board. The butler reacheth them to the master of the feast, who drinketh to his guests."


What Was In The Flagon?

If I had been that host, I would have served the best red wine in England. It would have been a red wine from Burgundy (made from the Pinot Noir grape). Burgundy reds were there; e.g., in 1571 the Earl of Rutland bought the equivalent of 400 cases. (from Andre Simon)

My wife prepares our own bread about twice a week. I'll get her to bake us trenchers and with the meat we'll enjoy this delicious Pinot.


Wine of the Day

1996 Acacia Pinot Noir, Beckstoffer Vnyd., Carneros
Composition—100% Pinot Noir
Source—Low yields generally produce more fully-flavored wines. In this case we have gnarly old vines that struggle by with no irrigation. The wine is so grand that Acacia decided to pull it out of their Reserve Pinot and bottle it alone.
For More—Phone (707) 226-9991, Fax (707) 226-1685, or read the Oct. 8, 1999 WineDay titled, "Euphoria".
Price—$44 range


Postscript

Erasmus and I disagree on one aspect of good manners. He said that during the meal wine should be sipped only three times!

 
About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.

 
 

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