Medieval Feasts: Subtleties


Subtleties or entremets (old French meaning ‘between servings) are works of art using food and story telling and which vary between simple frumenty to more elaborate models of fruit filled castles or allegorical figures from literature.  They traditionally marked the end of one course and the beginning of another.  Towards the end of the middle ages subtleties had evolved into such magnificence they ceased to be edible and became more a form theatrical entertainment.

They could be made from all manner of food and non food stuffs, one of the most popular being marzipan, a modelling paste made from almonds and sugar, bound together with egg white.

L11, who is in charge of the medieval feast arrangements for Scalliwag Castle, had been fascinated by the whole idea of subtleties.  It was the first thing she asked to try out in her preparations for the feast.  She researched using the following books and the internet:

Her books

It had been decided between the children that the medieval banquet (which they are hosting in April for their final medieval presentation) would be themed to the ‘War of the Roses (T12’s presentation).  L11 decided to use the white and red rose as her main decorating tool.  The subtleties, which were occasionally used to show political situations, were a perfect place for her to start.  Having watched a dvd we had bought her on cake decorating, she decided create a design with two roses crossing each other (to represent war) and to use natural food dyes to paint the subtleties to make them more outstanding.

Using any excuse to spend some time with my gorgeous girl, we embarked on a pleasant afternoon subtlety making!  We moulded some marzipan into two roses, one white and one red, crossed over in the centre:

L11 concentrating hard
L11 concentrating hard
Painting the stems
Painting the stems
And the flowers
And the flowers
Aren't they beautiful?
Aren’t they beautiful?

It was interesting to see how differently we approached essentially the same design:

My own efforts
My own efforts

L11 wants to use a silver tray and decorate it around the edges with enough crossed roses for each person attending the presentation.  In the middle of the tray she intends to make a 3D edible structure, but is undecided about what form she would like it to take.

Over the next few weeks she will be making her six courses and freezing them to serve up on the day.  I’ll endeavour to share the recipes as and when she makes them.


  1. Wow, this is beautiful! I’ve always been fascinated by chefs who can do intricate designs with food, so I’m really interested to read about the six courses and your process. 🙂

  2. Those flowers are gorgeous! I’d never heard of subtleties and am now fascinated. I can’t wait to see and read about the rest of the feast! And the banquet! I think all the exclamation marks can really attest how much I’m excited about yours and the kids venture in medieval studies 🙂

  3. Oh gosh, once you’ve got all of them posted you should take a picture of the table all ready for the feast and gather up all these recipes. I can just imagine what a gorgeous feast this is going to be.

    I’m always jealous of anyone who has the patience AND the skill to make these amazing designs.

  4. The flowers are beautiful. I am anxious to see what L prepares for the feast. I know they are getting excited about their presentations and I am sure they will be fantastic. These posts are making me anxious to get to this time period in our history studies.
    Have a lovely (and hopefully dry) evening, Claire.

    1. She’s already cooked a mutton stew, which is currently residing in the freezer. She has great plans for the rest of the feast. At the moment we’re taking one thing at a time so she doesn’t get overwhelmed. It seems such a large task for me, but she seems to be taking it in her stride!

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