THURSDAY 25 DECEMBER 2012 A SWAN ON YOUR CHRISTMAS TABLE
A Swan on your Christmas Table
By the time you read this, I shall be in the far east, in Vietnam, after a wonderful family Christmas in France. With me is my son Oli, and together we shall be discovering something of Vietnam. I will have more to tell you about that when I return! However, here is a little blog about a Christmas reading I made at one of our annual Christmas Carol Concert evenings, and what I discovered about the history of one of our most precious birds...
Every year at Le Manoir, we hold six Christmas Carol concerts, with some of the best choirs in the country singing. We begin the evening with a Laurent-Perrier champagne reception at Le Manoir, before we take a candlelit walk down to the tiny church of St Mary's in Great Milton. Every year we have different readers at each of the concerts, and I try to do one of them: this year it was on 3rd December.
The church was full to bursting, and everyone is is a wonderful, festive mood. I try very hard to put on my best English accent, so that people can understand at least some of what I am saying!
This year, I read a piece about a Christmas feast enjoyed by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert at Windsor Castle in 1840 (see the text below). So this feast they enjoyed was extraordinary by modern standards - over 30 courses! And it struck me, as I was rehearsing my reading, that one of the dishes they ate was swan. So I did some research.
I found out that in medieval times, people in England ate swan quite commonly, but in the 15th century, the Act of Swans was introduced, which protected swans and gave them "royal status", and you could be hung, drawn and quartered if you were found killing a swan, which was considered to be an act of treason! As a French republican, I found myself quite amused by this!
Later on, in the 19th century, a further law was passed, so that all swans were protected and a £6,000 fine was payable if you were proven to have killed a swan - plus six months in jail! So this is a serious penalty to pay. However, it seems that - if a swan dies of natural causes, for example, of a heart attack, or of old age, you are permitted to eat that swan (if you want to). But first you must report it to the police, and they will have to make a statement that supports yours, and finally you must get permission from the Queen before you can eat your swan….
So my friends, please think twice before you cook and eat a swan!
I would like to end by wishing you all a wonderful, warm and joyous Christmas - a time for everyone to be at home with their family. Joyeux noël and bonne année.
Raymond's Christmas Reading:
"On Christmas Day 1840, Queen Victoria, with Prince Albert and seventeen guests, sat down to Christmas dinner at Windsor Castle.
They started with turtle soup, followed by a choice of haddock or sole, then on to roast beef or roast swan. For the fourth course there was veal, chicken, turbot, partridge or curried rabbit, followed by either pheasant or capon.
Then came the mince pies and a choice of eight sweets or savouries. A side table offered roast beef, roast mutton, roast turkey, a chine of pork, turkey pie with larks and pheasants, partridge, brawn, sausages, and of course as the centrepiece - the Boar's Head.
The tradition of the Boar's Head has a curious history. A student of the Queen's College, Oxford, attacked by a wild boar on Christmas Day, choked the animal by stuffing a copy of Aristotle down its throat. He then cut off the head (to retrieve the book!) and carried it to the College's High Table, where the feast is celebrated each year."
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