We were watching swans eat, but I was thinking about how we used to eat swans.
For a recipe I went to Le Menagier de Paris, a 1393 guidebook that purports to be an wise older man giving advice to a newlywed wife, emphasizing the crucial theme of womanly obedience. There are instructions for preparing dishes like frumenty (a thick wheat porridge served with venison) and lardy milk (“Take milk of cows or ewes and put to boil in the fire, and throw in bits of bacon and some saffron: and have eggs, that is both white and yolk, well-beaten and throw in all at once, without stirring, and make it all boil together, and then take it off the fire and leave it to turn”). But the coup de grace is a gilded swan that might grace the table for a wedding feast.
“Take a swan and prepare it and put it on to roast until it is all cooked, then make a paste of eggs, as clear as paper, and pour it on the said swan while turning the spit so that the paste cooks on it, and be careful that no wings or thighs be broken, and put the swan’s neck as though it were swimming in water, and to keep it in this position, you must put a skewer in its head which will rest between the two wings, passing all other, until it holds the neck firm, and another skewer below the wings, and another between the thighs, and another close to the feet and at each foot three to spread the foot: and when it is well cooked and well gilded with the paste, take out the skewers, except that in the neck, then make a terrace of whole-wheat pastry, which should be thick and strong, and which is one fist thick, made with nice fluting all around, and let it be two feet long, and a foot and a half broad, or a little more, then cook it without boiling, and have it painted green like a grassy meadow, and gild your swan with a skin of silver, except for about two fingers width around the neck, which is not gilded, and the beak and the feet, then have a flying cloak, which should be of crimson sendal on the inside, and emblazon the top of said cloak with whatever arms you wish, and around the swan have banners, the sticks two and a half feet long with banners of sendal, emblazon with whatever arms you wish, and put all in a dish the size and shape of the terrace, and present it to whomever you wish.”