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(For previous posts in this series, see items tagged with 'messisbugo'.)

No, you haven’t missed parts 11-13. Those are scheduled to cover the other numbered courses and I’d already set up the file templates with those labels. But I decided to add one more overview discussion concerning how the various dishes were served to the diners. You may have noticed that each dish provides serving amounts indicating the number or quantity of food and the number of plates it’s served in. For example: “80 thrushes, 120 polpette, 80 turtledoves, together on 20 little plates” from which we may calculate that each of the 20 plates contained 4 thrushes, 6 polpette, and 4 turtledoves. Or “80 large fried kid livers with yellow sauce, 10 pounds in 20 little plates” from which we calculated each plate to have contained 4 kids livers comprising half a pound total. But how does this relate to the number of diners? Did each diner get their own thrush and turtledove? Perhaps. The per-plate count of items ranges from one each for larger items (e.g., capons, ducks), 2-4 for smaller items (pheasants, turtledoves, tomaselle) and 6-10 of small items such as pastries. And in general the total number of smaller items will be a multiple of the total number of diners (or at least of ordinary diners).

The number of diners (including the host(s) and guest(s) of honor) is enumerated for each menu. And each menu will tend to have a default number of plates of each dish served. A typical example is: “A dinner that was given by the magnificent Messer Girolamo Giliolo for the Most Illustrious and Most Excellent Lord Duke of Ferrara and other Gentlemen and Ladies, who numbered 38 at the first Table.” That is, counting the host and guest of honor, there were 40 diners. (The reference to the “first table” suggests that there may have been other tables, but the menus only seem to be describing what happens at the “first” table.) The default number of plates per dish in this case is 10.

In general, the default intent seems to have been to have one plate per 4 diners. The complication in this arithmetic is that sometimes this only works if you don’t include the host(s) and guest(s) of honor in the count of diners. In most cases, they do seem to have been included. It isn’t clear to me whether this represents two different styles of serving (one where the hosts/GoH’s may have been served something different that isn’t specified -- though this would seem a bit odd for the type of document we’re examining) or whether they hosts/GoH’s quantities simply weren’t included in the totals listed (though this would seem odd if the intent were to document quantities of food served).

After going through each menu in detail, I’ll synthesize the results into a generic serving template.


44 diners (1 host, 3 guests of honor, 40 “ordinary” guests); not counting the confection and collation courses, 30 dishes in 4 courses

10 plates for each dish (i.e., 4 diners per plate counting only “ordinary” guests) except:

  • 40 marzipan biscuits

  • both salads specified as “one per person”

  • 20 plates of partridges

  • 20 plates each of clotted cream and “clouds and wafers”

Items per plate range from 1-6 but there isn’t a clear focus around a “typical count” that matches the number of diners, though the plurality revolves around 40 -- the number of “ordinary guests”.


78 diners (2 hosts, 2 guests of honor, 74 “ordinary” guests); not counting the confection and collation courses, 44 dishes in 6 courses

20 plates (i.e., 4 diners per plate) for each dish except:

  • 37 plates of each salad

  • 12 plates of crab (this is a “presentation” dish with a motto gilded on the back of each crab)

This time the diners per plate comes out neatly to 4 including the hosts and GoH’s with a couple servings to spare. The exception is the salads where the count matches one for every two ordinary guest. Items per plate range from 1-4 in most cases with 80 total items being typical. Odd exceptions are 25 pheasants in 20 plates, 30 capons in 20 plates.


40 diners (1 host, 1 guest of honor, 38 “ordinary” guests); not counting the confection and collation courses, 36 dishes in 5 courses

10 plates  (i.e., 4 diners per plate) for each dish except:

  • 32 each of salads

  • 20 plates of turtledoves

  • 30 cups hippocras

At 10 plates and 4 diners per plate, the hosts and GoH’s are covered in the serving count as well as the ordinary guests. The salads, on the other hand are insufficient for each ordinary guest to have their own and too many for them to be shared in pairs of diners. Foot items per plate range from 1-4 generally with a plurality having a total of 40 items, matching the total diner count. In addition to the odd number of salads, the 30 cups of hippocras don’t match any obvious diner grouping.


55 diners 1 host, 3 guests of honor, 51 “ordinary” guests); not counting the confection and collation courses, 33 dishes in 5 courses

14 plates (i.e., 4 diners per plate) for each dish except:

  • 32 each of salads

  • 51 plates each of wafers and clotted cream

Food items per plate range from 1-4 generally, with 4 being the most common number for a total of 56 items. (This would appear to cover all diners, including host/GoH’s.) The most plentiful food items were fried oysters (25 per plate) and plain oysters (cooking method unspecified, 1000 total in 14 plates which comes to almost 20 per diner!) Note that once again the number of salads is too large to suggest they were intended as multi-diner servings, but too small for each diner to have their own. The very specific number of wafer and cream servings matches the “ordinary guests”.


48 diners (1 host, 1 guest of honor, 46 “ordinary” guests); not counting the confection and collation courses, 31 dishes in 4 courses

12 plates (i.e., 4 diners per plate) for each dish except:

  • 24 plates of each salad (i.e., one for every 2 diners)

  • 46 [plates, presumably] of capon livers and sausages

The plate-count is sufficient to cover diners in all categories. Food items per plate range from 1-4 though in this menu the total count is not always given (e.g., “whole stuffed roasted kids in 12 plates” where we may presume one per plate but it’s not explicit).


30 diners (1 host, 2 guests of honor, 27 “ordinary” guests); not counting the confection and collation courses, 34 dishes in 4 courses

We get a clue to a possibly uncounted category of diners from one of the non-food activities: “While they were eating the confections, my Consort sent two baskets with 27 packets of scented flowers, some real and some faux, one for the Most Illustrious Lord Duke, and one for the Most Illustrious Lord Prince, which their Lordships distributed among the dinner guests.” This reaffirms the notion of “ordinary guests” as being a key number and introduces for the first time the question of whether (in general) the host(s)’ wives should be included in the diner counts (even though never mentioned in the description).

7 plates (i.e., 4 diners per plate) for each dish except for:

  • 16 plates each of both salads (note that this would be sufficient for 2 diners per serving even including host/GoH)

  • 20 plates of (total of 400) oysters with oranges

Items per plate range from 1-4 with the majority involving a single larger item on each plate, though there are several items were 28 are specified. Exceptions to this pattern include 30 tomaselle (along with 28 chickens) on 7 plates, 35 small flaky flans in 7 plates.


The total number of guests ranges from 30 to 78. There is only a slight correlation between this number and the total number of dishes served or the number of courses, though there is a rule of thumb that the greater the number of courses, the greater the overall dish count. (Keep in mind that “number of courses” here includes the “pre-course” not just the numbered courses.)

  • 4 courses: 30, 31, 34 dishes

  • 5 courses: 33, 36 dishes

  • 6 courses 44 dishes

The 6-course dinner also has the largest guest count, but this would seem to be a feature of elaborateness of the banquet, not that a greater number of distinct dishes was needed to provide a greater amount of food. (That is, this dinner featured a greater amount of food per person, not just a greater amount overall.)

If we may generalize by a majority rule: dishes are normally served in plates that serve 4 diners each. One consistent exception is the salads, where each salad (remember there are normally two) may be intended to serve either one or two diners. (In two menus, the salad count falls between these two and I have no idea what’s going on.)

Without getting to too detailed a level, here are some typical quantities of food per (4-person) plate:


  • Capon 1

  • Duck 1

  • Partridges 2-4

  • Pheasant 1-2

  • Peacock 1

  • Pigeon 4

  • Quail, thrush, turtledove 4


  • Hare or rabbit 1

  • Roast kid, lamb, or suckling pig 1

  • Veal or unspecified loin 1

  • Veal breast 1

Processed Meats

  • Sausages (various types, some sliced) 1

  • Small “meatball” types dishes such as tomaselle and polpette 4-6


  • Oysters, fried 20-25

  • Oysters, unspecified 50+/-

Pies and Pastries

  • Small pastries 4-10

  • Large pies, tarts, tortes (various contents) 1

Confectionary and “Desserts”

  • Confections 1 lb

  • Marmalade boxes 2-4 (sometimes with different specified contents)

  • Fruit (oranges, pears) 3-5

  • Wafers 20+


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 16th, 2014 08:48 pm (UTC)
I'm noticing that the salads are almost consistently a strange number. I'm wondering if these are not due to Mesisbugo not expecting all the guests to eat them? So it's actually one-to-one but it's not every one.

I'm wondering if some of the other strange numbers could be due to our guy's predictions of the specific appetites of the guestgs too. I'm also wondering if the one Carnivale menu that included a lot of fish might have fallen on a day when some of the guests were already observing meatlessness for reasons of their own.
Feb. 16th, 2014 10:08 pm (UTC)
The salads definitely stand out as odd number because they're so specific. What I just noticed when going back to check details is that the two really odd numbers for salads are both "32". That is, we have one menu that specifies "one per guest" with no number given, 3 menus where the number matches one salad per 2 diners (either total diners or "ordinary" guests only), and the remaining 2 menus both specify "32 plates of (each) salad". So 32 may be some sort of default number and have no specific significance relative to the number (or tastes) of the guests.
(Deleted comment)
Feb. 19th, 2014 01:05 am (UTC)
Salads salads salads!
Take that, Duke!
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )