Most of us can’t remember the gifts of the traditional 12 Days of Christmas song beyond the “five gold rings” part even though we’ve probably heard the song a thousand times. So maybe this viewpoint from the current Atlantic magazine will help: the song recounts a menu of tasty poultry treats for a post-Christmas feast. (The 12 days of Christmas, of course, are celebrated after the holiday, not before.) It seems that feasts in earlier times were likely to feature all kinds of fowl, not just our current list of chicken, turkey and the occasional goose.
How about partridge in pear sauce, or a tasty brace of squabs? The Atlantic story goes on to speculate that the French hens might have been Faverolles, an early dual-purpose breed.
In the Good Huswifes Handmaide for the Kitchin, published in 1594, a recipe for “Chickens after the French fashion” recommends, “Quarter the Chickens in foure peeces: then take after the rate of a pinte of wine for two Chickens: then take time & parsly as small minced as ye can, and foure or fiue Dates, with the yolkes of foure hard Egges, and let this boile together, and when you will season your pot, put in salt, sinamon and Ginger, and serue it foorth.”
And, says the Atlantic, if you have a smug historian friend, he or she might have already informed you that it’s “colly birds,” not “calling birds.” “Colly” means “black as soot,” so the song’s authors might have meant blackbirds in this line.
And, the story suggest, the five gold rings – the only part many of us can remember from one Christmas to the next – could well refer to ring-necked pheasants.
After you had eaten this medieval version of 7-layer turducken, you probably would want to indulge in some dancing and leaping, piping and drumming just to work off the calories. Especially since there was no football on TV in those days.