Of Course It's 'Course'! Remove 'Remove'!

by Dame Alys Katharine (Elise Fleming)

The introduction of "remove" to mean The introduction of "remove" to mean "course" in the jargon of living history groups may be lost in the mists of historical re-enactment but it is fairly well-documented in the real world. Nowhere in the English-speaking Middle Ages or Renaissance is the word "remove" used to mean "course".

For Tudor and Elizabethan times, all printed references refer to the "first course" or the "second course" and refer to a collection of dishes, sometimes twenty or more, which were presented to the diners. Dishes were brought in and set on the table. At least at the head table, certain dishes would be carved and served to the feasters. Other dishes would be placed in selected spots on the table. When the course was over all the dishes were taken away.

As the Elizabethan era draws to a close one can see a marked difference in public dining. In the earlier Middle Ages everyone ate in the Great Hall. By the 1500s there are references to "dining parlours" or "dining chambers" where the lord and lady could eat apart from the others. By the late 1600s the dining room began to be the central eating area. While large public feasts were still held in grand rooms on special occasions it no longer was the norm for everyone to eat in one large room. With the change towards more private dining came a tendency towards fewer dishes being served at a meal. Cookery books from the 1690s and on began to include "folding-plates" which showed table settings, precise and symmetrical. England's Newest Way in All Sorts of Cookery, Pastry, and All Pickles that are Fit to be Used (3rd edition, 1710) contains a diagram for a two-course dinner. To quote from The Appetite and the Eye, "...there is even the recently adopted usage (emphasis mine) of the 'remove' (a dish to be succeeded by another). The circle at the head of the first-course table is inscribed: 'A pottage, for a remove Westphalia ham and chickens.' The pottage was served out to everyone present, and its large serving-bowl or tureen was then removed. In its place was set the item of meat or fish written in the lower half of the circle. The soup and its 'remove' or replacement marked the first step towards a different division of the courses which led eventually, after the coming of Russian service early in the nineteenth century, to the usual sequence of courses at today's formal dinners."

Additionally, in the chapter "Illustrations in British Cookery Books, 1621-1820" (The English Cookery Book, edited by Eileen White) Ivan Day writes the following regarding table plans: "Their plans reflect the triumph at this high stratum of English society of the new (emphasis mine) French style of regulating a table. For instance, Henry Howards's England’s Newest Way of 1703 ... shows how the soup was to be replaced with a remove - the English name for the releveé of French dining protocol."

A "remove", therefore, is just that. It is a dish that is taken off the table after people have been served, with another being set in its place. It is not a "course". The term didn't exist until close to 1700 or even after. It was new in the early 1700s. In no way did it ever exist within the Tudor or Elizabethan time period.

So, why should we be concerned about the misuse? It is precisely because it is "misuse". What is the purpose of mislabeling a course once one has learned the correct term? I suspect some folk think it sounds more "medieval". Once "remove" is used by "establishment" sources such as the BBC, "historically accurate" television productions, or web sites for historical castles and stately homes, it becomes "fact". Re-enactors take great pride in making clothing and personal items as close to historically accurate as possible. It is time now to add one more piece to historical accuracy when re-creating the Tudor, Elizabethan, and early Stuart worlds. Go back and look at reprints of period feasts and cookery books. There are a number of historical menus from as early as the coronation feast of Henry IV and onwards. All use the term "course" to refer to the setting out of multiple dishes on the table at one time. None use the term "remove" until the "new way" of food presentation in the early 1700s when the term refers solely to one dish in a multi-dish course. So ... Of course it’s "course", remove "remove"!

References:

The Appetite and the Eye, edited by C. Anne Wilson, Edinburgh University Press, 1991.

The English Cookery Book, edited by Eileen White, Prospect Books, 2004

'Banquetting Stuffe', edited by C. Anne Wilson, Edinburgh University Press, 1991

Gervase Markham. The English Housewife (1615), edited by Michael R. Best, McGill-Queen's University Press, 1986.

Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery-Books, Early English Text Society, Kraus Reprints, Millwood, NY, 1988


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