Whenever I think of feasting, I think of Norman Rockwell's painting, Freedom from Want, and Thanksgiving dinner in the USA. But the large American Thanksgiving family feast is really chickenfeed compared with what I recently read was the norm for the feast in the Middle Ages.
An illustration of a medieval feast in the Les Tres Riches Heures de Duc de Berry.
As reported in Women in the Middle Ages by Marty Williams and Anne Echols:
The amounts and types of foods consumed at banquets seem astounding by modern standards, though we should take note that apparently huge numbers of guests were present on some occasions. At Avignon in the 1340s, Pope Clement VI gave a feast that included approximately 13,000 birds, 1,000 sheep, 50,000 fruit trees, and 200 casks of wine…. Less wealthy individuals rarely had such elaborate feasts or ornamental dishes, but they usually kept amply stocked larders. On an average day—Thursday, August 17, 1413, for example—Dame Alice de Bryene served 146 loaves of bread, one and a half quarters of beef, a lamb, two mutton joints, three quarters of bacon, and 30 pigeons, all washed down with ale and wine. Large quantities of food were necessary because even the lesser nobility rarely dined alone. Alice de Bryene’s household accounts show that on most days her kitchens provided for her large household, several guests, and a number of boon workers—villeins engaged in performing their required days of extra work on their lord’s demesne, the lord’s portion of the manor lands--[or, everyone in the neighborhood-Linda].
For her husband's funeral in 1466, Margaret Paulson, the widow of a wealthy merchant, cooked up a spread with 41 pigs, 1,000 eggs, 49 calves, a great number of chicken and geese, and a large quantity of beer.
This gives you an idea of the huge number of guests at the medieval dinner table, which on big holidays might bring together all the on the manor.
Kirstin Lavransdatter, by the Nobel Prize-winning Norwegian writer Sigrid Undset, gives a good idea of the many duties of the medieval "lady of the manor," who worked hard and often ran the manorial agricultural and industrial enterprise alone when the husband was away to war. Kirstin Lavransdatter is a trilogy of three books--I had to read to the end of the last one to fully appreciate this wonderfully told story of a medieval wife and mother. My mother introduced me to Kirstin Lavransdatter--it was her favorite book.