My So-Called Pilgrim Life

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Retrench… or What We Do Is An Ongoing Process {w/o mentioning Pilgrims or Thanksgiving Recipes)

October 24th, 2009 by admin

Or how blogging is like Intrepretation and how it’s not
So I looked trencher up in the Oxford English Dictioneary (OED) again, and discovered I somehow have managed to overlook and/or forget part of the definition for decades. Seems one of the definations of trencher is ‘a cutting or slicing instrument’ . Actually it’s the first defination…. How have I missed this? There are several recipes that use trenchers to cut, often spinach. So it seems in my copious free time I should be noting the trencher/spinach and/or leafy greens ratio. And since the OED only has references from 1330-1553, for the chopping trenchers and the ones I’ve seen are later then 1553, I might have something to send them for their on-line updates.
Now, about other trenchers. It seems where ever I read (and I can see the words in front of my eyes, so I’m pretty sure I read it SOMEWHERE) that trenchers and treen ware are related is NOT from the OED.
Fie! Fie and for shame! Creeping factiods taking the place of information. Fie and for double shame!
The word trencher comes from the Old French ‘to cut’, more closely related to digging trenches then bits o trees. The second defination of trencher is a flat piece of wood, square or circular, on which meat was served and cut up; a plate or platter of wood, metal, or earthenware. Trenchers show up in colonial probate inventories, in Eurpean inventories, in all sorts of records where people are eating, and show up in all sorts of paintings.
There’s also a third kind of trencher that has become it’s own sort of creeping factiod, which is a shame because it’s cool in it’s own right. This third trencher is a slice of bread that’s used for a plate. The references date between 1380-1513. The 1513 citation is a translation of Virgil, so I’m not sure how current they were even in the 16th century. But eating the plates is one of those curiosities that some people can’t let go of, and want to put all over in the past. Trenchers made of bread weren’t the plates that most people ate off of most of the time; they were a product of a very specific times and places.
In royal and noble households, there were the officers of the table. These were the servents who had very specific duties.We still know butlers, but how many of us have one? If you had a butler, chances are you also had a panter or a pantler. These were not the servants in charge of the pants – they were in charge of the bread or the pane (remember 1066? Normans everywhere?) Norman French was the language of royal and noble households, pane was the word for bread, hence the man in charge of the bread was the panter. And the bread was kept in the pantry. (Butlers were originally in charge of the buttery, which was were the butts (as in casks) were kept, not the butter or whatever.
Anyhow, the pantler was in charge of cutting the cheate bread into trenchers for his lord’s table. These bread dishes would be gathered up at the end of the meal to put out to feed the poor. Generally, the people who ate off the trenchers didn’t eat the trenchers – other people did. People who didn’t have anything to put on a trencher, just the bread with whatever sauce or other bits was clinging to it were the ones eating the ‘plates’, which were really dishes….
So how is blogging like interpretation? A casual, conversational tone. A dialogue. A sense that none of this is the last word, the only word, the complete and the absolute. That anyone passing by can put two cents worth in. That it’s OK to ask a question.
How is blogging not like intrepretation? It’s in writing. And in writing I want to quote the books, not paraphrase them. It’s really hard for me to write without footnotes and you might have noticed I often slip in source citations anyhow. It’s not really a dialogue because I can’t see if you’re nodding in agreement or looking bewildered and I get to do a big bunch of talking before you get to slip a word in edgewise. And since I can’t count on the tone of my voice or the smile on my lips to let you know when to take me with less then a grain of salt….but I get re-dos.
It’s not just the food, it’s the ways.
Colonial Foodways Culinarian

3 Responses to “Retrench… or What We Do Is An Ongoing Process {w/o mentioning Pilgrims or Thanksgiving Recipes)”

  1. admin says:

    Treen ware? The pare? 1066?


  2. KMWall says:

    Pane – as in French for bread. The Normans came to England, Battle of Hastings and made Norman French the official language, as in the language of the officials.Treen ware is wooden dishes, i.e. dishes made from trees. The closer it gets to Thanksgiving, the more I babble….sorry KMW

  3. Stacy says:

    Hey I talked about the Normans today, not about the trencher though.

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